It’s getting close to that time of year again. SNOWBOARD SEASON!!!!! Yeah! Woooo! YES!! AWESOME!!!
If you’re thinking of not snowboarding this winter, you should come over to my house so I can SLAP YOU IN THE FACE!!!!
In all seriousness, boarding is wicked and it’s something incredible to experience in Japan. Learning here is not a problem as pretty much everyone boards and there are a plethora of sempais waiting to teach you, and get this, they all teach for a living, so they must be good! Lucky you!! This is a good way to get out in the winter during those months where everything seems to get a bit more difficult to deal with. If you’re from an area where snow isn’t common, don’t fear it, make it fun and come out and board (or be lame and ski, hi Robin!). If you’re not sporty and you’re thinking, there’s no way I could ever snowboard, you’re totally wrong. At least half of the boarders that go every weekend started out like that, especially the girls. I’d even venture to say that as far as skill level goes, there are more girls at the high end of the scale than there are guys.
I’ll aim to make this article something for everyone of all skill levels to read. Obviously barring Ian, Justin and Rich Estey, cuz they are all as good (sometimes Estey) or better (Ian and Justin) than I am.
So, if you’re just starting you need a board. First and foremost, you should know that you get what you pay for. Be it a 2nd hand shop, Xebio, or the internet, if you spend 10,000 yen on a board, boots and bindings you either just got the deal of the century or you’re the owner of a brand new basement brand board. And that’s fine. The beautiful thing about snowboarding is that once you own everything, it’s easy to level up. If you like your board, but think you want new bindings, you can easily buy higher quality bindings and replace your crappy ones. But realize that if you do get into snowboarding and you stay longer than a year, you’re going to want to upgrade. Below are 2 guides to buying a snowboard. And I know you’re thinking, I just wanna board and I don’t care about all of this. But boarding is something that you should learn a little bit about. (Dear upper year boarders…go and read these, cuz I know you’re looking at upgrading seeing as last year you went out and bought a piece of crap and now you realize you should probably get something better-I’m looking at you Vinnie).
Sidebar #1: If you’re just starting, don’t buy a top of the line board. You are gonna go out there and most likely fuck that board up! And this is why I said above that going cheap isn’t that bad of an idea.
If you’re not going to read those guides, here are some basics you should know.
- A board should come between your chin and nose, for first time boarders.
- You do not want an alpine board. Maybe you do, but you probably want a freestyle, freeride or all-mountain board.
- You want your binding angle (how you position your feet) set to duck foot, angled at roughly 15 to 30 degrees for your front foot and -10 to -15 degrees for your back foot. You can mess with this to see what’s most comfortable for you, but I’d recommend duck foot.
- The longer the board the faster you go, but you give up maneuverability
- A stiff board gets you speed, a flexible board gets you, flexibility (think tricks).
- Buying bindings is simple. The better they look, the better they are. Bindings that are flimsy pieces of plastic ARE FLIMSY PIECES OF PLASTIC. Big, thick bindings that look like they give stability and are more expensive…give more stability and are better.
All of the above things don’t completely matter when you’re learning, but there is a difference after you’ve learned how to go down the hill. When you are starting to look at boards, grab a sempai boarder and make them go with you, even if you’re going to a 2nd hand shop. Be weary of gigantic scratches on the bottom of boards.
Sidebar #2: I should bring up at this point that buying a board from a JET is never a bad idea. Generally you’re not getting ripped off and you’re getting a fairly decent board. For me, I wouldn’t do this, but that’s cuz I love the whole “new board” thing. Every scratch and divot is something I did. I’ll always remember that time I ran into a tree, because there’s a scratch from it right on the nose of my board.
You should also figure out your stance meaning if you’re regular or goofy. As in, are you a regular person (myself) or a goofy person (Hi Yoshida!). This is easy if you’ve skateboarded or surfed before. Which foot did you lead with? Left foot forward is regular, right foot forward is goofy and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you have difficulty figuring out which foot to lead with, think about running at a freshly polished hardwood floor with socks on. Which foot would you lead with to slide across it Tom cruise style? That’s the foot you should lead with for boarding. But if you get out there and it feels weird, screw it and go the other way.
A little note about stance width (the distance between your bindings), as a general rule, most people make it the distance from their knee to their ankle or the bottom of their foot. Once again, this is totally adjustable.
Boots are the most important part of snowboarding. DO NOT SCREW AROUND WITH THESE. If they’re too big, your foot is going to come out or slide around while you careen down the hill at break neck speeds. If they’re too small, you’re going to mash your toes every time you make a turn. If you plan on skimping on everything, that’s fine, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD don’t screw around with your boots. Laces or the high tech “speed lace system” are both good. Whatever you feel comfortable with, go with that. I have the “speed lace system” and I like it. But, like I said, it is whatever feels good for you. Here’s a little read for buying boots.
I’d probably recommend Xebio over all other possible routes, just because you get a year warranty with any board you purchase, meaning if it de-laminates or anything, then they’ll fix it for free. They will not fix anything YOU do to it. So if you smash into a tree and it breaks in half…well, that’s your own fault. As well, they offer board + bindings and board + bindings + boots deals. These range from 25,000 yen to 125,000 yen. Now, generally the boards go down in price as the season wears on. So, if you’re going away for Christmas break, it may be better to wait and buy a board in January, but that means you’ll miss late November/early December boarding.
As far as pants, jackets, gloves, goggles, hats (toques – what up Canadians?) etc. I’d recommend going cheap. If you’re gonna spend extra money, spend it on stuff that matters (read: board, boots and bindings), not on how you look. You can spend anywhere from 10,000 to 400 billion yen to gear up. Goggles matter the most out of all of this and I would recommend orange ones as they’re the most versatile, even though they don’t look the coolest. Maybe look into buying these at an actual ski area, I find they offer a better selection and lower prices than Xebio does.
If you are gonna go all out, be ridiculous. It is Japan and I guarantee when you get out there you’ll think, damn, why didn’t I buy those pink and purple pants with the turquoise lines? Japanese fashion is the craziest on the mountain. I guarantee it.
In the end, the rule for all of this is comfort. If it feels weird, change it and see if you can make it feel better. If duck stance feels weird, go to a downhill stance. If goofy feels weird, ride regular. Caution: the above are just my own personal observations on snowboarding and what I have told people over the years. This is not gospel. For everything I’ve said above there is a counter argument as to why that view is totally wrong.
All of it may seem like a lot, but, the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy your time on the slopes. Every area has AT LEAST one or two sempais that live to board. I’m not gonna name them here, cuz I’ll forget someone and then get in trouble. Seek them out, tell them you want to board and then they should be more than happy to help sort you out. If not, gimme a shout either on my cell or to my email…or in the comments below and I’ll try to help you out the best I can.
If you’re up in the air about if you’re going to board or not, read the following parts to this, specifically the approaches to/expectations of learning section and please don’t feel pressured into buying a board just yet. You can always rent gear until you know that you’re into it.
Different ski-jos and passes
How to approach learning and teaching/Boarding tips in general.
Here’s a little video on how not to do a 180 brought to you by the one and only Grant Jenkins.