Image problems? The Public Perception of trolley boarding

Ade McC brings you a questioning editorial…

Where does your perception of mountain boarding lie?

If we were to survey a random 100 members of the public about their perception of mountain boarding, where on the line below would the majority of the votes sit?

safeornot

And if we asked the same 100 people what words they would associate with it, I wonder what they would be…

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I’d hazard a guess that if we asked the same people the same question but for mountain biking, then there would be a totally different response; that there are several aspects or disciplines, that there is inherent difference and risk when riding to work or competing in races for instance, and generally that most people who ride a mountain bike expect to come home in one piece, unscathed and intact.

image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-007In summary, ‘mountain biking’ as an all-encompassing term for an activity, is on the whole a safe one. I would also guess that most people can ride a bike and didn’t give up after falling for the first time!

 

Of course a lot of the 100 people surveyed probably wouldn’t have heard of it at all, but from personal experience when explaining the concept of mountainboarding to people (when not out riding, eg “large skateboard? Small snowboard with wheels?”), these everyday people normally fall into one of four camps:

a) not at all interested; ‘what’s the point?’
b) intrigued, but don’t want to try: think it will hurt, don’t think they have balance or enough ‘skill’
c) interested, have a go, have a bad experience, don’t try again
d) interested, have a go, have a great experience, buy their own equipment

…which typically leaves only the people in response d) that continue to mountain board and to pump money back into the sport. Options a) and c) could be seen as being a lost cause: those who don’t care, or are willing to try anything, but just the once. Option b) people have the potential to love mountain boarding, but will never really know.

Also, when out freeriding, we all bump into the public (not literally we hope): dog walkers, hikers, families on a stroll, bikers etc, and we’ve all had conversations about it- “What’s it called, are you really going down there?, shouldn’t you be using a kite, did you make that board yourself”…  Most people simply remark that it looks fun and are quite happy going about their day, but the question “isn’t that dangerous?” does seem to pop up every time.

ATBperception

A good question for the novice is if you do decide to mountain board and get into it, just how likely is it that you are going to hurt yourself? Well, depending on what you actually do with the board is going to decide this, and similar to the discussion on mountain biking above, mountain boarding also has several disciplines…image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-004

Freeride: Riding freely in the open environment, resorts and back country.
Carving: Precision carving and high speed riding.
Boarder X: Racing Down a man made track with jumps and berms.
Big Air: Going huge off big jumps
Freestyle: Technical tricks and spins on jumps and rails.
….and a further couple if you involve a kite to the mix

 

Though you could argue some of these definitions (and certainly add a couple more to the list, jibbing for example), it’s clear that each discipline has its own merits and dangers. In my case, I’ve never been keen on big air or freestyle and so am unlikely to fall 20 feet onto my coccyx. Someone who purely does big air or freestyle may be less likely to hit a tree.
It only takes a quick look through youtube to see the possible ways to hurt yourself whilst mountain boarding, and another in-comprehensive list could involve:

  • image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-006falling from height
  • falling over awkwardly
  • falling off board at speed
  • riding into something/someone at speed

…all of which are things that people probably did when learning to ride a bike. As a result, bike riders know the risks involved and wear the appropriate level of protection as necessary. Maybe because riding a bike is considered a fairly essential skill in life (like swimming) and therefore taught to kids at an early age, it is not seen as being so ‘extreme’. That moniker is then reserved for the more dangerous applications, such as downhill mountainbiking and BMX big air freestyle.

So Where has this extreme perception of all terrain boarding come from? With a vague sweep of the brush this could come from within the sport itself: either from riders wanting to be seen as extreme or from manufacturers promoting an extreme image. This is fair enough: extreme = brave/cool, and who doesn’t want to attract the attention of young ladies, or to make lots of money from lads who also want to attract the attention of young ladies? (no offence intended either to lady riders or those manufacturers who do it because they love it and want to share the adrenaline-fuelled joy!)

image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-008Within the ‘industry’ itself there has also been an ‘extreme’ image pushed, most notably from an MBS TV ad from the early noughties whereby a rider at the top of a gnar hill phones 911 for an ambulance to pick him up at the bottom. The message this sent out was clearly not great in terms of attracting more riders to the sport, ie, buy a mountainboard and end up in hospital. See for yourself: view the ‘MBS Commercial’ here.

The Dirt‘ website also ran an editorial on ‘why mountainboarding hasn’t seen exponential growth‘ stating “Bad Stigma (way too gnarly!)” as one of the reasons – “All these first generation Red Bull addicts got hold of a video camera and a mountainboard and thought they would get extreme. Then only to find out they had no balance… now they’re shooting videos of themselves crashing and they thought Heavy Metal would be the perfect soundtrack. Like WTF, you really felt the need to post that on Youtube?!!!”

It’s true: falling, crashing and stacking then brandishing your blood, scabs, and metal poking out from under your skin has not done the cause any favours.

The UK’s ‘Scuz’ mountainboarding ‘zine also promoted the gnar element with it’s gratuitous ‘injuries of the issue’ feature. Photos of bloodied faces, x-rays and bruised arses may have been amusing and reminded us of our own mortality, but ultimately put newcomers off. Glorifying the ‘battle wounds’ theory (wear scars like medals of honour, gained in service to gnar) only helped to make the public perception more extreme.

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This ‘extreme’ perception therefore comes from the observations of outsiders looking at mountainboarding and deciding that the activity must be dangerous, especially due to the fact there is no obvious way to stop, or they don’t think that we are actually in control. Alternatively they see the bindings and don’t like the idea of being strapped to something they don’t think they could escape from if things got hairy.

image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-001So what can we do and what image would suit mountain boarding best? The UK on-line and magazine community certainly go a long way to promoting the usage of safety gear to the extent of having self-imposed policies of not showing pictures of boarders riding without helmets and heavily pushing the benefits of riding in a minimum of helmet, kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

Scuz had stated in it’s small print  “While this page is meant to be a lighthearted commentary on injuries and what riders have, unfortunately, been doing to themselves, we hope you’ll notice that no rider in Scuz is ever shown without a helmet or the proper riding attire. Mountainboarding, in it’s very nature, can be a dangerous sport…”

Conversely though, showing a lack of protection and riding in mellow locales may actually demonstrate the more relaxed side of mountainboarding and show people just how accessible it is!

In addition, rather than a ride-or-die attitude striving for bigger, higher and faster, the BFC have released a couple of DVDs to date (Filmogenic and Like This) with the emphasis on fun-ness rather than awe-inspiring death tricks; the tag line to Filmogenic being ‘No spins over 540 or your money back!’ There was a real sense that these lads were having a laugh together and would be doing so camera or no camera. These DVDs were available for free from UK centres for both the 2007 and 2008 seasons respectively and demonstrated to anyone new to the sport that riding a mountain board need not be inherently dangerous, also reflected in the non-heavy metal soundtracks.  The latest video offerings from DSA (Let IT happen) and One5 (Hot Action) also commendably play down the Jackass-style stacks and crashes of yesteryear.

So what would be the consequence if everyone who considered mountainboarding but stopped due to fears of safety, hadimage-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-005 a go?

The one issue that I can see the mass population having is one of practicality. Mountainboarding has no practical use whatsoever and is purely a device to get oneself from a higher location to a lower one in an interesting manner.

The board is just additional weight when travelling uphill, when on the flats, when the hill is not steep enough down or possibly even too steep. You have to use it with the knowledge that there are more practical ways to get down the hill. On a bike for example, where you could assist yourself back up the hill, or even get you home. People generally don’t like walking up hills, let alone carrying all our gear and doing it again and again.

We do it however because the way we make the transition from higher location to lower transition is a fun filled, adrenaline fuelled one and we enjoy it! And we’re not the only ones; do glider pilots have to explain their lack of engine?  Does anyone question the motives of snowboarders? (except for skiers of course!), and, on a closer analogy, do people NOT take up surfing because you might drown and you have to keep paddling out to get your 30 second ride back in to shore?

The upshot of this is that we cannot force people to want to mountainboard or even to love it as we do. Perhaps it is a niche market precisely because we are a niche bunch of people? Perhaps this is it??!!

At the end of the day, accidents happen in all walks of life, the exposure to which is controlled by your actions.

image-problems-the-public-perception-of trolley-boarding-003For example, anyone that works in construction will have heard the statistics for the many number of deaths and serious injuries sustained every year on building sites and that’s with the high level of personal protective equipment mandatory in most places. As a bare minimum workers have to wear hard-hat, fluorescent jacket, safety boots, safety glasses and gloves, and that’s if you promise not to touch anything, God help you if you have to work at height!

Within all sports there are injuries associated. Arguably the most popular sport in the UK, football (that’s ‘soccer’ for you yanks) is plagued by injury: Anyone who’s played sunday league knows someone who’s broken their foot/leg in a dodgy tackle, yet it doesn’t dominate the exposure. It’s simply what happens when things go wrong. We all try to avoid hurting ourselves in our chosen pursuits, and our perception of it is just our intuitive judgement taking over, based on what we witness and experience.

 

Mountainboarding is actually as safe as you want it to be, and as dangerous as you make it.

In the end, it comes down to what level of risk you are prepared to expose yourself to and what steps you want to take to minimise that risk. Personally, it’s a calculated degree of risk that I’m willing to take 😉

Words by Adrian McCordick, edited/additions by Wilz. Photos by Decreate, Dirt-Monkeys and Rob Ray. Illustrations by Dan Wilson.

Read more of Ade’s musings on his blog The Dirt Box