Photos by Sean Kerrick Sullivan. Rider above: Gray Thompson
It is the year 2015. Triple corks, drones and POV footage have taken over the mainstream world of snowboarding.
Does this threaten its soul? Does all of the hype, documented from every angle, make a pow day any less special? No — because high in the mountains the powder counterpart to the New Millennium of freestyle snowboarding is thriving.
In workshops, woodshops and factories, riders from Japan to Utah to Austria are cranking out the exact opposite of the triple cork. They make powsurfs, aka surfboards for snow or snowboards without bindings. These craftsmen dedicate themselves to creating these vehicles because they are mesmerized by the feeling of riding powder without bindings. The boards are all fun, no-frill and are ridden with nothing more than some traction. Variations like the noboard or Snurfer use ropes to aid in board control, but true powsurfing is done without any aid devices. By stripping away all forms of bindings or tethers and shaping boards specifically to be ridden without them, powsurf shapers have opened a portal to the most pure powder riding experience on Earth.
Surfing did employ bindings for a small sliver of its 3,500-year history, for tow-ins, but ultimately the surf community would agree that using bindings and not paddling into your wave takes away from the core of the experience. Skateboarders never fell for bindings. But don’t hate the binding — those little gizmos helped bring our sport to an unfathomable level, and snowboarding is now undoubtedly one of the most awe-inspiring expressions of human creativity and athleticism. The thing is, bindings are not an absolute must for riding snow.
With the explosion of technical and competitive snowboarding in the last decade, now is when the powsurfers are the most relevant and most important for reconnecting us with the mountains. It reminds us of why we got hooked in the first place — the pure bliss of a good pow turn. Snowboarders, as a whole, are more experienced, wiser and further educated in backcountry protocols than ever. Our gear has never been nicer and accessing the backcountry has never been easier.
I joined forces with Jeremy Jensen of Grassroots Powsurfing, as well as Gray Thompson and Eric Messier of Warp Wave to embark on a two-week trip to Canada with all of this on the mind. The idea was to leave our snowboards at home and see what would happen if we just went on safari with powsurfs. Our first stop was The 10th Annual Greg Todds Memorial Noboarding Event held deep in the heart of Interior British Columbia. It’s a gathering to celebrate the life of a man who dedicated himself to riding boards without bindings until he lost his life in an avalanche, doing what he loved. One weekend each winter, a passionate community of snowboarders gather in the mountains above Greg’s home to party, ride powder and race on bindingless boards. They come from around the world to celebrate not only Greg’s life, but the feeling of being in the mountains with your friends and riding powder. The first time I attended the event I was in awe.
Every truck or snowmobile in town had a few feet of snow on the hood and noboards or powsurfs on their racks. Almost 36 hours went by before I saw a lonely looking snowboard. At that moment, I realized that when you lose the bindings and experience the most naked form of riding powder, you will go to bed dreaming of how you can borrow, build or buy a board of your own to make more of those turns.
Gray and Eric had never rode powsurfs in good snow, and when they got to the bottom of their first lap their faces said it all. They were hooked and wanted to get back to the top as fast as possible. The learning curve isn’t steep if you have a basic snowboard skillset, which is what makes riding one such a revelation. The fundamentals translate quickly, but if you zig when you’re supposed to zag, you’re going to go flying. Reading snow and picking good lines is where the real learning curve is. Jeremy summed it up perfectly when he said, “The small becomes big, and the big becomes huge. We get to perceive and experience terrain in a whole new way. When you ride a line from top to bottom without falling and step off your board, the addiction takes hold.”
With the bar set so high in snowboarding, powsurfing is refreshing because its evolution is just getting started.
We meandered around BC testing Jeremy’s boards, making new friends and trying to get in as many turns in as possible. The sun made only two or three appearances over the course of our two-week trip and it didn’t matter. We tomahawked off our boards and got our sleds stuck, we didn’t shower and we didn’t care. We never made it to the local hot springs. The promise of such was how I actually got Eric to pull the trigger and make the trek to Canada, but we were too tired from riding to worry.
Each binding-free pow turn we made was worth every mile we drove to get there. One of the best parts of the experience came after the fact. Making all those powsurf turns made us look at our snowboards, and their bindings, with a renewed sense of admiration and respect. The thought that anything would be possible if we were strapped to our snowboards was alive again, and all was right in the mountains and our minds.
We returned home with a new appreciation for every aspect of being a snowboarder. No drones went airborne, nobody went upside down twice — at least intentionally — and nobody was judging us. The playing field was leveled among everyone; we were all just surfing. Sometimes, all we need is a little reminder that the most beautiful thing about snowboarding is that it is what you make it, and you don’t have to make it complicated.
Powsurf Safari is an excerpt from the new Warp Wave film, “A Place Called Kookabunga” releasing in October. Stay tuned!
Originally featured in Snowboard Magazine 12.1: The Product Collection
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