China : Snowboarding’s NewRepublic
China ’s growing snowboarding culture and marketplace is causing a youth culture ripple effect that is unlike any other in any other country in the world. With 1.3 billion people, of which 400 million are into active sports (which is more than the total population of Europe or North America ), and the advent of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this phenomenon is of proportions difficult to comprehend. It’s like tracking a meteor storm in the Milky Way. Lots of stars in vast territory.
Snowboarding’s meteor has grown from having one resort outside of Beijing in 2001 to more than 12 in 2003. In part, the birth of the culture of snowboarding and the promotion of camaraderie, lifestyle, and fun is being done by a single Austrian man, Steve Zdarsky. Three years ago, he took up Chinese and economics and did very well in school which changed his life and he moved to the People’s Republic of China . Steve launched one of the first pro snowboarding events in China last year with the Tazerjam event at Nanshan resort outside of Beijing , and will host his second Tazerjam February 14-15, 2004 . He also has his own snowboarding apparel label called Nivit (www.nivit.at), which makes up 90% of the China snowboarding market (next to Burton’s 10%), and marked him as one of the recipients of the Brand New Awards at the 2004 Winter ISPO sports trade fair in Munich, Germany, February 1, 2004.
We caught up with Steve who was kind enough to show us his Nivit line of apparel, a core and durable line of jackets and pants with subtle orange detailing on camo green and black, which is made exclusively for riding with the kind of details of a rider who’s out there 150+ days a year. And we also talked to him about China and the youth culture vibe in general. “You have to realize that snowboarding in China is at the very beginning, it’s an infant,” began Steve. “You have to show them how to get equipment, their ticket, to not snowboard into other people at the resort, and to throw away their garbage into trash receptacles to keep the mountain area clean.”
The other important factor that Steve’s teaching the fledgling snowboarding community is the lifestyle that surrounds the sport—the feeling of camaraderie from working on building a halfpipe from digging and shoveling yourself, how to share experiences with others, and the art of having fun in the mountains. For example, Superpipe Dragons that build today’s top halfpipes are expensive for any sized resort’s budget, but for China , which doesn’t even have 25 riders who could clear the lip, having even a basic Pipedragon wasn’t going to happen. So Steve made a metal shell of a half-moon “halfpipe” complete with the proper dimensions or a decent competition pipe. With the help of 20 other guys and girls, they carried his shell pipe prototype up the slope and put board planks in-between to determine where to shovel, at what angle, and how deep. The result 4 days later was the first halfpipe in China . When asked about the thought and intensive labor that went into such a project, Steve’s comment was simply, “Well, handmade pipes are the best anyway…”
Snowboarding in China has grown significantly but still only hosts about 20 fairly decent riders who can actually get air off the lip of a halfpipe (handmade) or completely slide a rail. And snowboarding photography is just beginning. The main China snowboarding photographers are Steve and two of his friends. As Steve points out, “We take photos of each other, but I wouldn’t say I’m a great rider. There just aren’t that many decent snowboarding shots in China . There aren’t many good riders yet or photographers who know how to shoot in the snow or capture the top and bottom of a jump.” But then again, that creates opportunity for showcasing the very beginning of a new culture being born, ala the charm of “Dogtown and the Z-Boys” and documentation of the birth of skateboarding in California .
Last year, Steve launched a magazine about snowboarding in China (with mostly his photos) as an insert in a popular outdoor sports magazine in China . He used stenciling graphics and a punk pink to help showcase the culture of snowboarding to the Chinese. “The next season, everything was pink! The new snowboarding store in Beijing , the Burton displays in China …it’s like the hand-symbol,” said Steve. In one photo for the Nanshan resort brochure, Steve was captured riding a rail posing glove-less with arms crossed and both hands doing a shaka-brah symbol with his middle and ring fingers down. This hand sign is now the official sign of greeting and coolness among snowboarders, and is spreading into the youth market in general. The four people we met from Nivit all flashed the sign to us in photos and greetings.
There is one rider in China right now to keep an eye on and that’s Wang Lei, who also happens to compete on the World Cup circuit for skiing in order to keep up his lifestyle to snowboard in his spare time. “In China , because it’s at the beginning of a culture, we can make sure that there isn’t such a divide between skiing and snowboarding,” explains Steve. “Our contest has freeskiers and snowboarders because we want people to see what both of the sports are like and to understand that it’s OK to do both and be friends with each other.” While tribes are developing among the snowboarding community, the animosity isn’t there yet and no one’s too cool for the other guy to hang out with. “We’re still one big family,” says Steve.
There’s obviously good and bad things about being at the birth of a sporting culture: On the one hand you have to train everyone and the resort to get the right equipment, how to conduct contests, courses, jumps, and even build your own halfpipe; however on the other hand, you can help a creative new culture that’s instinctively driven, grow all on its own. It lends well to anyone who’s extremely creative, hard-working, and dedicated to their passion and love of their sport. And that’s Steve Zdarsky—the Austrian snowboarder from China . --Reported by Tom Wallace and Kathleen Gasperini
Other interesting facts about China and snowboarding culture:
- Trends catch on like wildfire which is why Steve’s brand is so popular—he makes Nivit caps, T-shirts, stickers, and pins and simply gives them away which he said has been the best promotional campaign ever
- With the government launching a national health campaign, sports participation will undoubtedly seriously increase; the sporting goods market currently grows by 18% per year already
- Youth in China are already into skateboarding and moving in the direction of snowboarding
- Like Japan , youth in China love Western-styled lifestyles and icons. Since snowboarding and skateboarding tricks are all in American English, China snowboarders are learning English—or at least what “jibbing” and “540-to-fakie” means--via Steve’s trick and snowboarding instruction brochures
- The club-scene in Beijing and Shanghai among youth is becoming more and more dominated by streetwear and boardsports-inspired apparel
- While Chinese eat practically everything, they didn’t each cheese a couple of years ago. To them, cheese is old, stale milk. Much to Steve-from-cheese-lovin’-Austria’s chagrin, when he first moved there he couldn’t find a glass of milk or hunk of cheese anywhere. “I was starving. Send me cheese. I love cheese.”