An Ode to Pre-Season Rail Jams

Once upon a time the east coast of Australia was rife with pre-season rail jams. When linked together, these independent jams, demos and competitions would form a rather lucrative circuit for the budding snowboarder.

The Adrenalin Plus Rail Jam gave snowboarders an incentive to visit the ACT. Image:: Ink Lab

Around the nation, scaling up makeshift drop-in platforms where those riders who were confident enough to skip those warm-up taunts faced by most snowboarders on their first day ‘back in the saddle’. These particular riders needed little more than a frontside boardslide to establish that familiarity again. Coming off the back of a summer spent chasing the winter around the Northern Hemisphere, these riders came equipped with a fresh stack of tricks. And the crowd were set for a spectacle because every pre-season rail jam was a kind of make-it-or-break-it situation with riders shedding flesh and blood for bragging rights and considerably generous cash prizes.

As time went on, and as snowboarding fate would have it – we began to see the demise of these rail jams. Those connected with shops like Switch Newcastle fell victim to the supporting store closing its doors, while others seemingly ran their course.

Insert author between take-off and box. Image:: Nev Gear

I for one gave it a nudge in my earlier years and recall sessioning some of the more bastardised set-ups. There was a real showman feeling for the competitors, the crowd had winter on their minds and paired with store sales, there was a frenzy-like atmosphere. They wanted tricks or carnage and having never used a winch before – I propelled myself into the end of a kinked box one night in Newcastle and those who were present never let me forget it. This kept me humble and I always felt honoured to be a part of such a show, even if it folded my ego in two like my board that night.

At each rail jam, there were two types of riders: The top-dogs and the under–dogs. Australian pro’s like Tom Pelley went head to head with international acts like Etienne Gilbert, swivels were the in-thing and the crowd scurried for the product toss like a bridesmaid to a bouquet. Then there were the underdogs, guys like former-Analog and Electric rider Tom Reilly cut their teeth competing in these events and launched themselves on this platform. The Billy Jam was the premier pre-season event, not only drawing a large and boisterous crowd but celebrating the life of former staff member – Billy Reynolds. One year, riders became branded for life, receiving free tattoo’s.

You can bet Pete long will be present at Manly, his Goggle Company – Modest is a main sponsor. Image:: ANZ

Although I paint pre-season rail jams with a brush dipped in nostalgia, a pulse remains. This time, those bastard set-ups and bitumen carparks have been replaced with beer taps, neon lights and are a little more engineered looking. In fact, the Styene Rail Jam takes place inside a pub. Key word being ‘inside’. This isn’t some sideshow stuffed into the beer garden down at the local. This is one of the biggest pubs in Sydney, and inside it, for one night only – world class snowboarding takes places.

Troy Sturrock redefining the two-hit course in 2015 with the roof ride. Image:: Provided

Having been present at the event for the past two years, I’ve watched Australia’s best riders – and I mean these guys are really a cut above the rest go toe-to-toe with those internationals that frequent Aussie for our winter. Sure, there’s underdog and top-dogs, but this type of rail jam isn’t comparable to its predecessors. Guys like Jye Kearney, Andy James and Joel Cantle will go hit-for-hit with the ever-bedazzling Bryan Bowler and Bryce Bugera. From the overhead walkway, Whiskey glasses go click. To the side, beers go cheers. And right up front, the crowd goes mental as riders put down tricks you didn’t know existed.

Contenders will trade flesh and blood for glory and cash, no need to apply – this is invite only. Image:: Provided


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