I went to pick up a pro snowboarder from the airport yesterday. I’m staying at his house in Seattle. He just blew out his knee and will most likely miss a good portion of the season, including the Grand Prix Olympic qualifiers. Although he’s really sweet and handling it well, I’m staying on his couch so I can tell it’s a big blow. I’ve heard about a handful of pros getting injured this week. From what I gather, these pros have to go up to do early season photo shoots for their sponsors’ catalogues. Very often, they are on next year’s equipment, which isn’t actually finished yet. So a rider has to ride on whatever board the sponsor’s factory had around onto which they could sublimate the new graphics. Furthermore, this rider may not have ridden since last Spring. I have heard much about this lately. Many feel these riders are getting pushed too hard, so early in the season.

But wait a minute. Aren’t we talking about professional athletes here? Perhaps it’s not the pro snowboarders I should be feeling sorry for. I was in a van with a couple of pros and a team manager today, headed for Steven’s Pass. I brought up this inhumane early-season treatment of snowboarders and got hoots and hollers back about how spoiled most pros are. Pro snowboarders can snowboard year-round. Some choose not to. A lot of pros actually hate snowboarding. They only snowboard when there’s either a panel of judges or a camera in front of them, and even then they whine about it. Even if they go to Hood, I was told, they only go to “make an appearance” for the media.

Then I remembered a conversation I had with Jeff Brushie a few months ago. I asked him why he was in Las Vegas buying records when he could be at sunny Mt. Hood, riding the pipe and he said that he refuses to ride in the summer, and has for the last few years. He goes up to Hood for a week each summer just to get some coverage and his sponsor is pacified. The rest of the time he does what he wants. He told me this in a very ‘if they don’t like it they can fuck off’ manner and I was in awe of his rock star power. And maybe sometimes the sponsor can get more coverage and therefore mileage out of a crazy personality than out of superior riding ability. This rock star, livin’ large, ‘I don’t have to train, it’s a natural gift’ attitude seems to make some pros even more sought after. Ah, the psychology of fame.

I’m not saying the Brush is one of these brats. I wouldn’t really know. I do know that he’s a legend though, so takes him out of this category anyway. The aforementioned team manager also told me about one of his riders who wants a raise. He’s getting a lot of coverage in the magazines and is really popular, but he’s not as good as others on his team. Should he get a raise? How do you measure the value of a rider? By how much he’s advancing the sport of snowboarding or by how many boards he sells for the company? In many sports, the answers to these two would be the same, but snowboarding has become so media-driven that the most progressive rider might not be the most popular. In fact, the most progressive rider might not even be sponsored, but I guess that’s another can of worms. So this team manager was vacillating about this rider. Should he get a raise just because he gets a lot of press? He worried that the rider wasn’t good enough. That he had an obligation to the riders who work really hard and push themselves and the sport, either by risking their lives in Alaska or training all summer at camp. “If he had been at Hood all summer rather than hanging out with his girlfriend, I might feel diffferently right now,” he said.

A friend of mine just called and I casually mentioned what I was writing about here. She went off, saying that she was just in her sponsor’s office and one of the more celebrated riders walked in. The team manager told this pro that he needed to go to Japan to ride and talk up his pro model. The rider refused, saying that he went to Japan last year and hated it. There was nothing to eat and the pipes sucked. “And they just take it,” she concluded. “People just lap it up. Pro snowboarders suck. They get paid to snowboard and they hate snowboarding. What idiots. They should all blow their knees out.” I just sighed. Ah, the psychology of fame.