Risk vs. Reward
In the wake of Olympic snowboard hopeful Kevin Pearce’s recent injury, the media has questioned whether the level of risk in professional snowboarding has gone too far. Our answer? Hell no.by TJ Parsons
If there's one thing that unites all snowboarders, regardless of ability level, riding style or tightness of pants, it's the ethereal joy of successfully pushing limits and accomplishing something previously out of reach. This is the narcotic we crave and is also what makes us overlook the constant possibility of breaking ourselves. However, injuries inevitably happen, and everyone from the weekend warrior to globetrotting überpros have all been battered. On December 31st, Burton team rider and Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce* suffered a grisly crash while practicing in the Park City superpipe. Kevin sustained a traumatic brain injury and has since improved from critical to stable condition but faces a long road to recovery (at the time of publication KP is breathing on his own and showing daily progress).
Kevin's high-profile status no doubt fueled the mainstream media's decision to flap its collective gums and weigh in on the accident. Probably the lowest point in the media's reaction culminated with the ABC News interview of sports journalist Christine Brennan. Though Brennan may be an expert on the Washington Redskins, the Olympics, and women's sports, we're confused by the decision to pick Brennan's name out of the Rolodex instead of contacting someone like Terje or Ross Powers. In fact, Brennan's interview did a fantastic job of defiling all that is sacred to shredders by suggesting that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) function as the "leaders of this sport" and that it should be doing more to "rein in" athletes and prevent injuries, as the "extreme moves have gone too far." The portrayal of snowboarders as self-destructive renegades is not only passé but also counter-productive to the organic process of pushing the sport.
Watch the interview if you haven't already:
We'll pause for a moment so you can slap your forehead and groan out loud.
Brennan's perspective not only makes a mockery of snowboarding's essence, but it is also anathema to the Olympic spirit. Should the IOC enforce a distance limit for the ski-jump? What about a speed limit for speed skating or airbags on bobsleds? Banning tricks from competition not only stifles riders' creativity but also further undermines an already-questionable judging system that encourages the robotic execution of a pre-determined run instead of inventive, original riding. Most pros agree their favorite contests emphasize progression and camaraderie, which has led some to claim that the best snowboarding won't even be seen in the Olympics.
"Progression" is a relative term—for some riders, it means hitting a jump in the park for the first time. For riders like Kevin Pearce, it means blasting double-cork spins 15 feet out of a superpipe. The euphoria of overcoming fear and injury to risk learning something new continues to fuel the fire of snowboarders around the globe. It was that way long before the Olympics and X-Games started pimping snowboarders to sell ad time, and it will continue to be that way as long as kids continue to strap on boards and realize that gravity plus speed and snow equals nearly endless possibilities for fun.
*For updates on Kevin's progress and to send good vibes to him and his family, visit the Well Wishes to our Friend Kevin Pearce page on Facebook.