Style: Nothing Else Matters
From the December 2012 Issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding
Words by Joel Muzzey
Style. We know it when we see it, right? But what else can really be said about style? Each of us has our own interpretation of what it is, our own criteria. We've got our favorite riders, tricks, and video parts. We've got the knowledge passed down to us from the older guys (never grab tindy). We have a mental checklist of essential elements that make shit rad offset by a mental blacklist of what's wack. There's also a vast gray area populated by riding and people who we barely notice. But the good stuff stands out in subtle, yet striking, detail because of style. It could be anything: the tilt of the head on takeoff, the odd angle of an arm, the sticker job, mid-spin composure, whatever. And whether you're talking snowboarding, music, art, or everyday life, style is what draws the line between the best thing ever and who cares. It's what constitutes that rare, inexplicable image: the one photo or trick or incredible something that hits you and melts itself into your soul. And yet aside from descriptors that circle the subject, style seems to escape explanation. At the same time, its importance in snowboarding can't be denied. That's why we talk about it.
Any discussion on style is subjective. It's about opinions and reference points and not much else. The loose parameters and roots of style were established by the pioneers then reinterpreted, reinforced, and mutated by the following generation of leaders. So instead of foisting a steaming pile of shred-magazine-writer-kook conjecture on you, we got some experts involved to explore this mysterious topic. Granted, the beauty of talking about style is that each of us is an expert, but unlike yours or mine, the opinions of these riders might actually make for some interesting reading.
To lead us along on the tour, we have Jamie Lynn, Terje Haakonsen, Mikkel Bang, Gigi Rüf, Chris Bradshaw, Jake Blauvelt, Justin Bennee, Devun Walsh, Nicolas Müller, Pat Moore, and Danny Davis. Maybe they can shed some light on it.
That Which Cannot Be Defined
"What is style? It sounds like a pretty simple question, but it's actually the hardest thing to put your finger on and give a definitive answer for," Jamie Lynn says. "Style is the essence. It's organic--just the way you do things. It's your creative expression. How can you describe that or define it? It's something that happens unconsciously. It's just the way things are, like the way you wipe your butt or brush your teeth or tie your shoes. It's automatic." And coming from a rider universally acknowledged as one of the most influential style leaders ever, we immediately face the futility of trying to deal in the definitive.
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Gigi Rüf says style is "the understanding of snowboarding. Take that and start drawing." Chris Bradshaw says it's "putting your own twist on how you do things." To Nico Müller, "style is the spiritual side of it. Style in snowboarding is like what the soul is to our body." Terje outlines it this way: "Style is the deciding factor in boarding because almost everybody can do tricks." Pat Moore agrees "it's uniqueness--many people can do a trick but few make it interesting. To Devun Walsh, "making it look fluid and effortless" are key elements, explaining, "you do certain tricks because that's what you think looks cool, and that's part of who you are and how you feel. It all comes through in the riding. It's not necessarily Jake Blauvelt's big front seven, it's the way he does a slash on the side of a run or flows through the bumps." For Danny Davis, it's "clothing style, it's everything. It's what feels good to you. Even if grabbing tindy feels good. Bummer for you, but that's your style." Okay, well, let's use that mention of the tindy as our signal to move on. Suffice it to say, the concept of style is very personal.
It Is What It Isn't
A standard approach for art and music critics is to talk around a given piece of art, discussing all that it isn't in order to explain what it is. This process of elimination is also applied to discussions of snowboarding. Surely you've heard of "bad style."
"Bad style is what you fear--tricks that just look horrible and ugly," Danny Davis says. Mikkel Bang defines it simply: "Bad style is when someone tries too hard or is out of control." Justin Bennee, on the other hand, "could go on for days about all the things that make bad style, like pants that are too tight or too short, pants that are too big with a jacket that’s too small. That can look pretty bad. Too much flare is bad style--let your riding speak for itself. Anytime you grab tindy is bad style. Also grabbing mindy, tailfish, nute, and a few others that if you don’t know about, you should try skiing. Doing a bunnyhop and calling it a nollie is bad style. If your back foot isn’t at least a few inches off the ground before you lift up your nose then it's not a nollie, it's a bunnyhop. Don’t grab your knees, under or over, when trying to do a bigspin. Touching your knees together before you ollie, or at all, is bad style. Beaming people in the park after you land a trick is definitely bad style. Poo-butt front boards are really bad. Changing your style up to keep up with the latest trends is bad style as well."
Gigi says that when spinning, "grabs should be held, not spun like a ballerina. Devun cites anything "herky-jerky and wild" as bad style adding that, "to me, watching a kid do a back lip down a 40-stair rail is way cooler than seeing someone gapping out doing a method to like, boardslap on a 15-stair rail. That's so gay. You just don't grab onto rails. It's not a video game. You're not trying to add on extra tricks to get bonus points." Keep in mind, opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one, and generally speaking, our own smell like roses while everyone else's stink. Jake Blauvelt reminds us, "That’s the beauty of snowboarding: no rules!" So grab mindy if you need to, just make sure it's sick.
Nature versus Nurture on the next page…
Nature Versus Nurture
Is style something we're born with, or can we develop it? On one side, there's the Jamie Lynn view that says, "You either have it or you don't," and many on our panel agree. Bradshaw says, "I got lucky and came out the womb stylin'. My dad was a G." But what if your dad wasn't a G? The alternative view on this aspect of style is more permissive. Terje, who has been a style icon for 20 years, thinks "everyone's style is always in development or changing a little." And even though he comes down on the birther side and says "you can't polish a turd," Justin Bennee concedes that, "you can definitely develop certain abilities like doing tricks more solid and maybe not waving your arms around so much." He says, "Think about when you try a trick you've never done before. It might not look that good at first, but the more you do it and the better you know that trick, your style will develop and it will look better."
Mikkel's view on the matter is split. "I guess you're born with it because it's your own personal way of doing things," he says. "But I know my style has changed a lot since I started because I look at snowboarding differently now. I want to turn and carve more and find my own lines--you just find your own way you want to ride."
Pat Moore agrees, taking the long view, "I think style is something you grow into. A lot of guys grow up imitating what their favorite pros do, but it's not until they grow into their own style that it becomes their own." Pat's mention of imitation is a great jumping-off point into the oceanic waters of style influence.
I Learned This By Watching You
There's almost nothing as personal as our influences. Certain shit speaks to us, moves us. And it's totally subjective. We're all riding along the arc of a timeline highlighted by different events, experiences, and individuals. Past, present, or future, what resonates with us as riders is always linked to the timeline. Riders who influence us today were influenced by those who came before them, and so on, back to the dark ages. Here's where the name-dropping gets really heavy. Whether you know them or not, the following names and perspectives matter. Trust us on this. Influence is the motor that drives style.
For Haakonsen, it was "Craig [Kelly] and [Shaun] Palmer. I also used to dig [Terry] Kidwell and [Chris] Roach's style, too. Ingo [Ingemar Backman] has hella cool style. Also, riding with [Jeff] Brushie helped me a lot. He went big and had tricks with sick style."
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Jamie Lynn calls out skaters Neil Blender and Mark Gonzales. "The way they approached life, art, and skating..." he explains. "Christian Hosoi, Jason Jessee, and John Cardiel stand out, too. Growing up, I had a picture of Palmer hanging on the wall in my room. He was at Mount Rose, wearing sweatpants on a winter day, cracking a big method off this pillow. Just him and his whole world, it was different--unique, creative, individualistic. He was a huge influence. Same with Kidwell. He always had that laid-back '70s surf style but did all these tech skate tricks."
Bradshaw cites, "Skating with older dudes, slashing pools and shit. Listening to Wasted Youth, Angry Samoans, and GG Allin." He liked Chris Roach "'cause he didn’t give a shit and slayed everything! Noah Salasnek was the sickest, the most creative and smooth--he made everything look good. John Cardiel is my all-time favorite. He wasn't even serious about shredding. He tried huge shit with aggression and wild styles that stood out so much--front shifty, late back three?! And then there's [Scotty] Wittlake--now that's a motherf--kin' shredder. He was and is the gnarliest scumbag killer in the game. He set the bar for a lot of dudes. And of course there's Terje. He will always be the boss-king-pioneer of this thing we call snowboarding!"
Devun Walsh says, "At the beginning it was Noah Salasnek. He had such a crazy skate style. It was amazing watching the way he rode compared to someone like Craig Kelly, who was the first person I really looked up to. Craig definitely surfed it more, and Noah did tricks that were so skate influenced. It made me realize, 'Hey, I can ride this thing like a skateboard.' Jamie Lynn really inspired me after that. Noah kinda had a tight stance, knees together, fluid type of skate style. He did a lot of bonks and pokes and smaller stuff, then Jamie showed up and he had this wide stance, knees all spread apart. He still had a skate style but it was just more powerful. He was going bigger, he was just stronger. That's how I wanted to ride."
Swiss stylist Nicolas Müller's style short list includes "Terje, Ingemar, Michi Albin--nobody grabs melon like Albin--Fredi Kalbermatten, and Gigi Rüf."
Gigi Rüf offers up a longer list: "Craig Kelly's style embodies snowboarding in his graceful ability from training gates to pipe airs to watching him freeride. Jamie Lynn, with his incredible way of spinning off his toes, a method style that exemplified the artist he is--and always without gloves. Peter Line, with his eccentric behavior all channeled into his board graphics and diverse music taste. All his video parts are classics. Devun Walsh for his ollie drops, lofty switch backside ones, and keeping it flat-out skate influenced. Nicolas Müller, taking new strides to perfect the talent and style of Terje."
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Pat Moore says, "Craig's style has influenced every person in snowboarding whether they've heard of him or not. Snowboarding doesn't owe us anything, but we owe everything to Craig. RIP. Jamie Lynn is style, the very meaning of it. His methods, front threes, Cab spins, the way he smokes a cig...all style, a true badass. Terje--no one is more natural on a snowboard. Everyone dreams of riding like Terje. Noah Salasnek--he's a true all-around rider. His part in TB2 had a sick mix of freestyle tricks and flowing backcountry lines, and was linked up so sick with the Primus song. His part in TB7--probably one of my favorite parts--how he would bounce down pillows and big-ass lines was insane, the whole time with his calm, confident style and of course the bent arms, which I love. MFM--Marco rides with more confidence than anyone else. He handled biz in all his parts in the Whitey and Dawger videos, stomping all his tricks like they were jokes. 'I’m a thug for life, ain’t no changin' me!'"
Jake Blauvelt gives it up to "Tom Penny and Terje Haakonsen. Also, Craig Kelly--finding ways to flow down the mountain like a ball would roll. Nicolas Müller, grabbing and boning to the moon! Kyle Clancy--always doing super cool grabs like roast beefs and truckdrivers with spins. Jamie Lynn--method, Northwest style!"
Justin Bennee says, "It’s hard to narrow down; a ton of people influence me. Scotty Wittlake has that balls-to-the-wall, fully-committed, I-don't-give-a-f--k kinda style. Matty Ryan just looks like he's on a skateboard when he's snowboarding. Tarquin Robbins--he's kinda the OG when it comes to that laid-back, effortless style. Chris Bradshaw is like this generation's Tarquin Robbins. Don't get me wrong, Bradshaw has his own unique style that can't be matched or copied, but it's reminiscent of Tarquin to me. His style is probably the most ridiculous style ever. Certified G. It goes without saying that Marc Frank makes everything look like he's not even trying. And nobody has style like J2--he may not have the most effortless-looking style, but it's unique and so awesome to watch because he's confident. This is a case where his riding speaks for itself."
Without hesitation, Danny Davis says, "Keir Dillon was a huge influence. It was the McTwist with no shirt, going huge, his part in Stand & Deliver. I liked Danny Kass, [Kyle] Clancy, Shane Flood, Lane Knaack, and Charlie Morace because they were just badass. Their riding style was sick, but more so it was the way they acted, the stuff they wore. I liked Ross [Powers] and all these contest dudes, but the Grenade dudes really stood out. It just all made sense to me."
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Mikkel Bang says, "JP Solberg was my first and biggest influence because he always held the grab all the way: tweaked, so smooth, and so much control, kind of G style. Nicolas Müller, of course. He reads the mountain so well and boom--huge method out of something. I remember I got to ride pow with him in 2003 in Italy. Ever since then, he has been a huge inspiration for my riding."
If it feels like some of these names are being drilled into your head, good. That was the point. Riders like Craig Kelly, Terry Kidwell, Chris Roach, Noah Salasnek, Scotty Wittlake, and others, plus the very members of our esteemed panel are all contributors to the survival of style in snowboarding
Trick progression and competition are the two main factors affecting style as snowboarding slides toward its fifth Olympic appearance. Mikkel Bang is a guy on the frontlines of this battleground. He says, "Contests have not supported style as much as they should. If we forget about style in contests, snowboarding will turn into some kind of gymnastic sport. It's already pretty f--king bad because it seems like not everybody cares. Some people focus too much on being the best these days."
Danny Davis' take: "In contests, you have to sacrifice your style sometimes. It's super f--ked up. It's been going on for a few years, but it's really happening right now. Because of contests like the Olympics, eventually everyone will just be doing 12, 12, 12, double 12, 14, double 12, whatever. And you have these coaches--a kid learns front five and the coach is like, let's go front seven, then front nine. The coaches and the parents just want that next thing. Because Louie Vito's doing front 12s, their kid has to get front 12s if he's ever gonna be a real snowboarding athlete. So style is going out the window. It's a bummer. So many kids are just getting the trick done, just getting that double back rodeo done with no attention to making it look sick." Judging is also increasingly suspect. Dan says, "It's so contest-to-contest. Like, if you go to a Grand Prix, you better believe that a sick stylish air-to-fakie isn't gonna get half the score as some kid doing a sketchy double-cork that he somehow pulls off. At some contests you just want to say, 'F--k it. I'll do what I want to do and at least have some fun.'" Read that last sentence again. Damn.
Dan continues, "Does style matter? It depends who you ask and what part of snowboarding you're talking about. If you're filming a video part, you better be worrying about style all day. Unfortunately, if you're a competitor, it doesn't seem to matter so much." No, it probably doesn't matter to the corpo pinheads tabulating contest TV ratings or crossover UFC fans flipping through the channels looking for the next ad-banked extreme sports spectacle, but it matters.
It Belongs to Us on the next page…
It Belongs To Us
This piece began with disclaimers: Style escapes explanation; nothing definitive can really be said. After all, style is about feeling. And all the way from Tom Sims slashing in a white wetsuit to Danny Davis' "f--k it" attitude, self-expression and individualism have made snowboarding what it is.
Pat Moore sums it up squarely: "If you look at the risks the pros of the past took to make style important, I would say style is very important--particularly right now because we need to uphold the respect to them and what they did to make snowboarding what it is today. When we look back at the past, we glorify the riders' rebellious acts because we now agree with them, but at the time their acts were radical and not everyone agreed. When Brushie did that method in the middle of the GS course, he was taking a stand for snowboarding by saying racing's wack, freestyle is where it's at, but in reality that was a risk because surely his sponsors wanted him to do well in the race. And when dudes like Mike Ranquet started dressing in dark colors and grabbing like they were skateboarding, that was also a risk, 'cause at the time DayGlo and cross rockets were the hot shit. What I'm trying to say in a nutshell is that the badasses of our culture have had to reel snowboarding back in from the mainstream to keep it from becoming lame, and a huge part of what dictated that is the emphasis they put on style. It's important for us today to keep snowboarding stylish and interesting so we don't lose that heritage and what makes us snowboarders."