Friday, February 26, 2010

Birthing a Sport--Snowboarding & Olympics

If you think about it, it really makes no sense. A board, just a board, with a person on it. Put wheels on the board and you can skate around, if you can balance yourself and not fall over. Put the board on snow with some wax and you can ride the snow balancing and spinning and doing cuts that traditional skis don't permit. Put the board on the water, stand up, hold your balance, look for a breaking wave and you can surf.

People do amazing things just for the hell of it, just for the sheer joy of it. I mean shooting a round ball through a peach basket or kicking a ball around and between two poles or hitting a ball, any old ball with a bat, a racket, a paddle, none of it makes any particular sense. Except the rhythm of the motion, the clarity of accomplishment the thrill of mastering the activity, they add up.

Many of our sports emerge from the simple fascinating kinetic joy of doing something. Kids try it; as they get older they refine it. Someone does something on the board, with the ball, and someone else, probably a male, thinks, "I can do that." Then they think, "I can do something even more interesting or harder. They spend time practicing it. Hitting the ball against a garage, practicing the skate on the streets or on a slope avoiding skiers. Then, the inevitable happens. Two skaters, hitters, surfers, kickers, basket-shooters challenge each other. Who can hit if farther? Who can kick it farther or who can get it between the poles more often? Who can skate the farthest, or jump the skate onto a rail or skate over an ice covered stump and fly. The evolution flows naturally.

So sports emerge. The ancient sports almost all trace their lineage to skills needed for survival or war. Modern sports emerge from more loose kinetic free form, the sheer diversity and joy of moving in space in different ways. They grow from a cauldron of experimentation and street activities. Stick ball; kick ball, football; skating.

One aspect of the Olympics I enjoyed the most was watching the skateboarding competition. Only two Olympics old, the sport still flaunts its bad boy/girl image. The skaters are inventing it as they go along and so Shaun White become so important simply because he keeps pushing physical boundaries of his sport, his body and the possibilities of a human being flying through the snow and air and tumbling, contorting, twisting and then sticking it.

The sponsorship disease will soon overcome aspects of it, but it has not yet professionalized itself in its pipelines; anyone with a board and time and mountains nearby can give it a try.  The sport still sports a raw danger. White smashed into the edge of the pipe during a practice run and one of his greatest rivals, Kevin Pearce, struggles to recover from massive brain trauma when he shattered himself by crashing head first against the ice edge of the pipe.

The sport migrated from street to slopes to Olympics in about thirty years. It reminds me about the infinite variety and capacity of human movement whether in dance or athletics. It reminds me that  some individuals will push the boundaries of the body and discover the emerging possibilities of a form of movement just for the hell of it. It reminds me that some of us will seek not only to push the form but to prove we can do it better or faster or higher or quicker than others. The movement grows into a competition which grows into a sport.

I'm looking forward to Parkour in the Olympics.

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