Young Zeb Powell blows X Games Aspen minds with crazy knuckle huck win
What a moment Sunday night’s knuckle huck competition was for Zeb Powell and the sport — the passion — of snowboarding.
Debuting at X Games Aspen last year, the knuckle huck is a competition that allows for, encourages and celebrates the flair, the style and the fun at the heart of snowboarding as riders huck themselves off the “knuckle,” or rollover, of the big air landing before landing in the formal landing area. Last year, though, the contest was contained to riders who are competitors on the slopestyle and big air circuit.
After the knuckle huck’s success in 2019, the X Games brought in the kind of atypical non-contest riders the snowboard community knows via Instagram videos and film parts. They brought in a street video legend like 29-year-old Halldor Helgason of Iceland. And they brought in the 20-year-old North Carolina native Powell who regarded Helgason as “a favorite forever” as he honed his distinctive style on the hills of Vermont.
Along with six other riders — including the stylish Norwegian rider who inspired the creation of the event, Marcus Kleveland — Powell and Helgason stole the show Sunday night at Buttermilk Ski Area. In the end, Powell won the contest on the strength of a trick he tried first. It’s dubbed the “coffin slide,” a wild backflip-type move that features a slide on his back on the knuckle before fully tweaking out a method grab inverted.
The trick, however, almost came to be by accident. Powell said two years ago he was lapping the Carinthia Park at Mount Snow, riding the chairlift with his friend L.J. Twombly, when the idea struck him.
“And I looked over to the knuckle of the big jump,” Powell said, “and I saw someone go up, and I don’t think he really knew what he was doing. But he just kind of slid out to his butt. And immediately, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I want to do that.’ Cause me and my friend L.J. were messing around on the slope, we like to go really fast and go on our butts or our back like that. So I guess I saw that and I saw the guy flip out and I connected it to that.”
The execution of the idea took Powell from 36,000-follower snowboard community Instagram fame to, maybe just maybe, ESPN Sportscenter Top 10-like fame.
Powell continued to land mind-blowing tricks off the knuckle Sunday night for the rest of the competition, holding off the best tricks from riders like Kleveland, Helgason and Silverthorne 16-year-old and friend Jake Canter. Some of the other mind-blowing tricks on the night included fifth-place finisher Rene Rinnekangas’ head-drag, where he inverted and skimmed the crown of his helmet off the knuckle. In the spirit of the event, Rinnekangas on his last run had Japanese 20-year-old Ryo Aizawa ride down to the knuckle before him, rotate to his back and raise the base of his board as a ramp, which Rinnekangas then launched off.
After Powell was crowned champion, ahead of Kleveland in second, Fridtjof Tischendorf in third and Helgason in fourth, he kept wearing the cheap, rose-colored, heart-shaped glasses he picked up randomly in the snow earlier in the day and wore through the contest. Moments later, he said the contest lets boarders like him, and his hero Helgason, speak from the heart.
“Man, he’s such a king,” Helgason said of Powell, who he met just days prior. “I really appreciate hearing I had inspiration to him. That’s insane to me.”
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