Virginia Tech takes crown from JMU in annual boarding event
As the sun set and the air cooled over the slopes at Massanutten on Feb. 1, a group of snowboarders, skiers and onlookers were eagerly gathered together. With a Red Bull party van and massive inflatable Duke Dog setting the scene, an emcee took control of the PA to announce the winners of the third annual Red Bull Rivals snowboarding competition.
For those who couldn’t hear the results being enthusiastically roared through the speakers, it was probably a weird sight seeing a group of about 10 students shed their clothing in celebration. However, in the heat of the moment, it seemed natural for the team. Especially considering what the group had just accomplished.
The skin-exposed team was from Virginia Tech. it had dethroned JMU as the champion of the Red Bull Rivals series.
The team from JMU, made up of members from the campus Boarderline Club, looked on to the celebration with the slightest hint of dismay. In the third year of the event JMU was going for its third consecutive title over the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech: the three-peat. It may have been a stretch to compare a competitive snowboarding squad to the turn-of-the-century Los Angeles Lakers, but being denied after coming so close clearly struck a nerve.
Camden Kurtz, a junior biotechnology major, has been a part of the competition for all three years.
“I don’t know, man, I think we were all going pretty big. We were throwing stuff that maybe we hadn’t thrown or hadn’t thrown consistently. We need to really get those things stomped and get ’em ready for next year,” he says. “I think if we landed everything we definitely would’ve brought it home. As with any event, you’re not always going to ride your best. 30 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but, in the end, it’s not easy to throw everything in.”
Kurtz and Rice both gave credit where credit was due for all the winners of the event, but one competitor stuck out for them.
“That skier came out of nowhere,” Kurtz says. “There’s not a lot of really, really good skiers, usually.”
“Tech’s skier actually had some pretty sweet rodeos too,” Rice says.
This twin-footed trick artist turned out to be the X-factor for Virginia Tech’s squad. Kurtz’s surprise about his abilities didn’t come from a lack of awareness in previous events. It was Tech freshman skier David Andrew Taylor’s first shot at Red Bull Rivals.
Taylor joined the Tech freestyle club soon after making it to Blacksburg, “stoked” that they even had an avenue for those who live on the slopes.
His piece de resistance during the 30-minute heat was a switch backflip he pulled off on the final feature of the course. His finish was met with immediate applause from the crowd and eventually earned him the title of best trick at the end.
“I had most of it planned out. I didn’t really plan on doing a switch backflip — my skis kept popping on it — but I pretty much landed it,” he says. “I don’t know, competition just brings out the best of the best in you.”
While his main concern was his skis landing clean, it technically wasn’t the only thing that was in danger of “popping.” Unbeknown to the majority of those watching, he also had to worry about the metal rod holding his leg together.
In the summer, Taylor was riding at the Liberty Mountain SnowFlex Centre, a year-round slope in Lynchburg, Va. He hit the slope and was prepared to hit a double backflip, a trick he says he doesn’t usually have much trouble with. This time, however, rather than the skis making a smooth landing, it was his back that smashed into the snow. His leg took the brunt of the blow — his femur was snapped in two.
“[I] got emergency surgery the next day and [it] ruined my summer pretty good,” Taylor says.
After months of personal rehab, Taylor was committed to helping out the Tech team as much as he could. He got his leg to the point where he could safely land most tricks with just a moderate level of pain, but he still faced an incredible risk competing at Massanutten.
“This is my first time I’ve done flips since I broke it. I’m not supposed to. At all,” he says. “[Doctors] said that with the jumps, I could possibly bend [the metal rod], and if I bend it, I can’t get it out because it would re-break the bone. I figured just taking one time wasn’t too bad. … I just kinda blocked out the pain and knew I had to put some stuff down to help VT.”
This dedication to the sport is something shared by most that compete in events like this. When you have a group of people willing to put their bodies on the line, a certain atmosphere is fostered within the competition.
“I’d say we’re all pretty stoked on each other. If we see another team throw down an awesome trick we’ll tell ’em,” Tech junior Zach Tozier says. “We like to see other people ride, whether they are on our team or not.”
Mutual respect and general friendliness mean nearly as much to the riders as throwing down a trick better than their opponents. And it almost goes without saying that having fun is pretty crucial to them all as well.
“Everyone is having a good time. Obviously it’s a rivalry and we definitely get heated, but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun and seeing who can outbest each other,” Rice says. “We’re all friends in the end, so it’s just a blast.”
The casual atmosphere actually helps the competition thrive, as opposed to an environment that is based on hate or disrespect. Positive versus negative motivation, as Rice describes.
“It just kinda pushes us. You see a guy do a trick that you’ve never done and it makes you wanna try and step out of your comfort zone a little bit.” Rice says. “And that’s how you progress. You keep pushing each other, and in the end, you end up getting better.”
Now dethroned of their title, the JMU team has to go back to the drawing board for next year’s clash at Massanutten. Their routines probably won’t change for the time being. They board and ski together on a regular basis even when Red Bull Rivals isn’t a factor.
But once the competition nears, the mindsets of each team — and even each competitor — change. Do you practice a specific routine? Do you adjust on the fly? Do you think about what you did last year? What the opponents did last year? All of these things come into play.
“Yeah, I’ve been losing a lot of sleep, actually, just thinking about it,” Kurtz says. “I get really excited about this kind of stuff, and it’s a once-a-year event, so it means a lot.”
It will certainly take some extra effort and preparation from the JMU team to compete with Taylor and the newly crowned Tech team come this time next year. Rice doesn’t see the loss as a roadblock, however. Upping the ante is always part of the fun for these boarders.
“Even just this last year, I feel like I’ve progressed a lot just pushing myself,” Rice says. “I’m definitely ready to come out next year with a new bag of tricks, ready to reclaim the throne.”
Oh, and just in case the other motivations weren’t enough, the gang from JMU will always have a little bit of school spirit fueling their flips.
“Just keep riding, just keeping having fun,” an emphatic Kurtz says. “Go Dukes!”