I used to get paid to ride a snowboard. Specifically to ride a snowboard in a halfpipe. This was my job. You can imagine the cocktail party small talk. A halfpipe is a sum of its snowy parts, and exactly as advertised, the shape of half a pipe- a giant U.
The deck is the flat part at the top of the wall, and there is the floor across the bottom. The top of the wall must come to vertical, where it meets the deck, to keep riders from launching out of the confines of the pipe. And then there is the transition- the curved part of the wall.
Since snowboarding entered the Olympics in 1998, the dimensions of a halfpipe have grown. Originally constructed to skateboarding specifications, we learned over time that for the larger dimensions of a snowboard, these transitions proved to be too tight, too quick. So as the transition lengthened, halfpipes grew larger, and the height riders could generate amplified. And it turned out that despite these taller walls and formerly impossible airs -- these new halfpipes, while intimidating, were largely safer for riders.
The longer transition provided not just a better trajectory for launching into greater heights, but when one was to fall, if at the top of the transition, one could be almost gently swept to the bottom of the pipe. Of course there are terrible exceptions to this, and slams happen, but without the big transitions we cannot have the bigger launches.
The physical sensation of riding a halfpipe is one of compression and release; you feel the pull of gravity and then for an all-too-short moment -- total freedom. Gravity loses her grip for a breath. Of course, the pull to earth returns, but then the cycle repeats- compression and release. When in flow and timing the breath, it’s a meditation.
When jumping off a cliff on a snowboard, one similarly looks for a steep landing. You need to land on a surface that allows you to keep moving. The sharp stop is the danger here. Again, the transition allows for the launch.
I’ve been at MEA since the beginning; we’ve been talking about transitions around here for years. And it just recently dawned upon me that without transition, there is no air, no trick, no dazzling show. The transition provides the launch pad, and the landing, for all the fun stuff. This is an important reframe for me - while I love the concept of gooey liminality, I even more love the idea of using the transition to create the momentum and the power for the next momentarily gravity-defying trick.
Christine Sperber is the Chief Experience Officer and partner in MEA and a former pro snowboarder.