to SOL Groove?
Snowboarding: Art or
by Susanna Howe
Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a UFO? Probably not. I was in Las
Vegas for the trade show last March. I knew even less about snowboarding
then than I do now, which is not saying much, but I was meeting some incredible
people at the trade show, really cool, creative, driven people. My friends
and I got in our van one night and I was informed that we were going to the
fight. I said "cool," but as soon as we walked in, I was ready to leave.
Everyone was really, really drunk and belligerent. My friend yelled in my
ear that Palmer wouldn't be fighting but that some guy from the Suicidal
Tendencies would take his place for snowboarding. After the fight started,
everyone started screaming and I realized that people actually came to watch
these two guys beat each other up. This was not the snowboarding that I knew
and it bummed me out how much this scene WAS snowboarding. I turned around
and marched out to the parking lot to wait for my friends. That's when I
saw the UFO. I was lying down on the blacktop, giggling in disbelief as three
twirling lights moved at a constant speed across the clear, Las Vegas sky.
As long as I've known them, skaters have always been telling me how anti-jock
they are. They never fit in with the jocks at school. They were always off,
by themselves, drawing or writing grafitti. Skateboarding is an art, they
always told me, and I believed them because all my skater friends are scrawny
and sorta geeky. When I started snowboarding, I felt like that same vibe
was there. But my skater friends try to convince me otherwise. "Snowboarders
are meatheads. They're jocks who think they're 'alternative,'" one friend
of mine blurted out last week. We were headed north from Los Angeles towards
the first snowstorms of the year. I was babbling about the idea that snowboarders
have a certain identifiable aesthetic sensibility, and that I want to put
some artwork in my book. I was saying that some of the work I had seen would
communicate more about the culture than anything I could ever write.
"That all came from skating," said my friend. "Snowboarders are rich,
steak-eating jocks. Skaters are poor, vegetarian artists." He explained how
when he went up to Stratton last season, he went by this skate park in
Bennington, Vermont called Cutting Edge before continuing on to Stratton
for a weekend of snowboarding. He said all the kids at the skate park were
sort of skinny and geeky, like all his friends growing up. The rest of the
weekend, they stayed in a house full of snowboarders at Stratton. He said
it was scary. All the snowboarders got really drunk and violent every night
and do things like light each other's hair on fire and get in fights at the
7-Eleven. "It brought me right back to high school," said my friend. "But
it wasn't the skaters who acted like that. It was the football players."
I admitted that his story sounded like the fight scene in Las Vegas, but
the disctinction between snowboarders and skaters made no sense. I wouldn't
call Big Brother a magazine for poor, vegetarian artists.
While in LA, I went to see Sandow Birk, a successful painter who has been
commissioned by Switch (snowboard bindings) to make paintings for print ads.
His work for Switch is really cool: mostly weird old-timey wilderness scenes
with a snowboarder off in the distance. Sandow's non-commercial work deals
with mostly LA street culture: gangbanging, the Rodney King riots, etc. It's
got a lot of grafitti/mural influence in it, and he's collaborated with some
of the best graf writers on the West Coast. Sandow's studio was in a sort
of sketchy part of Silverlake, a cool store-front with blackened windows.
Artists' studios are so awesome because artists are anal in this really
interesting way. They always have this really controlled mess going on, like
paint everywhere, but all the brushes are clean and dry and all the paintings
are organized in individual plastic sheaths. On the walls was Sandow's current
project: a series based on a fictitious war between Los Angeles and San
Francisco. There are old-timey troops all over the paintings, but also very
futuristic buildings. They're really beautiful.
The thing about Sandow is that he looks like he could have been on the ski
team at my high school. A white guy with short hair and a baseball hat is
not the image of someone who'd be hanging out with hard-core graf writers
and painting scenesof LA street violence. But there he was, and I stood humbled
I told this story to my friend as we continued to race up the PCH. He looked
at me, squinted, and asked: "Is that guy a skater?"
Join us next time when Susanna makes an amazing discovery: pro snowboarders
can be lame. Some even suck. Or maybe she was just in a bad mood. We'll never
Is Snowboarding Art or Sport?
to the Message Boards and tell us.
The SoCal Snowboard Magazine Crews (12-17-96)