Zeb Powell, a Winter X Games gold medalist, is known throughout the sport as one of the top riders in the present day. Back in February, Powell was at Red Bull’s third annual “Heavy Metal” street snowboarding competition, which took place this year at the state capitol building in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Powell spoke with Blavity to discuss his journey, his success and his why. It’s an interesting road up until this point, excelling in a sport where Powell is a minority in more ways than one.

“The biggest appeal of competing in Heavy Metal is the meshing of styles and disciplines. The slopestyle and halfpipe meet the world of rails and concrete. You’re able to be creative, and so much of what you’re judged on is your ability to try new things,” he told us. “It’s so important that Heavy Metal exists to help push the sport forward.”

Originally born in North Carolina, Powell was introduced to snowboarding as a kid. Once his mother saw his potential in the sport, she insisted that he go to a snowboarding school in Vermont. It’s there where Powell attributes him to learning more about his style as a rider. It is also where he honed the great energy that he exhibits while riding. He attributes a lot of that ability to his coaches.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Scarnici via Getty Images for JBL

In Powell’s X Games debut in 2020, he took home gold in the Knuckle Huck competition.

“More formal formats isn’t something I’m used to,” he said. “Competing with pros who have been Olympians was a new thing for me. But it was great to measure myself against them and also gain a ton of experience in the process.”

Of course, the jitters seeped in, but the gold medalist allowed those feelings to fuel his success, which brings us to Culture Shifters. Burton Snowboarders and Powell have collaborated on this initiative to make the sport of snowboarding more inclusive. Powell isn’t oblivious to the fact that there aren’t many Black snowboarders in the sport for a myriad of reasons. Some of which include the costs associated with being involved. But also, it’s simply the demographics of the people who live where snowboarding is more prevalent. Think about the mountains and less populated locales.

Thanks to an initial nudge from A$AP Ferg, this idea arose. Ferg wanted an opportunity to kick it and ride with one of his favorite snowboarders. It was then the idea came about of Powell going on tour. This is where he goes and brings snowboarding to the people with an opportunity to snowboard with him.

“It’s my upbringing why I understand why access to events like this is necessary,” Powell said.

Powell was adopted by white parents and he has biracial siblings, too, so he grew up in a diverse environment at home. If he could encapsulate the feeling snowboarding brings him, he says “it would be freedom.” And when he gets to share his passion for riding with others that would be the feeling he’d want them to feel as well. It’s what his upbringing allowed him to feel. And he thinks it’s something that’ll help all people come together.