This Is Me: Tina Birbaum

Tina Birbaum told us all about the origins of the infamous Roxy Chicken Jam (and female snowboarding, for that matter) and now that it’s being resurrected as the Roxy Snow Pro. 

Interview by Sam Haddad, photo by Euan Baxter

When I started snowboarding 20 years ago, there weren’t any other women doing it. I grew up in Zurich and I used to go Flumserberg a nearby ski resort with my parents and brother. I saw a guy snowboarding and wanted to try it. Once I started I couldn’t stop.

In my resort they wouldn’t snowboarders on the lift at first so I had to hike. But soon enough they let me go up. Of course people looked at me strangely, they said, “There were crazy men and now there is a crazy woman up there.” I was 14/15 years old though and really didn’t care. I was brought up to think you shouldn’t care too much about what other people say. Switzerland is already kinda narrow minded so people always frowned on what young people were doing but a few years later it was totally normal to snowboard.

I started building jumps and tried to do some kickers on my own as there were no parks or anything. At some point someone from Quiksilver or Roxy saw me riding and asked if I wanted to do a big air competition. I had no idea of my level as I had no one to compare myself to but I must have been ok as I won straight away. Romain de Marchi and some of those guys were riding there but they were just little boys!

It was a big kicker for the time but now it would probably look really small. I always liked big jumps so that wasn’t really a problem for me, and I wasn’t nervous as I had no idea what to expect. I had a job back then so everything was just for fun. But then I was signed by Roxy, first of all for product and later for money. I hadn’t seen that coming at all. Two years later I was travelling the world snowboarding!

I called my parents just before the Air & Style to tell them I was quitting my job to become a pro rider. My mum only said one thing to me, “If you do it then do it right and we’re totally behind you.” She wanted me to do my best and not do it half-hearted. I was like, “Ok!” There were very few female snowboarders on the contest scene then. It was so much fun with no stress or training, just crazy people who wanted to do something different.

I think it’s normal that snowboarding changed. It doesn’t mean that I think the changes are all good though. It’s more like every other sport now, it hasn’t got that feel anymore that it had but I don’t want to judge it as I think that evolution was inevitable. Whenever you start something small and fun, no one knows about it and then it gets bigger and like the way it is now in snowboarding.

Whenever I’m standing on my board with fresh snow under my feet I just I love it. It will always be like that. I love skiing as well, just being in the mountains and if I’m away for too long I get sad. I never thought skiing wasn’t cool, maybe because I skied when I was young with my parents and brother. I never had any resentment. I just think it’s great if someone does winter sports in general. I always had a hard time when they made T-shirts saying “Snowboarders are stupid” or “Skiers are not cool” I thought it was stupid to divide it like that.

The Chicken Jam came about because we needed an all girls event rather than something by guys for guys. I was a pro rider doing big air comps with a crew of girls but there was no progression as the kickers were too big and if they had a girls one on the side it was too small and it looked silly. No one was interested in watching the girls they’d either be on at 7am or after the men but the photographers and media would always leave and no one would watch. At times they wouldn’t even shape the kicker for the girls finals it was very frustrating and I thought there’s no point in just complaining I should do something about it and put on an event where girls can show what they’re about. It’s now in it’s seventh year.

The hardest thing about putting on the event was trying to make the course right for everyone. I talked to the shapers from Mellow and the pro riders but it was tough to make it hard enough to push the best girls while also small enough for the less good girls to progress. It always comes out that someone isn’t happy and girls talk a lot like, “Meh meh meh…” but I always tried to do the best I could.

The fact that girls worry isn’t why they aren’t as good as guys. It’s a physical thing and people, especially in the media, just need to accept that. No one talks about it in tennis for example, but girls just aren’t as strong and they never will be, save the odd exception. But this year especially I’ve seen a lot more girls with their own way of riding, it’s softer and stylish and looks really good, where as with guys it’s often quite harsh and brutal, with all that focus on power and technique.

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