Zeestraten, Prior win Billabong Bro Down

Johnny McCormack

Kiwi snowboarder Stef Zeestraten embraces the local spirit as he rockets to victory in the mens final at the Billabong Bro Down.

A week out from this year's Billabong Bro Down at Snow Park NZ, Kiwi snowboarder Stef "Dutchy" Zeestraten raised New Zealanders' hopes for the competition when he posted on Facebook a Vimeo video of his first double cork -- a switch backside double cork 1080.

"I wasn't even going to put it up. Jody [Blatchley, a snowboard coach in New Zealand] basically put it on his phone, not even in HD, and I was like 'Should I even post this? Ah, I might as well chuck it up, see what happens.' People like that stuff," Zeestraten said.

What did happen was more than 2,500 views in three days. Everyone in the small, local snowboarding community knew what Zeestraten could do, and predicted big things for the Wanaka-based snowboarder on Saturday.

Now that double corks are considered by many a prerequisite to winning any TTR-rated event, Zeestraten's video was uploaded and shared at the perfect time to hype up his performance for the Bro Down. In the qualifying heats, Zeestraten didn't disappoint the local crowd, with a first-place score of 82.00 -- which he achieved without a single double cork in his run.

But the double cork was always in Zeestraten's game plan -- and because of social media, the entire crowd knew it.

"When other people see it online, they know you've got it. I think it solidifies it in a way that you commit to that run -- you commit to what you really want to do. It helps put it all in perspective and gives you a little bit of confidence, which we need a little bit these days -- especially when you're seeing the other boys in practice, throwing down hard," he said.

Johnny McCormack

Snow Park NZ provided the most innovative Bro Down park yet as riders got creative on the course over the weekend.

That extra confidence was all the 27-year-old needed. He landed his first switch backside double cork 1080 in the semifinals to progress to the finals. There he needed just his first run to claim top honors, beating out a field of seven other international riders, including defending champion Roope Tonteri.

Over the past few years, the international snowboarding community has embraced social media as a means of keeping up with who is throwing what. For riders such as Zeestraten, seeing what other snowboarders are learning via social media has become an essential factor in keeping up with the ever-progressing sport.

"People put up pretty heavy runs, and it pushes the sport, which is what's pretty cool. Everyone gets to see what's going on around the world, which is fun," Zeestraten said.

"It just hits a little switch in your mind and you're like, 'Ooh, that could be quite fun' -- you can see yourself doing it. And if that's the case, you go and make it happen." Zeestraten proved he could make it happen, winning $5,000 U.S. on a day where riders had to pick their moments as low cloud swept across the course, with limited visibility at times. Behind him in the top three of the men's draw were Yuki Kadono of Japan and Sven Thorgren of Sweden.

Wanaka local Shelly Gotleib continued to push women's competition riding, just coming unstuck on the landing of an attempted 900. Her efforts were topped only by fellow Kiwi rider Christy Prior, whose smooth consistency gained her the overall women's title. Third place was claimed by Hungarian Panka Gyarmati.

In this new era of progression, it seems a given that social media will continue to play a heavy role in the preparation of competing snowboarders -- but Zeestraten suggests the heart of competition is still in focusing on his own tricks, not trying to find out what other riders are about to throw.

"Once you see the names on the start list, it's a bit too late really. You've already got to know what you're doing, get your game plan together, see what you can put together on the day and have a good time," he said.

"You're hoping to survive the day really, but at the same time you're trying to relish the moment. I'm just happy to be standing where I'm standing right now."

Johnny McCormack

Hungarian rider Panka Gyarmati's back flip was one of the crowd favorites of qualification on Friday.

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