SAN DIEGO — Rusty Snowboards is adding carbon-fiber strips to allow team riders and advanced boarders to hold high-speed turns.
Several dozen attendees at the Action Sports Retailer expo spent afterhours Sept. 6 at Rusty's San Diego factory, and 40 constructed their own ``snowslider'' with the graphite strips and a choice of board size and graphic color.
``The improvement in stiffness for carbon is about 30 percent'' vs. fiberglass strips, said parts manager Mike Green, and the carbon models ``last a lot longer.'' Each fiber strip is laid alternately between three pieces of wood core.
Green noted a competitor was experimenting with carbon placement. ``They found it's bad to put it along the rails'' because it is difficult to bond the materials, he said. ``It keeps popping the edges out. They've gone to the center of the board.''
Rusty Snowboards employs 12, occupies 5,000 square feet and can produce 60 boards daily. The shop turned out 3,500 units in 1996, its first season, and now is producing 5,000-6,000 boards a year.
Separately, Hobie Snowboards uses carbon fiber as a torsional member on the outside skin of a board retailing for $599. A comparable-sized Hobie fiberglass board sells for $350.
The carbon fiber ``prevents the board from twisting'' and ``is twice as stiff in torsion as fiberglass,'' Mark Vance, the firm's snow board manager, said at the San Diego expo, held Sept. 5-7. ``If your board twists out when you are on the edge or in hard snow, you lose your edge and go down. You lose control.''
The board's core is aspen maple. Hobie Snowboards, based in Issaquah, Wash., introduced the carbon-fiber model in 1996. Development work began in 1992.
Vance said he needs ways to make top sheets ``lighter, more durable and less vibration-sensitive. Top sheets are a big issue.''
Hobie Snowboards is a licensee of Hobie Designs Inc. in McCall, Idaho.
Larry Balma, a publisher of Times Mirror Co.'s Transworld Media boarding magazines in Oceanside, Calif., believes all board sports are growing, but he sees a temporary consolidation in snow board production capacity.
``So many guys jumped in as manufacturers that [they] overproduced for the first time, in the 1996-97 season,'' he said. Demand in Japan drove the market.
``The Japanese were hot on snow boarding, and there never was enough supply,'' he said. ``Japanese money was funding people to go into business,'' but now the excess product has been shipped back to the United States for sale at the low end of the market.
Balma noted that the glut may broaden the market base.
``Cheap boards make more consumers [who eventually] graduate into other boards,'' he said. ``Since a snow board retails for $500, it's a lot different from a skateboard that retails for $80 or less'' just for the plank. ``Snow boards are ``more technical [and] a bigger item [with] more room to use different materials'' than skateboards, he added.
The skateboard business has experienced steady growth since 1991, fueled by strong electronic and print media coverage and the interests of the ``baby boomers' kids,'' Balma said. ``We have more participants coming.''
Still, wood remains the key skateboard material.
``We never found a way to have [composite materials] beat hard rock maple that we glue together for quality and stiffness and strength,'' Balma said.