Current State: Snowboarding. With such a demanding title, you might expect that author, editor, and designer David Benedek is offering answers. Right off the bat, however, Benedek clarifies that this may not be the case; that the book instead provides a 'blurry' insight as to what the culture of snowboarding has come to.
Pro-shred David Benedek has spent the last three years piecing together the past thirty; crafting two-interconnected books that present a 450-page snapshot of, well, the past and current state of snowboarding. From its raw, rowdy, non-conformist start, right up to the contracts, contests, and double-corkage that have come to define its progress, Benedek has molded an impressively coherent lineage of the sport's history. Current State boasts 23 candid and unapologetic interviews with the culture’s most influential, innovative, and arguably insane, including: Shaun Palmer, Jake Burton, Richard Woolcott, Terje Haakonsen, Mike Basich, Travis Rice, and 18 other legends. With everything from personal narratives to hand-drawn pictures, Benedek traces the evolution of the sport up till now. The two books can be read separately, but together they combine like Voltron, offering 4- page compilations of correlated content; a literal bridge between past and present.
"We're in a time where core and corporate worlds converge, where it's not easy to stay true to the roots of snowboarding and why it's interesting and unique," Blue Montgomery.
Needless to say, Current State is an unprecedented dive into the world of snowboarding, dissecting it from core to corporate; from the days of Shaun Palmer's American flag suit and half-shaved head, to the realm of reality television and Shaun White gum. The days of boarders as ski-resort rejects may be long gone, but many of the sport’s founders seem to question whether or not this is a positive thing. The evolution of snowboarding has brought the sport into the mainstream, with contest riders like Louie Vito becoming the face of the industry. Vito, for example, has gained fame from his domination in the superpipe, but also for his turn on Dancing With The Stars-and with sponsors like Toyota and Barbasol shaving cream, he is a prime example of the direction snowboarding has taken. It is impossible to belittle the obvious talent and insane progression that today’s riders bring to the table, but the question remains: has this progress come at the cost of that core, rebellious spirit that united riders to begin with? Have style and passion been sacrificed in pursuit of sponsors? Benedek captions one photo with the comment, “I thought it was about going out and having fun. Not about hoping to have your own TV show and buy some gay Euro sports car.”
Some see this growth as both natural and promising. As Danny Davis states, “I think snowboarding will always retain that core element and attract people you won’t be able to fit into a box…I actually think snowboarding’s in a pretty amazing state of change, turning away from a lot of this stale shit. And as for the younger generation: They might have a more professional environment, but they are not going to change the core of what snowboarding is. They’re still part of the culture for the most part.” Peter Line, for his part, compares the various levels within snowboarding to music genres, which people can take freely in any direction. With growth comes new opportunities for creativity and style, and small, quirky tricks haven’t lost their appeal.
TransWorld Business had the chance to catch up with Benedek and get a look at what Current State is all about…
What was the inspiration behind this project?
My inspiration came from two different directions. One simply being my curiosity of where snowboarding currently is, or where it was heading. You know, I’ve spent two thirds of my life immersed in snowboarding, really to an almost fanatic extent. So it’s just something that comes natural I think, to wonder where we actually arrived now, as a subculture if you will.
Then, on a whole other level, the motivation for the book simply came from wanting to visually portray what I think snowboarding is. I always wanted to do a full-scale design project and before I had only done board graphics and packaging for our films, so that was a pretty interesting challenge in itself.
How did you come up with the idea for the two-book aesthetic?
There are a few different double-book-formats out there already, so it’s nothing I invented. It’s just something I thought fit the content for a bunch of reasons.
Mainly, I wanted the book to somehow mirror creative aspects of snowboarding, the array of images and chaos I associate with it. A linear 2-dimensional book just didn’t feel right.
Also, while having all those high quality images on thick photo paper I wanted to print the interviews on really cheap stock, just to kind of depreciate them and not present them with this aura of “this is how it is”. Snowboarding isn’t so serious that it really needs to be talked about. Which doesn’t mean it’s fun occasionally.
How has the book been received?
Great. We almost sold out and the feedback’s been overwhelming. Lukas Huffman sent me the best and most rewarding e-mail the other day, saying that looking at the book made him proud to belong to the “snowboard tribe.” That’s all I wanted.
I am also psyched, because the book started to gain serious momentum outside of snowboarding, collecting a bunch of design awards, too. Most recently it received a “red dot design award: best of the best” which is kind of a big deal. I need to pick it up at this huge ceremony, wearing a suit and all, haha. Pretty funny.
How many copies are being published?
We printed 2,000 copies which exclusively were sold online through www.almostanything.comm
How much does it cost?
That one’s kind of a bummer: it’s 89 euros. I would have loved to make it more affordable, but given the fact it actually consists of two full-size books that are very elaborately produced I just couldn’t do it any cheaper. Rest assured, no one’s really making money with this thing.
Find out which interview was Benedek’s favorite after the jump…
Of all the industry greats that must have come to mind, how did you end up settling on these select 23?
Well, the number is obviously kind of random. I just had to cut myself off at some point. There are so many unique and interesting individuals to speak to, it would’ve been an endless mission… I actually did about 30 interviews total and then selected those final 23 as I felt they covered the topics I wanted to talk about best.
I actually started out with a little more negative look on where snowboarding was heading, and by speaking to so many different people I actually realized how healthy snowboarding currently is.
Which was your favorite interview and why?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Scotty Wittlake is probably one of my favorite since he’s always had a very distinct and often radical opinion, not only about snowboarding. In a way, he’s as radical as I’d like to be and at the same time wouldn’t like to be. He can articulate his thoughts very well so it was really fun just letting the interview go wherever it went.
You ask Jake Burton if he thinks the sport has 'grown beyond what's healthy.’ What's your opinion? Has the sport gone too mainstream for its own good?
Well, my question already implies a thought which I don’t necessarily like – at least not rationally: of believing what you encounter yourself, that era, to be “truthful” state of the matter. That’s something I’ve realized more and more during the making of the book. That you can’t interfere with what the next generation makes snowboarding to be. So in that aspect the question is kind of irrelevant and I agree with Jake: Snowboarding should always be something that’s driven by the kids. Who cares what I think?
But then, emotionally, I obviously connect to snowboarding and its culture at the time I grew into it, which was roughly 20 years ago, and I have to say, Snowboarding is doing pretty good overall. Sure, there’s some terrible mainstream stuff out there, to the point where you wonder who this kind of crap will attract and in turn, form snowboarding. But seeing all these awesome little pockets within snowboarding, that are off the beaten path and really vibrant, the whole question doesn’t really worry me too much anymore.
With all this popularity and growth, has snowboarding lost the rebellious spirit that really shaped it to begin with? Has the 'core' been compromised?
From what I can tell, no. I think it’s still very much alive. Shaun Palmer might tell you a different thing because people are not doing blow on chairlifts anymore and getting into fights left and right, but overall, I think snowboarding has done an incredibly good job at maintaining this really likable amateurism. Even the kids that supposedly represent the mainstream, for the most part they’re still the same punk-ass-kids the pros used to be in the 90s. And I believe that snowboarding, luckily, won’t ever be big enough to supervise these kids. Like Mikey Leblanc said in his interview: the core is still there, it’s just covered by a mainstream coating which is why you need to look a little closer for the real thing.
Do you see any hope for correcting the lop-sided ranking systems, or the convoluted contest-schedules that snowboarders are having to juggle?
Actually, that’s something I am not very involved in. It’s been such a dragging and on-going battle for the past 10 years, I’ve kind of stopped caring. I think it’s great to see some of the younger riders getting together and trying to do something about it. Snowboarding should obviously be governed by snowboarders. I heard a lot of talk about people wanting Shaun (White) to speak up and I actually wish he did. I wonder if anyone ever told him though. He’s the only one who’s got the power to change these structures single-handedly, unless of course, riders really got together and decided to boycott. All of them.
What's next for David Benedek?
Oh, nothing too crazy. I started going to film school a year ago, so that’s been taking up a lot of my time. Pretty fun though. Otherwise I am still shredding as much as I can and occasionally even tag along on some trips with the Salomon team. And I hope there’s more of that in the future.