Surfing powder is nothing new, but custom parks bringing the waves to the mountain is the latest craze. Enter the Surf Ride culture. The trend is rooted in surfing and a definite wave goodbye to the extreme snowboarding scene. The surf riding style can be categorized as fun, yet safe and easily approachable, for surfers and those of us considered more “young at heart.”
Innovative park designer Soichiro “Ichigo” Tanaka, has been riding as a professional snowboarder for more than 10 years and began pioneering “Surf Ride” culture in 2004.
“The idea was a result of the snowboard scene in Japan becoming too difficult for the average snowboarder to follow,” says Ichigo. “The image of snowboarding being imported into Japan by DVDs and magazines is strictly backcountry, cliff jumping, rails and/or endless rotary tricks in the halfpipe.”
These styles are awesome but, unfortunately, only a select few snowboarders can successfully complete tricks such as the “Kass Roll” made famous by U.S. Olympian Danny Kass. Without innate skills or extensive hours of practice, these disciplines of snowboarding can be too extreme, pushing people toward other sports more naturally within their limitations.
Another problem is for the ageing snowboarder. Indeed it is fairly common to find that retro grandpa zipping by on a pair of skis, but there are few sightings of him weaving down the hill on a snowboard. Hats off to my father, the only older lone warrior I have ever witnessed courageously hitting the bunny slope on his rental board.
According to Ichigo, snowboarding has progressed into an excessively extreme sport. “The original professional snowboarders on the scene 15 years ago have now grown up and can no longer perform those wild stunts.”
Until recently, snowboarding has been overly focused on the halfpipe, big air and backcountry, yet the Surf Ride culture is the latest transition to enjoying snowboarding in a relaxed, safe and totally fun environment. In collaboration with two resorts in Japan, Ichigo has designed and built Surf Ride Parks based on the terrain of these two resorts. It is here where riders can easily join this new, simple yet expressive, trend. There is no additional cost to enter the parks and it is open to any skiers and snowboarders alike.
The original Surf Ride Park at Kawaba Ski Resort in Gunma Prefecture made its debut three seasons ago. Dynaland in Gifu Prefecture followed suit and will be entering its second season this coming winter. At Kawaba, the Surf Ride Park covers the entire length of the trail.
Snowboarders can play freely and create individual lines on the inverted walls and various bowls. The park also covers an extensive area that allows for a combination of lines to be drawn run after run.
The Surf Ride Park at Dynaland Resort is constructed in the shape of a halfpipe, yet the walls are lower and the width is narrower. The pipe is designed in a more playful shape. The walls can also be ridden continuously along one side, unlike riding a traditional pipe, which involves moving back and forth and hitting one wall at a time. In the middle of the halfpipe is a small section of bumps to glide over freely or hit with speed for some air time. The sidewalls of these bumps can also be slashed whenever desired for some more action.
For surfers who in Japan notoriously avoid the mountain and head to the warmer waters of Hawaii and Australia during the winter, these parks give the freedom to surf in the snow. Japanese professional surfer Hayato Maki rode the Surf Ride Park in Kawaba in early 2008. A surfer first and foremost, Hayato has become a big fan of the Surf Ride Park movement.
“They are super fun; just like surfing,” says Hayato. “Usual snowboard parks have quarter pipes, steep half pipes and rails, so you can’t really use a surf style in them.”
Surf/snowboarders tend to see the mountain in a different light; always looking for natural snow walls to lay down big surf-style carves and spraying powder out of a turn just like they would on a wave.
For a surfer, the traditional snow park is somewhat daunting, always carrying the high risk of injury. Surf Ride Parks, with their long wave-like walls, allow surfers to mimic surfing actions, whether it is a big bottom turn to slash off the top, carving up the face or just cruising down the line.
“When I am snowboarding, in my mind I am surfing”, says Hayato. “I see the snow walls as waves. These parks are so much easier to ride, for anyone. I think more surfers will want to get out there and try them. They are so much fun.”
Surf the waves or surf the snow. It is all about expression and having fun in nature. The Surf Ride style doesn’t push us beyond our abilities; it jives with the snowy terrain and lets us glide freely. It is a fun and accessible snow culture, yet can challenge all levels of snow sport enthusiasts. So, go enjoy the mountain waves.
SURF RIDE PARKS IN JAPAN
Kawaba Ski Resort
Address: Kawaba Kogen, Kawaba-Mura, Tone-gun, Gunma Prefecture 378-010
Tel: (0278) 52-3345
Dynaland Ski Resort
Address: 3035-2 Nishibora, Takasu-cho, Gujo-shi, Gifu Prefecture 501-5305
Tel: (0575) 72-6636