The surfing analogy is revealing. Jeremy and Wolle’s brands are part of a network of small, rootsy companies that have grown up over the past few years and used wave-riding for inspiration – both in how they approach the mountain, and in how the boards are made: namely, hand-crafted in small batches. These garage operations – usually located near the terrain on which the boards are meant to be ridden – are closer to traditional local surf shapers than one-size-fits-all factories. And while proponents of NoBoarding (the BC movement/brand that hit the headlines a couple of years back) would also agree that ditching your bindings is the way forward, many of them believe that you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to get that surfy feel. Independent manufacturer Venture, for instance, produce a model called the Euphoria that can be ridden either way, and there are plenty of companies that have kept the bindings even as they mess with shape – such as Vermont-based brand Powderjet, or Japan’s Banya Craft, Field Earth and Gentemstick. Gentem founder Taro Tamai, in particular, is a great example of this new wave of snowboard ‘shapers’; a keen surfer and powder rider, Taro was inspired by the famously deep conditions of his native Niseko to create a range of boards that blurs the line between ocean and mountain. Each Gentemstick is meticulously fashioned along clean, graceful lines and bears a water-themed name like ‘The Manta Ray’ and ‘The Big Fish’ – not to mention Taro’s own signature down the centre (where the stringer of a surfboard normally carries its own nod to the creator).
For all the borrowed surf aesthetics and vocabulary, though, don’t be fooled: this is still snowboarding. As the saying on bottom-up reasoning goes, ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck’; and even with their huge noses and radically tapered tails, these experimental boards can shred with the best of them. If you’re not convinced, consider also Spring Break Snowboards, the brand started by former pro rider Corey Smith in 2011. His range of handmade standalone models is like nothing else out there. Lined up in a row, the cheese-dream designs – from the ‘Witch Hat’ to the ‘Teenage Coffin’ – look like they’d be more suited to a gallery than a slope (indeed, a Spring Break art show was held at Mammoth mountain last November). Make no mistake, however: each and every one is a fully functional snowboard. What’s also interesting is that, for a guy who’s had a hand in Capita’s board graphics for years, Corey has given his own creations very basic (dare we say surf-like) designs, often as basic as black-and-white-stripes. Clearly, the real creativity is in the shape, but even that is deceptively simple. Corey sums up his method as: “you get a piece of wood, cut it out, shape it, glass it, add T-Bolts, and that’s it. You’re snowboarding.” Seeing is definitely believing, so be sure to check out the videos of Corey and friends making descents on his impossible creations; if you believe the old cliché that ‘the best rider is the one having the most fun’, then these guys are world champs – simple powder turns and old-school methods have rarely looked so satisfying. Furthermore, the larger boards in Corey’s quiver make light work of a pow field that would be too shallow for most normal sticks. Opening up new opportunities on the hill is part of what’s made Spring Break so worthwhile for its creator. The real triumph for him is that it has “enabled me to look at the mountain, and snowboarding, from a different perspective, and just really enjoy it.” There must be something to be said for a project like this if it can bring a jaded ex-pro back from the brink of being “over” the sport he’d dedicated his life to. As Marshall McLuhan put it, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
Spring Break Snowboards shredding Mt Bachelor