Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stunt Boarder to Stunt Man: The Ben Hinkley Story

The daytime warmth had long given way to the chill of Vermont night. Everyone was exhausted from a day of spectating, legs tired and cramping, shoes icy and wet, but no one could leave. History was in the making, snowboarding was changing. The year was 2000 and this was the last ever US Open Big Air event.

That in itself is far from pivotal. What was pivotal, however, was Ben Hinkley’s performance. In what many would consider the peak of his (snowboard) career, Hinkley had been slaying the big air scene all season with his signature lawn dart, and was a shoe in for the Open title. In the first round of the big air finals, Hinkley thrilled the crowd as he dove through the air head first, flipping around to land cleanly on his feet at the last second. Spectators cheered, but the judges did not, and Ben was left needing a big score. In an unfamiliar position Ben’s nerves got the best of him, and he fell in his second run. Great competitors are fueled by great competition, they thrive when their backs are to wall, and that fall was all the motivation Ben needed. In his final run he sent it; soaring over the nose of his board on the take off, turning chaos into beauty as he flipped over and over; two full front flipping rotations left the crowd stunned. Riding down the landing, arms raised, it was a forgone conclusion that Ben had just won the US Open, the judges just had to make it official…

...But the judges made a stand, rewarding lateral spins over vertical stunts, and as Ben’s name slowly fell down the leader board, his character quickly sank into obscurity. (Jussi’s switch back 9 won, and he is still reigning US Open Big air champ)

Flash forward to 2007. Nearly eight years later the highs and lows of professional snowboarding once again find Ben Hinkley on center stage, awaiting a judge’s score, albeit a totally different stage and a totally different score. This time it is not a double front flip that will determine his fate at the US Open, but a blooper filled snowboarding run along side Queen Latifah at the Tourus World Stunt Awards (nominated for the film Last Holiday(2006)). Ben didn’t win the award for best specialty stunt that night, but he did take a giant step forward for all aging professional riders. The transition from stunt snowboarder to stunt man will never be an easy one, but thanks to Ben the path is lit.

hinkley 2x front flip xtreme from stale tails on Vimeo.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Putting the D back in Snowboar: Shaun White Snowboarding

Combining breathtakingly underwhelming graphics with mindnumbingly prohibitive controls Shaun White Snowboarding is a video game about snowboarding. Inspired by the snowboarding of Shaun White, and the snowboarding lifestyle itself, Shaun White Snowboarding is about more than just “tricking” and “going fast” while snowboarding, its about living life, taking risks, and riding down hill while snowboarding just like Shaun White on a physics driven “havoc” snowboard. Yeah Snowboarding!! (if anyone has a sound bite of T Pain saying awesome, email it to and I'll add it here)

Shaun White Snowboarding from Frozen Nature on Vimeo.

Unfortunately even with an Urkeled focus, this game was unable to keep my attention and was really kind of a sog fest. Surely Shaun was too busy driving his Red Bull fueled Geländewagen to test it himself, and although wildly disappointing, Shaun White Snowboarding is still way better than Scrable for game boy (the computer is too good even on easy), so go buy yourself a couple copies!!

(this post was a lesson in SEO, Shaun White!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chas'ing the Dream

The first day of 1995 was a Sunday. Some places were warm, some were cold, wet or dry, cloudy or sunny, it didn’t matter, because for most, 1995 started just like any other year.

One young man, however, was about to witness an event that would forever change his life. A breath-taking spectacle for all in attendance, the Eikedalen Freestyle has long been known as Norway’s premier event for high-flying acrobatics and envelope pushing aerials. While this may be well known to you and I, it was not well known to a young Cindy Guldemond.

Only a few weeks before the EF went down, Cindy had, on a whim, substituted her double pack of Winston 100’s for a Lucky14 Scratch off Lottery ticket. Cindy had never considered herself a lucky woman, born and raised on the racetracks of Laconia, NH; she had lived a hard life. Her father Charles Sr., or Chas for short, had nearly made it on the funny car drag race circuit, but during his first professional race a freak traction problem saw his car spin out of control. Four full circular rotations later, Chas was physically fine, but mentally he was unable to race anymore, always afraid of spinning out of control. Cindy had spent her adolescence dealing with her fathers aguish, but knew it was time for her to focus her attention on something else, her young son. At only 8 years old Chas Jr. shared little of his namesakes fear of spinning; bold and outspoken, Cindy saw hope in his shiny green eyes, and that is why, on that December day she gave Chas her scratch ticket.

They say that everything happens for a reason, and when Chas uncovered four leprechauns on that ticket, Cindy knew there was a reason they won a trip to a small ski field in Norway. Not the typical scratch off prize, they were both shocked and excited at their win. A few days of planning, a few bags packed, a few hours of traveling, and this story takes us back to where it started, The Eikedalen Freestyle.

The sky was grey and cold, the jump dark, and the light flat, but that didn’t deter the competitors from putting it all on the line. Chas and Cindy had never seen eagles so spread or daffy’s so split, both were thoroughly impressed, but no amount of impression could prepare them for what they were about to see. In an instant, a lifetime of fear and uncertainty would be put at ease, a jumbled existence would be put in order, and a young boy would see what he would be as a grown man. History has passed over the skiers name, but not his trick.

While “spinning to win” seems so obvious to us all today, it was not always so clear. It was not long ago that amplitude and style could best multiple spins in competition, and if it weren’t for past legends like the unknown skier above, or for living legends like the young boy turned man Chas Guldmond, people might still be trying to do aesthetically pleasing tricks in competition.

Thanks Chas, you are an inspiration to us all.