The Powsurf Chronicles
There is a growing movement in the backcountry scene to ditch the bindings on snowboards and take the art of surfing the great white mountain wave back to its roots. Jeremy Jensen of Grassroots Powdersurfing has plenty to say about the benefits of stripping down the sideways snow sliding pursuit to its most basic elements, and is outspoken about what direction the sport should go. We sat him down for a conversation about straps, roots, and the connection powsurfing has to those "other" action sports.
ESPN: When did you come up with the episode series idea?
Jeremy Jensen: I've been thinking about doing this for a couple of years. Most of the world doesn't know what powdersurfing is -- it is often mistaken for NoBoarding. I debated creating a full-length film but decided shorts would be a better way to showcase the differences. Many people don't have time to sit through a long video so I think short films will help get the word out. Episodes will drop every month and a half or so throughout the winter.
How is powdersurfing different from NoBoarding?
We don't use any ropes to hold the board to your feet like they do with NoBoarding. You don't need them. Gravity works just fine. Rather than riding a snowboard that was designed to be ridden with bindings, our boards are designed to be bindingless from the beginning, and I think that makes a big difference.
Was the series hard to film?
It's very difficult to get good shots of tricks because the more times you try a trick, the harder it becomes. It's not like snowboarding or skateboarding where you can try the trick over and over until you get it. You basically get one or two good tries at it before the takeoff is too packed out or the landing is bombed out.
Every try is different, once the feature has been hit for the first time, the takeoff has changed, and after a few tries the takeoff is no longer useable. Your best shot at landing a trick is actually the first try, and it is really difficult to make an accurate guess at trajectory, pop, and timing having not even hit the feature before.
I see a 360 flip in there. Are there other bangers that will likely turn people's heads?
Last season we rode a lot of bigger mountain stuff. It snowed non-stop in Utah, so we didn't get many bluebird days to film tricks. When the sun did pop we were so excited to get out and slash lines that we didn't find ourselves sessioning as many freestyle features.
How much do you see the pow surf concept as getting back to the "roots" of the sport?
With powdersurfing you are not strapped to the board so you are actually riding a board as it rides the mountain, similar to a surfer riding a board that is riding a wave. It mimicks the whole "surf the snow" idea that was perhaps the motivation behind snowboarding in the first place. When you ride with a board attached to your feet it is acting as an extension of your body, so in a way you are not really "riding the board" in a literal sense as you are with surfing, skateboarding, and powdersurfing.
Do you see the development of bindings as having changed the original course of snowboarding, then?
Not being connected to the board demands much more attention, experience, balance, and skill. I think that was what snowboarding was trying to in the first place, but bindings came along to make it easier for people to have control in non-ideal conditions, and to bring snowboarding to the masses and into the ski resorts. This changed everything. Powdersurfing takes you back to the days before the development of bindings and more truly satisfies the desire to actually "surf" the snow.
And it seems like you can only really powder surf in power, which it seem is similar to surfing.
Yeah. Powsurfing is getting back to the roots in that it happens where snowboarding started: in the powder. And it is isolated to certain environments, just like surfing. There are only so many places on this earth that you can surf. The conditions have to be right and you have to work to catch waves. Surfing thrived like this for centuries until recent history when standing waves were invented and wake surfing came into play.
I think most surfers will agree that standing waves (flowriders) and wake surfing just don't compare to the real thing. The same can be said for snowboarding. Riding in powder and natural terrain is what it is all about. Hard pack, man-made snow, and parks are just cheap imitations of the real thing.
What is at stake, if anything, with people tapping into a more stripped-down snowboard experience?
I think progression like we have never seen is at stake. By taking the bindings out of the equation you open up endless possibilities. Smaller terrain becomes more fun and the bigger terrain becomes much more intimidating. Consequence is higher, everything becomes more challenging and there is more room for individual expression.
What is next on your pow surfing list in terms of tricks or terrain?
The list is long. I'm just waiting for the right features that lend themselves to certain tricks. I have a whole list of flip tricks I want to try to nail. Kickflips off of cliffs, methods, 360s, bigger airs, bigger cliffs… Like I said, the possibilities for progression are endless.