I was talking with NZ Snowboard champ Shelly Gotleb at an industry party in Wanaka following the Big Air event, part of the Winter Games. We were talking about the culture that exists in snowboarder culture and how it is really quite supportive and nurturing, which I think runs counter to the stereotypes.
I was shooting the event for PhotoSport, and also for myself – an amazing opportunity to get access to photograph top level athletes for portfolio. Part of my strategy for shooting the event was not to stick to just action shots, rather get “Behind the Scenes” and look for the “Colour and Culture” of the event. Mid comp, I hiked up the massive ramp which drops the riders down to the big air jump. It was very tentative stepping up the icy side of the slope trying to chip in my hiking boots toes to get a solid purchase to hold me and my 3 cameras.
I was conscious not to push too hard and get in peoples faces as they mentally prepared for what is essentially a life threatening decent into a guaranteed stint at flying on average 75-100+ft through the air. While shooting near the landing zone of the jump, I almost got taken out a couple of times by riders going out of control. It’s for sure risky business! I also saw a couple of really bad stacks withs full on wipe outs following.
What surprised me at the top was the vibe – civil and supportive. Will Jackways was quick to say hi, remarking that I had a lot of camera gear – I joked that yes I was a photo geek. He quickly countered that “Nahh man, your alright” When a rider dropped in, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch and as cheered if they did well. This was mid competition mind you, where everyone was competing with each other for points, prizes and sponsorship deals. What came across was that everyone was genuinely stocked when someone did well. It reminded me of surfing big waves in Indonesia or California. When things are that serious and dangerous, everyone is feels a camaraderie for each other.
Shelly remarked that she was happy I picked up on this, being a relative outsider on the professional snowboarding circuit. She said that it exists in all levels of the sport. The people you compete against are the ones you see all the time around the world and there exists a real kinship.