One Year with the Serpent

A reflection on this past season and what it’s like to meet someone who ‘gets it’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

#snowcraft

 



 

Field Recordings No.2

Just as the environmental sounds that surround us when we're outside help to influence our feelings and emotions and act to serve as important markers in our memories, music can help to reflect our feelings or bring out new emotions hidden away.  While we might not remember specific details of where we may have been at a specific point in time, we might remember the music we were listening to and the feelings we felt, the smell of the air - along with its humidity and temperature - and maybe who we were accompanied by.  Music - or quite simply, sound in general - sets the mood.

'New Moon' by Daniel Bachman starts off slow with the sounds of crickets and katydids calling in the night.  A drone picks up as the recording progresses - sounding not so different from the ambience of cicadas joined in synchrony on a hot night - that seems to quiet the mind.  Several times throughout the song, the guitar comes to a lengthy, drawn-out twang, sometimes even halting altogether.  And yet, the sedative pace seems to provoke thoughts and images.  If you have the patience to listen, one can easily hear the story being told - the journey as it unravels - or you might just be able to imagine your own.

This was one of the songs that came on while on a recent trip through Appalachia.  Surrounded by the massive hardwood forests and the ample sounds that echo from within them - the crickets, katydids, cicadas and birds - it was hard not to think about my love for the forest in general - a place where I find a sense of belonging, where I can breathe unhindered, and where I often fear to leave.  It was a bittersweet feeling; on the one hand, it felt like home - like I had arrived at home - and yet, I was not staying, just passing through.

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Monongahela National Forest, Appalachia

'New Moon' feels like a longing for the past - a deep nostalgia for what was - with an acknowledgement of the passing of time in the direction of what is, or will be.  It reminds me of the hot, humid nights spent in a tent in Appalachia; the birdsong echoing in the woods just beyond; the hush symphony of cicadas, crickets and katydids as I fell asleep; and the smell of the deciduous on the cooling breeze.  It is the beckoning of the forest, when I am hindered from joining in response.  It's a story of my love for these things, full of feelings and memories not quite realized, capped with an open ending.

 

Handmade Snowboard - 160cm Cedar Witch Swallowtail

 

This thing has been a persistent dream of mine for quite some time now. I think there’s a natural progression with my interests where they evolve from a theoretical interest – the ‘research’ phase, where I’m not quite involved in the physical aspect of an interest but I am actively pursuing information relating to it in an attempt to educate myself on the topic – to a phase outlined by physicality – where I find myself immersed in the physical act of the interest itself – to a final stage that delves into forms of expression and experimentation relating to that interest. And it’s this final stage that seems to bring on a sense of completion, a sense of belonging – where I’m not just partaking in an interest but, instead, am actually a part of it. This process and final stage are like a soul-searching that is perhaps brought on by overwhelming disinterest and diminished passion that eventually lead into a dark cavern – the only way out of which is to probe even deeper, to excavate the ores of inspiration and creativity, or else give up in an effort to find a new interest. But, if you don't give up and instead continue with persistence, what you’re left with is the construct of a mine, whose scarred walls expose the gems of that interest and reveal the creations and countless iterations that lie tucked away from the light of day. If curiosity and interest never fade then perhaps you never reach that final stage – perhaps you are content with the interest as it stands and the novelty never wears, you remain blindfolded to the opportunities that lie obscured – or maybe you end up taking a different route altogether. But it is that final step, the line between monotony and obsession that define your passion.

“What was not built for planned obsolescence feels better in the hand.”

I came across this line, in an article written by Frank Wu, on the topic of analog photography and couldn’t help but relate to it. It is true that something built to last has an inherent level of authenticity to it. To me, creating something by hand is a way to breach our obsession with obsolescence; it’s a way to search for identity; and to connect with not just the idea at hand, but also the environment in which those ideas exist. When I think of ‘handmade’ I also tend to think of ‘heirloom’ – something to be passed on, through preservation; built with love, to be loved. The materials one chooses to incorporate, however, can have a lasting impact on the viability of those qualities. Common construction of skis and snowboards rely heavily on plastics, but plastics are not often associated with something of lasting value – they tend to instead recall notions of short-term convenience, they become brittle with age, and the current environmental problems with them don’t help much either; this is one of the reasons why I wanted to step away from the commonly used plastics for this project, as much as possible, and substitute what I thought was a viable alternative in the form of hard maple for the sidewalls and tip-fill material (of which ABS and UHMW plastics are typically used due to their durability and weather-resistance). I had initially wanted to do a hardwood base as well, but there are very few practical alternatives to the low-friction P-Tex material used in the industry and so I felt the use of plastic in this case was a necessary evil.

I had also wanted to use local woods in the core construction, but it is surprisingly difficult to source woods that possess the desired qualities for snowboard construction (relatively light-weight and flexible, yet strong). I ended up settling on the next best option: all domestic woods; these included hard maple, poplar, eastern red cedar and Alaskan yellow cedar – some of which are commonplace in this type of construction, others are used more infrequently.

I have thought highly of cedars for some time now, and decided that they would be a viable inclusion in the core due to their common use in boat making and, also, just to try something different (not to mention, the fragrance while working on the construction of the core was unbeatable!). Visiting the giants of the Quinault last summer only reinforced my admiration and appreciation for these beings and is in part where the inspiration for the name of this project originates. My intention was to incorporate a cedar topsheet to reaffirm this appreciation, but I was unable to find anything in the appropriate width with the qualities I desired – the most crucial of which was, it had to be ‘ugly’. If it was full of knots, cracks, wormholes and discoloration, I wanted it. It had to be earthy and haunted – it had to have soul. Ambrosia maple met most of these requirements; its wood displays the culture of the ambrosia beetle – the passageways it bored through the plant’s tissue and the resulting discoloration that arose from fungal colonization. The characters that remain exist as a fingerprint of the ecology that existed at a certain place and time. These inclusions – perhaps deemed as defects by others – are what I tend to gravitate to; they’re a reminder of competing forces, a dynamic world, alive, yet in perpetual decay – they’re what give the piece its soul. Naturally, this haunting gave way to the latter half of the project’s name.

The project would have ended there had it not been for the blemishes built in to the topsheet through my negligence. Sanding these blemishes left the veneer void of its character and so became a dedication to the most haunted of all, the Myxomycetes.

What’s left is an object not built with obsolescence in mind but, instead, experimentation and timelessness. An heirloom built with love, to be loved.


The way I see it, there are two ways to build a snowboard: to design it with a specific style of riding in mind (the prerequisite, of course, is to know what you're doing) or to design it with few expectations and to discover how it wants to be ridden. I think this one is a mix of those two approaches, if not heavily weighted towards the latter.

My intention in building this snowboard was to create an ideal powderboard - something optimized for those deep days with endless refills - but one of my main concerns was also width.  Being a rider with US size 12/13 boots, it is a challenge to find a manufactured board that will accommodate them; most "wide" boards available on the market are a joke, and toe-drag is inevitable.  If you're a rider with 'big' feet, you can only dream of those deep carves where you don't have to worry about slideout.  By designing my own board, I was in control of the dimensions - I was the one who got to decide wether or not it was going to accommodate my foot size and wether or not it was actually going to be carveable.

I have now had the opportunity to ride this board on two occasions - both in powder!  I had worried that the storm season here was over, but it was merely beginning.

While my expectations for my first board were low, it absolutely blew me away on that first outing to Mt. Hood and will go down in history as my best day this season (perhaps, ever).  Although the previous day would have been the day to get a majority of the fresh tracks, the following day was enjoyable and fresh tracks were abound if you knew where to look.  The snow was light and airy - something rare for a late-winter/early-spring storm here in the Pacific Northwest.

The board is heavy and stiff and the zero-camber waist combined with the reverse-camber nose and tail don't lend the board much pop.  It is wide, and because of this, it feels slow when transitioning from edge-to-edge.  Without much sidecut, it's difficult to carve well.  It is a cruiser on the groomers - a slow Cadillac.

While all of those characteristics might sound entirely negative, they are actually what make this board so wonderful!  You see, in the soft powder the zero-camber waist with reverse-camber nose and tail give this board a lot of lift.  Combine that with the incredible nose width (about 35cm!) and swallowtail and the float is insane!  Because it is so stiff, it plows through the choppy stuff with zero deflection and maintains speed through the flats with ease.  It's nature reduces back leg fatigue and allows you to stomp landings without worrying about throwing out a yard sale.  You really have to put in some effort to find yourself digging out of the snow with this board.

It was an absolute dream to ride and I found myself venturing in to new territories that I had not previously thought were possible (of which I could only fantasize while riding a manufactured board).  The weight and slow edge-to-edge maneuverability were something I've gotten used to and aren't what I would consider to be negative characteristics.

I'll be looking forward to many more days like that one with the Cedar Witch next season, in the deep of winter.


One thing this project has done is given me a new appreciation for the nature of a board.  You can test handfuls of boards from countless manufacturers before you find something that suits you, but in doing so you serve to loose a deeper connection with the board you're riding and the boards you pass up for the one that suits you - the one that reveals itself as easy to ride, with little resistance to your style.  In doing so, you forgo the learning process of discovering what the board is all about - it's nature and how it wants or, rather, deserves to be ridden.  You must approach an unfamiliar board with low expectations and be willing to spend more than a few laps to uncover its potential.  You have to study its character in order to find its soul.

#snowcraft

 

Field Recordings No.1

The sounds of bird calls, foliage rustling in the wind or water lapping at the edge of a shore are experiences I cherish more than anything.  They evoke emotions that I rarely feel at any other time and seem to accompany vivid childhood memories of being outside.  I often ponder, if I had to choose between loosing all but one of my senses, which would it be?  Of course, when you loose one of your senses you are not usually the one who decides which sense is lost and in many cases, you are instead often born without them, never knowing what it would be like to live with them in the first place.  But, having been fortunate enough to be born with all of my senses and to experience them firsthand, if I had the luxury of deciding which singular sense to keep, for me, it would be hearing.

As someone who has yet to discover any inkling of musical talent within myself, I envy musicians.  The creation of music has to be the purest form of artistic expression.  Through its creation, an artist can guide you through waves of emotion with little more than the simple access to your ears; they can persuade on to you thoughts of happiness, sadness and anger; they can change your mood from one minute to the next.  They are able to convey what they feel into sounds, and, often, these sounds are able to convey those feelings back to the listener.

To combine the creative expression of music with the inherent sounds of our surroundings is to take those felt emotions one step further.

With this series of inspirations, titled 'Field Recordings', I hope to share music that I have found which features recordings of nature intertwined with the artists' musical expression.


"Listen to the Flowers Grow" is a remix composed by AES Dana of a track from Subgardens.  The track starts out with the sound of birds calling laced with an ethereal synthesizer and incorporates a woman's voice who calmly confesses: "I listen to the flowers grow, it takes time and I like it."  From there, the nearly eight-minute track picks up and becomes more layered, incorporating deep beats over airy, reverberating synthesizers, but all the while the bird calls continue to loop in the background - occasionally the music subdues to let the tranquility of the bird call shine through in its entirety.  The last minute-and-a-half of the track is almost entirely left to the resplendent field recording.

 

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First Thoughts

This space will exist as a collection of thoughts - perhaps short stories and recollections of outings - accompanied by photos, inspirations and backstories on projects.  While my interests vary widely, its nature will reflect that of my portfolio - heavily biased towards the natural world itself and creative pursuits.


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