By Simon Woodhouse
As an alpine pastime, snowboarding has been around for about forty years. Though similar to skiing, its origins are in fact more closely link with surfing and skateboarding. The very first snowboard was called a Snurfer (the word being a hybrid of snow and surfer), and it appeared in America in 1965. Since then the basic concept has stayed the same, albeit subject to constant refinement and variation.
Snowboarding looks quite simple, and essentially it is. But there are a few things you need to know that'll help you get started, or perhaps decide if it's the right pastime for you. First of all there's the board itself. Basically this is a vaguely hourglass-shaped, flat piece of lamented material anything up to nearly six feet long. As a rough guide to choosing the right board length for a beginner, it's best if when standing on its end, your board comes somewhere between your collarbone and your chin. The anatomy of the board is quite simple. The front end is the nose, the back the tail and the two sides are heel and toe. The only slight complication here is the heel and toe sides. Which is which depends on whether you're regular or goofy - I'll explain. When you're stood on your board and facing downhill you'll have one foot in front of the other, and your front foot is your leading foot. If this is your left foot then you're regular, if it's your right foot you're goofy.
The next piece of important equipment is your boots. The snowboard is controlled by the movement of your feet, so properly fitting boots are vital. If your foot moves around inside the boot you won't have so much control over the board. Dense foam padding inside the boot helps create a snug fit, whilst at the same time not pinching or rubbing your foot. The other essential piece of equipment goes on the opposite end of your body - a helmet. No matter how cool it might look to go zooming down the slopes with the wind in your hair, it won't feel quite so cool if you hit your head on something (a tree, a rock, another skier) and you're not wearing a helmet.
Now because snowboarding takes place on snow (duh!), it'll be cold, so you're going to need some warm clothing. However you don't want anything too restrictive. Your jacket and pants need to be comfortable enough to allow you to bend and twist, as well as get up easily after you've fallen over. Gloves, scarf and goggles are three accessories that'll make your time on the slopes that much more comfortable.
Ok, so you've got your board and your clothing, now it's time to hit the slopes. When I say hit the slopes, that's exactly what you'll be doing. Learning to snowboard involves a lot of falling over. If you accept it's inevitable, and take it with good grace, you'll get through the first few hours a lot more easily. Learning to fall over is also important. This may sound a little daft, but if you don't know how to fall properly you'll make matters a lot worse. Here are a couple of simple do's and don'ts. First of all let's talk about falling forward. The natural reaction here it to put your arms out in front of you to cushion the impact - not a good idea. If you do this, you risk damaging your wrists, something that's pretty painful. So, when you feel yourself falling forward, instead of putting your arms out, fold them across your chest and try to land on your forearms. This'll spread the impact and protect your joints. If you feel yourself falling backward, tuck your chin into your chest, this'll help protect your head. Also, try to twist one way or the other and then you won't land on your tailbone, which can really hurt.
Now you've got the basics of falling, it's time to think about staying upright. As you move downhill you'll be going across the slope, so to stop yourself from toppling over you need to keep pressure on the uphill edge of the board (that's the side that's facing toward the top of the slope). You do this by putting pressure on either your toes or heels, depending on whether you're going left to right, or right to left across the slope. As you're moving, try to keep your weight evenly distributed between your two feet. It's important the leading edge of the board (the end that's pointing downhill) stays in contact with the snow, as this is the means by which you steer. Though getting the hang of moving is the fun part, learning to stop is essential. To slow down and stop you need to push the uphill side of the board further into the snow, by putting more pressure on either your toes or heels. The more pressure you apply, the faster you'll stop.
Though I've gone over the basics here, snowboarding isn't something you can learn on paper. It's a 'hands on' hobby that requires a lot of practice, plenty of patience and a whole heap of perseverance. But like most things that appear difficult at first, as soon as you feel yourself making even a slight improvement, all the falling over will seem worth it.