Zeb Powell in the spotlight
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Snowboarding

Zeb Powell is breaking down barriers to bring diversity to snowboarding

The Spotlight: Snowboarder Zeb Powell is partnering with Hoods to Woods to give inner-city youth the opportunity to experience the outdoors.
By Dorian Hill
9 min readPublished on
This edition of The Spotlight focuses on professional snowboarder Zeb Powell (@ZebPowellI) and his work with Hoods to Woods (@HoodstoWoods), a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of the outdoors to inner city children through snowboarding.
Zeb is changing the game in snowboarding in numerous facets including bridging the gap between snow culture and pop culture, specifically in style and fashion. Watch his latest video below where he links up with celebrity stylist Kwasi Kessie (@KwasiKessie) to bring his snowboarding flavor and style to the red carpet.

7 min

Zeb Powell x Kwasi Kessie style collab

Zeb is a native of Waynesville, North Carolina. He grew up in a very diverse family – he and his brothers and sisters are all adopted, each of them from different ethnic backgrounds. Zeb says this diversity allowed him to be comfortable with who he truly was and not let the color of his skin define him. Growing up he found joy in sports where he could fly through the air, dabbling early on in gymnastics and eventually picking up skateboarding. He took very naturally to the balance and coordination needed to ride a board. Eventually his local skate park would shut down, but the fundamental skills that Zeb developed in skateboarding were easily transferable to another board sport.
The first time Zeb got on a snowboard, he struggled. Not because he couldn't get the hang of it, but because his instructor set his board up essentially backwards. It was early proof of Zeb’s talent that even though he was set up switchfoot, he still quickly got the hang of snowboarding. Once he was finally set up on his board properly, it didn’t take long for Zeb to push himself. On one of his first runs down the mountain in North Carolina’s Chattahoochee Ski Area, Zeb managed to hit a box jump feature. He stuck it of course and the love affair with the sport began.
Zeb’s attraction to snowboarding goes beyond just the tricks and flying through the air. It was also about being able to hang out and have fun with his friends. Over time Zeb truly grew as a rider and it became obvious that his skills and style were special. Zeb’s parents noticed the raw talent and wanted to put him in the best possible situation to succeed so he decided to attend the Stratton Mountain School (SMS), an independent boarding and day school that focuses on college preparatory academics and competitive winter sports. Being at SMS allowed Zeb to focus on his snowboard craft and engulf himself in the culture of snowboarding while also getting the classroom education.
Zeb’s unique riding style began to take shape and get noticed around the snow community. He was described by television host and sports commentator Selema Masekela as a jazz musician on a snowboard, the way he improvises and creates something amazing on the go.
“There are times where I am completely out of control but in control and my instincts keep me on my feet,” said Powell. “But then there's also times where I can truly choose to be stylish and do what I want. It's really my freedom to pick if I want to be spontaneous and crazy, or stylish and composed.”
Zeb Powell style
Zeb Powell style
It's really my freedom to pick if I want to be spontaneous and crazy, or stylish and composed.
Zeb has gone on to win an X Games gold medal, compete in elite snowboard competitions around the globe, and perhaps his most success has come via his spectacular snowboarding social clips resulting in a large social media following. Naturally the color of his skin became a topic of interest and Zeb took it all in stride. He says, “It has really opened my eyes to realize what an inspiration I am to the Black community of snowboarding, let alone snowboarding.” He does understand what his influence means, turning his attention to working with nonprofit groups like Hoods to Woods to make snowboarding more accessible to kids that look like him.
Hoods to Woods was founded by Brian Paupaw and Omar Diaz, who share a strong love for community and snowboarding. The organization started from humble beginnings. They would take kids interested in the sport on organized trips to the mountains. In the beginning Omar would drive to Brooklyn to pick up the kids and drive to their local ski resort, Mountain Creek in New Jersey, about two hours outside New York City. Brian and Omar’s efforts caught the attention of snowboard industry giant Burton Snowboards who began to provide much needed resources. Those resources allowed Hoods to Woods to grow over the years and expand to work with riders such as Zeb (a Burton rider) to create trips and experiences for the kids that would otherwise never get such opportunities. “It's about opening the doors up for the entire community, making it worth their while and making it worth our while without losing track of what we're committed to, which is the children. Giving them an opportunity to experience the outdoors, without any of the barriers like money.”
Zeb Powell
Zeb Powell

Tell us why you will be spotlighting Hoods to Woods?

Zeb Powell: First and foremost, they are one of the main organizations in the northeast. I came across them being at competitions and events. We also have mutual friends and they are doing the kind of things that I want to do next. They take kids from the inner cities that don't have much privilege like snowboarding. Through that the kids get to experience life away from their neighborhoods. They learn from snowboarding that when they fall, they can get back up again, stick with something until they become successful. Hoods To Woods is also great because the kids learn these concepts in a natural and organic way. I love that and I am fully backing them. And really love what they are doing for their community.

How are you involved with Hoods to Woods? What type of work have you done with them?

Zeb Powell: My involvement with Hoods to Woods right now is just trying to get their name and word out there. Through the companies and brands that I work with and sharing their story through my platforms. And most importantly opening up doors for people to donate to their organization.

I've done fundraisers with them, I've donated gear and I'm planning on donating more gear to them. But the biggest thing I've done with them was doing a clinic with them during the Red Bull Slide-In Tour. Which is this event we do every spring where we go around the northeast snowboarding and having fun with people. We were asking ourselves, how can we implement my new mission, which is getting more black people into snowboarding. So we thought Hoods to Woods would be a great organization to incorporate into the tour. It all worked out because we had a stop in Mountain Creek, New Jersey and invited them to come out. And it turned out really well. A lot of people came out and brought a lot of energy. It was just so cool to see the community come together to help any and everyone that was there.

Why are you so passionate about working with Hoods to Woods?

Zeb Powell: I think it's the bond I have with the guys behind the organization. They're also men of color, so they get it. And we all just vibe naturally as friends. And we are all people here to help the community grow. I'm learning from them. It’s naturally in my blood to help. Being in the position I’m in now I want to help with organizations like this. Getting more people that look like me on the mountain is a no brainer.

What do you have planned for the future? And what do you guys have coming up next?

Zeb Powell: We want to do more stuff like what we did with the Red Bull Slide-In Tour. And just continue to take those events to the next level every time. Doing more to get people that look like me snowboarding. Hopefully with my image and these events and organizations like Hoods to Woods brings the first black Olympian to snowboarding and another black snowboarder to take the flow style scene by storm. I want my career to show that it can happen. I really believe that's only a matter of time before we see it happen.

How does it make you feel to know that you're playing a part in making the sport of snowboarding more diverse in the future?

Zeb Powell: Oh my gosh, it feels so great to think that I play a part in that. It also feels great to be looked at as bringing diversity to snowboarding. I’m just being me and having fun with it all.

How important is working with Hoods to Woods and bringing accessibility to kids that look like you that may be getting into snowboarding because they may have seen a video of yours on social media or from your Knuckle Huck win?

Zeb Powell: It’s very important because I wonder how many people out there are just like me that don't even know they have skill because they have no accessibility to the sport. Also, how many kids are there like me but are in bad situations? Kids that if they had the resources could shine in snowboarding and get themselves out of those situations.

ABOUT HOODS TO WOODS

Follow on IG @hoodstowoods
In 2009 Hoods to Woods was created with the idea that everyone should have access to the outdoors. Co-Founders Brian Paupaw and Omar Diaz grew up in underserved communities in New York City and understand that sharing their passion for the outdoors can have a positive impact on inner city youth.

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

The Spotlight is a series of articles and content that gives Red Bull ambassadors the opportunity to spotlight organizations, businesses, community groups and/or individual people raising awareness and driving progression in mental health, environmentalism, and/or diversity & inclusion.