“Misunderstood and underestimated, women’s snowboarding is not what you might think. Behind the pretty faces and matching outerwear lie some gnarly girls who go above and beyond the old Betty style. A new frontier in snowboarding is upon you boys; more and more girls are stepping up to the threshold that was established by the boys club.” (Rider: Robin Van Gyn)
The movement of women riders in the snowboard industry has become a global phenomenon. In Japan, the number of female snowboarders has increased and girls have become more active, strong-willed, and independent. Although a few years ago various brands marketed their products to portray the “cute” image, recently things have been adapted for a cooler style to represent today’s women riders.
On a recent snowboarding trip to Argentina I was awakened to the graceful and elegant “she-man” style that has become the norm for women. Beyond all the amazing “dudes“ I met there, it was the women with their style and passion for snowboarding that truly made me realize, “damn girlfriend kills it!”
I thought the best way to grasp the movement would be to speak directly with women riders from various countries around the world. I interviewed Canadian rider Robin Van Gyn, Kana Terui of Japan, and Femke Henriques-Hilbink from New Zealand. Here’s their story.
“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”
“I do what I want to do because life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Due to her independent nature, Kana splits her time between two mountains: Breckenridge, Colorado in the United States, and Inawashiro in Japan. She has been riding for seven years and represents Murasaki Sports, Sabrina Snowboards, Holden, and POM POM Wax. Kana mentioned that Sabrina, her domestic Japanese snowboard sponsor, is specifically working to change the image of their brand from appealing to only “cute” girls, to fitting more for strong and independent women.
This is how Kana sees herself, and as more products specifically for women become available, it will help strengthen the image of women snowboarders within the industry.
In the summer months, Kana works as a staff member in the Japanese kitchen for Mt. Hood’s High Cascade Snowboard Camp (www.highcascade.com) in Oregon. This was where we met up and I was able to get a taste of her cooking skills. She told me cooking and snowboarding relate because both activities require creativity.
When I asked Kana-chan about the girl’s snowboard scene in Japan, she said a lot of girls are learning to ride and have been excelling rapidly! Women are not relying on guys to go hit rails with, but rather these women just go and jam with or without the boys. And even at indoor snow parks, it is the women you can find year-round fine rigorously fine tuning their skills.
“Snowboarding to me is a way to push myself on a daily basis. If I haven’t scared myself then I haven’t pushed hard enough. I love the feeling of knowing nobody expected you to go that big or to even attempt that trick. Don’t get me wrong, I am not out there to prove anything to anyone. I am out there for myself everyday just trying to push myself to a level I can live with. Yet I think a lot of people don’t understand what snowboarding is really about. Having the freshest gear and spraying shredder attitude is not snowboarding. Being progressive and creative, searching for that last possible pow slush, and having the most fun possible with your friends is snowboarding. Step it up ladies, it’s time everyone knows what is possible!”
Robin hails from Alberta, Canada. Now 24 years old, she started snowboarding eight years ago. She told me she was inspired to really learn how to ride after her fourth day on the hill. She was riding with boys who said they did not want to wait for her, so the only thing she could do was try to keep up. She admits she was never so scared in her whole life yet she loved the feeling of working so hard at something so fun.
Currently Robin’s sponsors include Section Outerwear, Technine bindings and boards, Bern Helmets, Mission Girls Snowboard Shop, Northwave Boots, POM POM Wax, and Nomis Streetwear.
Heavily involved in the women’s snowboarding scene, she works as a coach and Event Coordinator for MGT Snowboard Camp, a freestyle camp only for girls (www.mgtsnowboardcamp.com). Robin said that there are so many girls that really want to learn how to rip nowadays that the camp sells out every session. Robin was one of the girls I met while riding in Bariloche, Argentina this August. She was the only female coach at South America Snow Sessions (www.sasnowsessions.com), a summer snow camp where I was invited to spend a week snowboarding with coaches, staff, and campers.
Out of all those I saw riding I was highly impressed by Robin and her fearless nature as she blasted off a huge kicker with the Andes Mountains shining brightly in the backdrop. After face planting and tumbling down a steep hill, she got up, readjusted her Airblaster face mask and goggles, unstrapped, and started hiking up again to try and go even bigger.
“I come from a relatively small scene in New Zealand where there aren’t too many progressive girl riders, so riding with the guys is what I do and they are awesome. They are very supportive and don’t look at me as just a chick rider who can keep up, but as one of them. However, there is something unique and motivating riding with a bunch of top female snowboarders.
It is an atmosphere I can’t quite explain, but I long for those moments when I travel to Wanaka and get to hang with girls like me. It is so motivating to see other girls take snowboarding to the next level. You get this inspiration that together anything is possible; it’s an attitude of ‘if she’s doing it then I can too.’ Events like the Roxy Chicken Jam in Park City, Utah are exactly what female riding needs. We can showcase our talent, have fun and feed off each other. It’s at events like this that we gain true respect and emerge from the shadow of male riding. We aren’t boys, so don’t compare us. Rather take us for who we are: Girls that are stepping it up and doing things you can’t even imagine.”
Along with Kana and Robin, Femke says snowboarding is all about overcoming fears, having fun and riding with friends. Her spot in New Zealand is Mt. Hutt. Her definition of a good day on the snow there is having fun with friends as well as doing something new or something that freaks her out!
Femke says she didn’t start riding until she was 17. And now, seven years later, she represents Ride, Smith Eyewear, and POM POM Wax. She says “I am not a super girl, nor super tough, but I do feel strong inside and do not snowboard a day without pushing myself beyond my fears. Although fear does inhibit my progression, it also motivates me to progress as that voice inside my head reminds me of the wonderful buzz I get after conquering fear and progressing to the next level.”