Sunday, February 21, 2010

Product Review: Swix F4 Snowboard Wax


Just The Facts, Ma'am:

What Is it...?

As Tognar puts it so simply: "This low-fluoro universal wax provides excellent glide at warmer air temperatures (up to 50 F) and/or moist snow conditions... but can also be used at temperatures down to 14 F (-10 C). It's easy to apply as a paste right on the slopes or when away from your workshop... or is available in solid bars so you can also apply it as a hot-wax..."

How Much Is It...?

A 180-gram bar costs about $30. That's about a full season of daily rub-on waxings... or, fifteen [or so] iron-on waxings.
That's important to note: This wax, in solid bar form, can be rubbed on, and it works very well as a rub-on. Ironing it is in no way, mandatory.

Where Do You Get It...?

Online: (among many others). Locally? Many ski and snowboard shops either carry this already, or can special-order it. I get mine from Marcia at Skiers Edge in Indianapolis, when she has it in stock. Tognar the rest of the time, or in bulk boxes.

It Comes As:

A 900-gram bulk pack (5, 180-gram bars); 180-gram solid bar; a 40 ml. tin of paste; or, a 250 ml. tin of paste. I recommend the bars. More wax, less money, less mess, and less headaches= good pick.

The Bad Stuff:

There's not much "bad" to note here. Which is why I put it first. The only gripe that I have, is the initial $30 price tag. It's about 50% more expensive than most "universal" hydrocarbon waxes on the market (which retail for about $19-$20). It seems kinda steep, at first. Sticker-shock steep.

But: I only spend about that thirty bucks about once a year. And, in return: I get totally blazing snowboard performance in lots of temperatures and conditions, all season long. So, I do tend to forget the price tag pretty quickly. At least, until I have to buy more. Then, it all comes back to me...

The Good, Good Stuff:

As far as I can recall, I first heard of Swix F4 from Dave at Snowboard Jones (Kaye St., Manchester, NH) back in the mid-'90s. I think he tossed me a tin of it, and recommenced it as "super good shit", or something like that. I trust Dave, and Dave always knows what he's talkin' about. So, I used it. And still do, to this day. Why? It works, and works great. Plain and simple.


This is the stuff you're lookin' for, right here...

Unlike most "universal" waxes, this wax is a " low-fluoro". That means, it has an additive that makes it glide much better through "variable" snow conditions. That's a buzzphrase for: Whatever You'll Run Into Out There. F4 works best, though, in warmer and slushier snow, where there's a high water content. Basically: Late-season and springtime conditions... although, it's versatile enough that it truly does work well as an all-condition, all-temp wax. If you buy just one wax for your kit? Then, this should be that wax...

For our "testing", I spent an entire day at Perfect North, randomly waxing people's boards with a 180-gram bar of F4. Application is easy: Just rub it on [like you're coloring the bottom of your board with a giant crayon]... and then, buff it out with a Scotch-Brite pad [which shines it up all pretty like]. And, that's it! Doesn't get any easier than that, folks.

Who'd I wax?
Everyone from experienced riders, to first-time snowboarders on rental equipment. Literally, the entire spectrum of possible snowboarders. Men and women, kids and adults, everyone...

The results? Well, of course: Any wax will beat no wax, any day. But, that's not the point. The point was, everyone from total newbies to full-on experts liked the results that they got from this wax.
Everyone boarded better, and had more fun, with this wax. A lot of people even asked what it was, and where they could get some for themselves. The conditions were, for the record: Low of 28 degrees, high of about 40 degrees, on man-made snow, with a little bit of melt going on (because of the warm high temp on this day).

This is the standard that every other wax on the market... and, every other wax we'll ever test... will have to live up to. It's a high benchmark. Naturally, that makes it a really good buy that we'd recommend to anyone.


Mailbox: February 2010


I routinely get e-mails from all over the world from skate shops and small-company owners (and even, the occasional big-company owner), asking for advice on something or another. Usually, these e-mails are precipitated by one [or more] of the many essays that I've written about the skateboard industry over the last few years. I'm still pretty amazed that people actually want my opinion on stuff... I mean, it's not like I'm all that bright or anything... but, I always make a solid point of replying in pretty short order, and helping out as much as I possibly can. Here's a recent example, from a thoughtful young man that we'll call "K." (to protect the innocent).

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Fri, Feb 19, 2010 8:45 pm
Subject: getting on skateshops' shelves

Hi Bud,

I was reading a bunch of the articles you wrote on, and the MSRP article was of particular interest. My brother & I just started a skateboard company & now with our 2nd deck almost released, we want to start going to skateshops personally in hopes of having them carry our decks & misc merchandise like shirts. With only small statewide acknowledgment of our company and even more close to home local following, we feel tempted to sell ourselves for cheap to make up for our lack of reputation that a bigger independent company might have, even though we only deal with deck manufacturers that use 100% north American maple as opposed to the cheap imported stuff.

So, we know we have a high quality product, we even had our team riders skate the hell out of the samples & get a unanimous thumbs up before proceeding with deck production. The problem is that as a small company, we can't order in the kind of bulk that will result in higher profit margins.

So in wrapping up, I guess my question is, do we approach stores with stone faces & all the confidence in the world & sell for what we're worth quality-wise? .....or, do we have to kind of sell our souls to shops in the beginning until kids create a demand for our stuff?

By the way, I agree with Zumiez sucking & we have no intentions of selling to any such stores or even seeking distribution which could result in our merch ending up on their shelves, which is why we're doing the footwork ourselves to start. We're 100% by skaters for skaters!

Any help you can give with my question would be greatly appreciated & might even be a good topic for another article.


- K.

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, February 20, 2010 6:04 AM
Subject: Re: getting on skatehops' shelves

K., I am on my way out the door to go snowboarding. I will reply properly tomorrow (Sunday) evening.

In the meantime, does your company have a website I can check out? I like to know as much as possible about your company before I give in-depth advice. -B.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sat, Feb 20, 2010 11:27 am
Subject: Re: getting on skatehops' shelves

Sure, it's www.[xxxxxxxxxxxxxx].com

Have fun snowboarding & thanks a lot dude!

- K.

Two days Later, Bud Finally Answers:

Good morning, K.! First of all: Yes, snowboarding was awesome! Always is. I rode for about five hours, then I spent the rest of the day teaching an army of cute college chicks how to board. So yeah, it was a pretty good day all in all! Maybe what I'm sayin' here is, "Put down the skateboard, and become a snowboard instructor!" Naw, I'm just playin'! I have sense of humour. Chill out! Laugh a little! Life's short. Live it up.

Secondly: Thanks a bunch for a well-written and thoughtful letter! How rare those are these days...

Okay, onto the actual subject. Getting into skate shops. This can be kinda easy (If you have a huge, disposable wad of cash to blow on slick marketing), or kinda difficult (If you don't). How's that for an in-a-nutshell answer...!?

I'm obviously assuming that you don't have the Grand Ol' Wad O' Dough hanging around, but let's see how The Doughboys get into shops, just for easy-and-simple comparison. They go out, make shitloads of a completely lackluster, generic product for as cheaply as possible... with kick-ass graphics, though (Because, graphics totally sell!). Then, they sign about a dozen or so big-name pro skaters at about $20,000 a piece, and commit to a years' worth of two-page spreads in TransWorld, Thrasher, or The Skateboard Mag (Depending on which "image" you're going for, right?!)... and then, wait for the phone to start ringing!!! Which only happens SOME of the time... thus, all those long-lost skate-brands that only lasted a year or two (Deca? Rasa Libre? Bootleg? Just to name a few....).

Then, we have the Little Guys. You guys. And, a zillion more "little" companies that are springing out of the woodwork. Character? One? Funhouse? Volume? Ban? Keystone? Ebbie? I could go on for hours... there's about ten thousand of them out there right now... but regardless, the key questions are always the same:

1. What are you doing, that the other guys aren't? And,
2. How are you promoting whatever that is...?

It's tough, because here in 2010, most of the angles have been played already. It was hella easier in 1991, when I started my company... there wasn't all the precedents yet, y'know? There was still some new ground left to be broken, and a few new ideas still coming up. But nowadays, everyone has pretty much tried everything, and we have a pretty good idea of what sells and what doesn't. Retailers, especially. They've already seen a billion small companies come and so, and they know they're gonna see a billion more on the horizon. So, they tend to be sort of "big deal" on most small companies. Like, "Oh, you too? What the hell do you got, huh...?!" Yeah, it can be reeeeaaaaaal tough out there. Even for the "big dudes", as I noted above.

Shops are basically looking for two stone-cold realities. One: Will this product fly off my shelf? Because, a product just sitting ON a shelf, is costing that shop money. Or, tying up money. Or, warping and collecting dust. You get the picture.

And, secondly: Will this product make me money? Are they making one dollar on that item? Five dollars? Ten dollars? Forty points? Keystone? Obviously: The faster it sells, and the more they make per unit, the more appealing it is for them to carry it. That last sentence is basically The Retailers Holy Grail, right there. Read it a few more times, and really get what I'm sayin' here, bros. It's a cold world out there, and cold truths can feel awfully blunt sometimes. Get used to it.

Now, I checked out your website, and it looks pretty dapper. You shit looks pretty good, and you've clearly done your homework. And, you guys do write a damn good letter. So, I get the impression that you're pretty smart cookies over there. Which is a great start. You're probably way more on top of shit than 99% of our dumbass fucking "industry leaders". So clearly, not all is lost. Thank God!

So, here's my advice: Really give a good, hard second-thought to exactly what you want to do, and where you want to go. Company-wise. What do you stand for? What's good in skateboarding? What sucks? What would you change, and how would you do it? If you have some actual "principles" that you like to stand upon, even better... "principles" being in awfully short supply these days, I'm thinking that "having principles" might just be The Next Big Thing. Then: Once you have a platform going on... sell it! Get everyone hyped on it. Talk it up. Do interviews. Blog your ass off. Get passionate about your shit, maybe even cuss a little here and there (For some weird reason, it works for me?!). Note: Being genuinely interested in the future, and the better interests of skateboarding goes a pretty long way. Passion breeds passion, and bright ideas and good vibes are self-perpetuating paradigms.

The most important thing I could ever tell you about small-company ownership... having owned one, myself... is that, it's hella hard work. But, it's also the most fun you'll ever have in your whole life. There is something liberating and life-affirming about standing on your own two tired feet, and putting something positive back into this world. Even if it's a financial failure of the highest order... and, many small companies are... still: If you truly enjoy the ride while it lasts, and live in the moment at all times, really soaking in all of that fun and adventure... then, you'll always and forever be a success. The simple fact is this: When the time comes for you to kick the bucket, you will not be allowed to take a single red cent with you to your afterlife. But, experiences and adventures...? Ahhhhhhhhhh! Those, my friend, are truly priceless.

I hope my little bit of advice helps you out, and I wish you guys all the best (as I do all smaller companies). Holla back if you need anything else. I'm pretty accessible, so it's no worries. Laters- B.

As I was editing this blog entry, I totally realized that... like the dumbass that I am... I totally forgot to actually answer K's question. Which was basically, "Is My Stuff Worth A High Retail Price, or A Low One?!"

Well, again, the answer is quite simple: "Price Is Driven By Supply And Demand". Just like anything else in this world. In my letter, I addressed the "demand" issue, because that is usually the key consideration for retailers, when they're thinking of bringing in a new product, brand, or whatever. After all: They can easily control supply, merely by stocking more or less of something. Right?!

But, ultimately: Cultivating a demand is the job of the brand. Not, the shop.

So: If K. takes my advice (in the letter), and cultivates a strong and consistent demand for his products...? Then yes: That will naturally justify higher prices. Popular shit almost always sells for a much higher price, than un-popular shit...

However: If demand for K's product is weak? Then, that product will naturally have to be sold for less, to make up for the lack of demand. In this case, the lower price will fill the "demand" vacuum (as lower priced stuff is always more likely to sell well, when everything else fails). Which is usually a pretty good deal for the consumers (who ultimately get a great product at a dirt-cheap price)... but, isn't usually so good for the brands or the shops that are ultimately losing their shirts in the equation.

That's my answer, and I'm stickin' to it. -B.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Collection: Ride Control 158


Beautiful! Simply beautiful...!! The '09 Burton Freestyles are definitely not "period-correct", obviously. I guess I totally forgot to even buy bindings for this one...

It's been a while since we've added a piece of the collection to the mix, so here's a classic Ride: A Ride Control 158, circa about 2000 or so.

Here's the story on this one: I've owned several Controls over the years. They were always [at the time] directional, full-wrap cap constructions, with great tip protection (usually, aluminum base inserts), and a fairly stiff flex pattern for added pop and drive for heavy-ass bigfooters [like me].

Stop drooling! I know you can't help it, but jeez, people...

I bought this one, I believe, just before I left New England to move to Indiana. Once I got here, I bought my first wide board... and unfortunately for this Control, I never, ever looked back.

I "re-discovered" this board in my archives just this year, and realized that it had only been ridden once in it's life. And, it wasn't even me that rode it! (It was Erin's mom, just for the record).

I think this is one of the first die-cut bases that I ever saw... let alone, bought. Poppy colors that are truly fit for a king. Classic...!

Realizing that I had not ridden this even once in my life, I decided to [finally] set it up, and give it a go. And, I'll tell ya... for a small, narrow, all-cap board that's at least 10 years old now... this little fucker ripped! Plenty fast, super crisp and responsive, still stiff as hell... and still, a real rocket-booster of a deck. If I was 10 years younger, 100(+) lbs. lighter, and a few foot sizes smaller, I'd be all over this bitch. But alas: It's now back on the wall, where those gorgeous jazz-themed graphics can retire with dignity and grace. After one session!

I figure, the looks of this one alone completely justify whatever it was that I paid for it. I'll bet that, after seeing it, you'll wholeheartedly agree.


Product Review: Smith Knowledge OTG Goggles


Here they are: The Smith Knowledge OTGs. The "OTG" stands for "Over The Glasses", and they're lifesavers to four-eyes geeks [like me...]

Just The Facts, Ma'am:

Available Colors: Black, or Graphite, both with "Ignitor Mirror" lenses.

Features: Might be best to just look at the Smith site, here:

Because, we don't exactly know what all that shit means...

Price: The website claims that they MSRP at $85.00, but we're pretty sure we paid about $65 for these at Rusted Moon Outfitters [in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis, Indiana]

The Not-So-Good Stuff:

We started here, because the single, solitary thing that we could even dream up, is the MSRP price. I mean, $85.00 for a pair of goggles is more than a few pennies. On the other hand: We ultimately found them to be well worth the money. Especially if we get another season or two out of 'em. [We'll keep you posted on that.]

A few more colorways would also be mighty nice... although, the simpleton that I am, I found the basic colorways kinda refreshing.

That's all. Now, on to...

The Good Stuff:

The best things about these goggles... and, this is saying a lot, considering that they are, in fact, OTG goggles [which means that, there's always a pair of glasses underneath that have to be accounted for]... is the fit, comfort, ventilation, and fog-resistant nature of these goggles.

You've gotta understand: Glasses are plenty prone to bad fit and hella fogging, all by their own damned selves. Especially when doing "action sports". So, to add goggles into that mix, can really be a recipe for pure and certain hell. As we've well experienced with other OTGs over the years...

One feature that we [almost] forgot to mention, was this clasp on the strap. It allows for a complete unbuckling of the strap, in order to get it around a bulky hat, a helmet... to strap 'em to something for safe keeping... whatever. We used it exactly once. But, it's an awesome feature in those rare instances that you need it...

The Knowledge makes glasses-wearing a hell of a lot easier. They do a great job of venting out moisture, while stabilizing temperatures inside the goggle, for the best possible fog reduction... both
inside the goggle, as well as when you take the goggles off, and expose your glasses to the outside elements. Re-read that bit one more time, because it rocks: No fogging in the goggle, and minimized fogging out of it. That's super boss. Best feature ever.

The durability of the stock lens also deserves a mention. We spent a lot of time in the woods, clipping branches, while de-icing these with the backs of our grimy 'ol Burton Superpipe gloves... yet, not a scratch anywhere on 'em through a whole season. That's impressive.

The low-key styling, neutral colorways, all-day-comfortable fit, more-than-ample ventilation (an extra slide-over vent is visible at the top of the lens in this photo), and abuse-defying durability all add up to a pretty great buy. Even if the sticker shock is a little bit disconcerting, at first glance...

I never thought that I'd ever find a good, functional, and comfortable pair of OTGs, or actually enjoy wearing goggles at all. These have definitely changed my mind. I don't leave home without 'em.

The Final Verdict:

A solidly good deal at the $85.00 MSRP, an awesome one at the $65.00 that we paid for 'em. I'll keep rocking these for a long-ass time.


Product Review: Vans Probo Boots


The illustrious Vans Probo... a pricepoint boot with the soul of a giant. Add to that: The Last Of The Line?! Let's hope not...!!

Just The Facts, Ma'am:

Where I got 'em: The House (, on closeout. Suggested retail: $108.95. Actual price? $79.95! Cheap!

What are they?: Apparently, these were [at one time] Vans' lowest-tier boot offering. Now out of production, these look to have been replaced by the Mantra in the line [at a suggested retail of $139.95].

Why We're Reviewing Them: A great way to size up a boot line, is to test the lowest-priced offering, and judge that one. If it's a good, solid value? So will the rest of the line [generally speaking, of course].

The Good Stuff:

Let's start by saying that we've been riding Vans boots for many a year 'round these parts. Vans has a rock-solid reputation as a manufacturer of really, really solid stuff. Oftentimes, a little too solid, as they can sometimes be quite a bit over-engineered, and a little-too-packed-with-features. But, hey: I'd rather have waaaay too much of a good thing, than way too little, y'know what I mean...?

The Probo fell right into line with what we expected. Even at the "suggested" $108.00 retail, this would have been a hell of a deal. At the $79 we paid for 'em, they were a fucking steal.

The Inevitable "Frankensteining" Of The Boots:

The first thing that we always do, is to cut some shit out of Vans boots, to make them a little more "user-friendly". The first to go was the in-boot liner-lacing system. The "regular" lacing system is more than adequate to keep your heels locked in, and snugged up; the redundancy of the in-boot lockdown just meant more headaches getting the damned things on and off your feet. Granted, some people will like... maybe even, love... this feature. We just didn't. That's all.

The other thing that we did, was to slide some Hi-Standard insoles into the liners. These insoles have a neat, raised and molded heelcup that acts like a heelside gas pedal, inside the boot. It quickens up the response, while giving a little extra padding for the 'ol knees. You could easily use any aftermarket insole to do this job; we just happened to have Vans insoles lying around the office.

Here's the Hi-Standard insoles that we slipped into the Probos for a little extra heel-hold, as well as a smidge more padding. Little things like this count, especially when your life depends on 'em.

Neither of these mods cost a single red cent, I might add.

More Good Stuff:

So, onto the slopes... and again, everything that we expected, and more. Comfortable as hell. Tough as nails [mostly]. Warm and toasty. Dry enough. Great outsole grip for hiking everywhere and anywhere. Fairly firm, for a pricepoint boot... yet, not overly stiff. Good to great response through the board. Pretty cushy (the insoles clearly helped here, though).

The Not-So-Good Stuff:

Just like the Burton Superpipe gloves we reviewed, we didn't quite give these an "A" grade on the durability front. However: Unlike the Burton gloves, these were exclusively "cosmetic" dings, scrapes, and scratches in the man-made "faux-suede" panels that we're talkin' about, here... but, nothing that compromised the function of the boot in any way at all. So, we give the Probos a solid, and still-good A- to B+ in that regard. Maybe we've just been spoiled by the Hi-Standards' over-the-top-bulletproofness over the years? Who knows...?

The Final Verdict:

It would be boss as shit if Vans could find an economically feasible way to bring these puppies back for next season. If not? We're sure that the Mantras, or the ever-awesome Hi Standards will still be Grade-A choices for the budget-and-performance-minded snowboarder.


Product Review: Burton Superpipe Gloves


Here they are! Ready for the chopping block...! They passed. But, not exactly with flying colors...

Just The Facts, Ma'am:

Available Sizes: XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL

Available Colors: True Black, True Black "Shadowbox Print (huh?!)", "Trench Green Gallery of Words Print (wtf!)", and something called "Blotto Gray Jail House Stripe". I rocked the basic black, because I'm a plain vanilla kinda bloke.

Price: $64.95, pretty much everywhere. I got mine at Perfect North's Loft Shop (in Lawrenceburg, Indiana).

See 'Em At:,default,pd.html?dwvar_221116_variationColor=002&start=39&cgid=mens-gloves-mitts

The Good Stuff:

There was a lot of good about these gloves. They are:

- Quite snug-fitting (Easy to use things like binding ratchets, and quick-changing tools in 'em). Yet, they are definitely:
- Comfortable.
- They're exceptionally dry (I used Serius liners in mine, yet the breathability and wicking was superb. And, the velcro ankle strap does a great job of keeping snow out...),
- They're more than warm enough (Never got cold fingers at all, even at the frigid Mt. Bohemia), and
- They're easy to get on and off (The liners probably helped, here).

In short: These gloves worked, and worked well. Which is exactly what I expect in a glove. Especially one that sets me back sixty-five clams.

As a bonus: I was told that the back of the glove is designed to use as an on-the-fly "goggle wipe". I used this feature a lot, and it was the tits. Never scratched a lens, and quickly wiped away all sorts of snow and water. Nifty.

The Not-So-Good-Stuff:

Durability was a bit of a problem. The first thing to begin going to shit, was the "grippy" rubbery whatever that they put on the palms and fingers of the glove. The first day out, whatever this shit is began peeling off everywhere... it's as if, it didn't bond at all to the underlying plastic palm material... and, that continues to this day. But, that wasn't a huge deal at all. The palm and fingers are still grippy enough to handle whatever, even without this stuff.

The second thing that happened was, the velcro wrist-closure started to rip off the glove. I chalk that one up to inadequate or inferior stitching, as it only happened on one glove. Had it been a design defect, I would have assumed that it would have happened on both. Thankfully, my mums is a master sewer. So, she stitched it up uber-quick, and it holds to this day. Hey, Burton? My mum's totally available for sweatshop labor, any time. Look her up, she'll be stoked.

The big red circle shows the seam that started to rip, which meant that the velcro strap was starting to come off the glove. A little bit of Mum's Love and stitchwork fixed this one up pretty quickly.

The last thing that happened was, the thumb piece began to rip away from the palm. Maybe the XXL still isn't big enough for my humungo hands...? But, this one might be chalked up to "average wear and tear", as I probably had about 45 days in 'em by this time, and that's a pretty long season for any product to endure. I think I got my money's worth out of 'em.

Here, we can see the "grippy pattern" coming off the palm (small red circle), and the ripped thumb-seam (big red circle). When I pay $65.00 for a glove, I expect a little bit better bulletproofing than this...

The Final Verdict:

I probably would have happily paid a few extra bucks to get truly vice- and defect-free gloves. But for what I got, and for what I paid... I was "happy enough", I guess. Maybe they'll have a few of the kinks worked out by next season. We can only hope.


Breaking News! Japanese Snowboarder Busted...!

"Unsuitable — Japanese snowboarder busted for bad fashion!"

Here's the link:,219311

Cut, paste, read, and laugh. "Wait! A snowboarder looking like... a snowboarder?! Good grief.

What's the world coming to...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Retailer Review: The House


(Editor's Note: For quite some time, I've wanted to review not just skate and snowboard products, but also, the retailers that we buy these products from. Why, you ask?! Well, simply put: There are soooo many choices out there these days... not just traditional shops, but also, the zillion-and-a-half online retailers that exist out there in cyberspace... frankly put, it gets mighty tough to decide where to get your damned stuff. Or even, who you can trust. Why my former editors and publishers would ever nix such an idea, I'll never know. I think it's high time that someone does just this sort of retailer-reviewing. Actually: I think everyone should do it.

Okay! On to the review...)

About The House:

The House has been in business forever. Probably since before a lot of our readers were even born. They're located somewhere in St. Paul, Minnesota. As such, they operate on central time. Important to remember when calling in questions or orders. They just might be the biggest online snowboard retailer around. Certainly, they're in The Top Ten. They might also be among the best online snowboard retailers around. The website is Check it out.

Here's how we rate The House in the following categories:


They seem to have a ton of everything in stock, at all times. Even oddball sizes and highly specialized products. If they're out of something, there's a damn good chance that everyone else is, too. I ran into this twice this year: The House was the last retailer to have last years' Ride Yukon 172, and this years' Burton Freestyles in stock (In that boss-as-shit, translucent blue and white colorway). Once The House sold out, all hope was lost.

(Note: If you find either of these online anywhere, definitely let me know. I'd still pay top dollar for both...)


The snowboard industry, as a rule, seems to have some pretty tight price controls in place. A pair of $119.95 Burton Freestyles are pretty much gonna cost you $119.95, wherever you go. The House does have some solid deals on previous years' product, and a slash-price "outlet" section for half-price oddities that will still work great for any boarder on a budget.

They're not the cheapest around. But they're definitely, reasonably good.

Call Center Hold Time:

Usually, just a minute or two. Can be substantially more mid-day, right at the beginning of the season. But mostly, fairly quick service. Not a whole lotta complaints here.

Wait...! Edit! One complaint: I always get the same, lame-ass Red Hot Chili Peppers song, every time I'm put on hold. Hey, guys?! Different Chilis song next time, please...?

Customer Service:

The House excels in this area. I always call in my orders, just because I like dealing with a living, breathing person when dropping ridiculous amounts of cash on shit that I don't really need. The staff is always enthusiastic, friendly, and prompt. They know what the hell I'm talking about, they know what the hell they're talking about, and Lord knows that I quiz them pretty regularly. They're damned efficient, and they don't fuck around. I like that.

Cool Story:

So, I call in a pretty substantial order a few months back. So big, that I qualify for the free-goggles-or-headphones dealy. Well, I don't rock the iPod when I ride, so that's automatically out. And, being a four-eyes glasses geek that I am, I strictly use OTG (Over The Glasses) goggles. "Shit!", I say. "Can I go with neither, dude?!" I was bummed. No freebies for me...!

"Sure! We'll just knock twenty bucks off the price of your deck. Sound good...?"

Cha-ching! If there's anything that I love, it's the sound of twenty bucks staying in my wallet. Moral: Their salespeople are willing to deal a little, to suit your weird-ass needs. That's pretty damn spiffy, in my book.


My stuff always seems to arrive a day or so earlier than I expect it to. So, definitely no complaints there. Oh: Any order over fifty clams gets free shipping, too. I don't think I've ever paid shipping at The House, on any of my orders.


Never had to return anything. Lucky me. Maybe one reason is: I always get exactly what I ordered, and it's always packed pretty well. No damages, no screw-ups, no problems.

The Only Bummer I've Ever Experienced:

The first time I ordered from them, they somehow double-billed my debit card. One order, one delivery, but two debits, about two weeks apart (?!). Which over-drew my checking account. Which meant: Nightmare Scenario. I called The House, and my bank... and someone, somewhere, fixed it mighty quick. I complained a bit about that the next time I called The House. Thankfully, it hasn't happened since. Whew...

The Trust Factor:

Having ordered from them about a half-dozen times now, and dropping close to a grand on various products. the elusive Trust Factor is doing pretty damn good. That's the most important gig, when buying online. These guys are rock solid.

The Final Verdict...?

Highly Recommended, and Enthusiastically Endorsed. Even more so than some "core" shops that I've dealt with. Good job, guys. You earned it.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Upcoming Articles:


"We Don't Fuck Around..."

File Under: Not-So-Deep-Thoughts


What's Broken In The Skateboard Media...


Media. What are the reasons for having a media? What are the goals of media? To inspire? To educate? To inform? To entertain? All of the above? In any of these examples, the mission of the media seems like a fairly noble ideal: To Advance A Greater Good Via The Mass Dissemination Of Information. But, like so many noble ideals that have been turned into businesses, the role and function of the media are not above being corrupted by the profit motive. In today's world, a corporate-owned and controlled media exists to make money, and virtually nothing else. This is fundamentally compromising the role and the relevance of media in our lives.

This is illustrated quite clearly in several articles that I've read recently, regarding the role that the profit motive is playing in the journalism "business". Laurie Garrett (formerly of Newsday)(1) and Victor Pickard (of The Guardian UK)(2), among others, have dared to question the role that profits are playing in how well the media serves the general public. The overall assessment seems to be that, the more pressing the profit motive, the more of a disservice the media does for the greater public good.

I would have to strongly agree with that sentiment. I've seen this happen with astonishing regularity, even in our own skateboard media. Which is sad. What's more: It's scary.


In the good 'ol world of Modern Media, there are the two main sources of revenues: The Readers, and The Advertisers. You- the reader- pay damn good money to buy information (that really, should be free), while the advertisers are paying just-as-good money to buy influence over the readership (that really, should be earned based on merit, not the size of said advertisers' pocketbook).

The Advertisers are probably the biggest influence that we have wielding power in the media today... skateboard-related, or otherwise. Obviously, any time that you rely on someone else's pocketbook to survive in this cold, cruel world of ours... you're ultimately going to do whatever it takes to keep that cash cow a'milkin'. That is just basic, plain 'ol human nature. The survival of the strongest, the smartest, or the most clever is always ensured. You can be weak as fuck, but if you're smart or clever enough to live off of someone else's bank indefinitely, you'll surely survive.

So, that's how the media perpetuates itself. The advertisers have the money. The media wants the money. The advertisers fork over the duckets, and that ultimately buys advertisers a huge amount of power and influence in the media. We, the consumers, don't pay nearly as much on media... if anything at all… as the advertisers do. As such, our power and influence is severely limited. At least relative to the power and influence of the advertisers.

This undue power and influence that advertisers have over writers, editors, and publishers is something that I have had the displeasure of witnessing firsthand for quite some time now. It bothers me, because it ultimately comes at a cost. That cost is honesty, dignity, and truth in reporting. That cost, is a diminishing regard to what's in the better interests of the readers. This is where that "disservice to the readership" stuff comes from. In our pastime, that means a disservice to skateboarders everywhere.


Take in point: Product Reviews. I've written many a product review in my time. Each time, I actually went out, and skated whatever it was that I was reviewing. Many magazines don't even bother with this, right out of the gate... but seriously, how can you really have an authoritative and educated opinion on a product that you've never actually put your feet on...!? And, each time I reviewed something or another, I noted the good, the bad, and the ugly of these products. Which, I might add, were always heavily edited by someone, somewhere, so as to not piss off whichever advertiser whose products were in question.

When I was having a "friendly argument" with one of my cohorts one day about this pesky "editing" that kept cropping up in my reviews, I was told point-blank that "product reviews" were not designed to serve the better interests of the readers. This, apparently, wasn't fucking Consumer Reports that I was working for over here. Instead, "product reviews" (note all these quotes, kids) were to be clean and well-kept examples of "marketing entertainment", designed to be friendly vehicles to help our advertisers sell more stuff. Which keeps the advertisers happy, our magazine in business, and us paid.

Well, as we all know... being the dickhead that I truly am... I don't do "friendly arguments" particularly well. Nor, do I sell my gawddamned soul at every possible turn for a dime or two. Thus, my "product reviewing" days came to a slow, but steady end. Because, I absolutely refused to be a patsy in someone else's corporate sales plans. If I'm going to review a product, well then, I'm gonna skate that shit, and review it as I damn well see fit. If you don't like it? Well then, go screw yourself. That's my opinion, and I'm stickin' to it.

The bottom line? The only "Product Review" that you can ever trust, is one from some kid that went to his local shop, and actually bought a product at full retail, set it up, and skated the hell out of it. His opinion counts. Because, his opinion truly originates with, and reflects the real-life experiences of, the buying public. And thus, his opinion also serves the buying public. The opinion of some fatass editor who's pride and principles are bought and paid for by Corporate Skateboarding, doesn't.

The future of media... that is, the future of a relevant, objective, admired, and respected skateboard media that truly serves the needs of both the readers, as well as the needs of the skateboard industry... will have to find a workable way to be a servant to both... but at the same time, be a patsy to neither. For this to happen, the media will have to stand wholly and completely independent of the readers and the industry, financially. In short: We have to find a way to take The Profit Motive out of the skateboard media entirely.


As far as product reviews go, the media will ultimately have to follow our example. We here at The Solitary Life actually go out, research, and compare competing products... and ultimately we pick, we choose, and we buy the products that we review. In the rare case that someone sends us a "freebie" to review? We put that disclaimer right in the review, for full disclosure. But, we still treat it as if we bought it. Because, our advertisers still don't pay one single cent to advertise here at The Solitary Life.

You, you read that right: The Advertisers Pay Nothing. "Why do you even have advertisers then, if you're not getting anything out of it?!" Easy: We give free ad space to those skateboard companies that we feel are truly doing something good and positive for skateboarding [and snowboarding]. Whether it's making an excellent product, running an extremely ethical business, or making a very real effort to contribute to the greater good... those are the companies that we want to support. And thus, we charge them nada for our support. All we ask is that they keep on doing whatever it was that they were doing, to get our support in the first place.

And, of course: The readers don't pay squat to read The Solitary Life, either. It's free. As it should be.

Someday, all of this might very well change. Someday, this might actually become a really expensive proposition... creating and publishing this project. In that case, I would much rather be a "reader-driven" publication... that is, a publication that is fully and exclusively supported and financed by readers' donations, instead of via advertising dollars. This would keep our work entirely focused on the needs of you, our readers. Sort of like the National Public Radio of the skateboarding world. But, with cuss words all over the place.

You, is who we work for. You, is who we serve. Thanks for reading us. It means a lot. And frankly, we're flattered.

In the meantime, enjoy the "free" while it lasts. And, I'll keep enjoying my freedom from advertiser hogwash and editorial wrangling for the time being.

It's a good life we have these days, and our time is now. Live it up!



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Product Review: The Ride Fleetwood


Here's the current crop of Ride Fleetwoods. Is it me, or do these look an awful lot like last years' Burton Deuces...?

The Ride Fleetwood. Always, always an instant classic.

I've always been a big Ride fan. Not always the best, not always the most technologically advanced, not always the prettiest... but always, a solid investment. And likewise, consistently solid performers.

This year, my investment was a pair of 2009 Fleetwoods; a 161, and a 165. These were intended to supplement, and eventually replace, my fleet of 5150 Strokes as my big-mountain guns. A very good buy, and one that I'm glad I made. Here's why:

The Fleetwood is a part of Ride's "Foundation" Collection. Meant to be the most "entry-level" (or "pricepoint") of the Ride collections, the Foundation is usually deceivingly advanced for it's "pricepoint" status. Indeed, the current Fleetwoods have many of the best features of the next-step-up "Mobility" collection, including Slimewalls sidewalls for the 09/10 season (for positive edge hold via vibration and chatter dampening), Thin Con construction (less swing weight), carbon laminates (not quite the Carbon Array 3, 5, or 7, but still, very stiff and poppy), and a Fusion 1500 base, which is more than adequate for most snowboarders' needs. About the only thing missing are the Carbon Arrays, Silencers, Pop Rods, Membrain topsheets, and the various new rockers coming out. All of which become highly specialized, for increasingly specific applications. But for the do-everything, all-mountain snowboarder, The Foundation Collection has everything you'll ever need, and nothing that you won't.

Last years' Fleetwoods. They look a lot more boss up close and in person, than they do in pixelated little images. Still: They're clearly pretty boss. The only real difference for '10 was the introduction of the 90a Slimewalls sidewalls, lifted from Ride's upper-end constructions.

The best judge of a snowboard, is how well it does what it's supposed to, and how it feels underfoot. Not always in that order. If I had to choose one, I'd definitely pick feel above all else. The Fleetwood is a great, all-mountain shredder. It's comfortable, it solidly handles whatever you can toss at it, and it rips. It's snowboarding perfection, but on a threadbare budget.

The biggest surprise was the overall stiffness, and the resulting power and drive that this board demands, and gives back in return. It's a lot like flooring a Lamborghini: It just takes the fuck off, and your job is basically to hang on, and harness that power as best as you can. It's not for the feint of heart, that much is for damned sure. With a good, slippery wax job and some thoughtful tuning, you can pretty much outrun anything on the mountain, on command. Lean back on a corner, and you feel like you're suddenly being shot out of a cannon. Straightening out your front leg and getting on either edge feels like you're going to slice that mountain neatly into two halves. It's basically a samurai sword of a snowboard. Feels boss as fuck underfoot. Good shit.


Of course, I'd certainly recommend picking one of these up posthaste. It's a great board at a bargain-basement price, especially if you find one on closeout somewhere. Good looking, great riding, hard-ass charging... I mean, seriously? What's there not to like...?!


Product Review: 5150 Stroke 161/164



Here's the last three years' worth of 5150 Strokes. I have several the 2007/08 models, to the left. I'll soon be buying a couple of the 2010 models, to the right. The '09s were just plum ugly, if not hopelessly uninspiring. But, as budget-minded, performance riders? These cannot be beat.

"Why", you ask? Two words: The Sidecut. It's nothing short of pure magic.

5150. A company that has probably seen some better days. Once at the forefront of the "core" snowboarding industry, it's now a relic of it's former heydays, somehow still surviving in mass-market sporting goods stores, and online overstock peddlers. Here's a company that probably well deserves to be underrated, at first glance. Many kids today don't even know what the hell a 5150 is, or how long they've been around.

So, I bought six budget snowboards from a questionable company with a rapidly declining reputation. How awesome am I?! Well, here's the answer: These Were The Best Purchases That I've Made In Years. By Far. In my world, that's pretty damn genius.

The key to the whole thing, is separating the junk from the juice. 5150's cap-construction decks truly are for the most "budget" of the budget-minded beginners. Which is exactly who they're marketed to. And for them, they really are still quite good rides. I've owned several over the years, and they were good deals for the money. But, not quite durable or responsive enough for a demanding old-timer like me.

Then, we have the "sandwich" decks in the line. These, are where the juice is. These, are the ones us picky types should be looking at. Stiff, rigid, snappy, poppy, and surprisingly responsive, these are balls-to-the-wall, fire-breathing dragsters of epic proportions. These bad boys will lay down the law on any steep you can bring yourself to huck your ass down. No shit.


The secret? The sidecut. Mellow in the middle, tight at the ends, this board doesn't just turn on command. Nope: This thing almost turns by thought! It's a big-terrain-carvers' wet dream, made real. It totally dominates. Really, there's just not enough wonderful superlatives to describe how grand and good the Strokes feel underfoot. If you're smart, or lucky, you'll just break yourself down, and go ride one. If you're even smarter, you'll probably go buy two.


Admittedly, they're not always much to look at. The 07/08's were by far the best year, on strictly aesthetic grounds. The Jolly Roger theme gives you a draw-and-quarter vibe that definitely helps when you're attacking Mt. Bohemia's gnarly-ass steeps with it (which is exactly what I did!). I don't really know what the hell happened for '08/'09. Maybe they thought that stale and mundane would be really hot that year? And then, we have the current '09/'10's. I mean, c'mon guys- a snowflake?! Isn't that sort of like jerking off to The Weather Channel? Granted, it's a step up from last year. But still, as my buddy Zappy would say, "Graphics sell". Given the glut of these still in stock everywhere, I'd say these graphics clearly ain't selling much.

Maybe 5150 will get back to something badass for the upcoming '10/'11 season. We can only hope...!


Product Review: Burton Freestyle Bindings



Next up: The ever-present, entry-level classic from Burton, the Burton Freestyle binding. Here, we have the exact opposite of the K2 Cinch. Inexpensive, at about $130 retail (but, you can easily find these on close-out for about $80-$90 bills). Basic, simple, and bulletproof. As the advertising quip from Burton goes: "Entry level?! Try Next Level!" That just about says it all, right there.

The truth is, the Burton Freestyles really do have many of the features and benefits that you'll find in not only Burton's "higher-end" bindings, but in most of the industry's high-end snowboard bindings... but, at a fraction of the price. A light, stiff highback with more forward lean options than you'll ever use. Foam padding everywhere, from the highbacks, to the heels and gas pedals on the baseplates. Fast and easy-to-engage ratchets and ladder bars. A lifetime warranty on baseplate breakage. Very light weight, yet immensely durable. Entirely practical, yet beautiful in their graceful simplicity. The generously padded ankle straps and over-the-toe toe straps are real day-savers for old coots like me: They're so comfortable, you can nearly forget that they're there. But then, I'm old. I can forget damn near anything these days...


In short: These just might be one of the best bangs for your buck, in all of snowboarding. Maybe that's why they're the standard that everyone else is always trying to beat? In any rate, I've spent many a day strapped into a pair of these over the last few years, and every one of them has been a blast. Thanks, Jake. I'll be buying more of these next year.