The pro model snowboard has long been the holy grail of achievement for professional riders. It’s an acknowledgement of your abilities, as well as a contribution to the advancement of snowboarding. Getting tapped to have your own board is an opportunity to design exactly what you’d like to strap into, both how it rides and what it looks like. And of course, pro model boards have always been a hot commodity for those purchasing products; it’s an opportunity to ride the same sweet gear as your favorite boarder, whether you’re looking for a specific type of performance or choose the board out of pure admiration.
In the 90s and early 2000s, pro model boards were really at their peak; the hallowed gear still exists, of course, but signature editions or colorways, team-designed boards, and limited edition releases are more common today (this is a discussion for another day). Goggles, boots, socks, helmets, jackets, and more are personally signed off on by professional riders and as popular as ever by the buying public. Of course, the admiration for the pro model snowboard has not wavered. Having a pro model board is still a sacrosanct honor and when one drops, be it part of a collection with other pros (see: The Salomon HPS line) or as a stand-alone snowboard, it’s very exciting, both for rider and for consumer.
Today, women make up about 32% of snowboarders (a number that is steadily increasing), yet, by our rough account, there is a far smaller percentage of women’s pro model items offered by brands. In snowboarding’s burgeoning days of the late 80s and early 90s, you had to look really hard to find any item which was developed by a woman in snowboarding for female snowboarders, and it was nearly impossible to find a woman’s name on any gear.
That all changed with an insightful collaboration between Shannon Dunn and Burton.
Known as the Dolphin Board, Burton’s 1996 Shannon Dunn pro model was not the first women’s pro model, as it was preceded by Tina Basich’s 1994 Kemper and Shannon’s 1994 Sims, but the story behind the board was absolutely groundbreaking. To get into why, first we need to set the stage…
Lisa Vinciguerra’s Checkered Pig board was the first official women’s pro model snowboard, followed soon after by Tina’s Kemper and Shannon’s Sims models. Checkered Pig was mostly distributed in smaller European markets and we don’t have much info on Kemper’s stats on Tina’s board, but Shannon gave us the back story on her record-shattering Sims, which donned twin, giant, hand-painted sunflowers, painted by Shannon herself.
In 1994, tenacious Sims marketing director Gaylene Nagle risked her future at the company in a big Hail Mary to pump up women’s snowboarding. The gamble? A huge order of Shannon’s pro model twin tip with very feminine graphics. Gaylene saw a bright future for women in snowboarding and wanted to offer a product to inspire folks to get out in the mountains, this time through a fun-riding, fun-looking, women’s specific board donning Shannon’s highly respected name.
“I had been provided options for the graphic on my Sims board, and so I checked them out, and…I hated the graphics. They didn’t represent me or my style. It was just a hummingbird and really kind of “boy” colors, and I just did not like it at all. I told Gale, ‘You know, I really don’t like this graphic. I really love my sunflower graphic.” Because sunflowers were the trend. There was sunflower perfume and sunflower everything. I was even embroidering sunflowers on my jeans.”
The gamble paid off, and Shannon’s 1994 sunflower pro model was the brand’s top-selling board that year, outselling Shaun Palmer’s pro model. Women had spoken.
During this time, women’s participation in the sport was exploding. Shannon was at the top of her game, winning contests around the world and gaining adoration and respect from fans, contest promoters, and the entire industry. She had friendly, approachable, easy-going style and incredible determination. She was paving the way for women in snowboarding. Burton couldn’t help but take notice.
Already offering a wide array of women’s boards, but pro model-less, Burton signed Shannon in 1994, forming a relationship which would change the course of women’s product development to this day, Burton took a different approach: where other brands had fallen short on female involvement in their own products, the engineers at Burton put Shannon in charge. Working closely with iconic shapers John “JG” Gerndt and Paul Maravetz, Shannon created, for the first time, a board that wasn’t just engineered by men and shrunken down for women’s use, but instead, every aspect of every detail was decided and developed by a woman.
“The whole process with Burton was a crash course in board design and it was all so interesting,” says Shannon. “Up until that point, I would just grab a board, mount my bindings on it kind of randomly, and then go ride it. I didn’t understand flex, or sidecut, or how to sort of ‘listen’ to what a board was doing while I was riding it. The engineers at Burton got me thinking on a technical level about how everything works together. From there, we built a board that was really ahead of its time–and still rides incredibly over 25 years later.”
As for the graphic on the Dolphin, Shannon explains, “I was surfing in Cardiff, California the summer of 1994 and found myself sharing a wave with a dolphin! At first, my mind thought, SHARK!!! probably because I’m from Colorado, but within seconds I was realized it was a dolphin surfing the same wave as me. I was freaking out! I had to come up with graphics really quick because of my rushed sponsorship change from Sims to Burton and knew my first pro model with Burton had to have a Dolphin!”
Shannon’s Dolphin board opened the floodgates two-fold. Now that women had access to boards that had been developed by women specifically for women’s needs (other hardgoods would follow), days on hill were more fruitful. Also, the design and engineering process was now wide open, offering women more jobs in the industry to make their mark on everything from product development to launching dedicated brands, like one of Shannon’s mid-90s sponsors, Prom, the first women’s-specific outerwear brand.
Shannon is no doubt a trailblazer and her impact is still felt 27 years after her Burton dolphin board was first released, both in riding and in the industry. Today, to celebrate Shannon’s impact on snowboarding, the company is re-releasing the Dolphin as part of the new Retro Collection. The 2023 iteration of the Dolphin looks just like its predecessor, upgraded with infinite channel, but possessing the same full camber profile harkens back to the late 90s. The Retro Collection also includes re-releases of the 1987 Elite, the 1995 Craig Kelly Air, and the 2011 Nug in homage to the history that influences the boards of today.
Check out the new Dolphin board, available in sizes 144, 148, and 152. Now available for limited release.