The Future: Young Chinese Snowboarders Reflect Sport’s Global Growth at Oakley Rookie Challenge in Beijing

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When one thinks of the Planet’s most prominent snowboarders…China is likely near the bottom of the list of talent-rich nations producing top stars.

But that may change…super quick. Exhibit O: the Oakley Rookie Challenge 2011 in Beijing.

Dropping into the massively impressive Qiaobo Ice and Snow World (snow sports indoor facility) on the outskirts of the Chinese Capital on Nov. 29 – the tides of change amongst the new generation of more open-minded Chinese youth were clearly on display at the spirited contest.

As one of the pre-events for the 2011 Oakley & Shaun White Air + Style snowboard and music spectacle, to be held this year at the magnificent Olympic “Bird’s Nest” Stadium on Saturday, Shaun himself played host to an amped collection of young Chinese riders throwing down in an exhibition of sheer enthusiasm for the sport and its lifestyle – however new it may be to their overall culture.

But before the contest commenced, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist arrived to a hero’s welcome – complete with media buzz and fanfare at the heavily Oakley-branded facility. The long-time Oakley team star presented a gift to the legendary Ye Qiaobo, the first Chinese winter sports Olympic medalist and founder of the facility, before being received by a variety of spirited riders of different ages and backgrounds.

The most notable of which, was 11-year-old Beijing native Hu Daifeng.

Confident and already visibly experienced on the slopes, the charismatic grom barely began following Shaun White. Two days before the event, in fact.

“Yes I know of him – he’s awesome, as I just saw his video two days ago, and I love those tricks he did,” Hu said of Shaun – who is still a relatively unknown sports figure in China amongst the general population. “I will probably reach his riding standard by (the age of) 16 – haha!”

Hu, clearly a favorite amongst his fellow young rippers due to his spirited personality, was more than reflective of the sport’s growing presence in this relatively untouched territory. His story is reflective of Oakley and Shaun White’s primary goal in bringing Air + Style to as unique a location as Beijing…and it’s sheer potential in introducing the excitement of the sport – as well as its culture.

“My mom took me to a snow resort when I was 3 years old,” Hu continued. “I fell in love with this sport immediately, as I enjoyed the feeling of falling on the snow very much, it was quite fun! Then I started playing as an amateur until I was 8, then I started taking lessons from professionals.”

It took off from there. And he was sure to note that he’s clearly not alone in his enthusiasm.

“There are more and more kids in my age who are beginning to show interest in this sport, and sometimes we play together, we think it’s a lot of fun.”

The collection of riders participating in the event – which was complemented by a DJ, VIP rooms and a healthy amount of media presence – was more than definitely a celebration of the sport’s growth in the booming economic giant of a country.

Certainly, the sport has a tremendous way to go in reaching the larger masses. But if the fact that one of the better snowboarders in the pack at the Rookie Challenge, was in fact a girl, speaks to what it may become – the future looks more than bright.

“There for sure is a huge potential in China, and I can see that snowboarding is more and more popular,” said Zhu Hong, a 23-year-old female ripper from Harbin. “Before, it was more like a high-end luxurious sport, since you needed to gear up, and that costs a lot of money. But now, it’s more acceptable and affordable. I am sure that snowboarding will be gaining its momentum in the near future.”

And as for girls playing with the big boys?

“I am definitely sure that there will be more female snowboarders in the near future and I am quite confident about that girls can perform beautifully too.”

Top Oakley Rookie Challenge Finishers – Qiaobo

  • 1st place: Zhao Jian Feng(赵剑峰)
  • 2nd place: Yin Jun Ze(尹俊泽)
  • 3rd place: Sun Yu(孙俣)

Be sure to catch some of the world’s best snowboarders collide in the “Bird’s Nest” this Saturday at ‘Oakley & Shaun White Present Air + Style Beijing 2011.’ Live Webcast Link: LIVE WEBCAST ON OAKLEY.COM