Shaping the future
Wolle Nyvelt surfs the Earth. Sometimes he's dropping in on the sea, or a sidewalk, but most times he's slashing down the mountain. Make no mistake: he might be on snow, but he's surfing. If you haven't seen what Nyvelt is doing on the hand-shaped planks he calls "Powsurfers" yet, trip on this.
You can check Nyvelt's binding-less snow-surf style in two movies this year. Absinthe's "NowHere" and Volcom's Gigi Rüf biopic "9191." Rüf says he was blown away watching Nyvelt surf pow in AK last season, calling it "an intimidating look into the future." The always-modest Nyvelt was quick to dismiss Rüf's comment, saying, "I don't think [Powsurfers] are intimidating, especially not for a guy with as much talent as Gigi." Nyvelt is currently ramping up operations at the Asmo headquarters in Austria. The factory where he designs and builds all the boards was recently relocated from his garage into a "bigger garage." Nyvelt says he's shaping more than ever and, in turn, surfing more pow than ever. Last season he estimates he rode his Powsurfer some 20 days.
Here's what else he had to say:
ESPN.com: What originally sparked your interest in riding without bindings?
Wolle Nyvelt: The start of it all was when Salomon came out with the powder snowskate. I worked close with Riton from Salomon in tuning the boards and top decks. I got into doing my own concrete molds in my garage to [make] wider top decks for it. After a couple years I was looking at old boards, like old Wintersticks and so on, more and more, thinking those shapes would work super good in pow still. Also it was the time when more and more surf-influenced shapes in snowboarding came out, like the Sick Stick from Salomon. I talked to my good friend Steve Gruber here and we started rebuilding my garage in to a little workshop, basically just killing time in the summer waiting for the snow!
We were just trying out weird shapes, learning about the roots of snowboarding, and in that case surfing as well. There are so many different shapes you can do, but these days [snowboard shapes have] to make sense for a lot of different conditions and needs to sell good. We had nothing like that in mind, so we had complete freedom!
When did you first start building boards?
I think it was December 2007 [that] we finished the first Powsurfer. I brought it to Nelson, B.C. and paid a couple hundred bucks overweight for the flight. It had a nice shape, but was way to wide and heavy. I only did one mellow tree run on it up in Baldface. It wasn't great, but it worked and I felt what we had to change [it] to make this thing ride. The next Powsurfer was still not perfect, but the third had a sick shape -- it's the one from Optimistic.
And how did you and Gruber learn the process, was it just a lot of trial and error?
We went to a technical school, which helped, but it was learning by doing. We built like 30 different shapes in two months and picked the six best ones. That was pretty much the best time!
Where do you get inspiration for your shapes?
Of course surfing is a big part and the early days of snowboarding where everything was so surf influenced. Like Winterstick you know, or any other brand. Now I just check out Richard Kenvin's blog, hydrodynamica a lot to learn from surfing. Also skateboarding is really important, because we want to make shapes that you can do good tricks with. It's about building a quiver -- a Powsurfer is a good addition to your regular snowboard quiver, surfboard and skateboard. What's the draw? Why build your own boards?
It's just fun, and it's a good way to spend your time waiting for snow. I like how there are shapers in surfing. It's just so custom made, very specialized for a person's needs. Also surfboards are available all the time. You don't have to wait for the next tradeshow or season when new boards hit the shop. Here, we are just free to do whatever and we don't need to be rational in shapes, which is the best.
Do you ever plan on producing them for the public, to sell them?
I don't know. We aren't doing it for the money, but there are a bunch of people who want them, so we will see. First we'll hook up our friends here and then we will see if people are interested or not.
Would you encourage other snowboarders to follow your line -- that is, remove the bindings and/or start building their own boards?
I think it's good to try different boards. It makes you a better snowboarder. I try to ride Salomon's Sick Stick a good amount of time to just get into turns. 90 percent of my time I ride my regular Grip 160, but for the rest and those special days its good to have some cool additions for your quiver.
Are Powsurfers really "the future," like Gigi says?
I don't care about the future really. Riding snow is a great thing, like riding waves. We have all the freedom, so ride whatever board. To me it's just important to go sideways and once in a while ride without bindings and find something new and fun!