October 3, 2008
Pictures of naked women will definitely grab some attention whether they’re spread across the centerfold of a magazine or blown up on the top sheet of a snowboard.
That’s just what the folks at Burton Snowboards were hoping as they released their 2009 Coalition line of snowboards. The edgier line features a model called the “Love” that uses vintage Playboy magazine photos as the main design element.
Not surprisingly, these snowboarding standard bearers are drawing some heat for the line’s risque graphics.
Burlington-based Burton has never been a company to adhere to convention. For years, they have been known as industry tastemakers and envelope-pushers. This is the company that designed a snowboard outfit made to look like denim and boots reminiscent of old school tennis sneakers.
Burton is no longer the only player in the snowboard market. Smaller upstarts like Lucid Notions, Automaton and Omatic have helped make the design game more cutthroat. The Coalition line is Burton’s answer to the industry’s heightened competition.
In the past week, Burton has received a number of letters and phone calls about the “Love” model. The snowboards feature four different Playboy bunnies, depending on the board size. They don’t show any body parts that are traditionally kept covered, but the women are naked.
This has parents like Jeff Sprenger of Essex angry enough to pen the company a scathing letter and send it around to all of his friends.
Sprenger said his wife found the questionable snowboards when she was on the company’s Web site. Not only did they stumble upon the “Love” boards, but they also found the “Primo Blunt” models, which detail self-mutilation in a comic book-style storyboard on the base.
“I think of Burton as a good Vermont company, as a good citizen,” Sprenger said. “I was pretty shocked that they would do something like that. I feel ashamed for Vermont and for Burton.”
Sprenger has two children- one who snowboards- and he rides himself. He said his main problem with the Playboy board is the message it was sending to people, especially Burton’s target market of 14 to 24-year-old males.
“I’m working hard to make sure my daughter gets a fair chance. This board is not going to make girls feel good,” Sprenger said.
Sprenger’s 14-year-old daughter, Anna, didn’t think much of the boards, either. She sent a letter of her own to Burton, decrying the company for its use of the Playboy images.
In the letter, Anna Sprenger wrote that she generally loved everything that Burton made, but was “appalled” at the “Love” model.
“For so long we were being portrayed as sex images. But look now! More and more women are going into and running for office, standing up for themselves, and moving up higher and higher in the ranks of modern-day jobs,” she wrote. “And along comes Burton, with their boards with these naked women on them. ’Cause after all, we’re just girls. All we’re good for is sex right???”
Burton’s response to the Sprenger’s letters and to the other objections they’ve received regarding the two snowboard models is a five-sentence explanation of the genesis of the line and Burton’s founding principle of “individual freedom.” The limited edition “Love” line was produced in collaboration with Playboy at the behest of two of Burton’s professional snowboarders, Mikkel Bang, 18, and 19-year-old Keegan Valaika.
Caroline Andrews, a Burton spokeswoman, wouldn’t say anything more about the boards beyond the statement except that the Coalition line is only sold in “core” snowboard shops, there are limited quantities and the boards will be wrapped and sold only to people over 18.
Parents like Randy Rowland of Shelburne aren’t buying Burton’s individual freedom argument, nor Burton’s contention that the graphics are tasteful. Rowland, the father of an elementary school-aged daughter, wrote his own letter to the company.
“Imagine riding a chairlift with your 7-year-old son or daughter and the rider next to you has a photo image of a woman’s buttocks staring up at you!” Rowland wrote. “It is sad when a business that has been a source of Vermont pride has taken the low road for the sake of commercial gain.”
Carol Bennett of Essex said she found the snowboards “very disturbing.” She’s always thought of the company as being a positive influence on the snowboarding, especially for young boys.
“Playboy has its place, but not on a snowboard,” Bennett said. “Not when the image is selling to a 14-year-old boy.”
The boards promote a “commodification of women’s bodies,” says Stephanie Kaza, the past president of the University of Vermont President’s Commission on the Status of Women. She expressed disappointment that the well-respected Vermont company would put images of naked women on its products.
“It reduces a woman to her body and that body is there for sex and sex is there for men,” Kaza said.
A number of individuals and organizations have called on Burton to pull the offensive lines from stores and offer some sort of public apology. Burton doesn’t release sales figures, but based on the brisk sales of the Coalition boards at Vermont retailers, it seems unlikely that the company will discontinue the line. Andrew, Burton’s spokeswoman, wouldn’t comment on Burton’s future plans for the line.
Burton is not the first snowsports company to use images of seductive women on its products. Five years ago, Rossignol introduced a line of alpine skis called “Scratch” that featured the silhouette of a naked woman on the top of the skis. Over the years, the “Scratch” graphics became more revealing. This season, HEAD is offering a ski called the “J.O. Pro” with a sublimated photo running the length of the ski of a woman in a macrame bikini with a sparkly jewel dangling from her navel.
While Burton is getting a good deal of flack about its Coalition line, Waterbury’s Rome Snowboards has not received any negative feedback from its risque “Artifact” line. The “Artifact” boards are meant to be reminiscent of 1970s New York City strip joints, says Ryan Runke, Rome’s marketing manager. The boards feature a neon base with the words “Bend Over Babes” or “Live Nude Girls,” depending on the model. The top sheets have outlines of naked women on them.
Since there are so many companies making snowboards, the graphics are almost equally as important as the board’s technical specs, Runke says. Some area retailers like SkiRack balked at the “Artifact,” saying the graphics were pushing the limit, but the Rome is sold out of the board.
“People want something that makes a statement,” Runke said.