Women Snowboarders Taking Over!

womensnowboardersSnowboarders are known for sticking together, a reputation I’d always attributed to them living in the same ski town. It wasn’t until I telephoned a house in Mount Hood, Oregon, to speak to Burton pro rider Aurelie Sayres that the extent of their interwoven connections became clear. In Sayres’ absence, I spoke with Joyride team rider Hillary Maybery, who had answered the phone. I could hear Barrett Christy of Gnu talking in the background; she was en route to visit K2’s Morgan LaFonte. And when I later spoke with Christy, she asked me to pass along a “hey” to Ride’s Circe Wallace, whom she knew I would be talking to later that day.

In the cutthroat world of competitive professional sports, it’s rare to find an atmosphere in which the camaraderie runs so strong. Weren’t these women competing against one another? You’d never know it from the way they were acting.

“Our sport is unlike others,” says Athena, who boards for K2. “Instead of it being competitive, where you’re going to an event because of the contest and the [prospect of] winning, our events are more for the athletes and for fun.” A defining moment in snowboarding for Athena occurred when she decided not to attend the X-Games after learning Christy and her teammate LaFonte wouldn’t be attending. “I was privileged to be invited, but without Morgan and Barrett, I was just left with the contest,” she explains. “That would have meant all competition and no play, which isn’t why I’m in the sport.”

If you look at the nature of the sport, such camaraderie should come as no surprise. Snowboarding is an offshoot of skateboarding and surfing, two historically male-dominated sports. Although women are starting to make their presence known in surfing, skateboarding remains relatively closed to women. And the inclination of trailblazers is to stick together.

“When it comes down to it, there are so few women that are pro that we all have to be friends,” Maybery says. “Riding with a bunch of friends is how it started, and just because we’re pro, it doesn’t change that. Everyone tries to keep their head up.”

And the more women on the hills, the better it gets. “The more women that are out there snowboarding, the more women that are getting better and bringing up the standard,” says Burton’s Cara-Beth Burnside, who came to snowboarding from skateboarding “I think we challenge each other in a good way. We’re all supersupportive; we’re not competitive or vibing each other out.

“I came from a sport where there are not a lot of women. Unlike skateboarding, snowboarding has a lot of opportunities for women. You don’t ever see girls promoted for skateboarding, so then people think only guys do that. What 15-year-old girl wants to skate if it’s only for guys?”

At its inception, snowboarding was directed toward men. The sport’s founders were men, gear was made for men and, as some female riders muse, it was easier for men to learn because they were familiar with snowboarding’s associated sports. “A lot of riders have maybe skateboarded or surfed, so they are comfortable with standing up sideways, not facing directly downhill,” says Christy, who won the 1997 U.S. Open big-air and half-pipe competitions. “I had never surfed or skated before, so I watched a lot of people pick it up faster than I did.”

Although many of these pros had to look to their male counterparts for inspiration, they believe it’s easier for women to learn from and be inspired by one another. “It’s easier for a lot of girls if they see some other girl do a trick. If they see a guy do it, they might think it’s way over their ability. If they see a girl do it, then they realize they can do it too,” says Burnside.

In fact, the strong presence of pro women in snowboarding has helped to draw more women to the sport and push the development of women’s gear (see “What’s New on Board”). “Through marketing, there are more women getting into the sport,” says Burton’s Shannon Dunn, whose name was on the first marketed women’s pro snowboard, made by Sims. “There’s more product for women, and women aren’t intimidated, because there’s product for them.” She likens the changes in surfing today to those in snowboarding about four years ago. “Women like Lisa Anderson and Rochelle Ballard are helping to create the surfing market, and they’re become role models who girls can relate to.”

Unlike skiing and other sports in which teams often train together, snowboarding remains primarily an individual sport. This singular aspect is another reason the women seek each other’s company when they get the chance. “It’s not like ski racing, where we all get together and do jumping jacks,” Christy says. “It’s always been an individual thing. But that gives you the freedom to express your own style.” Athena says the solitude makes the friendships that much sweeter. “What drew me to the sport is that I didn’t need anyone to be with me,” she explains. “You have lifts, so you can go anytime as long as they are open. You could have your own equipment and go with people or without. The perks that have come along with the sport, such as friends and travel, are the bonus.”

A draw for recreational riders is that snowboarding is easier to learn than skiing. And many are drawn to the smooth nature of the sport. “It’s such a flowing sport,” says Wendy Wyvill, a rider for Morrow who was a ski instructor before taking to snowboarding. “There’s no reason why older people can’t pick it up. I just taught my mother-in-law how to do it, and she’s in her fifties. So many people don’t want to hurt themselves, but it’s safer than skiing because you don’t have a lot of body parts going in different directions. Put wrist guards on when you’re learning, and then you have no worries. Everyone should try it at least once to get that feeling.”

Christy admits she hurt for a few days when she first attempted the sport. But she agrees it’s all about “that feeling,” which she calls the balance point. “Make the commitment to stand up and find your balance point. Progression on a snowboard is so much faster than on skis. Once you find your balance point, it’s so nice, so fun.”

Give yourself a few days of falling, Wallace urges, but be sure to stick with it. “You have to want to do it. By god, you’ll deal with some bumps and bruises, but do it for yourself!”

It’s advice most of the pros can appreciate. In doing it for themselves, they’re brought other women into the sport as well — and forged a bond of friendship stronger than that of competition.

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