Web series touts funky concept snowboards

Alice Truong
Tech It Up!

"Every Third Thursday" is where snowboard dreams come true.

In the summer of 2010, Signal Snowboards created the Web series to showcase the company's experimentation with funky concept boards. Think Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” — except with a lot more sass and a funkier setting.

Two years later, the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company’s show has been viewed more than 1.5 million times and Signal has more than 20 impressive — and functional — snowboard designs to show for its efforts. Among their envelope-pushing designs: a Fender guitar model made specially for Duff McKagan of Guns n Roses fame, a board featuring a paintball chain gun and the iShred, a board embedded with a working iPad.

"Every Third Thursday" is a mixture of wild imagination, diligent engineering and plenty of enthusiasm, all piped to the world via social media and YouTube. As the name suggests, Signal debuts a new ‘ETT’ episode once a month. In the days before the debut, the company usually teases its 75,000 Facebook followers, either hinting at the new and crazy designs coming next or asking fans what they think the latest prototype will be. One recent guess: A board made entirely of bacon.

While the Signal team has yet to tackle a bacon board, it isn’t impossible to imagine. A board made of Lego bricks? One that doubles as a surfboard? How about one to help you survive the backcountry? In case you were wondering, yes, yes and yes — all three ideas were executed. And it’s not like food is out of the question. Late last year, the team unveiled a board that featured a candy top-sheet.

"The way we produce boards now [has] been done for years and years," says Signal Founder Dave Lee, 39. "It's easy to do what everyone else is doing."

About once a month, four members of the Signal brain trust gather to share ideas and pick a project. The day after the brainstorming session, the team gets to work, often moving from design to execution before the night is over. Sometimes, when the project goes on to the late hours, Lee and Marketing Director Marc Wierenga, 40, are the only people left in Signal’s 7,500-square-foot factory, switching off on cameraman duties; both Lee and Wierenga are credited as the show's producers and co-creators. After a resting period, typically only a few days long, team riders break in the creations.

One of Signal's most complicated "Every Third Thursday" endeavors, the iShred board features minutia that would make Steve Jobs proud (the episode debuted a month and a half after the death of Apple's co-founder). The board includes a backlit Signal logo, a polished aluminum finish and a durable case (the snowboard itself) to protect the iPad. The team worried the aluminum base might stick to the snow, rendering the board worthless as a riding tool. But pro rider Matt Guess dispelled that concern when he took it for a spin.

"Thing's like a missile," he said in the episode. "Doesn't like to turn, but it's pretty fast.” After hitting the slopes, the Signal team took the prototype inside the lodge to video chat with friends over FaceTime.

Lee, who grew up in Seattle, worked in a snowboard factory fresh out of high school. By 1992, he embarked on a 10-year pro-riding career with Lip Tech. Out of the pro spotlight in 2004, Lee founded Signal. After experiencing a series of setbacks with the initial manufacturer in China, Signal merged with local snowboard factory Five Axis, which was run by Wierenga.

While "Every Third Thursday" seems like fun and games, the show was born from the duo’s drive to innovate and push an industry they saw as growing stagnant. Beyond creating kooky concept boards, Lee and Wierenga aim to inspire and improve the company’s production boards.
"We always push the envelope to create something new to make the riding experience better," Wierenga says.

"We're confident in building crazy ideas," Lee adds, noting that ‘ETT’ prototypes have pushed Signal to experiment with new materials (fabric, bamboo, Weeping Willow, to name a few) and processes (bindings, edges, cuts). The unique shape and top sheet of a skateboard-inspired snowboard in an episode featuring snowboarding icon Terry Kidwell led to new elements in the company’s Epic and Powder series of boards.

Lee's favorite ‘ETT’ project is the Survival Split Board, a design inspired by a Swiss Army Knife and intended to help snowboarders stranded in the backcountry. Lee had the idea to create a survival snowboard in August, but it sat on the back burner until March as the Signal crew pursued other designs. After three days of work (two to design, one to build), nine members of the Signal team flew to Colorado to rough it for a night in the Rockies, building their own shelter and campfire. The board breaks into three parts: Two outer parts that also work as skis and a central piece that does double duty as a shovel. A number of goodies are embedded on and in the board, including a compass, knife, thermometer and flint to start fire.

"It was very innovative and there were so many new advancements that could be put into production," Lee said.

But one feature of the Survival Split Board is an unabashed throwback rather than an advancement: When the two skis are connected, they make up the shape of a Snurfer, a sort of proto-snowboard from the mid ‘60s. That has special meaning to Wierenga, who says he discovered a vintage Snurfer on a family vacation in 1983. Then a 13-year-old boy, he jumped on this strange yellow board. It was his first taste of snowboarding.