Surf's Up | The Return of the Directional Snowboard

By Khai Johannes Nov 15, 2021
There's been a resurgence as snowboarding, a young sport, goes back to its original shapes. Why are they shaped like that? Why are they back?
Surf's Up | The Return of the Directional Snowboard

In relation to the mountains, all things are young. In relation to mountain sports, it can be argued snowboarding is still in its infancy. For some context, skiing dates back to 6000 BCE, while many of you reading this can still remember the day when snowboards first appeared at their local resort. As young as the sport may be, snowboarding is having a back to its roots moment.

At its start, snowboarding looked to its older sibling for inspiration; surfing. Having been around since (at least) the 12th century, surfing greatly influenced the younger board sports that followed. The early generations of snowboards mirrored what surfboards looked like; pointed nose, convex or straight sides (picture 0-6 side sidecut for my fellow spec nerds), and a swallowtail or squared tail.

Moving forward in snowboarding’s timeline to the 1990s, the shape of boards becomes influenced by terrain parks and halfpipes. Twin boards have dominated the market since. Over the years, snowboard technology has evolved resulting in advancements that benefit riders. First came camber, then rocker and now hybrids of the two. The ropes were ditched for bindings. Plywood origins were traded for bamboos and poplars (to name a few). Now, with snowboarding seemingly having it all dialed in, its eyes have turned back to the surf shapes of old with thoughts of giving them a major technology upgrade and overall facelift.


Within the last few years, you may have stood in a lift line and seen a few of the funky shapes and wondered, “why?” Why does the board have a swallowtail and large noses? It’s rare that something can be aesthetically pleasing and have solid depth (think back to your last Tinder date), but the designs of these boards are purposeful. Let’s start with the nose and work our way back.

The wide, spoon-shaped nose is designed to stay above the snow on deep days. These boards shine brightest when the snow plentiful. What good is a surfboard if it only works when it's double overhead? Even on groomer days, these boards still offer thrills. Sidecuts will vary, but generally speaking, surf shapes are going to be on the larger end (think 8-10, again for my fellow spec nerds). This characteristic lends itself to large, stable, drawn-out euro carves. For some powder hounds (myself included) “fun groomers” feel like a paradox. Surf shapes take what was an oxymoron, and turn it to mountain gospel. To get that stability through carves and powder sprays, most surfer shapes are cambered between the feet. Those feet are set way, way back to allow riders to weight both feet in powder without tomahawking.

Finally, to the most distinguished part; the tail. There typically isn’t much of one to speak of. The short tails reinforce keeping the weight in the aft and the nose floating. In the event there is a distinguished swallowtail here’s how it works: While much smaller than a twin shape tail, the swallowtail provides similar stability due to the added length. However, the negative space allows the tail to sink in powder contributing to the overall goal of float.

"Why are they back?”
Quite simply; they’re fun. Really, really fun. As far back as I remember, every shape I’ve ridden has been a twin of some kind. Along came a fish shape and the first few turns altered my riding experience and relationship with groomers. I felt as though the sport I’d loved for years hit a reset button. In trees and deep pow, it felt as though I needed only think “turn” and the board took over. Groomers had never inspired me until I crossed paths with a surf shape. Even Rossignol's accomplished rider (and Utah local) Xavier De Le Rue pushed for Rossignol to bring back a surf shape of their own; enter the Sushi. 

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The Sushi
is the tip of the cap to the snowboarding scene in Japan that has kept the snow surf culture alive. When summarizing his brainchild De Le Rue said, “I love surfing and slashing wind lips with the Sushi. It is a bit of a hybrid between a fish type board from the 80's that really inspired me, and the XV line that is basically ultimately made to ride powwow! I was there when Japan-based launched their designs in 1990.” If you’ve been snowboarding since the 90's or want to keep after this sport for the long haul, there’s another added bonus to this discipline.

Much like surfing waves, the style of surfing snow tends to be much easier on the body than other styles of riding. Our joints can only handle so much rag dolling and cliff hucking until they start to speak louder than the snow forecasts. We turn on RedbullTV and see Travis Rice, the Tom Brady of our sport, still performing at a high level at 38. Sadly, we are as close to being Travis as we are Tom. That doesn’t mean we have to hang up our boards, we simply need to trade them in and head to the Wasatch when the surf is good.

I’ve heard the Wasatch compared to Hawaii’s North Shore with its compact size, ability to attract (and create) legendary talent and it's one of the best places to surf…. snow. Utah is home to The Greatest Snow on Earth®. The powder here is incredibly light and dry giving riders the ultimate weightless sensation while they effortlessly glide. In retrospect, it makes complete sense that one of the very first patented snowboards and early surf shapes would be created in this very mountain range by snowboarding pioneer Dimitrije Milovich.

Clearly, I’m passionate about the boards, and who could blame me? I’ve found a way to do what I love for a long time. It’s rekindled my passion and stoke for the sport. Grab a surf shape, meet me in a Wasatch white room, and let me show you what all the fuss is about. Surfs up!