Snowboarding shreds into the Smithsonian


Note: the Snowboarding Artifact Wall is now on view on the first floor of the Museum.

The Superpipe is a 567 foot long, 22 foot deep, U-shaped pipe that is 66 feet from lip to lip with a pitch of 18 degrees. This is where Shaun White is most comfortable, dropping into the pipe, flying up the wall, soaring up to 20 feet over the lip of the pipe and performing flips, twists, and turns with more grace and agility than any in his sport. White has won gold in two Olympic Games and is the most decorated athlete in X Games history with 16 medals—11 of them gold. Most recently at the 2012 Winter X Games, White earned the only perfect score ever achieved in the Superpipe event, winning the gold for a fifth consecutive time and becoming the only athlete to land a front side double cork 1260 in competition.

Time-lapse of Shaun White creating tricks during the Red Bull Project X, Silverton, Colorado, 2009. Photo by Adam Moran.

Perhaps the most dynamic and accomplished athlete in the brief history of snowboarding, White joins other early pioneers and Olympic medalists in a new History Highlights case that examines the role competition has played in the evolution of the sport since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Competition has had a pivotal role in propelling technological innovations in equipment and creating the different genres of snowboarding—freestyle and downhill. This new display takes a look at the cultural influences surfing, skiing, and skateboarding have had on snowboarding and how the east and west coast competitions evolved into the slalom and freestyle events we see today. Two early pioneers, Sherman Poppen and Jake Burton Carpenter, are also highlighted along with the role of the media and the significance the X Games and Winter Olympics have had on launching the sport onto the world stage.

The snowboarding collection is relatively new to the National Museum of American History’s sports collection, but we hope to expand it as fast as the sport seems to be growing. Poppen, the “grandfather of snowboarding,” was the first to donate a collection of archival material as well as many examples of the Snurfer, his patented invention which was vital to the evolution of the modern board. His influence on young inventors and entrepreneurs such as Burton is apparent in Burton’s own donation of one of his first successful boards, The Burton Backhill. Burton’s influence on the sport is also represented through the equipment donated by Olympians Hannah Teter and White, both using Burton equipment to win silver and gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Metal fins added to the keel of this racing Snurfer (around 1973) provided better control and braking, but by 1980 these fins were removed in order to achieve faster speeds.

White’s donation to the collection includes the Burton board he used at the 2010 Winter X Games, in which he won his third consecutive gold in the Superpipe event. White performed a record-setting 23 feet of air off the pipe on this board followed by a 180 double cork, a 540 stalefish, a double McTwist and an alley-oop rodeo to win the event. Incredible as it would normally be, just an hour before his run, White slammed his face on the lip of the pipe in a practice run sending his helmet flying. Always the competitor, White amazingly recovered and took to the medal stand with cuts on his face from the fall. This board is visible in the History Highlights case along with the pants and jackets he used during the Red Bull Project X. In preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, White and his Red Bull sponsor came together to create the Red Bull Project X, which helped White translate the tricks he had created in his head, to his board. White created several innovative tricks, including the Double McTwist, which he added to his ever expanding catalog of tricks.

White used this Burton board at the Winter X Games 14, landing two back-to-back double corks and ending with a double McTwist 1260.

Pioneering athletes who represent different technological, cultural, and style trends will enhance our collection greatly and help us tell the story of snowboarding and its impact on our culture. By collecting modern day technology as well as examples from previous generations of boarders, we hope to build a comprehensive collection which represents snowboarding on a national level. We would like to include equipment, apparel, awards, and photographs from athletes of all generations and levels of competition. Join us in celebrating the sport of snowboarding through this History Highlights case and come along for the ride as our collections continue to grow in the years ahead.

Jane Rogers is an associate curator in Culture and the Arts at the National Museum of American History.