Yesterday, for example, somebody sent me a video clip of a snowboarder blasting through knee-deep snow in complete darkness, illuminated only by a suit of brilliant white LED lights. He looked a bit like a ghost, only a ghost with a mean heel-side powder slash. A couple of days before that, the internet was abuzz with news that big-wave surfer Jamie O’Brien had been out riding 10ft waves at Pipeline, that most bone-crunching of Hawaiian surf spots, using a jet-propelled surfboard called a Wavejet. Footage later emerged showing him accelerating effortlessly out of seemingly impossible situations with a great big grin on his face. And a few days before that, a first-person extreme skiing video with a sting in the tail was doing the rounds. One minute, a skier wearing a helmet-cam is skittering down a wickedly steep slope, the next he’s plunging over the edge of a cliff, deploying his parachute, soaring through the air and coming in to land about half a mile away, just in time to watch the city-sized avalanche he’s triggered come rumbling down the hill after him.
Night-light-boarding? Jet-surfing? Ski-para-avalanche-bombing? None of these sports even has a name yet (well, paraskiing exists, but the avalanche-triggering bit is new). But who knows? In 100 years’ time there might be a jet-surfing world championship. Or not. With things evolving at this rate, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen next.
So why is it that some sports stand still for decades while others are constantly changing? The internet certainly has a role to play, with new ideas zinging around from continent to continent with dizzying speed, but there must be more to it than that, otherwise we’d have a football-paintball-ice-hockey hybrid by now. Just like works of art, sports reflect the societies that devise them. Back in the heyday of the British Empah, the only way a tiny island nation could keep vast swathes of the world painted pink was through comically strict discipline, hence the very rigid rules of games like football and rugby, created at its zenith. These days, with all the old certainties shattered into a million tiny pieces, and with vastly superior technologies at our disposal, anything goes. All you have to do is imagine something – a jet-propelled surfboard, say – and the chances are that somebody somewhere will be able to build it for you. Yes, there are still surfing competitions and snowboarding competitions, but for a whole generation of sportsmen and women, the very concepts of winning and losing are starting to seem irrelevant. The buzz is all – ideally the buzz of the new.
There’s also a fashion, at the moment, for bolting existing sports together to form multi-disciplinary challenges, and that’s what will be happening at Cairngorm Mountain’s new 50/50 event today, sponsored by Red Bull. Contestants will start at the top of the hill on snowboards, race down to the snowline, then hop onto mountain bikes and go careering down to the finishing line. No doubt the race will be hotly contested, but for the participants – and for the rest of their generation – it’s increasingly the taking part that counts. Soon, perhaps, winning will be for losers.
Long-standing Four Seasons readers (Mum, Dad, how are you both?) may remember the story of Scottish snowboard pro Martin Robertson, who broke his neck in a horrific crash at Mammoth Mountain in California last year. Well, it’s a pleasure to report that Marty is now very much on the mend – he’s been coaching at Cairngorm Snowboard Club again this winter and he’s even taken up surfing, recently making the pilgrimage to Sandwood Bay in the far north-west of Sutherland. Expect to see him getting seriously airborne again at a ski resort – or, indeed, at a beach – near you soon.