In 1965, a Michigan-based engineer by the name of Sherman Poppen had fastened two ski’s together in an effort to make a sliding-style plank for his daughters. Little did he know at that time that he had just sparked an entire industry into creation – an industry that would blow up into one of the most stylized and prolific sports in the world.
It only took three decades for snowboarding to make it into the Olympics as a winter favorite and, today, the scene looks far different than it did yesterday. Snowboarding is as prominent as ever and continues to see revolution after revolution as it expands to capture more hearts every year.
And, at the very heart of this sport itself, is a hyper-enthusiastic fan base that pushes the limits of its evolution every season. An ironic, but powerful, example is that of splitboards, which have rekindled Sherman Poppen’s design under a modern context – a snowboard comprising of two ski-style components, encapsulating the need for riders to push boundaries and stray off beaten trails.
The dynamic and ever-changing nature of snowboarding demands that companies within the industry also remain just as dynamic. One such company, Korua Shapes, stands at the forefront of seemingly-rebellious board construction, aesthetic reverence, and a full-on enjoyment of this thriving lifestyle.
I had the opportunity to ask CEO Nicholas Wolken a handful of questions about the Korua philosophy - the vision behind the brand he had created and the need to break free from tradition and expectation.
Q: The Dart is one of your most iconic boards. A blend of retro and modern design, it's exceptionally versatile in that it's effective both on and off groomed slopes. How would you say the Dart’s design goes beyond the typical snowboard to exemplify the Korua Shapes philosophy?
A: Well I guess you mentioned it already - I believe that most of our boards are more versatile and focused on improving the actual riding we do most, which is turning on groomers and in powder.
Q: Korua offers some of the lightest split-boards on the market - how important do you think split-boards have been to the overall world of snowboarding? It seems that every sport naturally evolves as participants look to push the boundaries further and further, and to ride off the beaten path - how vital you think it is for companies to both stay ahead of these demands and to accommodate this passion for innovation and evolution?
A: I think split-boarding still is a niche within a niche of snowboarding but it's growing, and I think the older we get and the more aware of the current climate issues we are, the more people, like myself, will be drawn to low impact quality turns over mass tourism quantity.
If you are a snowboard brand and passionate about it, you will automatically try and build a better product because you'll want to improve the customers experience along with your own.
I think innovation is becoming more vital now that the overall snow market is getting smaller, however, it creates opportunities for smaller dedicated brands like ourselves.
Q: Two elemental aspects of the Korua Shapes philosophy is that of aesthetics and enjoyment - why do you think style and fun play such a large role and attract so many new riders? Is there something about innovative design that you see going beyond the mere necessity to capture attention?
A: Well, personally I feel a product or design is at its best and most appealing, when it offers everything you need but nothing more. We are about building out of the box shapes that offer a new experience, so we manage to do that in a way where there is no need for a flashy graphic design.
Funny enough, having almost no graphics on the boards has worked really well for us, as the boards are all the more recognizable from a far distance due to their shape.
Q: You guys are affiliated with 1% for the Planet - a global organization that leads a network of sustainability-focused initiatives. This is a growing trend that we're seeing across the board with innumerable outdoor lifestyle and sporting equipment companies - to donate a portion of sales towards environmentally-friendly initiatives. How does Korua stay true to minimizing its own environmental impact and, going forward, are there any other plans or initiatives in place to contribute to a greener future?
A: Snowboarding is a dirty business, even if your board has eco written all over. We joined 1% because I think it is a honest way of giving back and has a bigger impact, because it supports NGO's who know what they are doing and are actually doing something about the problem.
However, we are also using eco-friendlier materials, but I think it's important to know that most of the emissions come from the production process even if you are using eco-friendlier materials, so if you really want to ride greener and have less of a footprint, it's important to produce a lasting product which can be taken care of, fixed, or given to someone who will keep it in use. We don’t change our graphics like most brands in part to prevent people from feeling like their product is outdated just because the graphics are outdated.
Q: Korua also features a short film outlet called Yearning and Turning which is meant to encapsulate the best moments and memories made throughout the seasons - why do you think it's crucial to build such excitement and focus on the intangibles of the sport - to create this need for reflection, reverence and awe? How do you think this particularly attracts and captivates riders?
A: Personally, a big part of it is just plain fun. I mean most of the time we really have a blast producing these videos and getting creative. From a brand perspective, it's a good way to show what we're about and reach other snowboarders. I was always more drawn to snowboarding - which I could relate to. For example, in the early days it was the tricks that were in my reach which I felt comfortable to go out and try the next day and, in a way, be part of something. Most of our crew are not professional riders, but have steady jobs, so basically we are just some friends going out to have a blast. I think this resonates with many viewers.
Q: In the design of your boards, there's another attitude that seems to resemble that of the riders sentimentality - to experiment and play free from restrictions. How does Korua do this itself in the industry and, going forward, are there any new and innovative designs or projects that you’re excited to introduce?