“I’ve got the Burton fit with the good kicks!” rapped A$AP Ferg to an iPhone camera on the deck of the Elk Camp Restaurant mid-way up Aspen Snowmass in Colorado. One could surmise this location had never hosted a freestyle rap of this caliber, especially from someone who had just completed their first ever snowboard run on the Meadow trail directly above the deck. Rapping over Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and taking off his helmet mid-verse, the 32-year-old artist was surrounded by members of his entourage, a radiant group of friends and creatives all dancing and raising a glass to learning new things with new people. Equally enthused to be present in this exact moment were some of the aforementioned new people— Selema Masekela, Mark McMorris, Luke Winkelmann, Jake Canter and Zeb Powell.
And while this colossal meeting of hip-hop and snowboarding’s elite was truly one in a million, it’s important to acknowledge the historical significance of hip-hop to snowboarding over the last 30 years. From the first use of a hip-hop song in a major snowboard film in Mack Dawg’s 1990 film, “New Kids on the Twock,” to Naughty by Nature featuring snowboarding in their 1995 video for their hit song “Feel Me Flow” the connection between the two worlds has grown steadily for decades. Currently, rap’s powerful beats have set the tone to some of the most iconic tricks ever filmed and there are innumerable influences that snowboard outerwear has taken from hip-hop style trends over the decades.
“My relationship with hip-hop is based off all the old snowboard and skate videos that I watched as a kid. There's lots of old rap and so I just grew up listening to that and that's what I thought was cool,” says Canter dreamily, recalling the very things that made him fall in love with snowboarding in the first place. These riders are not alone in considering hip-hop to be a vital component fueling snowboard culture.
Organized by Burton, this meeting of the minds was actually quite characteristic of the brand’s founder, Jake Burton, who as many would attest, was a massive hip-hop fan. Beyond that, Jake was a connoisseur of curating memorable experiences. This meeting in Colorado was nothing short of a continuation of his love for facilitating meaningful connections between snowboarders and the industries than inspire them. “The comradery was second to none,” retorts McMorris quickly when asked how the crews meshed. “Jake would have absolutely loved it.”
“It was good to see someone Black, that looked like me, actually do the sport and actually be super fearless on the halfpipes and doing the tricks like that.”
It certainly wouldn’t take a journalist to see the connection between these two groups of people, but the one to break the ice was someone on A$AP’s side. 27Delly—Delly for short—was the cornerstone to the vibe exchange between these two groups. A$AP’s literal brother and an up-and-coming rapper himself, he took to snowboarding immediately. “So how hard is it to do that like flipping shit 'cause I'm definitely gonna go at it today!” yelled Delly, half joking, to the sprinter van.
Zeb Powell gave a play-by-play of the iconic moment back to me over facetime, “That definitely broke the ice. They were asking where we came from and how we started snowboarding and vice versa. I let them know about Stevie Bell and how he didn’t like snowboarding the first few times.” For the laymen, Bell is a prolific black snowboarder who states in a recent interview that he didn’t take to snowboarding immediately. “They really jived with that actually. I told that to A$AP Ferg and then he told the whole bus because he thought it was so important.”
Powell knew he struck an interesting chord, highlighting a common theme in the discussion surrounding diversity in snowboarding. It’s a big topic Zeb has found himself in the center of.
The reality that mountain (and gear) accessibly being challenging in itself is only made more problematic by the fact that it takes a couple times of going snowboarding to really get the hang of it. And just as A$AP and company are learning about the snowboard lifestyle; Zeb is learning how to handle new roles.
After his recent article with the New York Times, Powell has found himself in a position where he is seen as the modern face of Black snowboarding. “It has been interesting getting to where I am now because I am starting to realize the various things that Black snowboarders go through or have to consider. I don’t really come from a predominantly Black community and as I continue with snowboarding it’s cool to connect with other Black snowboarders. This is an insanely stereotypical, but there’s like a general understanding that black people don’t snowboard or it’s not a thing that we do. It’s weird to think that and say that out loud.”
"I have like one clip on Red Bull that has over a million views. A$AP Ferg has so many songs and so much media that is over a million views easy. In a simple term, a random person who has never ridden could see that clip and think. ‘Oh, he can do it too.’ It’s as simple as that."
A$AP backs Zeb up in this sentiment over the phone, as he recalls how impressed he was when he saw Zeb ride. “Where I come from—New York City, specifically Harlem—all I see is buildings, you know, the most we ever do is flip off the monkey bars into the snow when we get a lot of snow. I’ve never seen the things that I’ve seen on that mountain out there.” Ferg continues, “It was good to see someone Black that looked like me actually do the sport and actually be super fearless on the halfpipes and doing the tricks like that.”
This added pressure of being “the face” of something is a reality that Powell still getting used to. After thinking long and hard, Zeb carefully chooses his words. “It’s big shoes to fill. At the end of the day, it’s a combination of my riding, the fact that I like coaching and like the connections with fans and the general public. I’m not saying I’m the best at it, but I like to do it. I think it’s just in my blood to pursue it.” he exhales, still working through the details in his head. “I didn’t expect it to happen. I was just trying to snowboard. I wasn’t trying to get to the X Games either but then boom, Knuckle Huck came up.” When asked whether or not he was bothered by this responsibility, Zeb thoughtfully added, “I’m just kind of learning and going with it and I have all these people to help and the tools to do it. It’s a work in progress. I don’t really know exactly how to help but I think what’s going on here is a great thing and helpful to the cause.”
And of course, Powell is just one person, and it’s the very fact that so many others were a part of this experience that made it truly special. “I can’t do it alone,” Powell says over the phone. “I’m so grateful that Burton was down to do this. A$AP and his crew are way more influential on a general level than snowboarders. When you combine the two, it just has such a bigger outreach.”
"Honestly, it was just sick to see those guys want to learn this new thing. It felt like they were inspired by us which was incredible. Obviously, it's mutual for us."
Zeb is no stranger to the importance of social media for a successful career. “I have like one clip on Red Bull that has over a million views. A$AP Ferg has so many songs and so much media that is over a million views easy. In a simple term, a random person who has never ridden could see that clip and think. ‘Oh, he can do it too.’ It’s as simple as that. ”
And the snowboard clips from that day are not the death defying, high action frames that Zeb and the other riders are so accustomed to. The clips from that day depict A$AP and crew enjoying themselves, but struggling to learn, and often times, falling. “If everything was easygoing, you would have nothing to fight through,” says Ferg, excitedly. “I think that the fact that we’re able to fall and get back up, and I fell pretty hard too and my neck kind of jerked back so I had a little whiplash. It killed me for like two days after that, but my adrenaline was pumping when I got back up and kept going because it was fun. It just reminded me of when I was a kid and I was having blissful fun. That’s what it reminded me of.”
McMorris was vital in teaching Ferg the basics: “Ferg was super athletic and open to listen and learn. It was a group effort to get him up and shredding but I think that’s the rad part.” That group effort and mentality was also something that Luke Winkelmann excitedly recalled as well. “A$AP was bombing! It was sick to see him take bails too. It’s part of the game. It was just an all-around sick experience. It was crazy how I feel like the faster he went, the more control he had.”
Winkelmann knew why the relationship between the groups was symbiotic, “Honestly, it was just sick to see those guys want to learn this new thing. It felt like they were inspired by us which was incredible. Obviously, it's mutual for us. We're inspired by how they they’ve made what they love a way to make a living for themselves. They saw the same in us, so there was a bunch of inspiration on both sides.” This sentiment was certainly mutual, according to Ferg, “Me meeting Mark, meeting Zeb, meeting all of the guys and them teaching us what they [are] about, me teaching them what we about, and then having so much similarities. Same dances, same swag. Their swag is crazy. The snowboard swag. I’m looking at the clothes that they’re choosing to wear, the Burton fits and everything like that, and I’m like, ‘Damn I could really swag that in the streets.’ We had a lot of similarities.”
The importance and power in having mutual respect might be the most important thing that came out of that Aspen weekend. A respect for each other, for trying new things, and most importantly, for stepping outside of your comfort zone is important for everyone to grow—especially as the world opens up again. From helping Zeb and his teammates realize new skills to make snowboarding become a more diverse space, to the ability for A$AP to help a broader population understand that, as his Instagram story put it, “the spill is a part of the vibe.” This group has shown that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we allow for room to grow. In fact I think that very sentiment can be applied to our trials and tribulations towards making snowboarding a more inclusive place. We won’t figure it out in one run, we won’t always have perfect style, but as long as the goal is to get to the bottom of it successfully, the spill is indeed, part of the vibe.