Saturday, October 16, 2021

GLOSS: A history of bucking stereotypes in the snowboard industry with Tina Basich

Photos courtesy Tina Basich/Facebook

This interview is an abridged version of Crude Conversations EP 093 A history of bucking stereotypes in the snowboard industry with Tina Basich. It’s part of an ongoing series between Crude and Blower Media called GLOSS, or the Gorgeous Ladies of Snowboarding and Skiing. In this episode, I talk with snowboard pioneer Tina Basich. Listen to the full podcast here:

Tina Basich was among the first women in snowboarding who redefined what it meant to be a female pro-snowboarder. This meant making constant decisions to push against conforming to a man’s world. Because what you do in the present determines the future. It meant bucking stereotypes—taking the same lines and riding the same courses as the guys did. It meant creating a lane where women were respected for their abilities rather than overlooked or talked down to. Snowboard gear was a big piece of this. Back then, all the clothing and the gear were made for men—the clothing was too baggy and the boards were too wide for women. So, for things to fit somewhat properly, they had to modify everything. But once snowboard brands began making gear specifically for women, Tina says that their abilities and skills improved drastically. Another big move toward equity in snowboarding was the freedom to be herself—to be that girl on the mountain with a DayGlo orange scrunchie and snow pants.

These days, Tina says she’s narrowing down her responsibilities, preferring to focus on the simpler things in life. There’s her business—a gift line of designs called My Favorite Things—her art and she helps her daughter Addison navigate the medical and social aspects of having scoliosis. It’s a diagnosis that requires as much support as possible. For this, Tina draws courage and inspiration from many facets of her life, including snowboarding.

Cody Liska:  You recently had an art show called Bent Not Broken. What can you tell me about the art involved in that show?

Tina Basich: That was my first solo show. So that was a big thrill for me. I’ve always been an artist and traveled with my paint set. So, I’ve always had art in my life. But my daughter—she was diagnosed in 2017 with scoliosis and that was shocking to us. The first time I saw her MRI, I realized that this was a path we were taking that was unexpected, and we dove right into her treatment. And in that process—part of it for me was creating art with her MRI. And so I took those images and incorporated it in a mixed media type artwork, which is fairly new to me. Over the last three years I’ve been developing my art with that, and it’s just been very time consuming with the treatment that she undergoes.

Addison’s doing great. We’re pushing through her treatment, she’s 14 now. So we’ve been doing this for three and a half years, since she was 10. She’s almost to the four year mark in October, and her back—because of this treatment—is staying in a safe position out of surgical range, which is not always the case three and a half years into diagnosis. So we feel very, very fortunate to be able to afford this treatment. It’s outside of our insurance. So, all of the funds from the artwork go towards that.

Snowboarder, pioneer, mom.

CL: And Addison was able to make such great progress because it was caught super early in her life?

TB: Yes, scoliosis is one of those things where the earlier you catch it, the easier attempt you have to straighten the back. They kind of describe a 10-year-old spine as a twig of a tree—you can still kind of push it into place and manipulate it with bracing and exercise and have it stretched and elongated so that’s relieving that pressure and that tension that the spinal cord is pulling down on. And as the spine grows to maturity, when you’re like 16 to 18 years old, it’s like a tree trunk. So it’s harder to maneuver after it’s fully grown. And by catching it at an early age, at age 10, we were able to do bracing and stretching to keep that spinal cord lengthened.

Her root cause of scoliosis is that her spinal cord is shorter than the spine. So it holds the spine down. It buckles out to the side. And those are the curves of the spine. So we do everything we can to stretch that spinal cord out to meet the length of the spine. It’s a major, lifelong task. It doesn’t just go away. But at spine maturity, once the spine stops growing, then it eases up because the growth is not happening so fast.

CL: Coming from a sport like snowboarding, where you were constantly putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations, what was it like when you found out Addison had scoliosis?

TB: It was shocking to me. But I would have to back up and say that when I became a mother, that’s when everything changed for me because I looked back and saw footage of me outrunning avalanches and remembered jumping out of helicopters and doing things that were risking my life and thinking now like, “How did my mom answer the phone and hear the story of me outrunning an avalanche?” And then we’re going to go back tomorrow to this different location because the helicopter pilot said he would take us further in and [my mom would say], “Go get it honey, follow your dreams!” How did she do that? Now that I’m a mother, I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” There’s this feeling where you want to just keep them in a safe bubble. And it’s just not the reality of it. And things happen. And so definitely becoming a mother and looking back on my career, thanking my lucky stars I lived through it. Not everybody was so lucky. And not everybody’s consequences came down to, you know, broken bones or bruises. We had people that lost their lives and people that are paralyzed in our family of snowboarding.

So it is an interesting thing to look back on because when you’re in the moment and you’re an athlete, and you are on your game, and I can do anything, I’m Superwoman on the snowboard, that mindset—that’s my game face. That zone you get in is real. I do feel like a superpower. I just could go do whatever I wanted. And just being a woman and a girl in this sport doubled [that feeling] because I wanted to prove that I could do it too. Even in Alaska we’d jump off cliffs and they’d be like, “Tina, which one are you going to do?” And I’d say, “I’m gonna be doing the same one they did.” You know? “I’m gonna follow that fast Frenchmen down the hill and I’ll see you at the bottom.” So a lot of it empowered me to do more. And then when scoliosis hit my family it did, you know, plow me over like a ton of bricks and knock me off my feet. But I’ve learned through life experiences to get up and keep going. I don’t let it break me down too much. It’s definitely just part of our life now.

The diagnosis came in waves because I didn’t even know what scoliosis was at first. So when somebody says, “you have scoliosis,” you don’t automatically think, “Oh my gosh, we’re gonna have to deal with this for the rest of our lives. We’re going to have to brace for seven years, we’re going to have this financial crunch on our family. Which treatment do we choose? Is it worth it to do this one we believe in?” All of those things didn’t come at the moment of diagnosis. When it came, they said, “Your daughter has scoliosis, or may have scoliosis. We need to get an X-ray.” And that was just at her 10-year-old wellness check. I was like, “Wait, what? Isn’t that where your back’s curved? She doesn’t look curved.” So it was intense. But it got a little more intense as we got into the treatment of it and what we actually had to do to get this under control.

CL: Do you think that you’d let Addison become a snowboarder at the level that you rode at if she wanted to?

TB: I would because I have to give her the same gift my parents gave me, which is to follow your heart and you’ll have no regrets. You have to go for it and go for your dreams, no matter how big or small they are. So I’m definitely conscious of making sure that I allow that space for her. And at the same time, of course, I want to protect her. Her body with scoliosis is maybe not as easy to take falls like I did or, you know, not as good for her back to have all that compression and flat landings and all of that stuff with her torso brace. We haven’t been able to go snowboarding. So it hasn’t been on our radar, but I did just buy a season pass here, which is the first time I’ve had one in 20 years. So I’m ready to go back up and bring her along if she so chooses.

Tina Basich, Age 19.

CL: And you started snowboarding in the 1980s, right?

TB: It was the 1985, ‘86 winter and I was in high school. I hung out with all the skateboarders, and that was kind of a punk rock scene back then. I was just drawn to skateboarding and the people surrounding it because they were artists and didn’t care what people thought and [were interested in] just kind of making their own mark.

My mom actually mentioned snowboarding to us because she was buying us coats or something, I think at like Big Five Sporting Goods or something in Carmichael, near Sacramento, California. And she said, “You got to check out this thing. It’s like skateboarding on snow.” We mostly went up to Tahoe to go sledding and stuff like that, we weren’t really ski resort people. And so we went to the store and said, “We want to rent two snowboards,” and they said, “Oh, we only have one.” So my brother and I rented it and we shared it and we went up. They wouldn’t let us on the ski resort at Soda Springs. That was one of the resorts that allowed snowboarding, but maybe the ticket window person wasn’t aware because she said, “I know you can’t take that sled up on the lift.” So we just hiked up along the side. I had moon boots on and every time we fell down the board would rip out of my boots and I’d be sitting there with my socks on the side of the mountain. The board had three fins. It was a Bernie Lee 140. It was a rough cut snowboard. I mean, no wonder we looked so funny snowboarding, we were just trying to hold our balance with our arms out, you know, in that stance. That was kind of a real beginning for me and, and a beginning for snowboarding because everything before that was not on the radar.

Back to the present day.

CL:  Did you fall in love with snowboarding that first time or did it take a couple times before we got the hang of it?

TB: I fell in love with it when my mom mentioned it. Falling on snow sounded way better than falling on concrete. It was new and exciting. That’s why those first five years of my snowboarding experience were just irreplaceable. Every time we went something new was happening. We’d run into other snowboarders that duct taped foam to their high back to get more forward lean. And, you know, we didn’t know it was called forward lean then. We were just like, “Oh, that can make you turn better.” There were new tricks happening, there were snowboarding contests popping up and there were more and more snowboarders on the hill so we could ride up the chairlift with snowboarders instead of getting stuck with the skiers who hated us.

It was pretty exciting times and a lot of the tricks came from skateboarding, which is what I knew. A lot of the tricks were named after the skateboarding moves, like an indie air, backside air and things like that. And then there started being some inventions of like a J Tear Air that Mike Jacoby did and, you know, some different grabs, like crazy grabs, like the Spaghetti Air where you put your hand through your feet and grab your toe edge. We weren’t spinning around a million times. If you put the pros of today in the pipes of yesterday, I don’t know if they could do it either. It was just a feat to get down the pipe, their transitions were always bumpy.

Not until a couple years later into the, like in 88, 89, 90 were we really riding some good transitions that were consistent. And as the halfpipe got better then the tricks were possible. So it just kind of started evolving quickly. And this is a time when there were no parks at ski resorts, there were no halfpipes. So I would show up at a contest and if I had a new trick in mind, or I was going to try and do a double grab, I was going to try it during practice [for the first time]. Every time we were at a contest, that’s when everything started to progress.

CL: And how many other women were you competing against back then?

TB: I think the first contest I was in had four or five. By the time I got to the Worlds I think there were 20-something girls from all over the world, which just blew my mind. And then it started to get into the early ‘90s, where there were invitations to the contest, like you had to qualify to get to the World Cup in Japan, and you had to be invited to get to the X-Games and things like that. So it made it a little bit harder for the up-and-comer to come up. People like Jenna Mayen and these little girl rippers that were coming up on the scene, they would come and get permission to forerun the contest. Just to put them out on the stage like Shaun White—he would come and forerun the contents. He wasn’t in the contest, he was a forerunner. They would allow him to go down for like a little show, this little kid who could rip air. Because the owners of all the companies are sitting there watching the contest, all the riders, everybody in the industry. So if you were coming up on the scene, and you got to drop in, or show your stuff, that’s where you got seen. And then next thing you know somebody is calling so and so and they’re getting you sponsored. This is way before any YouTube or internet. This is when we had to wait for the magazine to come out to read about the contest and the rankings and everything that happened at the contest. So kids that were subscribed to the magazines would wait anxiously for the next months to find out who won like the Rocky Mountain Series and [learn about] all those stories because by the time the X-Games came around, that was like the first time that snowboarding was exposed to the world. It was on like 110 stations, or something crazy like that. Millions of people watching you at once, right then and there. So that was kind of what blew it up.

I think the biggest challenge of being a girl in that scene was when we had people actually tell us that we couldn’t enter the contest or we couldn’t go off the jump. There was that one contest in the Air & Style in Innsbruck, Austria where Shannon [Dunn-Downing] and I—this is mid 90s— we actually got told that no girls were allowed. And we were like, “Oh hell no. What did they just say?” We snuck to the top of the jump and Bryan Iguchi and Jamie Lynn and all those guys were like, “You got to have strong legs.” They powered us up, they helped us. But those were the challenges—it was pushing for women’s equipment and pushing for a spot for women to be given the stage, the same stage to show our stuff. Women are very powerful in our balance and our grace. We were made to snowboard. So let us show our stuff.

Cody Liska: When you think back on those moments, like the one at Air & Style, do you think any of them really helped pave the way for equity in snowboarding?

TB: For women?

CL:  Yeah.

TB: I think that that moment for me was a pushing point. And I think, honestly, all the women in the sport at that time, we were all trying to do our best. We were all trying to learn new tricks and go bigger and better. And, you know, in the mid 90s, I was just trying to keep with my posse, which was 90 percent guys half the time. So all of those people elevated the space. Even at the first X-Games, I think 18 girls signed up for the bigger competition, it was in Southern California. It was icy conditions and the jump that they built, it was the biggest thing I’ve ever jumped. The biggest jump I’ve ever seen. We were all scared to death. I thought I was gonna get hurt. And for practice, only four girls showed up to get their bibs out of the eighteen. We were like, “We can’t back out now. If we do, then they’re not going to give us a category next year. So we all decided to do it. And you know, we weren’t spinning off the jump, I was just doing a method and holding on for dear life. And I got third place. I think Barrett [Christy] won that year. And that was a moment for me where I really recognized that we gotta do this. Otherwise, there’s not going to be another chance to do it again.

So I then continued on and won the X Games Big Air at Crested Butte in ‘98, doing my 720, which if I would have never been given a jump that big to start on, I would have never been able to spin around twice on my board. None of the jumps would have allowed that I had up at Mount Hood to practice on. And so part of that pushing through even when I was scared or worried, I really just had to find my zone and do it.

Tina’s autobiography “Pretty Good for a Girl”

CL: Did you draw from anything or find inspiration in those times when you weren’t feeling up to par or maybe you were a little apathetic?

TB: Yeah, but I think I 100 percent leaned into the other girls on the scene. I just downloaded some footage from a VHS tape that I found and it was my X Games footage and the announcer kept commenting on the camaraderie amongst the girls, “They’re always high fiving. You just don’t see this in ice skating and other sports.” You know, the commentator was just making a real remark about what she was seeing of us as athletes about how we support each other. And it has been said over and over again. That we really cheered each other on. We’re each other’s cheerleaders. And so when I was at the top of the jump, worried about how big it is, how I’m going to land, how icy it is, how hard it is, how I got hurt crashing during practice. I’m not sitting there by myself at the top of the jump trying to get through it. I’m sitting there with Barrett Christy and Shannon Dunn and Michelle Taggart. Going, “Dude, it’s so gnarly. It’s sketchy. You can do it. We got it. Just focus.” That’s what was happening. And I’m so grateful that that’s what was happening because if it was the opposite and super competitive, gnarly, like I wouldn’t have stuck with it. If snowboarding would have already been a sport and been so competitive, I would have just stuck to the backcountry. The fact that it was so open and welcoming and had that bond between all the girls is what pushed us forward.

CL: I always thought that was so cool and so encouraging—the camaraderie between the women at these competitions, where you were all high fiving each other and saying encouraging things to each other at the top of the course.

TB: Yeah, that’s something else. I think snowboarding, because it just started from nothing, we had nothing to lose. Like, why not be like that? It’s not like there’s only one podium to get. We were all taking our turns up there. And it was awesome.

CL: And you and Shannon Dunn-Downing were the first women in snowboarding to get your own pro model snowboard, correct?

TB: We had our boards come out the same season in ‘94. And there was a pro model with Lisa Vinciguerra. On Checkered Pig the season before or earlier that year. I’m not exactly sure. But it did come out before, but it was a European company that was promoted through those threads. So when Shannon and I came out with our board, I think because we were with Sims and Burton and Shannon had a big ad campaign behind her board, that it really made an overall big splash in the industry. And it was just a time when all of that was just about to happen. I feel lucky that I was one of the girls that got to be a part of that first launch with the first women’s equipment coming down the pipe.

Tina Basich and her official Kemper Snowboards playing card

CL:  So for your first pro-model with Kemper, was there ever a feeling of, you know, everyone’s doing something very revolutionary right now or were the conversations more directed toward you know, “Yeah, Tina’s great. She’s a great rider. She’s getting her own pro model”?

TB: It was more of, we didn’t know what was going to happen. It could have failed and they would have never given any woman a snowboard pro model again. We didn’t know. So it was definitely unknown. I felt like it was an opportunity because we were seeing the guys getting pro models and I wanted that too. I felt like I was deserving of it, and helped design it and do the whole thing. But it was unknown on how the industry was going to react to it. But the second that we got a glimpse of the reaction that it was positive and that it was being embraced and that they were even talking about it like they were—it was a hyped up conversation at that SI Trade Show. So right after we realized, like, “Okay, this is something,” then we just went crazy with it. The doors were opening. And instead of getting to design one coat, we were designing a whole line of coats and outerwear and streetwear. And different sponsorships came into play. There were, you know, pink watches and all these different things started happening for women’s equipment. And it could have happened five years later if nobody took a chance on it. So it was just the right timing for those companies to step forward with a confidence that they could give it a test and that the industry recognized it as a real need for the equipment. I mean, up till then we were wearing all these baggy clothes and huge boards. So it was just really good timing. And Shannon was a great person to promote. She was winning contests and we were, you know, getting on the podium, holding those boards. So that was a big deal too.

CL: You named your autobiography, “Pretty Good for a Girl.” Why did you choose that name?

TB: That was the comment I got a lot back in the day because I would come ripping down the run and at the bottom of the hill I’d unstrap my board and get in line and somebody would notice my ponytail and say, “Whoa, you’re pretty good for a girl. You didn’t fall over and take out the fence at the bottom.” Like, what were they expecting? I don’t know. But they somehow were surprised that I was a girl and I was good on a snowboard. So instead of it discouraging me, it empowered me because I was like, “Damn right I’m a girl. Try and keep up.” It definitely pushed me forward. You know, I would have no problem hitting the natural kicker underneath the chairlift and throw a big old method air.

Tina Basich and her classic method in a 90s ad for SWAG

CL: And your method has kind of taken on a life of its own. What do you think about what it’s become?

TB: It’s just like the best feeling ever. There’s just something about the way a backside method floats through the air. And that was kind of my go-to grab that I felt the most comfortable with in the air. So when we were up in Alaska and, you know, Justin Hostynek was getting ready to take photos of me, and I’m up at the top of the cliff going, “Man, this is a big one,” and kind of throwing snowballs off the tip to see where they land and see how far I’m going to drop. I’m not going to just go do a 720 off of a jump like that. I’m going to do a method because it’s big. So I’m pushing myself just for the height of the air. And I’m going to do my most comfortable air. So a lot of photographs from Alaska and stuff like are of me floating a method air through the whole thing because that was the thing that I knew I could get off the jump and land. Because it was such a natural balance for me in that position. So I do love the method air.

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