A reflection on this past season and what it’s like to meet someone who ‘gets it’
When I made the core for the Cedar Witch I actually made two cores. The lengths of Alaskan yellow and Eastern red cedar, poplar and maple were just thick enough to yield two, roughly half-inch thick, core blanks. I figured if I didn’t get it all to work on the first try, I would at least have a second shot at making just the one. Well, everything came out perfect the first try, which left me with the opportunity to give it another go. The Serpent, then, is the Cedar Witch’s twin – and so, I guess you could call it the Cedar Serpent.
It’s approaching two years now since I started gathering those initial materials to construct my first snowboard from scratch, but I vividly remember standing in the late summer heat, breathing in the smoke-filled air (from persistent wildfires nearby), infused with the distinct aromas of cedar and poplar, as I hand-sawed the two cores from eachother. That first board went slow, spending over six months piecing it together, one step at a time, while simultaneously constructing the press and profiling jigs. I stressed over each little step, making sure not to make a mistake (though, I made plenty) and the anxiety didn’t stop until it was out of the press.
That first day on the mountain with the Cedar Witch was beyond expectations - the most fun I have ever had on a snowboard. It took several runs for me to understand it, to learn its inherent nature and how it desired to be ridden, but once I did, I found myself in locations that I had never dared to venture through, carrying a speed amongst the trees that I could never have dreamed of. Any inkling of anxiety or stress that remained as I wondered how it would fare on snow quickly faded, and I was reminded again of my love for this act.
I was reminded of the value in doing something myself, by my own means. I was reminded of the value in realizing a fiction from start to finish; of hand selecting each material with reason; of combining those materials with purpose. And, that value, is in what is gained by doing all of that – you can’t buy it and it can’t be sold to you. What you end up with is something that is uniquely yours, but it is purely something you must realize for yourself.
It was for those reasons alone that I wanted a second try at recreating those experiences and feelings.
When the time came to construct the Serpent, I knew I wanted a more refined shape and feel compared to the rudimentary nature of the Cedar Witch. However, conception of the Serpent was still directly linked to the conception of the Witch, as I designed both at the same time, choosing to construct the Cedar Witch first, only because its shape and intended use was so different from anything I had ridden previously. Though the two designs differ greatly, it was the feedback from riding the Witch that provided me with the necessary insight needed to design the Serpent; significantly increasing the amount of side-cut, streamlining the nose and tail sections, minimizing the surface area of the contact points, and removing material at the waist were all major factors to consider when moving forward with the next board. Overall, the Serpent is more thought out than the Witch, and I think it really shows in the aesthetics of the board and certainly in its performance on snow.
I wanted a board that could directly contrast the unique nature of the Witch - something that could hold a carve, while being quick edge to edge and agile through the trees. I reduced the waist width to what I thought was the bare minimum needed to accommodate my size 13 boots - though still much wider than most manufactured “wide” boards. I spent a substantial amount of time profiling the core, machining the tips significantly thinner and removing material between the bindings in order to create a more dynamic flex pattern. And I made sure the contact points were well defined to help with edge hold and reduce the drag that was so apparent with the first board.
The most notable characteristic of the Serpent is, perhaps, the top sheet, which is constructed of individually stamped scales cut from cherry and walnut veneers and painstakingly pieced together, one by one. That part of the construction felt like it took the longest to complete, but I believe it was a necessary inclusion to ensure the Serpent developed into what it needed to be.
Despite the extra time spent designing the Serpent, it was completed in just a fraction of the time it took to realize the Witch. And though I had high expectations for the performance of this board, I also knew the value in keeping those expectations low and the feeling of being surprised from my experience with the Witch.
The first day on the Serpent was eye-opening. There was a good amount of snow that had freshly fallen the day before and throughout the night, creating ideal conditions for both on and off-trail riding. While I had intended for the board to be a carver, I hoped it would perform just as well off-trail, in deeper snow. I quickly found out however, that it did not fare well in the deeper snow of the low-incline areas that are so common throughout Timberline ski area, and that the Cedar Witch had really excelled in. Despite the soft nose and decreased float, the board was quick through the trees and easily maneuvered through the tight, steeper sections that I often haunt with a playful, surfy-feel that had been absent with the Witch.
The Serpent was, of course, also destined for the tight snake runs that span the entirety of the resort from the top of Stormin Normin to the bottom of Jeff Flood - aptly deemed the “Bone Zone“. Here, it did excel and proved to be a real treat to slither through the curvy, banked turns of the gully and the other unique features it accommodates.
The one area where it absolutely met, and perhaps even exceed, expectations, was, without a doubt, on the groomed runs. My favorite memories riding the board this past season are from just a short section of groomer - probably no more than 600ft in length - that dips left and transitions into a gradual right-hand turn with a modest incline, shooting you back out onto the main trail. Here, I felt like a pendulum as my whole body swayed effortlessly from edge to edge, maintaining a distance of just a few inches from the ground while taking full advantage of the short side-cut and soft flex.
Taking inspiration from manufacturers such as Moss Snowstick, Gentemstick and Spring Break, in addition to ventures such as Warp Wave, Snow Craft and Korua Shapes’ ‘Yearning for Turning’ series, the Serpent pays homage to the early days of snowboarding, born out of a DIY culture and owing influences itself to surfing and skateboarding, while also looking towards the future evolution of the sport. These inspirations are evident in the nature of the board: it’s quick edge to edge, surfy in conditions with moderate depth, easy to jockey between tight trees and stable on those deep, hand-dragging carves. It’s not particularly fast, but it’s not supposed to be - it requires you to consider your motions carefully, acting only with meaning, feeling the terrain as you go and using that feedback to calculate your next move.
Riding a handmade board can attract a fair amount of attention. People always want to know what it is, who makes and what it’s made for. There are the usual gawkers - those who incessantly stare, but never say a word; there are those who seem to speak without really thinking, or without a genuine interest; there are those who take interest just enough to make conversation, though the interest quite often ends there; and then, there are those who just seem to ‘get it’ - maybe they don’t say a lot, but, then again, they don’t need to, as they can appreciate it for what it is or can somehow relate.
Tired of the ‘same-old, same-old’ at Timberline, I decided to give Meadows a try - my first time in a number of years, and a place I feel very often doesn’t ‘get it’. Though, it’s hard to argue with their selection of terrain. There, it was, without fail, the ‘same-old, same-old’ - tracked out within the first half-hour, complete with lift-line hysteria, and upper mountain lifts on ‘standby’. I wasn’t having a particularly bad day, but it wasn’t a particularly good day, either. The snow was ‘so-so’, however typical of what you might expect from a spring storm in the northwest - wet and on the heavy side. I had decided to check out Shooting Star after exhausting the west side of the resort and was gifted with a few nice sections of untouched powder fields and groomed sections at the edge of some trees down towards the lower sections of the run.
As I was strapping in at the top of the lift, I could hear a murmur of conversation behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a guy point to my board and notion to someone else. I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing headphones when I ride alone - anymore, I can’t stand the small talk that others seem so eager to stir up on the chair lift. I just want to tune them out, and be ignored - If I’m on the mountain, I’m usually there to escape, and the last thing I want to do is talk about stupid shit with someone I don’t know.
I quickly removed an ear-bud asked what was up. He was shorter, had longer hair, a noticeable chin and a note-worthy tan - my instant reaction was ‘JP Walker’, and the voice seemed to match. I haven’t kept up with what’s popular these days in the snowboard industry, or what all of the older pros are up to these days - the guys I grew up watching in the Mac Dawg movies, etc. - but it could very well have been him. What he would be doing mid-week, at Mt. Hood on a crummy spring day, I don’t know - but it could happen, right?
In any case, he pointed to my board again asking, “is it homemade?”
“Yeah, I made it”, I replied.
“It’s nice. My buddy just made this one for me”, he said as he looked down at his board. It had a see-through fiberglass topsheet, elegantly exposing the underlying core. It wasn’t a particularly attractive-looking board - no ‘frills’ - but, no doubt, it was made to his specifications, and made to be ridden.
I, too, looked down at his board and said “oh, yeah, he made that one?” while I nodded and smiled.
In situations like this, I can never think of anything worthwhile to say, even if it’s about something I’m interested in. But that was perfect, because before I could even think of anything else to say, he extended his fist towards me, to which I kindly returned the gesture, and bumped his with mine. He smiled, gave me a nod, and continued on with his friend, who also happened to be riding a board with a unique shape - a shorter length with a deep swallow-tail. I watched from the top of the run as they navigated the choppy terrain with meaning, until they were out of sight, and immediately, I felt elevated.
In that moment, and the hours afterward, I didn’t care what the snow conditions were like, I didn’t care how flat the light was at times, or that the upper-mountain lift was still on standby for no apparent reason. I remember sitting by myself on the next chair ride up, looking to my left at the snow-covered trees as they glistened in the sun and thinking how beautiful the day was with a subdued sense of euphoria. Here, I had merely crossed paths with someone I had never met before, barely exchanged enough words to even be considered ‘talking’ to someone, and, yet, the experience completely changed my day - all in just a few seconds. And that’s what it’s like to meet someone who ‘gets it’.
He didn’t have to know how I made the board; he didn’t have to know what materials I made it from; he didn’t have to know what purpose it was made for or why I chose to create it; because none of that mattered. All of those other things that everyone else asks about, are irrelevant to the experience - they have no relevancy to the feeling you get when you hand-saw your core blank made of wood that you selected from the endless maze of choices; they have no relevancy to the weight of the sawdust that piles up and covers your feet as you profile the core; they have no relevancy to the number of times you had to bend, and re-bend, each radius of steel edging to get it to fit the base just so; they have no relevancy to the connection you develop to something that is otherwise so lifeless and devoid of meaning. The point is that you can do all of those things, and so you should. And if you can understand that, then you ‘get it’.