Story by Kathleen Gasperini
When I first saw Burton Snowboards collaboration with Playboy Magazine called the “Love Series” during the last Snow Industries of America (SIA) trade show in Vegas last January, I thought it was a bit disconcerting (and wrote about it an SIA overview story), not only because of the obvious porn connotations, even if the graphics are of semi-clothed old-school Playboy models, but the fact that this was one company that has, and continues to do so much for women in snowboarding. I shot the board graphics quickly and noticed through my camera lens that oddly, their Chicklet little girl boards were in the same frame. While clearly their booth designer needs to be a bit more careful, the images and message of their Love Series collab was questionable. At the time I remember asking my colleague, “What, do these guys think they’re American Apparel?” And I do think the American Apparel ’70’s Polaroid sex campaign works -it’s a first-layer company, afterall–so don’t get me wrong here.
To put this in perspective, in the sport of snowboarding (and skateboarding), board graphics have always been key expressions of art. Skiing ripped-off the idea soon after, but it can be said that snowboarders, who are generally a creative lot, do get-off on their board graphics and it has launched many an artists’ career. Which is why the semi-naked chicks on the Love Series seemed so incredibly uncreative. It’s a tired trick that supposedly 2 Burton pro riders thought was a good idea. On October 23 in Burlington, VT, at the Burton headquarters, 150 protesters showed up to express their views. Over the course of the last few months actually, the heat has been on from several women%uFFFDs and girls groups and non-profits that have benefited from Burton’s Chill Program about discontinuing the Love Series based on its graphics (and let’s not even get started about the self-mutilation graphics).
Here’s a statement released by Burton CEO Burton Laurent Potdevin about the graphics and the company’s position: As a result of the opinions of an isolated group of individuals, we want to clarify where Burton stands on our board graphic artwork. We respect everyone’s right to his or her own opinion, and we also respect the right to protest. That said, here is our position: Burton supports freedom of artistic expression. Board graphics are artwork, and art can be offensive to some and inspiring to others. Snowboarding is a sport and a lifestyle where boundaries are pushed in terms of artwork, similar to the world of music, video games and movies. From Lange ski boot ads since the 1970’s featuring barely clothed women, to the Burton Love series, winter sports have a long history of tongue-in-cheek graphics and advertising. Our product development process is driven by riders, and when some of our pro riders asked for these graphics, we backed them. Burton is a global company, and these boards have been embraced and are a success around the world. We are not breaking any laws by creating these boards, and it is our sincere belief that these graphics do not condone or encourage violence towards women in any way. Burton’s support of women, from entry level employees here in Burlington to our team riders on Olympic podiums, is unparalleled. We, as a company, are immensely proud of our record here. We will keep these boards in the market and have no intention of recalling them.
That statement sort of goes along with what Burton stated about the boards in September, 2008: “My name is Love%u2122 and I’m on the market for someone who’s looking to score serious action, no matter where they like to stick it.”
OK, then. Ironically, this whole Burton thing has brought back something that I haven’t thought about in years until someone mentions it, which is I’m considered a snowboarding journalist pioneer. I’m the former Senior Editor of Snowboarder Magazine, had a column in Transworld Snowboarding about learning to ride for women, had my own magazine W.i.g. -for Women in General that often covered women pro riders and brands, am the co-founder of the non-profit Boarding for Breast Cancer, and have written a book about women in snowboarding for Harper Collins called, “Pretty Good for a Girl: The Autobiography of a Snowboarding Pioneer” about Tina Basich. Yes, I know all about women in snowboarding, their trials and tribulations, my own experiences with sexism in the industry, and so on. This seems to have made me a sounding board recently among many upset women and men in snowboarding, brands, agencies, and non-profits who have emailed me in the last few weeks about this whole situation asking what I think.
Here’s what I think: On the one hand, I believe in freedom of expression and there has been a lot of it in snowboarding. I mean, look at some of the more creative graphic board brands like Capita, Palmer, Rome, Gnu -and even Sims back in the day when they once ran a sex-inspired campaign (which Burton then vowed they would never do). I’m a strong believer in what Burton snowboards have brought to the sport and women in general and I am a big fan of Donna Carpenter. However I have always thought that they tend to listen to their pro riders way too much, especially in regards to marketing, branding, and advertising. Of course team riders are an excellent research resource for hardgoods improvements, maybe even aesthetics to some extent if it has to do with design, but whoever the 2 pros are who thought the old-school borderline R-rating series was a good idea can’t be all that intelligent. (It’s been done before, people.) And whomever gave the OK at Burton to produce these boards is clearly a wannabe pro snowboarder (or former pro who now works for Burton, or worse, a non-snowboarder who thinks this was an original idea). Yes, I do ride a Burton board, but I have a quiver: Depending on weather, snow conditions, and location, I also ride a favorite Salomon, Winterstick, a classic LibTech, and have stashed a limited-edition Chorus in the hopes that it makes a comeback and I%uFFFDll be riding “vintage.” (I would also like to check out a Rome board sometime, too.) I’m a snowboarder after all. I measure the size of my loft by how many boards I can lay end-to-end.
As an editor and marketing analyst however, given the state of the economy, war, poverty, unemployment, the fact that $700 billion is going to save the financial industry, and we’ll have a new President announced in another week which could really change things, I think there are other topics needing more attention than the age-old question of “does sex sell?” even if it does happen to be within my favorite sporting industry.
The answer is that it depends on the consumer. Savvy, creative, intuitive riders won’t like these boards, quite frankly. That%uFFFDs where they%uFFFDll “stick it:” in lost marketshare. And so there’s no Love in that. For an industry that still struggles with the price of lift tickets, ethnic diversity, access issues, environmental degradation, and other things, I think there’s more to report on than the Burton Love Series, which no, does not get my love.