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Male Boarding Bodies: Pleasure, Pain, and Performance

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In the public imagination, snowboarding has traditionally been viewed as an activity best suited to young, white, hedonistic, rebellious males. Early perceptions were that the activity was for ‘13–18 year olds with raging hormones’ who liked skateboarding and surfing (Hughes, 1988). The distinctive personalities and styles of early male snowboarders certainly contributed to the general public’s perception of the activity and subsequent ‘extreme’ labeling. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, snowboarders such as Damian Sanders and Shaun Palmer epitomized the hypermasculine, rebellious image of snowboarding. According to snowboarding historian Susanna Howe (1998), Damian Sanders was the most ‘visible poster boy of snowboarding’s radical, extreme image’: ‘He embodied this with everything from clothing to riding style. Spiky hair and Day- Glo head bands; every flashy mutation of the board garb was “extreme”. Huge cliffs, over- extended postures, gritted teeth and clenched fists were signs of aggression and in vogue…’ (p. 70). Continuing, Howe describes Palmer as snowboarding’s archetypal ‘bad boy’, he was foul- mouthed and ‘would drink and do drugs all night, and win half- pipe contests in the morning’ (Ibid., p. 78). While the hypermasculine image of snowboarding repelled many, the representations of hedonistic and aggressive behavior and idyllic lifestyles (travel to exotic snowboarding destinations, financial independence, partying, heterosexual prowess) of early professional male snowboarders combined to create a cultural ideal that appealed to many adolescent males seeking a distinctive masculine identity.


  • Gender Identity
  • Gender Relation
  • Hegemonic Masculinity
  • Social Field
  • Masculine Identity

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Football requires tons of training and big muscles – snowboarding, well, doesn’t. It’s more a means to express your creativity, an added bonus being that if you’re a skinny, scrawny person, you might do even better than that guy with big muscles. (Bleiler, March 2005, p. 58)

Scotty Wittlake rides with a determination to take snowboarding to a not- yet- defined level, with complete disregard for what the snowboarding world is doing, and with no thought to what pain and abuse his body goes through. He searches out terrain that others steer clear of. Jumps with nightmare take- offs and punishing landings aren’t obstacles but challenges to Wittlake, who has broken teeth, ribs, both ankles, his nose, collapsed a lung, cracked a femur, and crushed bones in his cheek resulting in the loss of sight in his right eye during his quest to stick the scariest of landings. (Blehm, 2003, p. 115)

All of my mates knew me as the guy that would hit the big jumps first and fast… But now I regret the inch diameter mass of bone growing on my shoulder… the twinge in my neck I get if I stay in a certain position for too long… the headaches from one too many smacks on the brain. When I go to the mountain these days, I am much more contemplative about risk. I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anyone. Now I prefer to take it easy and enjoy being out of the city and in the mountains with friends. (Andy, personal communication, November 2006)

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9780230305571_7
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© 2011 Holly Thorpe

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Thorpe, H. (2011). Male Boarding Bodies: Pleasure, Pain, and Performance. In: Snowboarding Bodies in Theory and Practice. Global Culture and Sport Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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