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Very Stoked, With Nowhere To Board

February 9, 1998

YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) _ Bummer.

Mountain peaks shrouded in pale gray mist. Snowflakes the size of 100 yen coins. Icicles hanging from empty steel stands. Warning signs reading, ``Watch your steps. It’s slippy!″ Rainbow fences flanking the barren course, the only color in a landscape of frosted birches.

A Zen kind of day, serene and meditative. Unless you’re a snowboarder, psyched to rail in your first Olympics. Then it’s all beeping video games and visits to the wild snow monkeys to commune with kindred spirits.

``I have a whole bunch of pent-up energy,″ said Betsy Shaw, one of the American women who saw their debut in the giant slalom wiped out today and postponed at least a day.

At 32, Shaw is one of the oldest Board Bettys in snowboarding, slipping in the side door of the sport from Alpine skiing at home in Vermont rather than stepping up from skateboarding in city parks. Snowboarding was her passport to the Olympics, and she jumped at the chance to come. She even brought along her mom and dad, two sisters, a brother and cousin, Team Shaw cheering at the bottom of the frozen white wave.

Shaw rides the halfpipe for fun at times, and she can relate to the shredders 10 or 15 years younger. She doesn’t need a snowboard glossary to figure out the difference between a McTwist and a Misty Flip. (The first is an inverted trick with a 540-degree spin backside; the second is similar except for a fakey, or backward, landing off a straight jump).

But hardly anybody else over 30 really knows what snowboarders are talking about, the Board Bettys and Board Bros ripping the pipe, huckering to grab big air, riding goofy, sprocking into space.

And some snowboarders aren’t sure they want anyone over 30 to know, because that way they can keep it to themselves, pure as powder. Free of rules. Free of control. Something that in its essence is freedom. Defying limits. Going X-treme. It’s a ’tude, dude. The thrill of the ride. Because nothing else matters.

It’s hot. Three gnarly knuckle draggers for every new skier. And they’re riding in the Olympics, of all places. The ultimate sellout. As incomprehensible to snowboard purists as Bob Dylan singing ``Masters of War″ at Boeing in the ’60s, when every college kid knew you couldn’t trust anybody over 30. Wouldn’t happen. And now it’s happening. Dylan is singing with his son Jakob and the Wallflowers for Silicon Valley companies, and the shredders are huckering between commercials.

The world is watching and the language is getting out. Soon it won’t be a secret, won’t be pure. There will be more rules, more limits, more control by people over 30.

The snowboarders flaunting their skill and youth and style and language on the slope north of Nagano are caught in this quandary between keeping the secret and shouting to the world. Between performing for themselves and competing for their countries.

They know the value of gold and silver and bronze. They also know medals and money can corrupt their sport and take away its purity.

A few years ago, 26-year-old American Barrett Christy said, she could get by on $20 a week, happy to ride the powder for pleasure. Now Nike pays her, magazines pay her, and there are races for $50,000. Top riders can make six figures, easy. It’s a job and it’s a love.

``You can put us in uniforms, but everybody here has his or her own style,″ Christy said. ``That’s what snowboarding needs, the freedom for everybody to express their style.″

But that freedom can be threatened by the federation that rules the sport in the Olympics. The old fogies of the International Ski Federation, who pushed aside the hip dudes of the International Snowboard Federation for control. And the very size and exposure of the Olympics will raise the stakes for every serious rider way beyond the human billboards they’ve already become.

The snowboarders didn’t beg to be here the way curlers did. No years of petitioning. No tryouts as a demonstration event.

``We just fell into it. That’s the beauty of it,″ Canadian Derek Heidt, 22, said. ``Once the (Winter Olympics) figured out that it was the fastest- growing sport in the world, they knew this obviously was a sport that needed to be highlighted.″

The thing the snowboarders have to wonder about is the price of admission. They’ll win medals, gain fame, and make money for themselves and all the companies backing them. But in the process, their renegade look and language and culture may simply turn passe, a turnoff to anyone under 30 looking for the next rad rage.

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