Snowboarding has changed a lot since XBAR owner Damian Sanders and snowboarding’s other founders ruled the mountainside, and he remembers a time of simpler tricks performed by the 100 snowboarders in existence rather than the elaborate tricks done by the few hundred thousand that exist today. In his heyday, Damian was awarded with the title of “World’s Most Extreme Snowboarder” four years in a row, appeared in several movies, and graced tons of magazine covers as one of the sport’s most recognizable faces.
Despite the changes to snowboarding since its creation, the principles required to excel at it remain the same. And, if you happen to find Damian standing next to you in between jumps (on a rare day when he’s not promoting his fitness company) and you ask him what you can do to improve, he will probably give you some or all of these tips for becoming a better snowboarder.
1. Hit the powder as much as possible.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” it’s explained that roughly 10,000 hours need to be spent on an activity in order to become an expert at it. This confirms the adage that “practice makes perfect,” and Damian’s devotion to snowboarding was evident by the amount of time he spent perfecting his craft.
“One year I spent 160 days on the snow and seven to eight hours a day,” Damian said. “The more comfortable I got on my board, the more it became an extension of my body. I became a better rider in general. The more your board becomes connected to your body, the more everything becomes a natural reaction, and it’s incredible.”
2. Change your scenery and challenge yourself.
Damian describes the snowboarding landscape as a place that’s flooded with “one-hit wonders” – snowboarders that can do one big trick really well, but can’t back it up by demonstrating a wide range of skills on all terrains. Ultimately, the remedy Damian gives snowboarders for improving upon their weaknesses is simple: “They need to spend more time on the snow at the big resorts and less time at the little jump parks.”
“Snowboarders need to get out there and ride big mountains,” Damian insisted. “I had home resorts that were just incredible, and my career got a lot worse when I moved to Southern California and just started riding local and it was just the same kicker over and over again. My endurance was lessened, and I never really felt like I was power riding. If I got stuck at one resort and rode the same run over and over again, I was not progressing.”
3. Take gymnastics lessons.
While mimicking the acrobatic maneuvers he saw other snowboarders performing on video was simple for Damian, it was only simple because he had taken gymnastics in high school, and took the groundbreaking step of practicing many of his twists and flips on a trampoline before taking it to the powder (which didn’t prevent him from breaking his neck in four places, but that’s another story). The point is, those wishing to snowboard at a high level are going to need some coaching in gymnastics if they’re going to get there.
“These guys have foam pits and all kinds of options nowadays,” Damian explained. “They’re taking gymnastics, which is something that no one besides me really did back then. Nowadays, the first 50 times someone is trying a new stunt, they’re doing it into a foam pit. All of the guys that are pros now bounce and do everything off a trampoline, and they are definitely incredible gymnasts.”
4. Skateboarding is the next best thing to snowboarding.
If you can’t make it out onto the powder for some reason, hitting the local skate park (or local library’s rails) might be the next best thing. Damian and his friends developed most of the moves they’d use in the snow from the skateboarders they idolized. Moreover, the skills from one world transfer almost seamlessly to the other world, so skateboarding really is the next best form of training if you’re snow deprived.
“Carving a hill on a snowboard is almost identical to a skateboard; it feels exactly the same way,” Damian said. “All the tricks we did on a skateboard we adapted to a snowboard, and if we were watching and saw someone do a new huge trick on a skateboard, we adapted it to a snowboard. All the things skateboarders do at local malls along the rails have been added to the slopes.”
5. Get help, and never stop learning.
Despite its seemingly informal nature, snowboarding is a sport governed by rules and well-refined techniques. And, as with any other sport, learning everything from snowboarding’s basics to its finer points can be a considerable challenge. After more than 30 years of high-level snowboarding, Damian is still learning new things about his beloved sport, and he encourages other athletes to learn from others and never stop acquiring knowledge, even starting with basic snowboarding lessons.
“Everyone that takes a lesson ends up learning 100 times quicker,” Damian explained. “Watching videos still helps me. Even now, when I ride, I watch videos of guys that are better than me, and then I go out there and duplicate what I’ve seen. And the younger you can teach someone, the better. I’m teaching my six-year-old daughter right now, and I’m going to be riding behind her with a leash. That way, I can control her and I can keep her speed down.”
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.