Korua Shapes | Turning, Touring and Tackling Consumerism
We catch up with Korua's co-foudner, Nicholas Wolken, on splitboarding, sustainability and, of course, why turning on a snowboard is still the best feeling in the world.
Since Korua Shapes arrived on the scene, they haven’t just challenged many of the sport’s conventions, they’ve torn the rule book apart and re-established what snowboarding means to the masses – the beautiful simplicity of turning for the soul.
Shapes that, only five years ago, may have been laughed off the piste, have now found a firm foothold on the corduroy. Superbly simple, unchanging colourways have eliminated the needless rush to re-design or stick a fresh layer of paint on their boards every year. And, of course, the immensely popular Yearning For Turning series put aside the high-budget, cringe-worthy attempts at depth and replaced them with 4 minutes of black and white, high-tempo, visceral brilliance that guarantees to have every snowboarder making a beeline for the groomers to rail few feelgood carves.
“Shapes that, only five years ago, may have been laughed off the piste, have now found a firm foothold on the corduroy”
It wasn’t too long since we last caught up with Korua Shapes’ frontman, Nicholas Wolken. Back in December, he released his film, Turn of Mind, which explored the psychological, philosophical and ecological impact of snowboarding and how he, as a professional snowboarder and psychologist, was confronting what can realistically be done about our troubled relationship with the natural world.
Clearly, Wolken is a snowboarder who thinks beneath surface level. He’s someone who looks past the perpetual cycle of keeping up with the latest iterations and tweaks to products that already saturate the market. With his sights fixed well beyond the immediate future, he’s asking the bigger questions about snowboarding’s future.
Knowing the mindset of the man behind the brand, we wanted to get his thoughts on what was in the pipeline for Korua Shapes and if the simple art of the turn was still the driving force behind it all.
For a brand that made its name primarily through carving, splitboarding might seem like an unlikely departure from its roots. In reality, it’s something that has been at the forefront of their identity.
“[The split line] kind of came out of our personal ideas,” Wolken tell us. “Most of us just really love to splitboard, so we wanted to make a few for ourselves. If I get a free weekend, I usually go splitboarding over cruising the resort. I think the older you get the more you appreciate the quality of your time, not just the quantity of your turns.”
“Next year we’re going to focus a bit more on splitboarding – our take on splitboarding”, he explains. “We never really pushed it until now, but I feel that splitboarding is like our second growth.”
“I think the older you get the more you appreciate the quality of your time, not just the quantity of your turns.”
Korua has already been producing splitboards for a few years, adapting two of the most popular options from the Classic Line – the Pencil and Tranny Finder – to make them ascent ready.
Additionally, they brought in a new splitboard specific model to the Plus Line, the Escalator, while next season will see the introduction of the Dart Split to the fleet.
However, as Wolken tells us, “considering we hadn’t really marketed any of these products until now, we were really surprised how well they went down.”
His modest reaction on their splitboards’ popularity paints over a glaringly obvious truth – Korua make boards that are incredibly fun and intuitive to ride. You don’t need to be scoring 3,000ft couloirs or venturing deep on a multi-day mission to justify the investment.
“I think a lot of splitboarding is shown – a bit like freestyle – where you only get to see the super extreme stuff,” he explains. “For the general snowboarder, who only gets maybe five splitboarding days in a year, that’s not what they’re gonna do. So we really want to offer a relatable type of splitboarding.”
In the case of the Tranny Finder Split, you get one of Korua’s most versatile shapes, providing enough float for the deepest days in a season, but with a shape and profile designed to handle switch landings and launching backcountry sidehits with aplomb.
The Pencil Split, on the other hand, in Wolken’s words, is “more focussed on pure soul turning.” It’s a board that can ride most conditions but cries out for those long, drawn-out backcountry lines.
“We really want to offer a relatable type of splitboarding”
With both options, Wolken says, ”they’re splitboards that you probably wouldn’t take on a multi-day expedition – I mean you can, for sure – but there’s lighter, stiffer gear out there – they’re the kind of boards you’d take the gondola up, hike for a couple of hours and get into the fresh tracks.”
For the more serious touring aficionados out there, the Escalator might be more your calling. As the only splitboard in their Plus Line, it makes use of the lightest, fastest, and most premium materials available. With a carbon weave, a mixture of paulownia and poplar and a little less taper (therefore increasing the edge’s grip on icy traverse ascents), Wolken describes how it “just fit perfectly as the split more focussed on the uphill that still charged on soft or hard pack.”
It’s an impressive and encompassing line as it stands already, but with next season comes the introduction of a 162 split version of the Dart. It’ll be the first full swallowtail shape to enter Korua’s splitboard range. As you’d imagine, it’s the one you’ll want for those blower days when you need your snorkel as much as your skins.
“With the swallowtail,” Wolken explains, “it makes you ride your turns out, rather than just hammer your tail into the snow and lose the speed you generate. It just makes it so easy to ride through every turn, and the spray comes from just being in the turn. It just shoots up snow without you having to do a thing”
Don’t believe him? Maybe Sonukero will change your mind.
“We want to focus on surfy, fun, authentic riding, the kind that makes people want to get out there with their mates”
So, will we see a splitboard movie branching off from the Yearning For Turning series? And what can we expect from it? We asked if they’ll be depicting the level of remoteness and intensity shown in the likes of Jeremy Jones’ latest split showcase, Roadless. “I don’t think we’ll be filming that kind of thing,” Nicholas laughs, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable out there unless I had Jeremy by my side! We want to focus on surfy, fun, authentic riding, the kind that makes people want to get out there with their mates, rent a cabin, whatever.”
The message remains as centred around the turn as ever. With that in mind, we were keen to see where things were evolving in the solids department.
After all these years, we wanted to know what keeps things exciting and relevant for Nicholas. “Turning is just a fun, essential part of snowboarding,” he says. “Feeling the G-force and feeling the board work under your feet is such a core thing. And being out enjoying the mountains with different people, being creative and trying to capture those magic moments. That’s always been the reason I do it.”
“Turning is just a fun, essential part of snowboarding”
In taking things back to his roots (when Wolken used to race on hard boots), he’s been developing their latest addition to Korua’s Plus Line: the Bullet Train (an early, limited run was released this year, but soon sold out).
“We’re working on a new, carving specific shape, and it’s just amazing,” he says. “It takes me back to that very first feeling I had snowboarding.”
Here’s a board that, unlike most of the range, is designed to stay well and truly on the marked runs. While all of Korua’s sidecuts and wider waist widths lend themselves to railing a carve, the longer, rockered noses that keep the boards afloat in deeper snow can also contribute to some of the chatter felt at higher speeds.
The Bullet Train offers something a little special. “We really focussed on a board with carving at its very core”, he tells us. “We built the board with a titanium layer in it, so that takes out all of the little bumps and chatters on the slope. It really feels like you’re just flying over the slope, rather than chopping through it.”
It’s a whole new step up in torsional stiffness, designed to hold it’s an edge at the highest speeds and the apex of the arc without feeling like a barn door that foregoes any longitudinal flex. “I should be riding a few different boards, but I can’t bring myself away from it. I’ve been having the most fun on that one, for sure,” he says. “It makes for a pretty special turning experience.”
“It’s a whole new step up in torsional stiffness, designed to hold it’s an edge at the highest speeds and the apex of the arc without feeling like a barn door that foregoes any longitudinal flex”
That’s a mighty intriguing claim from the man who has created one of the most versatile and exciting fleets of snowboards on the market. But where does Korua stand on the continuous push from the industry to stay ahead of the curve and push innovation and consumerism, year after year?
With these additional products to the line, Wolken is the first to put his hands up and point out the hypocrisy of the industry. “It’s no secret,” he explains, “producing snowboards and running a snowboard company is a dirty business in general. There is no truly eco-friendly snowboard.”
It’s a harsh truth, one that should weigh on the conscience of every rider. But Korua’s message on consumerism is one that few other brands have matched: “The best thing you can do, as a consumer, is just to try and keep your board in use, take care of it, fix it when it’s broken. Don’t just buy a new one because the graphic has changed.”
“Producing snowboards and running a snowboard company is a dirty business in general”
The continuity of Korua Shape’s colourways since day one has not only given the brand its unique identity but has eliminated the futile push to continuously re-invent the wheel, year in, year out. The message is clear, whether you bought a Korua board in their first year or this season, its look remains current and timeless.
“We’re planning to introduce bio-resins in our factory for next season, and of course we support organizations like 1% for the planet,” he explains. “But as the consumer, there’s a lot you can do to play your part, too. Take your board to your local workshop, they’ll be able to fix almost anything. It doesn’t need to look perfect, but it will still ride just as well.”
It was back in January when we spoke to Nicholas in his hometown of Chur, Switzerland. It felt like a fleeting moment of calm amidst the madness of snowboarding’s trade show season. This was the time of year when the masses flock to major industry events like ISPO, Shop’s First Try, and Outdoor Retailer, to get their first look at next season’s shiny new products.
“This is a brand that hasn’t channelled their energy on staying ahead of the curve but, instead, focus their efforts on the enjoying carve”
Finishing the call left us with a somewhat shifted perspective on the whole thing. Yes, it’s always fun to see what new products are hitting the shelves, and there’s certainly a lot to be excited about with Korua’s new additions. More than that, however, chatting to Nicholas got us stoked to get back out to the mountains, and back on our boards – regardless of whether they were next season’s variants or not.
Korua’s message isn’t one about having a limitless quiver of boards, or keeping up with the Joneses (ahem…), it’s about getting a deck under your feet that fuels your stoke to go riding, whether it’s out in the backcountry or back down the home run at the end of the day.
This is a brand that hasn’t channelled their energy on staying ahead of the curve but, instead, focus their efforts on the enjoying carve.
After all, if you’re not yearning for turning, why are you even doing it?
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