24/02/2014 | by Sam McMahon
The irony is, of course, that by throwing the brief out of the window, the Un-Inc graphics perfectly fulfilled their objective. Like the high tech boards themselves – and the snowboarders who ride them – the Un-Inc graphics are cutting edge, stylish and ballsy. Their success even appears to have influenced some of the boards in Burton’s regular range – as witnessed by this year’s ‘Love’ model (featuring full-length Playboy girls) and the brand new ‘Farm’ (which takes the rock and roll approach to heart with graphics by ex-Wheezer front man Mikey Welsh). In fact so effective has this return to anti-estbalishment graphics been that they’ve literally upset mom and pop! In Vermont, a group of parents recently began a campaign to have the ‘offensive’ Love range removed from stores. “I want people to see [my daughter] as this vibrant girl, and look at her for her accomplishments, and not for her physical appearance,” explains Jeff Sprenger, the dad of a teenage girl who loves to snowboard. “It’s not like the old days, when it was just a handful of people fighting the ski mountains to get on the lifts. I think their attitude needs to change, and the company needs to show more respect to the community as a whole.” Jeff and his wife Lezlee began a grass roots campaign to get the Love boards off the market, which gained the attention of Vermont’s local TV station WCAX. It has since been reported on America’s global news channel CNN.
Photo: Peter Hasselgren
For the average snowboarder, such a storm in a teacup seems laughable. To tell the truth, these are the exact kind of people snowboarding kids want to piss off. “I think it’s nice to see that certain edge in snowboarding,” said store owner Ian Singleton when questioned by reporters about his freshly-delivered stock of Love boards. “It’s kind of where the roots of snowboarding have always been.” Whatever side of the fence you sit on, one thing is for sure: the Playmate controversy is the ultimate example of the power of graphics.
What then of the future? Where will the fascinating world of graphics go next? “Digital printing is the latest blessing – and a curse,” says Lance Violette. “In the next few seasons digital printing MAY be responsible for the reproduction of some of the best graphics ever to hit a topsheet, but watch out because it will DEFINITELY be responsible for some of the WORST.” Aaron Draplin, a veteran of the graphics game, has a broader take on things. “It’s all so cyclical, and derivative from action sport to action sport. One of them hits on something, and the rest fall in line. And that’s fine. It’s about keeping shit fresh for who cares about it the most: The kids. I was 19 a long time ago, and cared so much about how big your jeans should be, and whatever riff raff was going on at the time. It’s just weird, all these years later, to kinda ‘get’ the cycles, trends and stuff – after seeing it all come and go, and come and go.”
‘The kids’, as Draplin touches on, are central to everything in the graphics game. Every designer we spoke to was conscious of their importance. After all, if a snowboard is a canvas, then they are the audience. For this reason, it seems, relying on your peers and your gut will always be crucial to coming up with successful new ideas. As Danny from Bataleon puts it, the key to snowboard graphics is “just to make good stuff that you and your friends like – and hope somebody else isn’t doing exactly the same thing!”
As the sport we all love has grown up, and the technology in snowboard construction has made riding easier, the graphic designers have developed a medium that we all seem able to read but very few can speak. It is hard to define what makes any given board work, but when it does, its impact can help push the whole sport in a new direction. Whether it is through celebrating our skateboarding roots, or highlighting a board’s new fangled 3D base, a designer’s job isn’t finished when the board leaves the shop floor. If everything falls into place, the stoke that fuelled a purchase will remain, inspiring some kid, somewhere, to try something new. And so it continues.