To The Future

FROM SNURFERS TO GALLERY PIECES - THE WEIRD WORLD OF POWDER BOARDS

Jeremy Jones with one of his signature shapes, bring kooky shapes to the mainstream.
Jeremy Jones with one of his signature shapes, bring kooky boards to the mainstream.

In the Utah winter, Jeremy’s never got far to go or long to wait before the conditions are fit for a powsurf. For a lot of riders, particularly us in the UK, it’s not that simple. While we may get the occasional transport-disrupting flurry on these shores, it’s still a rare thing that’s not guaranteed to happen even once a year. As a result, we’re forced to travel overseas, and that brings its own problems. For Wolle, whose range of Ӓsmos is heavily surf-inspired, the appeal is having “a quiver of boards instead of one. The different feeling in the snow of all the different boards is the most fun.” That’s all well and good for a travelling pro, or someone living a snowball’s throw away from perfect pow, but it’s unlikely easyJet would entertain you if you tried to take a stack of decks on your flight to Geneva. Still, it’s foolish to write them off as irrelevant to the one-week-a-year crowd. For starters, you could always buy (or make) one to have ready for the times it does snow here at home. Most likely it’ll be a board for life, worth every penny/splinter when the going’s good. It scores big eco-points too, since you won’t need a helicopter, a sled or even a chairlift in most cases. And secondly, the unusual shapes pioneered by these specialist companies have started to influence the broader market, so whether you like it or not you’re going to be seeing more variety in design. Take big mountain Jeremy Jones’ much-hyped new brand, which borrows heavily from the ‘powder surfing’ philosophy of guys like Taro Tamai. Its Hovercraft model bears more than a passing resemblance to the Gentemstick Manta Ray and is, according to the text on the topsheet, ‘shaped’ by Jeremy Jones. Even beyond such niche freeride brands, a trip around the recent ISPO tradeshow proved that many of the biggest US manufacturers – from Burton to K2 to LibTech –  are including some eye-catching outlines in their 2013/14 range. And while selling Joe Public on the ‘quiver’ concept might seem like a cynical way to shift more boards, not all the blunt noses and half-moon tails on display were reserved for their powder sticks. Whether the goal is ‘skate-style’ tricks or ‘surf-style’ freeriding: shape, it seems, is the new rocker.

Whatever your style, there's a shape for you. It might just not have been built yet.
Whatever your style, there’s a shape for you. It might just not have been built yet.

Regardless of what their marketing departments’ tech-spiel says, however, it’s not the big brands that are doing the most interesting stuff. Much like the craft brewing boom that’s taken place over the same time period, it’s hobbyists in their garages with basic equipment, healthy imaginations, a sense of history and a burning passion for what they do that are leading the way. And in a world where triple corks now slot comfortably into slopestyle runs and the big stars do likewise with chat show couches, it’s reassuring to know that these guys are out there. While their creations won’t send you as fast or as far as a conventional board, and going upside down is probably not much of a picnic, none of that matters. These folks have taken things back to basics, resulting in something that has a lot more in common with the snowboarding’s early days – and those of the other board sports – than with what Corey Smith refers to as the “crass commercialisation” of modern snowboarding. It’s a reminder of just how diverse a sport this is, and can continue to be; all you have to do is look past the immediate and into the fringes. Jeremy Jensen reckons that it’s likely to stay that way, and that while a few of the big players are starting to sniff around, the really off-kilter ideas – like ditching the bindings – will remain part of a “niche within a niche.” That suits him just fine: “It is very small, but pure and full of the true soul of mountain riding.  I could see a little bit of attention given by sponsors and TV, but I don’t think it would happen to the extent of what they’ve done with snowboarding.  Maybe it’s best that they leave powsurfing alone. I think many of the best things in life are better left untainted by the mainstream machine.”

A trip around the a recent tradeshow proved that many of the biggest brands are including some eye-catching outlines.

Perhaps he’s wrong and we’ll see X Games powsurfing in a few years, but the spectacle of modern slopestyle, halfpipe and big air is keeping the TV types busy enough for now. There, and elsewhere, the standard shape will live on, and long may it be used to deface school property. But as this new wave of snowboard design shows, there’s plenty of room on the page for others too.

Gigi Rüf on his way to winning last years Red Bull Ultra Natural, the closest contest we have to powsurfing at the X Games. For now. Photo: Scott Serfas
Gigi Rüf on his way to winning last years Red Bull Ultra Natural, the closest contest we have to powsurfing at the X Games. For now. Photo: Scott Serfas
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