[Korua Shapes co-founder Stephan Maurer gets horizontal. Photo: Thomas Stoeckli]
Korua Shapes have been garnering some hype recently thanks to their epically unconventional shapes and a yearning for turning. With their new movie, Yearning for Turning Vol. II - Carving Europe just released [watch it - it's pure radness], we decided it was time to get deep into the carve with Korua Shapes co-founder, Nicholas Wolken, to find out what their boards are all about...
Snowboarding’s not exactly the first hit when you Google ‘Get Rich Quick’ these days. Why did you decide to start a snowboard brand? And when did you start talking about doing it?
I had been struggling to identify with snowboarding for a while; I guess it had to do with the fact that I was getting older. On my first trip to Japan, filming for True Color Films I saw and got to learn about the snow-surfing movement firsthand by the Car Danchi crew. The Japanese focus on perfectly executed turns and the overall surf inspired approach was right up my alley and I immediately felt at home again. At the same time, I was developing boards with my previous sponsor. Pushing for new and experimental shapes and telling them how cool it would be to start a European Snowsurf brand, this must have left a impression because the following July I got a call from Jerry, the product developer I had been working with, telling me he found a way to get this going.
How did Korua move from an idea into a reality?
After the phone call, I immediately got Stephan Maurer (whose partnership with his previous sponsor just ended) and Alvaro Vogel from True Color Films in to the boat; we were long time friends and I had been surfing and snowboarding with them so I knew they had a similar idea of what snowboarding is, or could be. Together we brainstormed and worked a lot on profiling the brand and to present it to a investor (WINCKLER&CO.,LTD) who granted us a budget within which we can now realise our ideas.
Had you any experience in snowboard manufacturing from being professional riders?
Yeah, we were both strongly involved in board development with our previous sponsors. That knowledge definitely helped us a lot!
Who’s involved, and who does what?
At the moment it is me (Nicholas Wolken) doing the brand management, product development, distribution in Switzerland, and riding of course. Apart from riding, Stephan (Maurer) is doing the product development, design, and social media management. Jerry Niedermeier who does the European distribution also helps with product development and does the budget planning. WINCKLER&CO.,LTD is our distributor in Asia. And of course we have our Ambassadors and friends whose opinions and ideas are key to the whole project.
Why are non-traditional shapes so awesome? And why do you think they’re so hot right now?
Its pretty simple: they are way more fun to ride, especially in the conditions they are designed for, in the same way it’s usually more fun to surf a longboard in knee high conditions and a shortboard in fast and hollow waves. Every board has a very different character and offers new experiences. Learning to know a board and feel it’s preferences is something really enjoyable. I think it's hot because non-traditional shapes make riding simply easier and the easier the board is to ride the better you ride and the more fun you will have, right? It takes some time for people to jump over their shadows and prejudices to try something that looks very different, but once they do they know why and will tell others.
"I think its hot because non traditional shapes make riding simply easier and the easier the board is to ride the better you ride and the more fun you will have, right?"
You guys have both spent a lot of time in Japan as riders. How much did the Japanese Snowsurfbrands influence your direction?
It was definitely Japan and the Car Danchi Crew who showed us that snowsurfing was not just some loners, but a whole scene developing, which we both relate to strongly. Arrigato! Japan’s snowsurfing scene had a big impact on us, but well before we knew about Moss, Fieldearth, Gentem and the other snowsurf brands, Mu and I had already tried the Burton Fish, so we knew then that there was a lot of potential for improvement of boards. Shortly after that, I also tested some of the Japanese boards, which I really liked, but I felt the flex was focused on light-weight Japanese riders and the price was out of proportion. This led me to think about options to produce our own shapes in Europe for European conditions, riders and wallets.
How does a board develop from idea to something that you actually make a sample of?
We first develop a concept for each board in the line, starting by noting the purpose and characteristics it should have, followed by hand sketches of the shape. Of course there are different opinions and experiences in how a certain trait influences a board's performance. That’s why we (the riders and product developer) get together as a team to get all the specs and materials settled. After that, Jerry draws the first drafts on the computer and we give him feedback on it, which he applies in the second draft and so on. This process goes on until we are all happy with the whole line. Next, we produce and test the prototypes to see how well our concept was implemented and if necessary make additional changes. The whole process takes months…
Bet the R&D is a bitch. How does that process work when it comes to taking a shape from prototype to market? There are a few crazy shapes on your Grams that don’t seem to be in the line. How many prototypes have you made that HAVEN’T gone into production? What affects whether you put them in the line or not?
Usually we have multiple series of prototypes to get the board working just as we want it to. With the more experimental shapes it sometimes takes a bit longer to get the board working as you imagined, for example the OBELIX concept, which you saw on Instagram is still being developed, and should be released this winter. We would rather spend some time developing something for two years than just give out some crazy looking shape that does not work.
What kind of tech is in the boards?
Topsheet: Gelcoat, same as used for surfboard coating. It is scratch-resistant and lightweight compared to other top sheets.
Glassfiber: E-hardglass Biaxial Laminate, which has higher response than standard material because of the optimal stretching of fibers.
Core: High-end Croatian Poplar which is expensive, but has an amazing flex, is light-weight and very strong.
Base: ISO 6000 and TBE 6000 which has a higher abrasion resistance, better wax absorption and is faster than extruded bases
Where are the boards made?
Since GST recently shut down, half of our line is produced in Austria and the other at Noblie, which is a high-end factory in Poland. They take us seriously, even though we are a small company, and they allow us to test and try new ideas which is a very important factor for us.
What’s new to the line this season?
We will be introducing new concept shapes along the season, adding on to and extending our current line. Also we will finally be coming out with our “Blanks" and the “No-Edge" technology.
NoEdgeTech sounds both interesting and a little bit crazy. What’s that all about? Just for pow?
We made our first KORUA prototypes with no edges considering we would be testing them in powder. When we took them to the resort we couldn’t believe it ourselves, but we could carve them on hard packed groomers just as if they had edges! Also the boards were way faster and lighter due to not having the excess metal. Considering ice is the very last thing in our mind to ride, the benefits of having no edges is immanent. If you don’t believe me watch True Color Films movie Nippledeep, Me and Stephan shredded a whole season in Europe’s resorts and big mountains in Alaska, completely with no edges! Not once did we say to each other; "Hey man, I wish I had some edges on this run." A big plus is also that our system is more damage resistant if you end up hitting a shark.
"We made our first KORUA prototypes with no edges considering we would be testing them in powder. When we took them to the resort we couldn’t believe it ourselves, but we could carve them on hard packed groomers just as if they had edges!"
What are you most hyped on from your new range?
Probably the softboot carving boards. Those things are so much fun, I am really looking forward to see some open-minded shredders having the best day in ages.
We’ve seen Mu switch back rodeo a Fish so guess anything’s possible, but if you gave one to McMorris you reckon he could triple cork on one?
I would bet a lot of money that he could!
While they’re not cheap, your boards aren’t super expensive either. Was this a conscious decision? Was it hard to hit those price points and how did you achieve them?
We aimed to make high quality boards that not only the rich can afford. So it was a conscious decision to neglect all the fancy extra tech marketing bullshit you don't need or notice in a board.
Where does the name come from?
It’s completely made up. But we liked the sound of it and it made us think of a beautiful island in the ocean with nice waves and hot girls in bikinis. While researching we found out that Korua means "you the people" in Maori, and "beautiful jewel" in Finnish so we thought that worked for us.
Finally, why should people buy your boards? Now’s your chance to sell yourselves…
We are simply about having fun and enjoying the sensation of riding boards that have a nice feeling to them. So if you spend most your time enjoying, cruising and turning we are for you! Simple as that.