Parents raise concerns about new Burton snowboard line
10/10/08 7:49AM By Nina Keck  Download MP3
(Host) The controversy that's been swirling over two new lines of Burton Snowboards has jump- started the season for local retailers at the same it's pushed some parents to consider boycotting Burton products.
Burton's new ``Love'' series features scantily clad Playboy models, and its Primo line features cartoon graphics of self mutilation.
No one from the Vermont-based company would comment. But in a written statement the company says the boards celebrate self expression, and those with nudity will be covered in shops. Critics say that's not good enough.
VPR's Nina Keck reports.
(Music from The Dark Side Snowboard shop)
(Keck) At the Dark Side Snowboard shop in Killington, ``Love'' snowboards prominently hang on the wall. You can't see much of the naked women because from the necks down, they're draped by black cloth embossed with Playboy logos. Owner Bill Langlands says it makes them look even more erotic.
(Langlands) "It's been good for sales, I'll tell you that. I've only had a couple of people complain about them. I was at my shop in Stowe over the weekend after the story broke on these boards and I must have had 25-30 people come in to see the boards."
(Keck) Langlands describes the boards as tasteful. And, anyway, he says, this sort of thing isn't new in the business.
Ron Fox heads the snowboard department at Joe Jones Ski and Sport in Rutland.
(Fox) "Boards like this have been out for a long time before this. Mainly Sims did a series with the ``vivid girls'' about three years back, which was a lot more graphic and bigger than the Burton ones."
(Keck) The ``vivid girls'' are video porn stars that have been featured on Sims snowboards and have appeared at Sims promotional events. But Fox says this is not just a snowboard issue. Flipping through skiing catalogs he points to a pair of Head twin tips featuring a bikini-clad pinup.
(Fox) "If you look in ski magazines, compared to snowboard magazines, there's a lot more objectifying of women generally going on in a ski magazine than you'll ever see."
(Keck) Steve Sampson heads the guidance department at Rutland High School.
(Sampson) "I can appreciate the business perspective and it's very competitive."
(Keck) Sampson says objectifying women on snowboards sends a terrible message to teenagers. And he says the snowboards that have cartoons of one hand cutting off the fingers of another are equally if not more disturbing.
(Sampson) ``My quick answer to that is just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it morally or ethically correct."
(Keck) The graphic artist who designed those boards, Todd Bratrud, is well known in the skateboard world and has worked with companies like Nike. Burton wouldn't comment for this story, but the company released a statement saying when collaborating with an artist, they don't restrict the artist's freedom of expression. And they're proud of their collaboration with Bratrud.
(Sounds from soccer game)
(Keck) Standing on the sidelines of her daughter's soccer game, Chittenden resident Lisa Laird looks at photographs of the snowboards in question.
(Laird) "I don't want my kids to see this. The self mutilation really bothers me. And not only that it's step by step in how to do this. It's sick. As the parent of a ninth grade boy - you're trying to teach your child to respect women, you're trying to teach your child what's appropriate, what's safe. I'm looking at this and I'm horrified."
(Keck) Laird says her son is an avid snowboarder and she'll make her anger known with her wallet.
(Laird) "I won't go out and purchase Burton I'm hoping that parents will be where I am and say we're not going to support Burton if they're not going to support us as parents. "
(Keck) Kelly Vance is editor of Shred Betties, an Internet magazine for women snowboarders. Vance says she's torn because Burton has traditionally been a big supporter of women snowboarders.
(Vance) "I feel like as a company they're just sending out a really confused message. They're trying to reach every single segment of the population and it's going to end up alienating a few people, probably."
(Keck) And because women and children make up the fastest growing segment of snowboarding, Vance says Burton's approach may be shortsighted.
Ron Fox of Joe Jones Ski and Sport in Rutland says he thinks the controversy will only add to Burton's appeal. They're eye-catching boards, he says of the Love and Primo series. And for young riders at a snowboard park, it's all about getting attention.
For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck.
Disclosure: A member of the VPR board of directors is affiliated with Burton Snowboards.