Words by: Justin Lamoureux | Photos by: Phil Tifo
My whole life I’ve been a wee bit of a builder and have always loved taking things apart and building them again. This led me to study mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo. At Waterloo I was able to convince the dean to allow me to change my school program to include 4 months of snowboarding between my classes and work terms. With the idea of designing/making snowboards one day, my work terms were selected to help that goal. Once my classes were done, my snowboard career took hold of my life and engineering took a back seat. Being a pro rider and going to the Olympics were my main objectives and most of my energy was directed at achieving those goals. My design ideas were funneled to my sponsors by working with their engineers and designers but it was never quite the same as doing it myself. However, all of the above gave me a really good base knowledge of the engineering involved and the design process for creating products in the snowboard/outdoor industry.
As I began to phase out of my competitive career, an opportunity came along to work at K2 Snowboards as the design engineer. Basically my job oversaw all of the snowboard design and production at K2. From designing the shapes, picking materials, R&D, testing, dealing with the artists, production and working with the factory in china. There was a really good team at K2 and I’m very proud of the boards I was able to design and produce while there. It was an amazing experience and huge learning opportunity.
Working at K2 got me absolutely hooked on riding my own product. Since leaving I’ve wanted to have a snowboard press in my house so I could continue to push snowboard design through my own creations. Last year, my friend Mike Dorset allowed me to rig my setup into his press and showed me some of the ‘garage’ techniques he had learned. Obviously, K2 has access to all the best machinery while building boards in your house is a little different. However, with some ideas from Mike and my own woodworking and building skills I was able to create equivalent processes.
This summer, that same press became mine and this fall has been spent rebuilding the press to my specifications. Now the press is finished enough to make some boards again, with further modifications happening as new parts come in.
There’s quite a bit of effort that goes into building a board from start to finish. While my boards are built to industry standard, I’m able to customize boards way more than I could in a production environment. There’s a huge amount of creative freedom. My ideas aren’t really limited by anything other than my desire to chase after them.
Building a board starts on the computer. CAD models are created to design the outline of the board shape, profile and camber line. Then it’s off to a CNC mill to create some of the needed parts. While that is happening I’ll be hand making the cores in the shop using a variety of wood species.
The core consumes the biggest chunk of time in creating a board. It’s the single biggest part to a snowboard and really determines how that board will ride and react. My cores are individually hand tuned and shaped to create the ride I’m looking for.
A lot of thought also goes into selecting the materials (fiberglass, carbon fiber, ‘green’ epoxy, etc) and customizing the stance options to minimize inserts and weight. Overall it will take 10-20 hours to build a board.
Trying a new process, press modification or new materials is always stressful. Putting the board in the press is equivalent to putting a cake in the oven and when it doesn’t work, all the previous effort is wasted. There’s definitely been some errors but overall all the boards have been coming out really good.
I’ve been riding my ‘garage’ boards for a year and can say they’re the best boards I’ve ever ridden. All my boards go through a similar evaluation process that I used while at K2 in an effort to eliminate the natural bias that exists from building your own product. If a product is good or bad I go straight home and start making notes as to what worked and what didn’t and use that information to push my designs further. Being the engineer, builder and tester really quickens the design process.
Having a snowboard company has always been a dream of mine, so with the purchase of the press I’ve been moving along in creating Spline Snowboards. In addition to my personal boards (so far) I’ve also created some custom boards for friends competing on the world circuit.
I’ve always strived to evolve my snowboarding and Spline is that next step. If Spline works and I get to help create thousands of smiles and laughs, amazing. And if it doesn’t, I still have a press in my house and still get to ride my own boards.