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Off Piste: Neon Daze and Winter Waves

Artists Corey Smith and Mike Parillo bring snowboarding back to its roots with experimental handmade boards

by Graham Hiemstra in Culture on 13 February 2014

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Four years ago, burnt out on the way mainstream snowboarding was headed, artist and professional snowboarder Corey Smith turned to his Lake Tahoe garage/studio for refuge. Here, he founded Spring Break Snowboards, an art project aimed at bringing the activity he loved back to the basics by way of handmade wooden snowboards meant for riding deep powder. Shortly thereafter, we caught up with Smith and now his DIY project-turned-cultural-movement is back in our sights with Neon Daze and Winter Waves, a project extension conceived by Smith and artist Mike Parillo. And the timing couldn't be better. "Snowboarding is an art form and should be treated as such. It’s a physical expression of creativity," explains Smith, speaking on the need for the industry and culture as a whole to realign its values. "It’s time to elevate [snowboarding] beyond crass consumerism and mainstream media hype."

The two, along with Alex Hillinger of Asymbol, enlisted a lengthy list of current pros, living legends and artists to create a heap of new handmade boards and exhibit those designs at LA's CES gallery. In summer of 2013 the boards were made, in the fall they were tested and this past weekend the show opened.

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Seventeen heads from an unprecedented range of creative industries came together to participate in the project, from current progression-pushing snowboarders like Travis Rice and Pat Moore and backcountry legends Bryan Iguchi and Jeremy Jones to surf pioneers Gerry "Mr. Pipeline" Lopez and Nathan Fletcher, the project was a monumental effort if there ever was one. To get the ball rolling, a dreamlike prompt was presented to each contributor: You awake to a sun-soaked powder day, with hikeable terrain all around. Yet there is nothing to ride. In the garage is a piece of plywood, a bucket of epoxy resin and mounting hardware. What would you make?

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Ideas came naturally; designs were sketched and splinters quickly flew. Each mind approached the design process differently. While many took conventional routes making swallow-tail and spoon shapes, some mimicked old-school skateboard decks and still others went all-out with truly experimental designs. Either way, form was valued over all else. Once cut by Parillo and Smith in his backyard, the shapes traveled from Truckee to LA to be finished. Here, Parillo committed himself to the laborious process of glassing, sanding and painting each board—much in the same fashion surfboards are made.

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While the process was nothing short of exhausting, the work was a necessary means to a dedicated end. Simply put, Neon Daze and Winter Waves is about rediscovering the roots of snowboarding: Having fun with friends, and sliding around on a powder covered slope. It's about celebrating the early days of snowboarding, when pioneers like Chuck Barfoot and Regis Roland pushed design progression out of necessity, and riders like Terry Kidwell and Chris Roach proved the act is nothing without style.

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Keeping with the spirit of the project, Smith and Parillo traveled with Rice to British Columbia's storied Baldface Lodge to test a quiver of original board designs, and the crew found themselves living the rare scenario that inspired the project to begin with. The world renowned terrain and epic early season snow conditions provided a variable playground for the project to be realized in its entirety. "It was the best snowboard trip I’ve ever been on in my 20 years riding," said Smith. "There was fresh snow every day. It was unbelievable."

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Designed, constructed and tested in their purest element, the boards have come full circle. To share the collection, Neon Daze and Winter Waves is currently on show in downtown LA at CES gallery and viewable online at Asymbol as well. By partnering with CES, Hillinger hopes to introduce the art, "to a very different clientele who see it less as 'board art' and more as the groundbreaking project we believe it is." While Smith and Parillo were the driving force behind the project, countless others contributed ideas, sweat and time. A percentage of proceeds will go to non-profit Protect Our Winters, who acted as a partner throughout the effort.

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Visit CES and Asymbol to view the exhibition, Spring Break to learn more about Smith's ridable art project and POW to read more about climate change policy reform. Check Transworld Snowboarding and the slideshow for a more in-depth look at the design, build and painting process behind the creation of the unique works of art.

Environmental images by Scott Serfas, process images by Pascal Shirley and studio shots courtesy of Asymbol

Off Piste encourages exploration. With each feature we'll introduce the people, products and places that make life outside the city possible and life in the city more down to earth.

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