East vs West: Who will win?

16:21 12th March 2013 by Kel Verbiest
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I completely understand that when you throw this question into the world of politics you’ll create a shit-storm of epic proportions so it’s best to keep clear. When you throw this question into the world of snowboarding, it’s a question that pushes the idea of progression, hope and entertainment. You see, not everyone deals with questions like this in terms of competition. I do get the slight irony that the way we see a lot of snowboarding is through competition, but when it comes to the riders themselves and the attitude of the snowboarding industry, we’re seeing this ‘question’ as a good thing.

So, let me explain. If you’ve been watching the ‘From Straight Lines to Triple Corks – History of Competitive Snowboarding‘ series on Mpora then you’ll be pretty clued up about what’s going on. With Tom Sims and Jake Burton going head to head in the beginning and Sean Palmer and Craig Kelly creating the first rivalry, we’ve been covered with a thin coating of ‘snowboarding-is-clearly-American-and-won’t-be-anything-else’. It’s not been done intentionally but with the sport’s impact being huge in the states from the offset, it was always going to have that feeling. Throw in some Scandi talent in the form of Terje Haakonsen and there’s another continent that have their roots in the sport.
As the years have flown by we’ve seen several people’s names become well known – Kevin Pearce (for the wrong reasons), Jenny Jones, Nicolas Müller and of course Shaun White. Shaun White was the poster boy of snowboarding and he was, and arguably still is, fucking incredible. People might hate him but he’s helped the sport massively and that’s something that we should all be pretty pleased about. My point about Shaun is this – he’s that young kid that made everyone’s jaw drop, he made everyone green with envy that they weren’t as talented as he was and at one point, more people found him more recognisable than Jesus (pointless fact for you atheists out there but it was an American survey). If he was the most recognisable face in the sport then there was clearly no one better than Shaun to use as an ambassador for the Beijing Air & Style competition. People knew him and it was an easy way to market the idea of snowboarding to an audience that hasn’t had the joy of being involved in snowboarding. If I’m starting to lose you then this will help. Get it? Good.

We all know that bringing a new sport into a new country/continent/world is to essentially make money, at least for the brands anyway, but for us lot still involved in the industry with rose-tinted glasses, it’s a great way to bring the sport to new people who might enjoy it as much as we do. As soon as you introduce a new sport to new people there will inevitably be a few that pick it up instantly. We all know that person. That’s the kid that we all hate because he’s too good at all sports and shows off a little bit whilst ‘trying to stay humble’ – for this read Shaun White. So I know it’s a bit of a weird point and the writing is a bit stunted but stay with me, there’s reason behind it.
After the introduction of snowboarding to the Eastern world, we’ve started to see a slow influx of riders from China, Japan and the like. We’ve had Kazuhiro Kokubo riding at the last Winter Olympics but more importantly are three riders that are flying the flag – Yiwei Zhang, Ayumu Hirano and Miyabi Onitsuka.

Yiwei Zhang recently finished second at the Arctic Challenge from a wildcard entry, whereas Ayumu Hirano came second at the Burton US Open. You can list them simply as that and it’s fairly impressive as it is, but even more so if you look at the fact that Yiwei was a wildcard and managed to finished second at the Arctic Challenge closely followed by Ayumu Hirano in third. Ayumu, as I said, grabbed second at the Burton US Open and is only 14 years old! Not only that but he went a huge 16 feet out of the pipe! If he’s managing that at 14 then you can only dream about what he’ll be like when he hits his peak. Another 14 year-old that’s making waves is Miyabi Onitsuka from Japan who claimed the Big Air title at the O’Neill Evolution! That’s three riders with some insane promise!

Yiwei Zhang – Final run at the Arctic Challenge Halfpipe 2013 a Snowboarding video by WorldSnowboardTour

Ayumu Hirano 2nd place run at the Burton US Open 2013 — Halfpipe Finals a Snowboarding video by WorldSnowboardTour

Miyabi Onitsuka – O’Neill Evolution 2013 – Womens Superfinal a Snowboarding video by WorldSnowboardTour

With riders like this coming out of the woodwork and really stamping their authority on the snowboarding world, how long is it before we see a bit of a shift in dominance? I realise that the dominance isn’t wholly on the laps of the Americans and if anything, there are probably more European riders at the top of the list right now but give the kids from the East a few more years to embed themselves in the scene and we could see a bit of a revolution within our sport. And that ain’t no bad thing…

What do you reckon?

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