Downhill skiing and snowboarding might seem like close relatives, but the latter owes just as big a debt to surfing. And snowboarding’s surfing roots are returning in a big way. Riders are using shorter boards, without bindings, to re-create the experience of riding the waves on backcountry powder. One manufacturer, Grassroots Powdersurfing, reports that U.S. sales of these boards have quadrupled over the past two years.
Modern snowboards feature bindings and sharp ice-cutting edges just like downhill skis, but the first snowboard was a bindingless contraption called the Snurfer, invented in the 1960s. Snowboarding evolved away from the Snurfer in the United States, but the sport’s surfing influences remained strong in Japan, where riders use short, swallow-tailed boards. Two main surf-inspired styles thrive today: “Pow-surfing is bindingless,” explains Kenny Good of Moss Snowstick, a Dutch manufacturer. “Snow-surfing [uses] bindings while emulating surf-inspired turns in whatever snow conditions you find yourself in: powder, ice, slush.”
“Just like in surfing, you have to read the swells, wind direction, and strength,” says Domi Churiki, of Gentemstick. “[You] decide which surf break would be best in those conditions. It’s all about precision and flow. It’s a more graceful and elegant style.”
The best surfing can be found on steep hills where the snow is at least 6 inches deep. Backcountry powder is ideal. “Riders that are going bindingless don’t seem all that interested in being on trails,” says Jake Brayton, a North American manager for Nidecker Snowboards. “It’s more about being off the trail, creating DIY-oriented features in some fresh snow.”