Board Outta His Freakin' Skull

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Board Outta His Freakin' Skull

EONGCHANG - Every winter, people who use Korea's ski resorts are split into two camps: those decked out in shiny form-fitting clothes and flashing perfect smiles, the skiers, and those wearing baggy clothes (There's a body under there?) and youthful, carefree grins - the snowboarders.

The latter category many sound slovenly, but proper attire and attitude are required.

Phoenix Park, here in Gangwon province, is no exception to the mountainside dichotomy. On Thursday the resort will open its first snowboard park. The park had a quasi opening last weekend, drawing teenagers and young adults to test the 105-meter half-pipe. The boarders, some with bleached blond hair, others crowned with a Brillo pad, came sporting labels from snowboard makers like Burton, Airwalk, 686 and the Korean brand Shelflife. They wear woven necklaces and bright shades.

They are the winter bohemians of Korea.

The new course has three rangers. For maintaining the stunt facilities, the rangers get free lift tickets, accommodations and plenty of time to board. One of the rangers, Park Hyung-sang, a professional snowboarder, is invariably clad head-to-backpack-to-toe in Airwalk gear. Lightened brown hair peaks out from a snug cap. Before snowboarding took off in Korea, Airwalk built a high profile by sponsoring practitioners of other extreme sports like skateboarding and mountain biking.

One afternoon last week, Park, 24, was shaving and smoothing the sides and curves of the half-pipe with a shovel to prepare the park for its soft opening. The half-pipe is shaped like a pipe cut horizontally.

After checking the surface of the pipe for smoothness, he doffed his mini-disk player headphones, which were blasting a song by the power-punk band the Offspring. Asked whether he does any other sports, he said, firmly, "I don't ski."

Park is one of a breed of boarders, mainly from Japan, Korea and New Zealand, who travel the world looking for good snow. They save money by working at ski resorts in their own countries during the winter, and spend it to keep training all year. The lucky few procure sponsorships to ease the costs of clothing and equipment.

"I would love to go to Mammoth Mountain during the Superpark competition and ride with the superstars," Park said, referring to the California ski resort. But skiing in the United States is too expensive and obtaining a visa is too difficult. So every summer, snowboarders from the western Pacific Rim countries migrate to Canada, Switzerland or France.

Back from a summer of training at Whistler resort in British Columbia, Park is ready to compete against the likes of Park Seon-jin, reigning champion of last year's Burton Classic in Korea.

Yeo Hyun-hee, a pro snowboarder who also works winters in Korea so she can board all year, thinks Park is ready to take on Korea's best. "The old stars better watch out," she said. "Hyung-sang takes chances and trains like mad. He's going to up the ante."

Park began snowboarding seven years ago, after he noticed an African-American carving up the slopes on a board at the Korean resort Bearstown in Gyeonggi province.

In the early-1990s, snowboarders were mavericks on the Korean slopes, and ski patrols used to chase them off. Muju was the first resort to accept boarders. Other resorts, such as Yongpyong, Phoenix Park and Hyundai Sungwoo, followed. Yongpyong recently renovated its snowboard park to open a terrain park for a new breed of winter mountain sports.

When Park started snowboarding, he couldn't find a teacher. He bought U.S. magazines, watched videos, and taught himself how to ride, beginning with a basic Indie Grab stunt. Soon enough, he became addicted to the thrill of going airborne.

After he finished his second year at Hongik University, Park took last year off to train. By then, snowboarding had become an obsession, and he began specializing in free-style competitions in the half-pipe. He plans to return to school this year. When he does graduate, he wants to become an investment banker.

To support his habit he began writing a column for "things," a Korean ski magazine, found a sponsor, Airwalk, and landed the job that lets him practice all morning and afternoon - when he's not looking after the facilities, he's honing his skills. It is the ultimate job for a snowboarder.

On the Monday after the park's soft debut, Park was on the mountainside, practicing on his latest board, a Champ 157. It had been snowing earlier, rendering the half-pipe unrideable.

"Snowboarding is about letting go of fear," Park said before riding down the slope. He hit a steep jump, called a kicker. Airborne, he grabbed the backside of his board with one hand, pulling the board up behind him. He let go and landed smoothly.

"Ganji!" shouted another boarder.

Like snowboarders in the West, Koreans have developed their own lingo, much of it borrowed from Japan. In Japanese, "ganjiharu" means "not bad."

Park's specialty is the exceptional height he gets on his jumps. But he is far from satisfied with his progress, saying he needs more speed.

Next time around, he jumped off a kicker to rotate his board backward in a stunt called a Backside 360.

His first big accident was in Whistler. He was doing a Big Air - rushing up the side of a half-pipe and flipping the board into the air as high as it will go. He wiped out and broke four ribs. "After three weeks of recuperating, I became fustrated with just sitting around and went out again," he said.

As the sun dipped below the mountains, casting dark shadows, Park packed his gear and left to get dinner.

The difference between skier and boarder culture? "Skiers move together and they all conform to assumed styles," he said. "But as a freestyle boarder, I'm competing against myself."

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Hey, man, check out the big dogs

Fila Cup Snowboard Competition

Saturday and Sunday at Yongpyong Resort

Contenders are flying in from New Zealand, Japan and Canada.

The resort is also hosting an amateur competition on March 16 and 17. Riders are encouraged to wear summer clothes, such as shorts or bathing suits, at the Banpal (short sleeve) Competition. For more information, call 02-3405-8102.



Burton Classic

Jan. 30 at Phoenix Park

The second Burton Classic promises top-notch boarding and groovy music. Park Seong-jin will be back to defend the title he won last year. He will be competing against four Japanese boarders for the Big Air stunt title.

DJ DOC, 45 RPM and Gangtolic will supply the music.

Amateurs can try out the slalom competition. There will be other awards in categories like speed races and yeobgi (bizarre) stunts. For more information, call 02-508-3400.



Oilbank Joy White Amateur Snowboard Competition

These contests will be held Saturdays through Feb. 2 at Hyundai Sungwoo Resort. For more information, visit

www.oilbank.co.kr.

by Joe Yong-hee

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