Step aside B-ball. Snowboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in America. According to the “American Sports Data Superstudy of Sports Participation,” the number of snowboarders in 2000 increased 51% from 1999 to 7.2 million.

The relatively young sport has snowballed from modest beginnings. Sherman Poppen is credited with inventing snowboarding in the 1960s when he linked a pair of skis together and tied a rope on the front to help steer. Dubbed the “snurfer,” his contraption went into production as the world’s first snowboard. Equipment evolved, and organized snowboard competition began in the early eighties.

The sport came into the spotlight during its 1998 Olympic debut. For the Salt Lake City Olympics this month, a parallel giant slalom competition has been added.

The high-impact activity tends to draw a youthful following, but recent technology developments may appeal to an older crowd.

Halfpipe dream

The first time Robert Caputo went snowboarding, he was smitten. The next few days, however, he hobbled around because the boarding had aggravated an old ankle injury. Rather than hanging his board, Caputo vowed to engineer a solution. He and partner Mike Higgins formed Polr LLC, San Jose, Calif., and toiled over a snowboard shock absorber design. The result of their three-year design, test, and tweak cycle: the All Terrain Gear (ATG) shock absorbing system that smoothes the ride over uneven terrain and gives a better sense of control.

The device consists of two plates with a shock tower between on each of the four corners. In each tower a polyurethane spring absorbs impact, sparing the rider’s joints. The top plate rides on balland- socket joints at each shock tower, so it’s a smooth reaction when pressure is placed on each quadrant of the shock absorber. A stabilizer O-ring on the lip of each ball-and-socket helps keep the joint movement fluid and acts as an upward movement dampener.

The springs are available in three different durometers to accommodate a range of riders weighing 75 to more than 300 lb. This also lets riders mix and match the shock absorbing qualities by putting softer springs in one or more towers. Also, locking collars on the shocks adjust so the springs can be variably preloaded, further customizing the ride. This can be done quickly by hand when going, for instance, from a powdery run to a mogul course where more shock absorption is often preferred.

In a standard set-up, the binding fastens directly to the board, but the aftermarket ATG fits between the two and raises the rider’s foot an additional 1.5 in. Some boarders are hesitant to add height, thinking they’ll lose “feel.” Another point of resistance: though the unit is made of lightweight, aerospace-grade aluminum, it adds 2.8 lb to the total board weight. That may not seem like much, but, when your legs alone have to pick it up, a few pounds can raise concern, Caputo explains. After trying the system, however, they realize the additional height gives them extra leverage over the board, which more than makes up for the additional weight, he says.

Snowboarding equipment designs in general have a lot of room for tweaking, Caputo says, as it is such a young sport. With his vision and engineering contributions, bad joints won’t necessarily keep you from being a high-impact kid again.