Snowboarders cut a wide swath, not only through sick pow (great snow), but through English as we know it.
So, as Olympic snowboarders get big air and ride fakie (backward) outside Salt Lake City this week, NBC commentator Kevin Delaney has his own trick to pull off.
Besides providing analysis and interviewing the athletes, the 36-year-old former champion is an unofficial interpreter, explaining snowboard lingo for untold millions of viewers who don’t know a halfpipe from a pop tart.
(A halfpipe is the curved ramp on which snowboarders compete. A pop tart is one of many aerial maneuvers they do on halfpipes).
Snowboarding, with its daredevil moves and larger-than-ever following, is on course to be one of the most watched events this Olympics. Following the competitions Sunday and Monday, the sport has its final two days in the Salt Lake spotlight this Thursday and Friday.
“We’re not going to have subtitles explaining what they’re saying,” Delaney said of the snowboarders he is interviewing this week.
He wasn’t referring to the athletes from abroad, though they won’t have subtitles either. He meant the Americans.
Ask, “How was your run?” and, Delaney said, the athletes’ answer might be, “I’m stoked. I had strong amplitude on my method and the frontside grab.”
Delaney’s translation: “(They) are excited, pumped. They got big air (or hang time) on this trick that’s called a method.” And the “frontside grab”? “They blast into the air and with their back hand they grab their toe edge (the edge of the snowboard that their toes point toward) between their feet, straightening their front leg.”
Of course, there’s a cooler way to say “straightening your leg.” It’s “boning.”
With time short, Delaney is hitting the highlights and leaving the rest up to viewers’ imaginations. For those whose curiosity is piqued, NBC has a glossary of dozens of snowboard terms on its Olympic Web site,
Language reflects culture, and snowboard lingo, like snowboard culture, is all about being inventive, being out there, and, of course, being cool. But what sounds like nothing more than cool-dude gibberish at first has its own logic, even poetry.
A light snowfall on an icy hill is “dust on crust.” Likewise, elder snowboarders – which can mean anyone over 20 – have been dubbed “grays on trays.” (In some circles, your snowboard is also your ride, your stick, your tray.) On the slopes and off them, many snowboarders are thrill-seekers with a need for speed and a bent to invent. (That rhyming thing can be contagious.)
Hard-core snowboarders riff with slang assimilated from skateboarding and surfing, hip-hop and punk rock, adding their own twists and turns along the way, much as they do when they blast down hills or go airborne. At the Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park near the Chicago suburb of Algonquin, Ill., Dan Corapi and his buddies pick up some terms and make up others.
“Hecka fresh hit, bro bra,” Corapi, 24, told a snowboarding friend not long ago. Corapi’s translation: “Great jump, brother.”
That’s on his hill. It doesn’t necessarily translate to riders, as snowboarders call themselves, in other places.
“In the Midwest, our lingo is a lot different than the guys out West and out East,” Corapi said.
NBC’s Delaney points out that snowboarding gets stuck with a rebel youth image that doesn’t always fit a sport that has gone mainstream, commercial, and now includes diverse riders, young and old. Not everybody is a cool dude in cargo pants, and not everybody likes to riff with slang. Delaney has his own theory about why snowboarders play with so many new words. Once you’ve mastered the art of making the snowboard an extension of your body, and thumbing your nose at gravity, conventional words fail to do the job.
“The essence of the feeling that you get from these board sports is kind of a magic carpet ride, floating sensation,” Delaney said. “It’s very, very soul-grabbing in a positive way … There’s not a way to describe many of the things you feel.”
Delaney and his NBC colleagues tossed around ideas of what to call their efforts at educating viewers about the sport. They tossed around “snowcabulary,” “trick-tionary” and “shreducation.”
“Shredding” long has been another word for snowboarding. But say “shredding” these days and you mark yourself as what one Minnesota snowboarder called “hopelessly unhip.”
“It’s like `neat-o,'” Delaney said. “It has been socially banned. There are words that kind of die out, like mullet haircuts.”
No worries. Far from Salt Lake City, hip terms-in-the-making are flying around the hills this winter, ready for their turn.