In Search of Stoke
This ship set sail in January of 2014 when a couple of best friends had heard the call of the Powder Kingdom hidden in northern Japan. With a quiver loaded with directionals, rockers, reverse camber... They ventured forth to discover what Winter Heaven can truly look like. Due to the depth of the snow and the form of terrain, every board brought from the US was lackluster in comparison to the discoveries of a variety of shapes such as Gentemstick, Moss, and Field Earth. Not only did these boards float atop the bottomless pow, their maneuverability was so intrinsic and brought a feeling of harmony with the ride.
Needless to say, once you know, there is no going back. So the guys hawked every board they had brought with them on the streets of Niseko and walked into the Gentem showroom - happily laid down cash on the table to bring home a piece of this heaven with them.
What happened next was an unexpected inspirational launch. With a new understanding of board and riding dynamics, Aaron quickly discovered the advantage that the alternative shape had at the local ski hill, Lost Trail in Montana, especially on Powder Thursdays when the weekday storm can load 18"+ . Fast planing speed across the low angle terrain, quick maneuverability between the trees and the ability to reach that powder stache just a little further out than anyone else.
Within a week the locals began to inquire about the shape, where it came from, the price, and what about it was so essential to distilling so much stoke from this low angle powder field?
While answering these questions, the actual concept of design began to seep in. Research was conducted leading back to Winterstick then Sims. Surfboard design templates were pondered for hydrodynamic qualities. Biomimicry investigated to understand how animals move through their environment.
While studying Psychology at the University of Montana- with focus in Flow and Experience Based Modality- applying these dynamics to create a craft- a vessel- that was unique to the local experience seemed a worthwhile way to apply the thesis. Aaron had some experience in high school creating a mold to build a pair of skis for his senior Tech project. The internet was in beta stages and relatively no information was published on this process other than a single picture of a press at the K2 factory. Only one ski (not two...) was made at the time, aligning with Aaron's transition into snowboarding and moving to Whistler. A friend in Missoula had a press and had been making his own boards for a few years with custom graphics and had offered up the tools and the space to create something. This was not about re-creating what had already been created- albeit across the ocean- but rather the participation of actually building a vessel by ones own hands, experimenting with design, and riding it down a mountain to see how it works.
It was a challenging process as the template shape was wider than the materials available. With numerous calls to Action Sports Technology, Crown Plastic, Fiberglass Supply, Veneer distributers (as no top sheets could be sourced), and the local metal shop, along with days on end of trial and error, the first boards were built. This model we called the SoulRyder and eventually picked up the name The Grizzle Rabbit Hunter after the mysterious and mythical creature that roamed the Bitterroot Mountains. It was 147cm long, 37cm wide in the nose with a swooping swallowtail. The amazement was how well it performed harvesting the powder of the low angle terrain of Chair 4.
Then the orders started coming in. Locals witnessed the performance capabilities of alternatively shaped craft and wanted in. To generate working capital for these hard to acquire supplies and to train in the process of building, Aaron took on a gig as a Glasser at Strongwater Mtn Surf- a Missoula based river surfing shop dedicated to building surfboards specifically designed for the local river waves. As fall rolled around Aaron rented the shop space with the press at LBSnow and with the woodworking expertise of Keith next door at Blue Dog Furniture, he got to work making the first batch of 20 boards. The winter season kicked off with a bang of storm after storm. Then, as fate would have it, the powder dried up in January and it was spring condition groomers the rest of the season. This brought a new conundrum of reshaping the design in order to enjoy the groomed terrain with as much gusto as the fresh powder. Back to the drawing board, pulling in the nose, squashing out the tail and the first RTH was laid up.
With summer came another transformation. As river surf season tapered out the call to the Ocean was too great. Thus, the acquisition of a Chevy G30 Short bus, a quick build out using reclaimed materials, and with surfboards strapped to the roof, Aaron headed west with his co-pilot Dude Dog to the Pacific Ocean and searched for surf along Highway 1 all the way to San Diego. If it wasn't for some paperwork and ultimately some mechanical issues at the Tijuana border, he may have just kept going. Under assumptions that climate change had evicted the powder storms of winter and building snowboards, while creative and invigorating, was catering to a niche but deteriorating market.
So back to the Mountains for winter it was. But a few aspects needed tweaking. As materials were continuously difficult to come by and wood veneers, while beautiful, were a pain in the ass of an additional 3-5 days labor to create, the shop life took on the prototyping and custom shaping angle while the contract was sent to an American group of designers. These designers, who had previously run into many of the same issues, set up shop overseas where they could source materials locally, and work with local labor proficient in high end manufacturing to create small batch boards at a reasonable cost. They began with the Goldfish (a modified version of the Grizzly Rabbit Hunter) and the following year produced the RedTail Hawk. These production boards were of the highest quality and durability I had come across, and as much as Aaron enjoyed the hands on shaping process, he is the first to admit his craftsmanship was secondary to the design and riding aspects. This being a 21st Century entrepreneurial enterprise responsibilities also include marketing, sales, accounting, promotion, R&D, and OEM- all with hopes of producing something that will evolve snow sliding into the future rather that its statistically prophesied demise.
The next 2 summers were spent scouring the coast, stopping into every surf shop, picking up old boards from backyards and garage sales, and having long discussions with surfboard shapers to understand the dynamics of the shape and the hows and why it performed. While the standard short board was the most prolific shape in any shop, unique craft from the historic evolution of surfing were more intriguing. Longboards, guns, mid lengths, hulls, single and twin fins. Armed with a mobile ding repair shop and plenty of storage on the bus, these historical artifacts were given new life and an opportunity to tell their story. To fill in the gaps were the derelict surfing elders who hung on the beach, rarely entering the water, but with plenty of story from 50+ years of surfing all around the world. How did they float, glide, take the drop or turn, hold the pocket and generate speed? Which was the most appropriate choice per swell, break, wave type and ride style?
Aaron's shaping and riding style followed suit. Now every mountain terrain feature emulated a different wave. From Malibu to Mavericks the pitch, conditions, dynamics of movement according to varying trim angles began to appear. What was once a top to bottom activity transformed into a cross fall line artistry. High notes and low notes across the trim line.
The move to the Tetons emphasized bigger, hollower waves. And the previous equipment shaped for the flat deep pow and groomers of Lost Trail were lacking in performance. Working with Sego Ski Co in Victor, Idaho over a year of prototyping and refinement brought to life the Trimline Series. With a reverse taper and long sidecut nose it could drive into the face of the hill without grinding, while the tail hipped out at a sharp radius to emulate tri fin maneuverability controlling speed through the turn.
With generations of surfboard design concepts to study the imagination can run wild. Templates are pulled from a nose here and a tail there and a rail or contour from this boards or that one. It is often 3 am when the fire is stoked and profiles are drawn on plywood sheets to conceptualize then shaped into the first stage of pow surf (bindingless) experimentation. This, next to the test ride, are the most intriguing of moments when creativity runs rampant and imagination is the only limitation. At this point, there is no turning back. The drop has been made and now all that is left is adaptive atunement to the wave at hand.