Today was the Annual General Meeting for ATBA-UK, the national governing body for mountainboarding in the UK.
After 8 years on the management team, I, along with everyone else on the team resigned. I’ve had an amazing time, and learned so much about running an organisation staffed entirely by remote volunteers. We put on lots of mountainboard competitions, trained lots of new instructors, and tried all kinds of things to get people into mountainboarding and riding more. I’ll miss all of those things, miss the amazing places I visited, but most of all I’ll miss all the awesome people I met.
What does the future hold for ATBA-UK? We want to do everything we can to ensure that ATBA-UK can continue to work on its mission of supporting the growth of mountainboarding in the UK so we’re looking to appoint new directors who will take control of ATBA-UK, and to set up a licensing business model whereby licences can be granted use the intellectual property of the ATBA-UK. This means that other organisations and individuals can apply to the ATBA-UK to run competitions, deliver instructor training, or anything that the directors deem to be achieving the aim of the ATBA-UK. This new business model means that the ATBA-UK can continue without the need for management team and decentralises the ATBA-UK’s resources to the community. It puts the future of mountainboarding in the hands of the community.
I’ve always believed that the mountainboarding community follows the laws of networks and so benefits and suffers from network effects. Networks are made up of nodes (people in the mountainboarding community) and edges (the social connections and relationships between those people). Understanding this helps us understand how the connections between people in the community work and what effect changes have on the entire network.
Understanding the problem
There aren’t enough people mountainboarding often enough. That is the problem. Looking at the problem from the perspective of the social graph of the mountainboard community, we have people (nodes) who are either active (riding regularly) in the community (network) which means that they have existing connections which are continually renewed and reinforced, or inactive (not riding regularly) which means that those preexisting relationships have lapsed. There are also dormant nodes but for the purposes of this we would say that they have dropped off the graph.
If a node becomes inactive it weakens the edges and has a knock on effect on the other nodes. If a node is active it can affect the activity of nearby nodes but may not be sufficient on its own to keep them active.
If node A in the diagram above becomes inactive, nodes C and D become disconnected from the rest of the graph, and the connection between node B and the rest of the graph is weakened and so weakens the connection of nodes E, F and J to the rest of the graph.
That’s why understanding the mountainboarding community as a network is important, because it shows us what happens when a single rider stops and how it takes more than a single rider to build up the community. We can use this understanding in order to help keep the active mountainboarders riding and reactivate the inactive riders. This will follow the same network effect rules as the weakening of the network and exponentially strengthen the community. So, how do we do it?
Towards a solution
We need a plan. If we want to solve this problem we need a plan, people, resources, etc. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but I think with the right things in place, and the right understanding, it is possible.
Identify active and inactive (and dormant) riders. Knowing this will be essential for targeting the right riders. Luckily the ATBA-UK has a database of mountainboarders across the UK. They could all be assigned an activity score (5 for most active, 1 for least active) and then their postcodes mapped onto Google Maps using TableFusion.
Focus on active nodes for retention. We want to keep the active riders riding as if they become inactive the network effects will multiply. So we look for areas on the map that have the highest concentration of active riders.
Then we establish regular scheduled meets in the areas where the active riders are, doing the type of riding they like to do. If there is a cluster around a centre (as we could expect) then we organise a meet at that centre. The meets need to be at least monthly and planned in advance so riders can know about them and plan to attend.
The meet-ups then need to be promoted across the community. This could be done using the ATBA-UK email newsletter, group chats on messenger (segmented by area), various websites and Facebook groups.
Doing this would require quite a commitment from someone, and probably some funding from the ATBA-UK, but it would help turnaround the decline of mountainboarding in the UK.
The first few months of the year passed uneventfully. I went to a couple of small freeride meets but didn’t ride very much. In fact, in 2015 I went mountainboarding fewer times than in any of the ten years I’ve been mountainboarding. I wanted to ride. I still loved the feeling of riding a board through leafy woodland, but more and more life just got in the way.
Summer is competition season. This year’s comps followed the same format as the past few years; four boarderx, four freestyle and four downhill, so that’s twelve comps over six weekends, four of them at centres and two at other locations.
We did one of the downhill comps at the Fruit Farm in Gloucestershire. We chose it because it was a good track, it had camping, uplift track, etc., but also because it was near to where lots of mountainboarders live. We thought that would encourage more riders to attend. Turns out we were wrong. The comp had low attendance, and even though most of the riders who did go enjoyed it, it showed us yet again what we’ve known for a while, that there isn’t very much the ATBA-UK can do about people having other things got on in their lives.
The continual decline in the number of riders competing (because existing competitors drop out and because we don’t get very many new riders) meant we had some difficult decisions to make about the future of the competitions and the ATBA-UK. We had three options; carry on regardless and run twelve comps in 2016 knowing the entry figures would be low, pull the plug and accept that not enough people want mountainboard competitions to do any for 2016, or find some middle way and downsize the ATBA-UK and the competitions so that we can still continue in some limited capacity.
We went with option three: the UK Mountainboard Championship 2016, a single event featuring all three disciplines over a long weekend in August. It may look like an easy and obvious choice but it was actually a very difficult decision to make because it has such a huge impact on everything else the ATBA-UK does. With so few riders there was no way we could pursue our plans for recognition of mountainboarding as a sport (which has a real impact on the future of mountainboarding), there was no longer any reason to continue to offer paid membership as the only reason most people bought it was for discounted comp entry fees. No membership fees, along with drastically reduced income from only one event, means we’re at risk of not making enough money in 2016 to buy insurance in 2017, which means the ATBA-UK would have to close. I don’t want it to happen but I think it’s the most likely outcome.
With the competitive season out the way, and decisions about what next year’s season made, I had some time to better analyse the problem of not enough mountainboarders and come up with a solution.
It became clear that the reason there aren’t enough mountainboarders to maintain a community, warrant a governing body, justify competitions or make mountainboarding a sport is that there there isn’t sufficient infrastructure. Mountainboard Clubs, of which there were eight or so when I started, are almost non-existent now, and the number of Mountainboard Centres across the UK has halved in the last five or so years. With no one to ride with and no where to learn, no one gets into mountainboarding and so we see the decline of the past few year’s and get to where we are today.
Knowing the problem is half of the solution. The solution was to build new infrastructure. The solution was grass roots clubs that had a focus on providing instruction and accelerating the learning of new riders. These new kinds of clubs wouldn’t need to be big, they would only need three or four experienced riders and maybe three or four new riders. The new riders would be carefully selected to give the club the best chance of success. They would be in their twenties, have a job and a car, and would probably already be into snowboarding. These new ‘Top Gun’ clubs would offer free lessons and kit to be borrowed, and would be all about getting the new riders to sufficient standard for them to enter next year’s competitions. A few small clubs in as few different areas could surely produce five new competitors, and that is all we need, just five or so new riders each year. They would represent a ten percent increase in competitors and be enough to keep the entry figures steady.
So I created Thames Valley Mountainboard Club, built a website, and started to advertise. I bought boards, helmets and pads. I identified three likely new mountainboarders. And I organised fortnightly freeride meets across the Thames Valley. We had three meets and things were going well when the other pressure’s on my time became too much and I couldn’t go any further with TVMC. I’m still confident that it’s the right approach to getting more people into mountainboarding and onto competitions, and I wish I could have proved the theory and then roll out the model to create other clubs in other areas, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to.
As winter came around the amount of time I spent mountainboarding decreased even more. So when Mark from Team Dad needed a Secret Birthday Ride somewhere he’d never ridden I suggested Wendover Woods. This “secret” (actually it was only secret from Mark, more of a surprise) ride turned into the most well attended freeride meet of the past few years. Fourteen riders rode Truffler, Ripper’s Gash, Backbone, Painkiller and Tarantula (mountainboarders come up with some interesting names for tracks).
Tarantula is one of my favourite tracks. It starts with a drop, goes onto tarmac, through a narrow gap, along a leafy track, down some steps, and then into a steep narrow footpath, so has a lot variety. And on this day I rode it best I ever have.
A couple of weeks later and another Team Dad secret birthday ride, this time for Clayton. After lots of texting post codes, messaging directions, and picking up people from the train station, we all met at a new spot I had recce’d the week before. It had plenty of long fast tracks that could keep brake and non-brake riders entertained all day. We rode each of the tracks in turn, and went back to ‘Toy Box’, a steep leafy hillside for a second go. It’s a fun area to play in and we spent about half an hour finding new lines. Having talked about which tracks to ride next we all headed for the bottom. Mark, Clayton, Matt and me, and then Smilie. He came flying off the first drop, didn’t line up for the second drop and hit a tree. With that much speed, and with his feet in snowboard boots and firmly strapped into his board the force of the impact went through the next weakest part, his leg just above the boot. I ran over to Smilie, carefully got his feet out of his board, and stabilised his broken leg while I called an ambulance. A hour or so later, and with plenty of morphine, Smilie was in the back of a 4×4 ambulance on his way to A & E.
Smilie’s injury bothered me. It bothered me for two reasons. One, I very nearly hit that same tree minutes before Smilie did, and two, it made me realise how much responsibility I take on with organising freeride meets, being a first aider, working with the ATBA-UK, and not having the time to give to growing mountainboard clubs when I know that’s the solution to the situation mountainboarding is in at the moment.
What a great start to the 2015 UK Series! We saw the regular faces, some new faces and even some of the old faces. There was lots of close races, skilled downhill runs and spectacular stunts in the freestyle.Check out the results from Round 1 of the UK Series ’15 on the ATBA-UK website. Round 1 Results
Round 2 in Perth
For Round 2 we return to Perth in Scotland but this time you not only get to ride the fun Downhill course but also the countries only public BoarderX track. Two disciplines, twice the fun!
The BoarderX Track will be open for practice on Friday. The Downhill Track will be available with care as other people may be using it.
Registration is open from 9 to 10 am. Entry Fees are £10 for members and £20 for non members per competition, so if you’re a member entering BoarderX and Downhill will cost you £20.
BoarderX racing will start at 11 am on Saturday. Qualification will be run using ability-level groups with a maximum of three riders in each race.
Downhill will start at 2:30 pm on Saturday.
Prize-giving will be at 6 pm
Camping is available on the grass near the track. Vans are welcome in the car park near the track. Camping is £5 per person per night.
Entertainment will be provided by whoever can sing the loudest.
Bring your own food and drink. And if you’re going to bring sweets, bring enough to share
What should you bring?
Bring your board, and helmet and pads (you won’t be able to compete unless you have a helmet, elbow and knee pads and wrist guards). Bring a tent, sleeping bag, etc. and clothes to keep yourself warm and dry whatever the weather. Bring plenty of food and drink, especially water if the weather is hot. And bring sun cream and insect repellent. Bring money, so you can pay for your entry fees (£10 per comp, £20 if you do both disciplines), and camping (£5 per person per night).
R1 – 16th & 17th May – BX, DH, FS at Hereford Board and Bike Park – DONE R2 – 13th & 14th Jun – DH, BX at Perth – NEXT R3 – 4th Jul – DH at Fruit Farm R4 – 18th Jul – FS at Knockhill R5 – 1st & 2nd Aug- BX, FS at Another World R6 – 15th & 16th Aug – BX, DH, FS at Hales Board & Bike Park
The “Make Mountainboarding A Sport” campaign is gathering speed with shops and suppliers coming on board to help us catch people buying mountainboards for Christmas. In the new year the PR will go out to raise awareness outside the mountainboarding community, and then in the spring the Centres will (hopefully) be handing out lots of postcards and collecting new riders details for us. All of this is about adding all those mountainboarders we don’t really know about to our database to demonstrate that there are enough people participating in mountainboarding to justify it being a sport. Of course there is still a lot of policy and documentation writing to be done but I’m working on that too.
My strategy documents are progressing too, with the objectives for each business function of the ATBA-UK almost complete. These strategy documents are a huge piece of work but are essential for formalising our priorities and how we approach the work we do to ensure we are achieving our mission of supporting the growth of mountainboarding in the UK.
The past couple of months have seen a bit of a resurgence of the Instructor Training Programme with me delivering Instructor Training to an Activity Centre and Training Provider Training to a Mountainboard Centre. It’s another one of those massive projects that should be a full time job and is going to take years, but it’s good to see it progress.
Over the coming months I want to spend some time improving and making better use of mountainboarding.uk.com, both as a resource for new riders and as an income stream for the ATBA-UK. I wish I had more time to focus on this but hopefully with some help the site can be improved and can become more successful.
I wonder where I’ll be with all of these this time next year?
Different Mountainboard Instructors teach in different ways. Some focus on turning as a fundamental skill for controlling a board, some focus on powerslides to ensure their students can stop effectively. Its great that we have so much diversity in the way instructors deliver Mountainboard lessons. Its such a stronger position for a sport to be in than instructors arguing that their way is the right way or for the national governing body to try to force everyone to deliver lessons in the same way. Instructors need to be able find to way that suits the hill they are teaching on, and need the freedom to experiment with different techniques to find new and better ways.
I was chatting to an instructor who had found a new way of teaching mountainboarding, and said he found that kids fell less and increased their confidence quicker, and also had seen an increase in kids returning for more sessions after their initial lesson. The hill he teaches on is quite steep and he had found that when getting riders to link turns they would accelerate part way through the turn (when the board is facing down hill), panic, and loose control.
So, he now takes riders to one side of the slope, gives them a target to aim for on the other side and gets them to ride diagonally across the slope with the instruction that if they want to go a bit faster to turn down hill a little, and if they want to go slower to turn up hill. This way they get a good understanding of how the angle of the board on the hill affects the speed of the board and instead of learning turns to control their speed because they are going too fast, they learn to use turns to pick up speed, and at their own pace too. Then they ride the other way across the slope, gradually getting better at controlling their speed and linking their turns right from the start.
Diversity is a good thing. Let’s find more ways to teach mountainboarding and share them.
I’ve been puzzling over a potential future problem that the ATBA-UK might face at some time in the future for a while now. What if people who hold prominent/vital positions on the committee resigned and no one wanted to take their place?
For a long time I thought it was a people problem. A problem that could be solved by simply finding (or sometimes making) the right people. But the problem states that there aren’t any people, so that can’t be the solution.
Eventually I started thinking outside the box and looking at the problem with a wider perspective. Maybe, rather than solve the problem, I could use the problem to make changes to the system that the problem was occurring in and make the system stronger at the same time.
The committee has a hierarchical structure. It is organised, like many traditional companies, with a single person at the top who has ultimate control over and responsibility for the running of the company, and various levels of people with diminishing levels of power and responsibility beneath. This structure, and the roles contained within it, is cemented as fundamental to the organisation in the constitution. And because of that, the positions that make up the committee have to be filled, even if there are no people or the people we have don’t have the right skills for the job.
So, if we were to change the way the organisation is structured, we could not only remove the lack of people problem, we could make the ATBA-UK stronger and more able to adapt to changes more quickly. We could do away the hierarchical structure and use a flat structure, which places every person at the same level of responsibility and means the committee can shrink and grow as required. There would be a number of roles, which match the operational requirements, and could be added to as the ATBA-UK undertakes new work. These roles could be filled by a single person, by multiple people, or split up with different people undertaking different parts of the work of that role.
I don’t know if these changes will ever be implemented but I really enjoyed thinking outside the box to come up with this solution.
I was at Another World Adventure Centre this weekend to help out with the boarderx competition for their Away Day.
On Saturday we used the old system of three timed runs to qualify the riders into a list of fastest to slowest, and then sort them into races. This system works best with thirty two, or even sixteen riders, going into four man races, but it this case we had fourteen riders doing two man races. With a few tweeks such as not using the folding method to put the best against the worst but instead stacking them so rider 1 competed against rider 8 and rider 7 against rider 14 so the ability gap wasn’t quite so big at the opposite ends, the system worked adequately.
On Sunday, when we were running the whole thing again, I decided to experiment with a different system. It was based on the ‘Challenge Threes’ system I developed years ago for fun comps that don’t really want to use knockouts to find a winner. With a few adaptations for such small numbers we ended up with this:
Split the riders into two equal groups, the best in group one and the worst in group two. For the first race, the riders compete against riders in the same group, but the riders who come first in their race go into group one and those who come second go into group two. This happens for each race meaning half the riders from each group change groups each time so there is variety in who races who. Riders who win in group one get four points, second gets three points, first in group two gets two points and last gets one point. Then, once the riders have had enough races we add up all the points they’ve earned and announce the winner.
Its a really simple system that can be run on a couple of sheets of paper and gives the riders as many races as they want. It also made me think that the ATBA-UK should publish the different competition systems it uses to make it easier for centres to run competitions more easily.