words: Mary Walsh
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, Chris “Scandolf” Moran, and Mary Walsh
The Rose Bowl, seated within the upscale and perfectly manicured neighborhoods of Pasadena, California, just a short half hour drive northeast of Los Angeles, is an architectural icon of traditional sports. It has played host to World Cups, Superbowls, 1984 Olympic events, collegiate championships, and of course, the namesake of the arena, the Rose Bowl, played by university football teams on New Year’s Day each year. Eminem, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, Beyonce, *NSYNC (followed by Justin Timberlake post-boy band), and the Jonas Brothers have all played concerts there. It’s considered one of the most iconic stadiums in the world. And now, it’s been the site of a massive snowboard event.
Three years ago, Shaun White became more involved in the Air & Style series, stamping his name on the Beijing iteration of the contest. In early 2014, he became the majority shareholder of the Air & Style, laying the groundwork for the Air & Style’s first appearance in North America. Late last fall, it was announced that this epochal snowboard event would touch down in Southern California, staking a claim in the fields and parking lots surrounding the high walls of the Rose Bowl stadium. And on Saturday, January 21st, sixteen of the world’s best jumpers congregated in Pasadena, boarded an elevator to the top of six-plus-story high scaffolding set up manicured to perfection by the Bear and Mammoth Mountain park crews, strapped in and pointed it down the runway toward a behemoth booter. To say that it was an unlikely spectacle to have a few hundred tons of snow and a giant scaffolding set up in Southern California would be an understatement.
The SNOWBOARDER crew arrived early in the morning, before the festivities began and walked around the grounds methodically in Vans and tshirts, sunbock applied to areas of the body that never generally see the light of day at a regular snowboard contest (read: the forearms). The stage was set, specifically with a myriad of lighting effects and two enormous big screens on either side and as SPT crews salted and raked the run-in and landing of the jump, the question hanging in the air was whether California would come out to play at the inaugural competition-slash-music-festival.
The field of riders was dropped to fourteen when Torgeir Bergrem and Billy Morgan were unable to compete. Like the first two stops in Beijing and Innsbruck, Air & Style Los Angeles ran in three rounds: the first was divided into two heats of riders each with three runs each. Throughout each section, the two highest scores posted by each competitor would be combined to provide their final ranking. The top ten riders collectively from the first two heats would advance to the second round, head-to-head seeding the snowboarders against each other. The top five advanced to the three-run finals, under the lights.
From the beginning, cloudy conditions and vacillating temperatures did nothing to hinder the fourteen snowboarders. Triple cork twelves and fourteens were de rigeur for the first drop, the current versions of safety tricks for the world’s best. As pockets of co-eds lounged on beach blankets in the grass and stadium-style lemonade vendors trolled the festival grounds, Japanese phenom Yuki Kadono landed his first 1620 of the day; Sven Thorgren put down his now-signature cab twelve roast beef to nose double grab; Kim-Rune Hansen spun frontside of the toes; Peetu Piiroinen sent the jump deep to the bottom; Mark McMorris stomped meticulous triple corks effortlessly; and Ståle Sandbech took first place standing coming out of qualifications. Sage Kotsenburg missed advancing into round two by less than a point, but his efforts were not unnoticed as he, per usual, injected the proceedings with a heavy amount of style, including sending a rocket air. Astutely, and genuinely, all of the snowboarders questioned by announcer Eddie Wall about the day’s event emphasized a laid-back enjoyment of sending it off of the unusually located set up. It was, if anything, an emphatic introduction for any of the audience less familiar with snowboarding to connect such enormous airs with such laissez-faire outlooks.
Attention between rounds turned to the stage across from the scaffolding set up, as musical acts turned it up for the gyrating assemblage. Noticeably absent from the line up was Arianna Grande. Speakers blasted and as the day wore on, the mass of people grew to around 18,000. The sun was setting as the head-to-head round began and focus turned back to the jump. Seeded by qualifying position, the line up took shape: Max Parrot vs. Yuki Kadono. Mark McMorris vs. Peetu Piiroinen. Sven Thorgren vs. Eric Willett. Sebastien Toutant vs. Kim-Rune Hansen. Ståle Sandbech vs. Antoine Truchon. Temperatures dropped and the crowd collected at the bottom of the jump corral.
Ståle Sandbech, Norwegian wünder rider and a snowboarder who has the innate ability to fuse loaded style into every competitive arena he enters, was vying for the Tour Champion title during the first heat. After earning second place in Beijing in December and winning at Innsbruk last month, if Ståle was able to place within the top four in LA, he would win the title. If Ståle earned a spot in Round 2 and Finnish Peetu Piiroinen didn’t make it to that round, then Ståle would be the Tour Champion before even dropping in. When Canadian Mark McMorris knocked Peetu out of contention, Ståle put a giant win in the bag for the evening, before finals had even begun. He was the official Air & Style 2015 Tour Champion and a cool $50,000 richer for his hard-earned efforts.
The tricks thrown during the rider vs. rider section were heavy. Willett and Parrot were not able to solidify the clean runs they needed to make the final five. Kim-Rune’s highest scored switch back ten fell to Toutant’s cleaner backside 1080 nose. Truchon was one upped by Sandbech’s triple fourteen Indy, one of the highest scored tricks of the night at a 37.60. When the dust settled, five snowboarders continued on: Ståle, Mark, Seb, Yuki, and Sven and the Super Finals were on. Beams of Hollywood lights sliced through the sky, Shaun White joined the throng of people at the bottom. Spectators lined the fencing around the set up and cheered with every drop. Air & Style Los Angeles was a success. And this is where the efforts of Shaun, SPT, the entire team at Air & Style, in addition to the riders, really shone. While the assembled swarm of people were well-versed in the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar and Portugal, The Man, it behooves snowboarding as a community and industry to establish a familiarity with the larger population. As a group, we lament the reputation that our sport is pigeon-holed into, fraught with overuse of aged and awkward slang terms and condescension from mainstream media. While removing snowboarding from the mountains and bringing it to the beach, so to speak, may seem to separate the activity from its most important element, it is this bridging of the gap that will ideally (if not slowly) increase the understanding of the nuances of our self-built culture. To this end, there were no better individuals to act as snowboarding’s ambassadors than the five riders who stood high in the air atop the scaffolding late Saturday night. Mark McMorris, who commands the ability to land complex tricks under pressure with a scary consistency. Sven Thorgren, a Swedish rider who has exploded onto the world tour the past few seasons and always infuses unique style into the now stock doubles and triples of the world class competitive circuit. Seb Toots, a remarkably talented French Canadian. Ståle Sandbech, one of the most stylish riders in snowboarding. And, Yuki Kadono, at only 18 years old, one of the first to lock 1620s into his repertoire with consistency. All of these riders are current flag bearers of where competitive snowboarding is headed, yet are not bound by its constraints and because of that, instill confidence. As announcers Preston Strout and Brad J. broke down the tricks over the loud speaker and Eddie Wall spoke with the riders on snow, the barriers of snowboarding were broken down for any in the audience who were not familiar.
Of course, the riding was on point and this was paramount. Seb, Mark, and Ståle landed triple fourteens their first run (though a landing line bobble by Ståle brought his score down). Yuki threw a backside sixteen and moved into first place, never looking back. Yuki was on fire during finals. He would transition into a switch backside twelve for his second hit and ignite the crowd on his last drop by stomping a never-been-done switch backside triple cork 1620, besting his first run and garnering the highest score of the day, earning a 95.26 overall, 25.13 points ahead of second and winning his first Air & Style win since 2012 A&S Beijing.
Winning second place was Seb Toots, a veteran of the competitive scene who has placed in major competitions the world over and who was one of the first riders to sustain multiple off-axis spins when competing. Like fourth place McMorris, Toots opened with a backside triple fourteen, which would be his highest scored trick of the night netting a 34.80. A tamer frontside double ten would bolster his combined score to 70.13 and secure the podium for this French Canadian.
Ståle Sandbech, who had ridden flawlessly all day, dropped last during finals and in his first two go’s wasn’t able to keep his board beneath him as cleanly as usual. His first triple fourteen was awarded a low 16.26, but it was a testament to his abilities that on the third drop, Ståle launched a flat backside fourteen Indy that would be the fourth highest-scored trick of finals and would catapult him onto his third Air & Style podium of the year.
As the lights flashed into the sky and Yuki, Seb, and Ståle popped the corks out of bottles of bubbly, the crowd dispersed into the Pasadena twilight, trudging though trampled grass as opposed to boot-packed snow and rolling down car windows as they drove away. But for the snowboarders who had traversed the scaffold set up for the past twelve hours, it was another day in snowboard boots, riding the same pristine set ups they find in more frigid locales, closing out one of the most iconic contests series in the world in the California desert.
As for the impact that Shaun White’s SoCal brainchild has left in its wake, hopefully among the legions of LA County teens there are a few who came to see Kendrick Lamar and who left fans of Stale Sandbech and Sven Thorgren. Some of the girls who were twerking during Diplo hopefully learned the definition of tweaking, as well. And ideally, there were families who enjoyed the trampolines, picked up their Shaun White x Target collab tshirts, and now also are thinking about gifting snowboards next Christmas. While the snowboarding may have been outside of its comfort zone in the confines of palm trees and goal posts, the show produced by the fourteen riders who dropped into the Air & Style big air jump was nothing short of spectacular and provided ample and beneficial translation of snowboarding to anyone less familiar. Congratulations, Ståle, Yuki, and Seb, and thanks to everyone that dropped in, shouldered a rake, and worked to ensure that snowboarding’s introduction to Los Angeles was a good one.
First – Yuku Kadono – 95.26
Second – Sebastien Toutant – 70.13
Third – Ståle Sandbech – 65.65
Fourth – Mark McMorris – 58.65
Fifth – Sven Thorgren – 44.72
2015 Air & Style Tour Champion – Ståle Sandbech
Read the full Air & Style Los Angeles: Yuki Kadono and Ståle Sandbech take top honors article on Snowboarder Magazine.