chapter  8
15 Pages

‘Have board, will travel’: Global physical youth cultures and trans-national mobility1


Global media cultures and patterns of consumption are changing contemporary youth cultural formations. Attempting to understand and explain these changes, researchers are increasingly moving from intensely focused ethnographic studies of youth within locally bound spaces, to more broadly based investigations of complex, fluid and globally connected youth groupings in and across local, national and international fields (e.g. Horak, 2003; Huq, 2003; Nayak, 2003; Nayak and Kehily, 2008; Pilkington and Johnson, 2003; Robertson and Williams, 2004; Skelton and Valentine, 1998; Wiles, 2008). Building upon this research, this chapter explores the trans-national flows of youth cultural product, images, values and ideas and participants, via the case of a global snowboarding culture. Developing in a historically unique conjuncture of trans-national mass communications and corporate sponsors, entertainment industries and a growing affluent and young population, snowboarding has spread around the world at a phenomenal rate and far faster than many established sports and physical cultures. In a little over three decades, it has gone from a marginal activity for a few aficionados to an Olympic sport and global culture with mass appeal.2 Attracting an influx of participants from around the world, and from different social classes and age groups, snowboarding has seen a 385 per cent increase in participation between 1988 and 2003; there are currently more than 18.5 million snowboarders worldwide (‘Fastest growing sports’, n.d.). Despite changing cultural demographics, it is important to note that the major-

ity of snowboarders are still from the middle and upper classes (see NGSA Newsletter, 2001). Approaching the sport from a position of privilege, many snowboarders travel internationally in pursuit of new terrain and fresh snow. In the words of Transworld Snowboarding journalist Sherowski (2004), ‘when it comes to seeing the world, snowboarders are lucky’:

. . . we don’t have to vacantly watch it pass by outside the tour-bus window or through the camcorder scope like most people. Nope, the emptiness of ‘tourism’ is not for us, because we belong to a planet-wide culture that makes journeying to the remotest places the equivalent of visiting a pack of friends for a day of slashing it. You shred a place, you live it, you know it – you don’t just buy the postcard at the airport. (p. 106; emphasis added)

Glossing over local, regional and national differences, as well as the logistical complexities and privileged nature of such travel opportunities, Sherowski (2004, p. 106) continues to wax lyrical: snowboarding is a ‘global culture’ that ‘transcends borders and language barriers’.3 In this chapter I examine snowboarders’ trans-national mobility to illustrate how cultural values and styles are being communicated across borders, and how these global forces and connections are negotiated in local spaces and places.4 In so doing, I reveal fresh insights into the lived trans-nationalism and global migration of contemporary youth facilitated by the ‘extreme’ or ‘alternative’ sports economy (Wheaton, 2004a).5