The new sport of Noboarding
I had seen them before. They were The Bobs, though I didnt know that yet.They were local celebrities, really, but local celebrities of a peculiar sort; for although many of my friends could recall having seen them or met them on the slopes having, by the way, what appeared to be way more fun than anyone else nobody seemed to remember their names.Thats because Bob Candler and Bob Ryan arent famous for who they are (long-time locals, each of them) or what they do (build houses when not out riding). No, The Bobs are famous for what they ride on the slopes the Noboard.A clear, polycarbonate snowboard (think Lexan without the brand name), the Noboard is the brainchild of Bob Candler, who tinkered around in his garage carving out plastic snowboards with power tools in a quest to build a friendlier and more aesthetic carving tool.Inspired by surfboard shapers and spurred on by the disbelief, at first, and later the enthusiasm of his cousin, Bob Ryan, Candler has spent the last 14 years perfecting his design of the Noboard, while also blowing the minds of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes around Tahoe.I first started out with Acrylic, and you couldnt bend it, you couldnt do anything with it. That stuff was incredibly fragile, and it just didnt work, Candler said. Then I found this polycarbonate and started playing with it. It was heavy and dense; it was made to be a window in an office building; they make bulletproof limo glass out of it; canopies for jet planes Polycarbonate has been around for a long time and its very indestructible stuff, but nobody took it and made a ride out of it.So I found a very heavy sheet and I concocted this Fred Flintstone madness in my garage over a period of time since 1992, when I first came up with the idea. So I go down this long road of trial and error and finally come up with a method to make it look like a snowboard at least.
From afar, the Noboard does resemble a normal snowboard, albeit clear. But when you take a closer look you notice that it has a lot more visible character built into the design. For one thing, the thing has camber in spades to allow the flexible material to carve, according to Candler. In addition, the bottom of the board has subtle channels and ridges, which give the board a unique feel on the snow, Candler said.The whole goal was to have a snowboard thats dimensional – with a bottom thats not flat and lifeless. When you ride [conventional snowboards] theyre so thin and razorlike, there was no soul to the thing. In surfing, the board is thick and theres a whole art to the shaping of surfboards that didnt exist in snowboards. So I said Why not shape a snowboard?The final design anomaly, and the one that gets the most questions from gawkers, is the addition of two holes in the tail of the board that function to allow snow to shoot through them, making the board turn well in powder and creating an impressive rooster tail in all conditions.All those features mean, Youre surfing the snow for the first time ever, according to Candler.A regular board repels you – its stiff and its lifeless and it doesnt want to give. And you want to be hydraulic and give with the terrain, but the [traditional] board doesnt, so youre fighting that all the time. And youre really not edging better because your edge is so stiff that its fighting the terrain all the time and really only grabbing at certain places. Whereas this [the Noboard] just goes with the terrain, and it torques and it bends, and you get into sick wheelies and sick carving positions, and you throw your arms up and all of a sudden youre Kelly Slater out there on the snow. Its something youve got to try.And while Candler is only too happy to talk about the capabilities of the Noboard until the lifts have stopped turning, its his cousin Bob Ryan who proves his points on the snow, bending his board and playing with the natural terrain in ways that riders on traditional snowboards could never do.
Bob Ryan, the man who invited me to join them for a day of Noboarding at Squaw Valley in late February, admitted to me that he had his doubts initially about whether the Noboard would be rideable:I was his biggest skeptic. And I think that was part of his drive – to prove me wrong and make me a believer. I was sold on Burton – I had a Burton board, I was all about Burton… I was like I dont want to ride that Noboard unless I can go as fast, carve as hard, jump as high And the first prototype was so rough, it wasnt like a real schralping, carving snowboard. But we rode it on the back hills of Tahoe Donner, and it worked. And as the boards got better, it just got more and more fun, and the experiment has just gotten better over the years as we figure out what the board can do. It can do way more than I ever thought it could. I feel like Im surfing.I have to admit that I was as skeptical as anyone when Bob Ryan first offered to let me ride one of the Noboards with them.Sure it might work in powder, I thought, but would I be able to hold an edge on hardpack? Would it be stable at speed? As much fun as my normal snowboard? And what would I tell all the skiers and riders in the lift lines who wanted to know everything about the board?But, eager to see what the Noboard felt like underfoot, I gave it a try, and had one of the best days of riding Ive had all season. Not only did the Noboard perform well it held an edge better than my regular board thanks to the fact that you can sharpen the polycarbonate edges just like you would steel (something I am always too lazy to do) and carve sweet turns on any terrain, but riding it with The Bobs was like taking a trip back in time to when everyone on the hill was friendly and said hello to you. In every lift line wed get 10 to 20 questions from curious people wanting to know more about the Noboards. And The Bobs were only too happy to answer all their questions and hand out stickers and cards.I never get tired of telling the story because I love the smiles on everybodys faces, Candler said. Theres not a lot that lights people up anymore. They come out here with all their equipment, and theyve spent all this money and theyre just kind of gloomy and nobody is talking. Then all of a sudden they start asking questions and just light up over the whole idea [of the Noboard].In fact, we never rode a chairlift in silence all day, and The Bobs left Squaw that afternoon with at least 50 new friends.
Despite the successful prototypes and the grassroots publicity The Bobs are generating on the slopes every day, Candler isnt sure if the Noboard will ever become a commercial product.According to Ryan, they went to the big Snow Sports Industries Trade Show about six years ago and approached the folks at Burton and other companies about the Noboard, but didnt get any interest.They are so invested in the way things are: Their factories are huge, the money that they have invested in doing things the way they are normally done is huge And the Noboard would take them in a totally new direction: different factories, one material. So you could see why that would bother them, Candler said.And because of the amount of time it takes to make one board described by Candler as like sculpting marble its doubtful that Noboards will be available to anyone outside of Candlers family for a while. (Unless youre Jeremy Jones, for whom Candler made a Noboard in appreciation for his contributions to the sport of snowboarding.)But that doesnt stop The Bobs from riding Squaw as much as they can and spreading the gospel of Noboarding.
When my day on the Noboard was up and we were back at Bob Candlers truck, I realized that all of my questions about the Noboard had been answered on the slopes. Yes, it performed like a regular snowboard, with some differences. Yes, it was stable at speed. Yes, it was just as much fun as a regular board, maybe more so. And yes, we were asked a thousand questions about the boards throughout the day.But I had one final question for Bob and Bob that was left unanswered:When are you going to make me one?
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