Snowboarding In London? Red Bull Big Air Challenge splashes out

Right now London, England is the style capital of the world. Everyone who has any says so. New Brit design and fashion is derived from tastefully ripping off various elements of other cultures. They call it “fusion,” but a rip-off is a rip-off.

Take the Red Bull Big Air Challenge at London’s Royal Victoria Dock early this fall. The British snowboarding scene is neither large nor ‘core. A few diehards do their best, but the scene is probably bigger in Florida. In the entire country no more than a couple-thousand boards are sold each year. While in the United States, the blatant use of the sport as a youth-marketing platform is balanced by actual riders and a thriving snowboarding industry, in the United Kingdom snowboarding now effectively belongs to slimy, fashion marketing types who don’t know an edge from an enema.

So there we were, on an 80-degree-plus day, possibly the only sunny weekend London had the entire summer. The event was set up in the heart of London’s docklands, which in the 1930s was the home to British fascism and in the early 70s spawned the first skinheads.

The snowboard event consisted of a large ramp covered with the same plastic matting used to create Britain’s numerous artificial ski slopes. It’d been towed out about 50 yards off the edge of the quay-and was floating. The idea was for various international and local snowboarders to slide this ramp and huck themselves into the newly pollution-free waters of the dock. It was a potentially ingenious idea for hosting a snowboard event during the summer or in hot climates. And indeed, a handful of hard-working young pros such as Mike Basich did what they’re paid for, serving up 720 rodeos, hoping to snag the 5,000-dollar first prize.

Just one little problem-the whole thing has absolutely nothing to do with snowboarding. Of course an event like this is predictably more exhibition than competition. But snowboarding as a sport-as opposed to simply a clever visual trick-wasn’t part of anybody’s strategy. This was the first supposed snowboard event I’d seen where not a single sponsor from the snowboard industry participated. I asked a PR person which snowboarding publications she read and she said she’d never read any.

And the attitude the promoters gave off was that snowboarding really didn’t matter. What mattered was the MTV camera crew got to talk to the sixteen-year-old female singer whose single is at number nine on the UK charts and who just played a half-hour set on the floating stage. Even more important was the TV interview that took place against the backdrop of banners provided by Red Bull, the major sponsor. Contrary to the U.S. market, where Red Bull is presented as a sports drink, in the UK, its target consumers are the armies of urban club kids who crave a lot of caffeine during their all-night raving. Snowboarding was simply deemed a suitably hip vehicle to attach the Red Bull selling wagon.

“As a snowboarder I felt violated,” says Jeremy Sladon, chief buyer for the UK’s Snowboard Asylum shops. “We stayed twenty minutes and then drove home.”

As popularity for snowboard events worldwide grows, so does the fear that one day we might see such a spectacle on U.S. turf-or bodies of water.

-Matthew Kreitman