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.