What to Look for in a Rocker Snowboard
Buying a snowboard these days is no easy task unless you’ve had the opportunity to demo a wide range of boards with all sorts of different rocker and camber profiles. Most of us do not get that chance, so we have to sort our way through lots of techy jargon and marketing lingo just to become familiarized with what our options are. Every brand has their own terminology for what is often very similar technology. So let’s break it down and look at several of the main innovations in snowboard rocker and camber development that will help you get a handle on what you need to know when purchasing a new deck.
A little background on camber and rocker snowboards….
Winterstick made the first snowboards and they were basically flat through the tail and middle and then rockered towards the nose. Rocker snowboards have an early rise coming off the mid-section of the board where it touches the ground. It can begin towards the nose of the board or towards both the nose and tail. The first Winterstick snowboards had rocker in the nose to simulate how surfboards ride on water. The uplifted nose keeps the board from diving under. Likewise, rocker on the snowboard keeps the nose from diving under the snow and allows the rider to essentially “surf” the terrain.
As snowboarding moved into the eighties, the board companies began copying the ski industry and started making snowboards with camber. Camber snowboards rise off the ground in the middle and come touch the ground at the nose and tail. The camber trend dominated the market through the nineties until Mervin Manufacturing, which owns Lib Tech, Gnu and Roxy, began producing snowboards with rocker around 2006.
So what made camber so great?
Camber boards tend to have great edge hold because the contact points (the four corners of the board that touch the snow when the board is not weighted) are driven into snow as the rider shifts his weight onto the edge of the snowboard to turn. As the rider starts to shift his weight back to the other side of the board to turn in the other direction, he must unweight the board to release the contact points before initiating that turn. Camber gives the rider a lot of stability when turning, especially at faster speeds. Camber is a “spring-loaded” system that you allow you to pump in and out of your turns. It is a very efficient, as they say.
Camber also gives you the most pop. That is, when you want to launch into the air you will weight the tail of the board, which stores the energy in the camber, like a spring. When you release, the board will give you an extra boost that you may not get out of a rocker board.
Riding a cambered snowboard has very interactive feel to it. As such, it takes a bit more effort to power in and out of your turns. It is also easy to catch an edge on a camber board because the contact points are always down on the snow. It is more difficult to learn to snowboard on camber because of the inherent dynamics involved, but it will make you a better snowboarder down the road, even if you turn to rocker later on.
Camber boards are still used by many riders for turning power and pop. The Niche Theme is a good example of a camber board that is great to learn and progress. The no-nonsense simplicity and stability that camber offers is exactly what some people want.
What about rocker?
Rocker boards have contact points that are lifted of the snow. They can start off lifted, as are flat and full rocker boards, or they lift naturally when the rider stands on the board, as with camber/rocker boards. With the contact points freed up you have a much “looser” feeling to the ride because the turn is now initiated between the feet instead of out towards the nose and tail as it is with camber boards. Essentially, the rocker pulls the contact points in closer to the rider. This allows the rider to turn with less effort because now he can apply pressure using only foot pressure instead of shifting his body weight over the side of the board to engage the sidecut. The sidecut (the hourglass shape in the middle of the board) is what allows every board to turn.
Rocker is beginner-friendly because it is easier to turn than camber and there is less chance of catching the edge of your board in the snow. Rocker snowboards are also excellent in deep snow. Because of their lifted nose and tail, they float on top of the snow instead of diving down into it. They also are a favorite for riding park features because they slide more easily across a variety of surfaces and angled objects.
Rocker snowboards include many different variations. Let’s keep it simple and break it down into four main categories.
Full Rocker: Full rocker snowboards have a continuous arc with more rocker in the middle and less towards the nose and tail. They are the easiest to turn and have a very playful feel. They float the best in powder and ride very well in the park. Good examples of full rocker snowboard are made by Arbor Collective and include the Coda, Westmark, and Cadence. They call their version parabolic rocker for its continuous and even shape.
Flat: Flat rocker snowboards are flat through the middle and rockered out towards the nose and tail. They are intended to be a compromise between the stability and drive of camber and the looseness and ease of turning that rocker provides. Good examples of flat rocker snowboards include the Niche Knew and Capita Indoor Survival. These boards are excellent in the park and powder but can also handle all-mountain riding because of the extended contact length.
Camber Rocker: Camber rocker snowboards have camber in the middle of the board and rocker towards the nose and tail. These boards offer the power and pop of a full camber board but the contact points are raised allowing them to float in deep snow and have looser feel. You don’t have to work as hard to turn a “cam/rock” board. Jones Snowboards make some of the best camber/rocker boards on the market. They are geared for all-mountain and free-ride snowboarding. Basically, that means riding steeper and more varied terrain at faster speeds. Great examples are the Jones Mountain Twin, Twin Sister and Flagship models.
Hybrid Rocker: This type of camber-rocker profile has been given many names (C2, moustache rocker, gullwing, multi-camber). It is basically rocker in the middle of the board with camber towards the nose and tail. Hybrid rocker is intended to address the instability and lack of pop that are inherent in rockered boards. They are playful and float in deep snow well because of the rockered mid-section. When you step on them the cambered nose and tail contact the snow and give you the edge hold and power of camber. They also provide extra pop but not as much as a full cambered board. Examples of hybrid rocker snowboards are the Gnu Riders Choice, Gnu Altered Genetics, Roxy Ollie Pop and Niche Aether.
There is no easy way to determine what type of snowboard you are going to enjoy the most without riding all of them first. But generally we can say that for beginners full rocker and flat rocker boards are worth looking at. For intermediate and beyond riders any of the above may work for you but the rocker variety tend to float better in powder (deep snow) and have a more skate-like feel, which is nice for park riding. Many of the rocker boards employ specific edge technologies that compensate for the lack of edge hold that rocker boards sometimes have. You can read about them here.
Hopefully, this will give you a little better understanding of snowboard rocker and camber tech and how it affects the way the boards ride. The only thing left to do now is to go down to your local snowboard shop and check them out for yourself!