Alternative Camber; An Idea Who’s Time has Come- Again

A couple of weeks ago, I was paging through Transworld Snowboarding’s Gear Guide, and I came upon the page on alternative camber. I read it with interest to try and keep with the latest technological trends, but paused when I saw the illustration of the cambered medley snowboard.

Something about the cross section of the board, showing camber at both ends, jogged my memory. I went down to my garage, ventured into the storage space under the house, and came out with my dust covered Inca snowboard, circa, I want to say, 2000.
It’s a 157 and was called a dual camber but you know, it looks identical to the cambered medley profile pictured in the gear guide. Back when I actually rode the board (because I thought the technology worked for me which seemed like a pretty good reason), the reaction of people, at best, was tolerance and sometimes it ran to ridicule. Granted, the graphics were ugly. And entrepreneur Jerry Stubblefield, the founder of Avia, didn’t come with a lot of snowboard credibility or cool factor. But damn it, I thought the thing worked.
So I was a bit perplexed to read that in three years the gear guide had gone from 0 to 170 snowboards having some kind of alternative camber and that “…their sweeping popularity can be attributed to one thing: it can make snowboarding easier.”
To my untrained eye, it looked like the dual camber of 2000 was essentially the same as the cambered medley of 2009, but what did I know. I mean, obviously they must be different because everybody who knew anything about snowboarding seemed to hate it in 2000 and love it in 2009.
I thought I’d better call in an expert, so I reached Mike Olson at Mervin Manufacturing. Mike has been designing and building snowboards for multiple decades, and it was the Mervin designs that lead and are leading the alternative camber charge.
I love talking with Mike and need to find more reasons to call him. Our nearly hour long conversation ranged all over the snowboard and action sports business. It was part history lesson, part standup comic routine, part “how to” guide for entrepreneurs and from time to time we actually got around to talking about the technology of camber, some of which went right over my head. Subtleties of materials and manufacturing that Mike takes for granted kind of escaped me as I tried to absorb it all. And of course the conversation tended to remind each of us of other topics, so we sort of careened from issue to issue.
Anyway, the bottom line is that Mike knows Jerry and has spoken with him on a number of occasions. If Lib Tech’s C2 Banana isn’t exactly the same as the Inca due to improvements in technology and materials, it’s certainly conceptually similar. According to Mike, “Inca has 2 huge cambers centered under each foot (which is what Gnu tried for a season in 1986) while we now have a giant rocker (Banana) between the feet with minute cambers out on the ends of the snowboard.”
But the clincher was when I described to Mike the complaints I got from people when I showed them the Inca and they (you know who you are) universally complained that it was too flexible. “Like a noodle,” as one industry insider put it as he trashed the concept.
“Of course it’s flexible,” says Mike. “That’s part of the cambered medley concept and without the flexibility, the construction wouldn’t work.”
Mike reports that Mervin’s sales have doubled from three years ago. 
I guess this is a cautionary tale about the dangers of stereotypes and preconceptions. If Mike Olson, who has been experimenting with alternative cambers for decades, had come out with as cambered medley snowboard in 2000, would it have been a big hit? Don’t know. But I’ll bet that no matter when Jerry Stubblefield came out with one (even without bad graphics) it wouldn’t have taken off no matter how good the technology.  Anybody want to claim we’re not in the fashion business? 
Just something to think about.        
2 replies
  1. Tonino
    Tonino says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I defiantly think there is something to be said about doing something and looking good when you do it, that does not mean we are in the fashion industry, it just means you need to be able to inspire. The problem with the Inca is when it first came out it was way too exaggerated and it was also a very different time for snowboarding. 2000 was the height of performance snowboarding in the sense of going fast and big on natural terrain. With the introduction of multiple styles of snowboard parks at the same resort things are going to progress and evolve. Jerry didn’t have a bad idea, just bad timing. I’m sure Mike has ran into similar problems over the years.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Tonino,
      I think you and I are probably in violent agreement. I’m sure that today’s alternative cambers are better, but what killed the Inca was bad timing, being ugly, and not coming from a credible source. It didn’t, as you put it so well, inspire.

      Thanks for the response.
      J.

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