Tangled Outriggers is the name of an Instagram account that brought more laughter to the Para snow sports.
Since it was launched in December 2020, it featured more than 50 posts of sit skis soaring and tumbling down, vision-impaired skiers slamming into nets, and athletes with physical impairments navigating racecourses with ill-fated results.
“We never thought it was possible to ‘Sunday Straddle’ when you only have one leg but Claire Petit seems to have done it.”
This caption, together with a video of Dutch Para alpine skier Claire Petit nosediving into the snow, appeared on a Tangled Outriggers Instagram account in January.
The athlete’s reaction to the post was swift.
“Genius!” Petit said. “What’s wrong is that when ‘we’ crash, people think we’re pathetic. First of all, we are not pathetic! We just do our thing, do what we love the most, and crashing is part of that.”
“So as long as someone is not seriously injured by that crash, you can laugh about it, no matter what kind of skier it is! And it’s great that Tangled Outriggers creates a platform for that and, hey, I am pretty sure that we sometimes have better crashes,” reckoned the 17-year-old Petit.
The message behind the attention-grabbing images is clear: crashes involving athletes with impairments can be a laughing matter.
“The Paralympic community has needed a voice like this for a long time,” said the Tangled Outriggers creator, a member of the Para alpine community who maintains anonymity to protect himself from potential public backlash and professional repercussions.
“If you look at society’s view of disabled people, a lot of people don’t know if they’re allowed or should laugh at disabled people failing. Tangled Outriggers is created by the snow sports community to show that we ski just as hard, we crash and fail even harder and we still get up at the end of the day, laugh at ourselves, love our sport and keep trying.”
The inspiration for Tangled Outriggers came from its able-bodied counterpart, Slalom Tokyo Drift. A hit with the public and professional ski racers alike, its Instagram account currently has over 159,000 followers and 3,000 posts on ski crashes.
“Any skier who follows [Slalom Tokyo Drift] remembers when the creator of that page started posting Para alpine athletes and received a lot of criticism because he was ‘making fun of them’ when in reality the gentleman who started that page, whom I know, was simply exposing our crashes just as he was able-bodied,” the Tangled Outriggers creator said.
“That’s when I realized there was an opportunity to bridge the gap, to create exposure in a similar channel with crashes and funny content for the Para alpine community.”
Tangled Outriggers posts videos of Para alpine crashes, along with some Para snowboard videos and mid-crash photos. Videos are submitted by athletes or sourced from official competition footage.
The posts are accompanied by recurring hashtags such as TuesdayTumble, WashoutWednesday, and FlippingFriday, and often set to lively pop tunes from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Dolly Parton, and Taylor Swift.
And there is always a punchy caption. Writing these captions has proved a real challenge for Tangled Outriggers to end up on the right side between humor and hostility.
“I was very worried that people within the Para community and outside the Para community might react negatively,” the project’s creator said.
“I want to make sure that people take it as it is, as a comical, humorous, satire page with the goal to create positivity for our community. I never want to offend anybody by my posts.”
The challenge of commentating on crashes is one that Alan March, a regular sports commentator at World Para Snow Sports competitions, often comes across. And like Tangled Outriggers, where his commentary is often featured, March does not shy away from strong words.
“It’s about assessing what’s in front of you and reaching into your brain for the right words. A quick mind is the key. Was it at speed? Was it a big smash?” March said.
“I would like to think that an athlete takes any comments I make as honest and a motivation to get it right the next time. Get back on the horse as it were. Many athletes, in a lot of the sports I’ve covered, quote things back to me and I take great pride in the fact they are listening and taking it on board.”
Athletes are not only listening, but also laughing along with the captions and commentary flashbacks on Tangled Outriggers.
“My first reaction to the account was: yay finally!” said Sweden’s standing skier Ebba Aarsjoe who was featured in a post losing a ski on a slalom course with the caption ‘Ebba Aarsjoe re-enacting what every single guy did when they tried to slide into her DMs after her first Para World Cup event’.
“I saw the post about me and laughed,” Aarsjoe said.
“It’s important for able-bodied people to see the actual attitude we non-able-bodied have towards each other and ourselves, that we also laugh and tell jokes about us failing even though we have disabilities, that we are doing the same thing as every athlete out there.”
Different side of Para sports
The post on Australian skier Patrick Jensen showed him hurtling into the nets during a race with the caption “When Patrick Jensen thinks he has spotted a cute girl watching his run from behind the fencing but hits a bump on his way over to say hello…only to remember that he is visually impaired and it’s only a really good looking snow gun.”
“I’m a huge fan of the page! I think it’s showing the world a different side of Para sports,” Jensen said.
“I can understand why people are going to find some of the content uncomfortable. Some of the videos make me flinch! There are some brutal crashes that make you want to turn away. But being part of it all, I have learned that having an impairment that doesn’t make you soft. Some Para athletes take the hardest falls ever and are back skiing minutes later.”
Helping sports fans to be as comfortable watching crashes involving athletes with impairments as able-bodied skiers is one of the overarching missions for Tangled Outriggers.
“We have this extra attention based on how we move around, how we live our lives, and what we do. There’s some sort of social sympathy that comes with that and people in the able-bodied community have that sympathy when they see someone fall who is already disabled. Society has taught them that you’re not supposed to laugh at a disabled person,” the project’s creator explained.
“I simply want to poke fun and expose who we are and show the world that we are professional athletes and we can joke about ourselves too,” the person behind the Tangled Outriggers concluded.