Snowboards evolved from a child's toy, the Snurfer, invented in 1965 by Sherman Poppen. In 1977, Jake Burton, who used a Snurfer as a child, improved the toy's design and founded Burton Snowboards. The sport's development was delayed because ski areas banned snowboards until the late 1980s. Subsequently, snowboarding escalated to the fastest growing U.S. winter sport, and in 1998 it became an area of Olympic competition. There are three styles of snowboarding, each with its own kind of board: freeride, freestyle and freecarve (or alpine).
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Freeride is the most general style and is suited to all sorts of terrain. It is the most popular style, appealing to people who want to enjoy the out-of-doors and the peace of gliding through snow country. Freerides handle well on powder surfaces and perform well at carving, catching air and other riding aspects and can also be used for half-piping.
Freestyle emphasizes aerial maneuvers and tricks, similar to those performed in skateboarding. Freestyle is generally performed in snowboard parks equipped with half-pipes, which are bowl-shaped structures resembling skateboard ramps, jumps and rails.
The freeride snowboard's shape reveals that it is meant to go mainly in one direction. The tail is shorter, narrower and flatter than the tip. Because of the shape differential, the riding stance is toward the rear of the board, where the bindings are located. This makes the board rise higher for safety when used on powder. This is a fairly soft board, maneuverable yet capable of holding a fast turn in hard snow.
Compared with a freeride, the freestyle board is shorter, wider, lighter and more flexible. This makes it more stable and maneuverable, making it a good choice for beginners. Freestyles can be bi-directional or uni-directional; the difference is slight between tail and tip in uni-directionals, on which the tail is stiffer than the tip. These features make it easier to ride fakie and perform tricks.
There are two types of bindings: straps and step-in. Straps can be tightened down firmly. Step-ins fasten around the boot by stepping down on the binding. Boots for freeriding are normally softer, with a medium ankle height to provide softness for maneuvers like the slalom and firmness for negotiating the lip of a snow bowl. Freestyle boots are soft shelled for the flexibility in tight maneuvers that many tricks require.
Height, Weight and Gender Considerations
Snowboards need to fit an individual's height, weight and gender. Gliding on a snowboard, especially a freeride, depends on surface tension. The heavier the load, the longer the snowboard needs to be. In height considerations, a taller person can use height to lever snowboard movement. Shorter users may need shorter boards. Men and women have different centers of gravity, shoe sizes and ways of moving. For freestyle boards, Olympic snowboard champion Ross Powers suggests choosing a board that is about chin height when on end. He also advises using a board that is wide enough to accommodate feet without any boot overhang to prevent wipe-outs. Boot edges should be flush with the board edge.