Are contests killing the video star?

Is the era of the all-rounder over? Are contests and video now too specialised to succeed in both?

Kazu Kokubo: true style in and out of the pipe
Kazu Kokubo: true style in and out of the pipe© Blotto

Specialisation is an integral part of evolution. While one kind of bear turns white and starts eating seafood, another turns black and white, and snacks on bamboo. Is snowboarding destined to go the same way?

When I started going to the X Games, the riders around me were video stars that also did contests, it was so much fun to watch them, but now the riders in the X Games are only contest riders. It’s not exciting for me to watch.

- Kazuhiro Kukobo

Back in the early days, it was all snowboarding: racers would show up for the halfpipe contest, freestylers would race slalom, and everyone did contests. But not for long. Over a relatively short period of time, between 1989 and 1994, racing and freestyle became distant relatives, and video parts starting mattering more than contest results.

So began the golden age of snowboard videos, and as snowboarding exploded in popularity, riders like Jim Rippey, Jamie Lynn and Peter Line were the contest stars: not because they won contests (they did that too), but because this was their fans big chance to see them pull the same tricks they had watched them pulling in the backcountry.

Fast-forward to today: what started out as a grey area between contest and video riders is now becoming a divide that very few riders seem to be crossing. The question is – why?

Markus Keller, David Benedek, Ethan Morgan, Christoph Thoresen and Nicola Thost at the Opening of the Halfpipe in Oberstdorf, Germany on March 1st 2011
Keller and Benedek - all rounders© Dan Vojtech/Red Bull Content Pool

Let’s start with contests. Double cork pioneer, star of Robot Food films and the writer of Current State: Snowboarding, David Benedek states:

I do think that - for the most part - the era of the all-rounder is over, which has to do with the simple fact that, in order to succeed in competitions, the amount of practice has become significantly more time consuming. You literally have to spend your season on park jumps or in the pipe in order to be at that level of faultless repetition.

Meanwhile, the video world is changing. Ten years ago, a short list of film crews would deliver a single movie showcasing the best riders to a hungry, DVD-buying audience. But then… technology happened. Today, a million movies, webisodes and platforms compete for our attention. And, by doing so, the currency has become devalued.

Benedek thinks this could be another reason contest riders aren’t filming:

But, maybe it just goes back to the reality of videos having become less impactful, which is why nowadays you can be a real "star" without even filming.

 

Venue of the World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway on February 12th 2012
Slopestyle contest course© Frode Sandbech/Red Bull Content Pool

According to former TTR World Champion Mathieu Crepel, the snowboarding industry isn’t helping:

Sponsors have gradually become more interested in contests and don’t support the video scene as much, which is sad because videos are the essence of snowboarding – it’s why I started snowboarding.

The fact is, making snowboard movies is an expensive business, and it’s getting harder for brands to justify the expense of putting their riders into an ‘old fashioned’ film production. Especially as the modern audience is becoming less likely to watch it. Meanwhile, contest riders have less time and fewer incentives to go filming, especially when fans are quite satisfied seeing their heroes in Instagram clips, webisodes and reality TV shows.

If that sounds depressing… it isn’t. The bottom line is real snowboarders will always need to film sooner or later – it’s in their nature. And, whether they compete or not, there will always be a demand for snowboarders who crush it in front of the camera. It’s what makes snowboarding so inspirational.

As Volcom team manager Jan Prokes says:

The all-rounder is definitely not dead. If you think so, then pick up a copy of Chamäleon. Then follow one of the last true all-rounders on a snowboarding extravaganza across the globe. Whether it’s transition, park, backcountry, jibbing or big mountain riding that rocks your boat, Markus Keller and his hand-picked crew of upper echelon riders deliver.