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Monday, March 8, 2010
Updated: June 11, 7:04 PM ET
Surfing the Earth on bamboo boards


Taro Tamai is definitely thinking outside the twin tip with these designs.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a new, throwback company, Powder Jets, making high-performance wooden snowboards in Vermont. It turns out that all the way on the other side of the world -- on an island off the Japanese mainland renown for deep, dry powder -- the wooden snowboard gospel is also being spoken, albeit in a different language.

Based in Hokkaido, Gentemstick is a boutique snowboard brand based on the idea of surfing the mountains, with attention to craftsmanship and classic, lasting details.

"Shoddy boards made out of mass-production without soul or spirit started to appear in the 90s," says Taro Tamai Gentemstick founder. "Snowboards became one industrial product in a mass-produce/mass-retail system -- uniform design induced uniform riding style and forced people to ride Alaska's steep slopes or the resort groomers on similar boards."

Gentemstick makesf high-quality boards that fuse existing technology with original designs and ideas. What draws Gentemstick into the Powder Jets fold is the use of wood in board construction, but what's different is that Gentemstick boards have edges and P-tex bases. Under the Taro Tamai Snowsurf Design label they're offering four made-to-order boards ranging in size from the short and swallow-tailed 145 cm, Rocket Fish to the blunt-nosed 159 cm Giant Mantaray. All these boards feature bamboo/wood cores, bamboo topsheets and sidewalls.

When surfing, one earns great power from nature by unifying with the wave. Board design must fit the mountain, snow and terrain that one is aiming to ride. That is what is crucially important...

Like an experienced wave rider, Tamai espouses Rocket Fish as part of a quiver: "When surfing, one earns great power from nature by unifying with the wave. Board design must fit the mountain, snow and terrain that one is aiming to ride. That is what is crucially important in order to achieve the same feeling to surfing, as an act experienced in nature."

At 128,000 Yen (1,389 US Dollars), it's not cheap to surf the earth on one of these rides, let alone a whole quiver. And apparently, it's kind of high-maintenance also. The Web site actually instructs buyers on the nuances of treating these bamboo boards right: "To use it forever, we recommend the following: After use, wipe off the moisture, do not put it directly [in] the sun, keep it in the place where ventilation is good. Keep it as dried always."

But what the Gentemsticks might lack in practicality they more than make up for in quality and creativity. Check out this video of what looks like a mid-90's Bear Mountain snake run that turns into a skate-inspired bowl, being sessioned by dudes on swallowtail Gentemstick boards. The hook in all this is an obvious comparison to our sport's roots in the turns and glides of shredding the waves: if surfing has long prospered from the innovations of quirky, customizing garage-shapers, why can't snowboarding?

Surfers have been building quivers for ages. Why shouldn't snowboarders do the same?