how grunge and hip-hop inspired 90s snowboarding style
A new photo book, 'Snow Beach: Snowboarding Style 86-96,' documents a unique era in snowboarding's subculture.
Keith Wallace and Craig Kelly. Photography Jon Foster, 1992
If you were born in the 1990s, snowboarding had already landed a frontside flip into the mainstream by the time you'd learned how to link turns. Call us the Rocket Power generation — kids who asked Santa for skateboards rather than footballs, whose sports heroes were all about the xtreme rather than the team. I remember watching Shaun White contort his lean, logo-covered body in pursuit of the fabled 1080 twist in the 2006 Olympic men's halfpipe — the blockbuster event of the Winter Games. The precision and pressure made it seem as if the 19-year-old was in pursuit of a spot on the Russian gymnastics squad, rather than the champion of a sport that ten years prior, wasn't a sport at all. Months later, a copy of Rolling Stone with a shirtless White — wearing an American flag and his Olympic gold medal — arrived in my mom's mailbox.
This is not the snowboarding that Alex Dymond remembers, or chronicles in his outstanding new photo book Snow Beach: Snowboarding Style 86-96. Dymond — a New York-born and based creative director who has worked with Burton and Supreme, and who first set foot on a mountain in 1991 — celebrates snowboarding as a scrappy subculture and eclectic youth tribe rather than a mass-market "action sport."
Collecting 182 images by 15 photographers, Snow Beach captures a pivotal decade in snowboarding's history — when legends like Shaun Palmer and John Cardiel attempted, and achieved, the impossible. Yet Snow Beach isn't concerned with statistics or sponsorships, but the unique style and culture that made this era so special. It documents a period when kids who liked Cypress Hill and Misfits — who blended bright ski neons with baggy skate workwear — came together on the mountain to try something new together. As Snow Beach hits stores today, we catch up with Dymond to learn about what life was like when powder was punk.
When did you start snowboarding, and what drew you to it?
I grew up surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and obsessed with clothing, sneakers, graffiti, art, and design. I started skating in 1988 and became aware of snowboarding around then, but got really interested in trying it out around 1990. I got a Burton catalog from the Ski Barn big sale in the Giants stadium parking lot, and was able to get a hand-me-down board and start snowboarding in 1991 at a local mountain.
What was snowboarding like then? What kind of kid set up a board?
It was a unique thing to do, especially on the east coast. If you were snowboarding at a resort and you saw another snowboarder, you would go talk with them and it would be an immediate bonding point to ride together. Back then, it was mostly all skaters that I knew and went snowboarding with. Burton even used to advertise in Thrasher, you know? They were giving it a go because it was winter and too cold to street skate. I think as it gained popularity in the later 90s, many skiers gave it a shot and crossed over to snowboarding. People want to try something once it becomes a trend, but in the beginning, it was definitely more the outcasts. It was special to do something that not many people could do, had a chance to try, or even knew existed.
The book's introduction touches on the crossover between snowboarding, skateboarding, hip-hop, and punk. How did snowboarding forge its own subculture?
Music is a real defining factor in those formative years. For all the skate and snowboard videos back then, pros often chose the music for their parts, which in turn inspired young skaters and snowboarders to look up the music. I can't tell you how many VHS tapes I would pause and rewind to find out who the band or rapper was. Without Google and social media, you really had to research deeply, which brought out passionate qualities in people who cared greatly about what they were doing. You had to put a lot of energy and effort into it. That sort of passion really can carve out strong culture amongst a collective.
There's an interesting collision between hyper-neon skiwear and 90s skatewear. I saw a bunch of Vision Streetwear, Thrasher, and Body Glove in Snow Beach— a lot of great workwear, too. How would you describe snowboarding's style progression?
The evolution started with available technology and equipment from the ski gear of the 70s and 80s. Then, as more snowboard-specific companies started, it slowly changed. The freestyle boom happened in the late 80s because skaters got involved in snowboarding. So it went to a much more punk, skate aesthetic. It brought nonfunctional items onto the mountain — flannels, sweatshirts, workwear, and denim. Ultimately, it was about expressing yourself in the same clothing you would wear in your everyday life, but on the hill. This is a major part of skateboarding as well: the fact that you can wear any type of clothing you desire and express yourself while on your board. It's so much about identifying through being an individual than wearing a team uniform.
Let's talk more about making this book. Given that many these images weren't digitized or even known about, researching and sourcing them must have been super challenging. How did you go about it?
I had a subscription to Transworld Snowboarding growing up and poured over the magazines. I have a pretty good memory for a lot of it. Plus, I got some help from industry insiders, ex-pro snowboarders, and photographers I was working with. But because digital cameras didn't exist yet and it was all film, some of the photographers never got around to scanning their negatives. I lucked out with most of the images — but many were in attics or storage facilities. Every image that I selected was purposeful. It was a balancing act trying to get important figures of the era represented, cool style shots, plus some of those images that changed the history of snowboarding. But I also wanted someone who doesn't know anything about snowboarding to be able to appreciate it. I looked for images that instantly spoke to me because of the personality of the subject. I tried my best to showcase all aspects and walks of life in snowboarding back then.
What do you hope people take from this book?
Skating, surfing, and snowboarding helped shape my life and have always remained close — especially the clothing and design aspect of their culture, which I went on to work in later in life. I feel surfing and skateboarding have been showcased and celebrated much more often than snowboarding, maybe since they have been around longer. I saw a window of opportunity to do the same for snowboarding — to give back to something that has brought me a lot of inspiration. I've never made a book before, so it was a challenge and also really fun to learn something new. I hope that people are inspired by it and appreciate the style and culture as well, and maybe it even leads them to give snowboarding a go.
'Snow Beach' is available now via Powerhouse Books.
Text Emily Manning