Snowboarding freestyle basics
Who is this for?
This is for everyone who has gotten the hang of snowboarding basics and is interested in starting out with freestyle snowboarding. I'll be handing out some pointers and will be covering the steps towards your first big air jump. I even threw in some homemade kindergarten drawings. (Will have to look out for a hub that teaches me how to draw soon..)
As always, be mindful of your surroundings. Just because you want to do tricks doesn't mean you should endanger others. Also mind your own safety, wear a helmet! If you're going for the kickers wear a backprotector.
There's a fair chance you've been assigned a "forward" stance when first learning how to snowboard. There's also a chance you haven't strayed from that stance since. As the basics of snowboarding cover movement in one direction there probably never was a need for you to think of using another stance.
In freestyle snowboarding however, there will be plenty of moments where your direction or position favors a "duck" stance. You'll be rotating your board and will often land with your tail in front, forcing you to ride away "switch". Maybe you'll be doing some sliding on a rail with your nose and tail pointing outwards to the sides and you balancing your board on the rail from the center. All of these tricks are easier to perform and maintain control in with a duckstance as weight is more evenly distributed and there is no real difference anymore in riding nosedown or taildown.
If you haven't gone over to the "Duck Side" yet, you can ease into to it by using a screwdriver or snowboard tool on the discs of your snowboard bindings and setting your hind leg to a stance closer to 0 degrees which has that foot pointing directly to the side of your board. Eventually you can set it in the negative degrees to have it pointing outward, making you a true Duck! Some common Duck stances are +15/-15 and +18/-6, but by all means play around with it and stick with something you ride comfortable with.
The very foundation of freestyle snowboarding. An ollie is basically an effective way of jumping up with your board. A good ollie is essential for getting airtime. Airtime = good. Start out by practising these on the slope.
Have your weight distributed evenly over the board. Your balance should be straight in the middle. Bend your knees a bit as if getting ready to jump up. Now sharply pull up your front leg. If you do this, a natural consequence is that you'll shift your weight over to your hind leg and the back of the board. With your front leg still up that'll flex your board, basically bending it like a diver bends the diving board before jumping off. Now all you have to do is pull up both your knees to spring or pop yourself upwards.
Things to pay attention to:
- Keep your shoulders alligned with your board at all times
If you turn them either way the rest of your body and your board will follow. Great for doing spins later on, but a nono for a regular ollie.
- Even out your board once airborne
Once you're up in the air you'll want to suck up your knees evenly so your board is nice and level. A level board is easier to control later on when doing spins and will ease your landing when doing ollies on the slope
- Work on that pop!
If you haven't done ollies before then the whole concept of flexing your board to ''pop it'' should be new to you. Get used to popping your board and pay attention to the way it pops so you can find out what gets you the best results. Remember, it might not make much of a difference on the slope, but a good pop will pay you back tenfold on a big air jump.
Another freestyle essential which will help you out on the slope as well as on the big air jump. On the slope you'll be playing around a lot with your board and direction. Whether it's doing 180's, butters or riding up a quarter/half-pipe and coming back down without rotating your board. All of these activities require you to ride "Switch" at some point. As I explained before riding switch or fakie is riding your snowboard taildown instead of nosedown.
When you start out with switch riding it'll probably feel like you need to learn boarding all over. Here are some pointers to help you get started.
Get that tail down
Start out on a small downwards slope with your board level as if you've just hit the brakes and have come to a full stop. Now instead of putting your weight on your front foot to start a toeside turn put the weight on your hind foot.
The first turn
Once you start to feel your tail going down gradually increase the pressure on your toeside to initiate the turn. Ride out the turn gently and displace your weight to the heelside.
The second turn
Turning back heelside is usually easier. If you're having trouble switching from toeside to heelside try to start a sitting down motion. This will help switch your weight to heelside without having to worry about balance. Then turn as normal. Either repeat this sequence or come to a full stop and do a cheer.
Things to pay attention to:
- Balance before speed!
Work on the balance before you try this on steeper slopes. Be sure you're comfortable making the turns and can always come to a full stop if necessary. Remember, safety first.
- Put in the hours
Getting good at riding switch can only be done by riding switch. A lot. When I'm on the slopes all day I usually end the day by riding switch the last hour or so.
An ollie followed up by half a spin, landing you switch after the jump. Be sure you have the ollie and some switch riding down before you start practising this one. The BS180 is one of those tricks that stays stylish. Nothing looks better than a slooooooowly executed BS180 off a huge kicker. As with the ollie, start off practising it on the slope.
The backside part indicates the direction of your spin. Backside is performing the spin in such a way that your back is exposed towards the landing first, as opposed to the front.
Why not frontside?
Pure aesthetic choice. I think the backside looks better :)
On the slope gather up some speed, bend your knees for the ollie but rotate your shoulders towards your nose as you do so. This is called winding up. It's not strictly necessary for the 180, but both handy for a smooth rotation as well as a good platform for farther rotations later on (360, 540, etc). As you ollie up, swing your shoulders from the nose towards the tail in a deliberate but smooth fashion. It helps if you turn your head to look at the tail first, that way you have a better indication of when to stop rotating your shoulders. If you keep your body relaxed you will find that the lower half will turn around with your shoulders automatically and your board will follow. Soak up the landing by bending your knees slightly on touchdown, get those shoulders back in line and ride away clean!
Tips for getting used to the move:
- Look mom, no board!
Practise without a board. In your yard. In summertime. Get in your snowboard stance and practise the move. Try jumping various heights to see if you can get the rotations down smoothly with different amounts of time in which to do them.
- Look mom, no snow!
Strap on your board and practise on any soft surface, like the grass in your yard!
- Spin in turn
If you find you keep running out of air before you make a complete 180 with your board there's two things you can do. 1) Work on that ollie, 2) Cheat and practise your 180 from a toe side turn. The turn will have your board already rotating towards where you want it to go. An extra benefit of practising it like this is that you learn to ollie from your toes, which will help your BS rotation on the big air jump.
Things to pay attention to:
- Smooth is key
If your ollie is up to par you'll have plenty of time for the rotation. Don't try to throw your shoulders the other way as fast as you can. Keep the transition smooth.
- Suck up those knees
The more compact your form is the easier it is to rotate.
A big moment for you! I'm going to try and talk you through the previous tricks and moves but now based on the premises that you'll be doing them off a big air jump, or kicker.
Preparations I should take?
- Now more than ever, get a helmet. Don't forget to wear it. Also a backprotector is never a bad idea.
- Get used to speed. On most kickers speed is your friend.
- Get used to riding down in a straight line. As a beginning boarder you often think your way down a mountain in turns. Practise going straight down slopes with your weight centred instead of toe or heelside.
- Watch the locals. Spy on others and see how they take the jump. Assess their starting point and speed.
- Start off on the little ones ;)
Since a kicker is public domain for all sorts of freestylers here's a few definite don'ts:
- Take an approach to the kicker if you're not straight in front of it. Chances are someone else who is taking an approach won't see you if you do.
- Take an approach if someone gets up on their board and lifts their hand. This indicates they are going to take the approach next.
- Bleed off all your speed right before the kicker with last minute turns, ride it up halfway or to the top and come to a stop. As I said, get used to speed first. If you stop on top of a kicker you'll ruin the snow on it or the approach and with that the jump for anyone who uses the kicker after you.
Your first jump
Get a feel for the jump first and go for a jump with plenty of speed, but no ollie. Again, I emphasize speed. As a freestyle beginner you'll rarely overshoot the landing. Also, if you've followed my pointers you have been watching the locals and their approaches. :) The reason speed is important is mostly safety. If things go wrong on your jump you want to avoid falling on the flat (see pretty picture). Falling on the landing will absorb your impact and slide you on your way.
First look around you to see if noone else is getting ready for an approach. Get up and raise your hand and point your nose down. If you can, start from a position straight in front of the kicker to avoid having to make any turns on the way down. Focus on the kicker all the way down, keeping your knees bent as if getting ready to ollie. Once you start going up the kicker let your back knee stretch out a bit more so your shoulders and orientation stay level in relation to the ground (and not the kicker). If you don't do this you run the risk of leaning backwards when you reach the ridge of the kicker. Ride the kicker this way until the ridge of it is exactly inbetween your feet. Now suck up your knees and keep your body level above your board. If the timing is right you'll notice you still get some pop out of the ridge. Once you have a clear view of the landing start lowering your legs with slightly bent knees. Bend further to cushion the landing once your board hits the snow. Ride away as if you've been doing this for years.
The next jumps should focus on your ollie and how it affects your jump on the kicker. Follow above instructions and pop your ollie out right when the ridge of the kicker is inbetween your feet for maximum effect.
Things to do on your first jumps
- Practise stability
Keep your shoulders level above your board. If you notice your board going left or right after the jump that's probably because your shoulders weren't straight. Stretch out your arms and try touching the nose and tail with your fingertips when you jump. This way you force your shoulders to stay level and above your board.
- Get used to sucking up those knees
A good follow-up and aid for gettings those knees nice and high is the grab
- Practise grabs
A grab is using one or both hands to grab onto your board while airborne. Start off with an Indy. An Indy is done by grabbing your board toeside with your back hand between your feet. Point your free hand upwards to avoid rolling forward when you crouch for the grab.
Backside 180 off a kicker
This is it, the main event!
Things that will be different
- The ollie
Initiating a backside turn from the kicker will be easier if you ollie off your toeside. When you wind up (rotate your shoulders towards the nose of your board) and try to jump centred you run the risk of actually pushing off from your heels, which will result in the board jumping out from underneath you and you landing on your back.
- The airtime
You'll be spending a lot more time in the air when compared to your slope ollie 180's. Take this into account when rotating. When you find you rotate too fast try and extend your legs earlier. Extending them will slow your rotation. Of course it looks far prettier if you initiate a slow rotation that stops just as you extend for the landing.
- The landing
Will be switch of course! If you're comfortable with switch riding it won't feel any different from regular landings. If you still need to get used to it try doing some slope ollie 180's off small hills or natural inclines.
Things to pay attention to:
- Look at the landing at all times
Turning your head and focusing on the landing the entire jump will vastly increase your chances of a smooth rotation and proper landing.
- Keep your shoulders level
This ensures the board is level and helps smoothen the rotation. 9 out of 10 times a spin goes wrong is because of bad shoulder position.
Thanks for your time!
I hope this hub was informative for you as a boarder. Feel free to leave comments!