Now that, final’s day of Natural Selection’s Jackson Hole stop, was one small step for professional snowboarding, one giant leap for all of the extreme sports in the entire extreme sport universe.
But whoa and wow and my surf journalist heart nearly blew straight through its sternum as I sat atop the course watching Blake Paul versus Mikkel Bang in their quarter final heat though let me set the stage first. Let me begin at the beginning.
The morning started early and equally auspiciously as day one. Though I didn’t see Travis Rice in line for Overview coffee, I did get a free raspberry danish at Southcable at the very base of the Jackson Hole tram.
It was delicious.
The climate was crisp and clear, still not a cloud in the sky, much tension in the thin air along with a fine remix of Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” pumping across resort speakers. Which icon of professional snowboarding would pull out all the stops? Which could cement their place in history, stamping a ticket to Bald Face, possibly Alaska and fame?
My heart, still behind sternum, was torn. Travis Rice is family and his snowboard had rested in my hotel room last night, having just been tuned by Franco Snowshapes, a fine little shop in the village, maybe the finest little shop in the world.
Mikkel Bang is a Norwegian dreamboat and both my daughter and wife’s crushes upon him are completely understood, a rarity for me.
My wife, Circe Wallace, the legendary stylish ex-pro and Travis’s longtime agent plus a co-founder of Natural Selection, once crushed on then San Francisco mayor, now California governor, Gavin Newsom. I wrote scathing things about him which, I believe, was a large reason his political star fell so hard. She once crushed on the actor Armie Hammer. More scathing things from me and look at Armie Hammer now.
A canceled cannibal.
But Mikkel Bang?
Impossible to deny his charm and I swoon too.
In any case, the day’s action began hot with the brilliantly named Dustin Craven just getting bested by Oregon’s own Jared Elston. Next came Travis Rice versus Torstein Horgmo. My daughter and I watched Horgmo catch the win while sprinting to the Sweetwater gondola, riding up, sliding slightly down to the Teton lift then riding up to the course.
She can only watch one heat before becoming inspired to Hana Beaman.
Travis lost but also didn’t lose because this Natural Selection is his creation and is somehow, someway, better in year two.
We fell into our Yeti chairs in the VIP tent as Mikkel dropped in, throwing hammers but also coming undone. Jackson Hole’s other own, Blake Paul, followed with an inspiring run. Paul had been hot all contest, flowing from feature to feature, dancing amongst the trees, and he bettered Bang by a score of 88.0 to 64.3. A lonely tear rolled down my daughter’s cheek and maybe my wife’s, who was in the competitor’s area.
My eyes were only hot, furiously blinking.
Mikkel took the second of two runs, barely, which meant a third and on their tie-breaking go Mikkel went equally big, magically big, though fell once more.
Paul went soft, back flipping off the first kicker, maybe throwing a grab somewhere down the mountain, maybe twisting a 360 somewhere else.
We call this “safety surfing” in my world and it is always rewarded. Not falling means winning.
And I assumed Paul would win here, too, but wait?
I rubbed my hot and blinking eyes as the scores flashed on the screen. Mikkel Bang 88.6. Blake Paul 65.6
Commentator Salema Masekela sounded confused, as he calls too much surfing and enjoys that sort of lame, but I was jumping up and down, heart out of chest, having witnessed the death of conservatism.
This. This is what makes Natural Selection so brilliant. Best is demanded each and every second. Best, biggest, most thrilling. No letting off the gas. Zero ease.
Striving for that best eventually undid Mikkel as he eventually lost to winner Sage Kotsenburg in the final. He told me, at the end, that his fall was so brutal that it exhausted him and it was difficult to find the requisite energy later. Kotsenburg, too, was on an absolute roll. My daughter, wife and I dropped into the course when it was all said and done. It was brilliantly fun, daughter sailing over a little powder mushroom, attempting a front flip, landing head first.