Friday, March 11, 2011

Snow Surfing – The Un-Invention of Snowboarding

One of the main advantages snowboarding has over surfing is the distinct lack of monstrous predatory fish...

Quick sidetrack ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This is clearly a common fear, which might go some way towards explaining this movie: Snow Shark – Ancient Snow Beast.
You can probably sense from the poster that it’s probably not going to get a wide theatre release. 
End of sidetrack --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Because of the lack of killer snow sharks, snowboarding has long been a preferred winter sport alternative for surfers.  At least it is for soft Californian surfers. Real surfers don’t let a little thing like losing important parts of their anatomy through frostbite stop them.

Snow Surfing – A far too literal interpretation
Arctic Surfing
Ice Surfing
So, for most normal people, who retain some future ambitions to father children, snowboarding is a nice and convenient solution.

Snow Surfing – A brief history
Surfing was a major influence on the development of snowboarding. A number of the pioneers of our sport were directly inspired by surfing including:
  • Sherman Poppen inventor of the Snurfer. Poppen is largely acknowledged at the inventor of snowboarding. He created the Snurfer in 1965 when he strapped together two kid’s skis. You only have to glance at the name to see the surfing influence.
I hadn't seen one before, but for you snowboard spotters out there, the Snurfer in the far right was one of the final Snurfer prototypes.  
  • Dimitrije Milovich inventor of the Winterstick. Milovich was directly inspired by a surfboard shaper called Wanye Stoveken who had been testing a few of his own creations on the snow. Milovich went on to develop the Winterstick and here it is in action.
  • Other key people from that period were also inspired at least in part by surfing and surf culture including the likes of Jake Burton and Tom Sims.
Burton & Sims. Back when Dad's were cool.
And the influence continues today…
  • The French still call snowboarding ‘surf des neige’. They actually have three different names for the sport (the others are le snowboarding and planche de neige) which must make searching for snowboarding on the internet a complete bitch for them.
  • Surf companies like Quicksilver and Billabong have built their way into snowboarding and become some of the most influential brands
  • A number of professional snowboarders enjoy a bit of surfing in the summer. Here’s snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen for example
  • Less often surfers have a go at snowboarding. Here’s a video of surf legend Andy Irons RIP and his first try at snowboarding.
Since the early days of snowboarding, the sport and the equipment have developed beyond all recognition. With the introduction of things like metal edges, specific boots and bindings snowboarding has become more accessible and more progressive, helping to fuel a massive growth of the sport. For some people though it’s not all been good news and they feel that the sport has lost some of the spirit of those early pioneering days. Looking for a more soulful way of experiencing the sport they are going back to basics and re-introducing some of the old surf-inspired equipment and techniques.

Snow Surfing – Snowboarding un-invented
If you want to go back to basics the first lesson is that you can’t go all the way back to trying to ride big wooden surfboards. The guys at Ocean Slave have taken a few publicity shots which apparently counteract this rule, but the noticeable lack of video evidence speaks volumes about how successful that approach was.
Although even getting something that size off the ground deserves some respect
The most significant un-invention of snowboarding is Noboarding. Noboarding was rediscovered in 2001 by professional snowboarder Greg Todds and Cholo Burns. 
Todds & Burns, air guitar champions
Over the years the Noboard team have developed a kit that can be attached to any snowboard allowing the board to be ridden without bindings.
The Noboard has grown a real following in the snowboarding press and among professional snowboarders over the last few years. The biggest event in the Noboarding calendar is the Greg Todds Memorial Race and it looks like a lot of fun. ( Greg Todds was sadly killed in an avalanche in 2005).
Unfortunately it looks like the rest of the snowboarding world is not so keen on the Noboard. The relatively high cost for the kit and the requirement to have easily accessible powder mean that for most snowboarders this type of board is just not a viable option. Last season Noboard had a production and global distribution deal with Burton. The two companies produced the Burton NoFish (pictured with Cholo Burns above), which retailed for $499.95, but just one season later the relationship ended because of a lack of sales. On the Noboard site they dress-up the experience slightly differently:
“It is with great happiness we are here to let you know (NO) that we have gone back to producing our own Noboard Pads again.  MADE IN CANADA!!!
We came to the conclusion that quality was really important to us.  Although our relationship with Burton was a step towards global distribution and an way to get Noboarding worldwide, we felt like we were compromising all the hard work we had put into Noboarding for years, by producing a sloppy product from China.”
So many watermarks. This is definitely the week we finally get successfully sued for copyright 
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I haven’t noticed a sudden increase in snowboards falling apart now that about 90% of them are made in China. There are a number of things you can say about the move of manufacturing to China but a sudden increase in ‘sloppy product’ isn’t one. In fact it’s pretty much the opposite as the quality of snowboard equipment has become noticeably better over the years despite the change in production location. Some of the other things I have that were made in China seem to work pretty well too, like my iPhone or this laptop I’m using.

The Noboard kit retails for $199 and you’ll need a snowboard to attach it to so it’s not a cheap solution, but you do get your choice of nipple colour.

Another group of guys going back to basics are the people who build Grassroots Powdersurf Boards
They are doing it on a smaller scale than the guys from Noboards and without the same levels of attention. Clearly they are also very keen to find a more soulful approach to snowboarding:
“Their advantage lies where our hearts find our greatest joy - in the fresh powder. Our boards are handcrafted in an earth friendly manner in our state of the art production facility.  We use the highest quality materials along with blood, sweat, tears and love.”  I’m not sure I fancy a board made from a cocktail of human juices.
Based in Logan, Utah, Grassroots produce three boards specially designed to ride without bindings in powder. I've never seen a 360 shove-it on a powder snowboard before. 
The boards range from $299.99 to $349.99 and for that you can get this nice (possibly) Noah Salasnek inspired skate graphic, or bringing everything back to the beginning, a snow shark design. 

Snow Surfing – Is it the future?
The other day I was in a car with a 70-year-old and we passed by a couple of guys having a fight in the street outside a pub. The 70-year-old turned to me to decree that the world was so much more violent these days compered to when she was young. I turned to her and asked, “Is it? Is it really more violent now than it was during World War II?”
World War II - More violent
My point didn’t go down well, but it was valid. Like my 70-year-old acquaintance most people feel that the world of their youth was somehow better than the world of today even when the evidence is stacked against them. The people were friendlier, it was always sunny, you could leave your doors unlocked and the snowboarding scene was better. This is what you consistently hear when these guys talk about bindingless snowboarding.
Bindingless snowboarding isn’t the future of the sport and it’s not a better version either, but it is an interesting alternative. There are some advantages (it feels a little more natural to some people and there are a some unique trick opportunities), but there are some significant drawbacks (you can only use them in powder). Because of the advantages bindingless snowboarding will be around for as long as mainstream snowboarding and it looks like we can still expect to see some interesting progression, but because of the limitations it will only be a viable alternative for a small number of people. Although it will never take over from the more established forms of snowboarding, one of the benefits of the growth of the whole sport is that it can now sustain smaller alternative cultures like this. There's more than one way to skin a cat and there's plenty of room for one more version of snowboarding, best of luck if you if you fancy skinning this one. 

Anyway, enough of that, here is a snow-surfing rock monster

Related Articles...
If you like detail here's a little more about Sherman Poppen's invention 
If you hate detail here's a brief history of snowboarding in a flashy interactive format. 



  2. No mention of Mike Olsen? I remember that guy pulling a board out of his truck back in thelate 70's . He said it was a snowboard....... A what?...... A snowboard you know for surfing in the snow. .........The idea of surfing in the snow always stuck with me. I even tried taking my surfboard up to the mountains but it only sort of worked. snowboarding has basically progressed into skiing or side ways skiing. I love surfing but hate skiing. I saw a guy with a snow skate and boom that was it! Bindingless snow Alaia! Pow surfing! I went home and shaped my first pow surf and it worked awesome. It all has come around full circle. Now I am the guy pulling weird boards out of my truck. ........The story of Rival Snowskates at Facebook.

  3. Cool article, thanks for sharing. The Snurfer was pretty cool but it's lack of control was its biggest problem. I thinking bindingless snowboarding can be part of the future of snowboarding - check out this modern version of the Snurfer; it has a temporary binding that releases when you fall so you can stay on the board over jumps but bail safely if you need to.

  4. Interesting overview on the powdersurfing movement that taking place. I'm inclined to agree with your assessment that the sport will remain as just an alternative and won't gain traction in the commercial snowboarding world, but I think this sport could really catch on in the backcountry.


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