The year 2000 was a strange time to be introduced to core snowboarding. At 14, having been already riding for four years, I was late to the game. TB8 Infinity by Standard Films was the first snowboard movie I can remember watching and not too long after that a guy at my local shop pointed me towards The Resistance, the first Forum team movie put together by Mack Dawg Productions. At the time watching Peter Line, Devun Walsh, JP Walker, and friends went against every snowboarding instinct that Warren Miller had instilled in me throughout my youth. If the first time watching The Resistance was my introduction to “real snowboarding,” then the second time was my indoctrination.
Over the following years I would watch that and every other shred flick that came out, filing each free moment I had. I knew all the all the tricks by heart and when I wasn’t watching a film in front of my face I was replaying it slowly in my mind dissecting whatever section or particular trick had me in it’s grasp on that day.
But I was lazy. Until sometime in the last few years I never took the time to go back much further than that era. Sure I eventually saw Simple Pleasures but that was just the early days of that same era of snowboarding — the so-called Forum 8 days. I never went back to earlier movies, the ones by Fall Line Films. I would catch glimpses here and there and would see tight stances on directional boards almost always being ridden by a rider wearing the most offensive day-glow shred costume. I never payed attention. Guys were doing 900’s now and some were even doing 10’s. This is all the mainstream snowboard media covered and to me this is what snowboarding was: wide stances, street rails and barely grabbed flips and spins.
No one ever told me that snowboarding progression wasn’t linear, that the riding I was witnessing in my most impressionable years was not a direct descendent of of the late eighties and early nineties. No one told me that the snowboarding of Mike Ranquet, Dave Seoane, and Chris Roach was equally righteous, if not more so, then what was being done in the early 2000s. None of the shop guys told me to go back and watch RPM if you really wanted learn about board control, no one told me to check out some of the first grassers in The Western Front if I wanted to learn how to properly grab my snowboard.
I spent the better part of two decades trying figure out where between 25 and 26 inches my stance was best. The only way to prove your worth in snowboarding during those years was to ad more flips and spins to your run. Creativity though often touted was confused with necessity — a unique grab or unusual jump was only as good as the extra rotations it allowed the rider to accomplish. It was a struggle to keep up.
It’s clear now what was missing. It wasn’t some technology that would make everything effortless and it wasn’t some technique that would make every trick come more naturally and it certainly wasn’t the 26 inch stance. It was the approach to snowboarding that was pioneered by Chris Roach.
Absent from snowboarding for the exact period that the game went astray, the correlation is overwhelming.
Roach introduced the world to skate-influenced snowboarding with proper grabs and execution. He effectively brought individual style to the forefront of the sport at time when racers in hard boots were sending snowboarding in a much different direction. Then, sometime in the mid-nineties, Roach vanished, and along with him went the presses, butters, and triple pokes that stood as a true testament to control over a snowboard. A series of knee injuries left him unable to ride and for roughly 15 years snowboarding professionally was not an option.
Having been pro since he got hooked up by Tom Sims at age 16, loosing snowboarding was a shock to his system. But Roach took the development in stride and quickly acclimated to his first non-snowboarding job, making a career in excavating and starting a family in Grass Valley just down the road from Lake Tahoe.
Two seasons ago, Roach got his knees proper and returned… an impeccably-timed reemergence when snowboarding is once again celebrating the style of shred that he originated. The younger generation that is now leading the charge in snowboarding looks more like the second coming of the cast of Riders On The Storm then it does an evolutionary extension of the last decade and a half of snowboarding. Roach has returned just in time for the second act of the snowboarding era he fathered and is once again out to set the tone in his own way along with friend and fellow legend Mike Ranquet and D-Day founder Nico Nolan. Snowboarding’s old(er) blood is experiencing a rebirth of sorts, and not a moment too soon. And if you need proof of his shred prowess, Roach finished second in the 40-plus group at the Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge at Mt. Bachelor just behind Todd Richards. Not bad for a guy sidelined for 15 years.
JP Schlick: You left professional snowboarding in the mid-nineties due to knee injuries and it wasn’t until a couple years ago that you were able to get back on snow and pursue snowboarding in a more full-time fashion. What was your relationship with snowboarding during that hiatus?
Chris Roach: I stopped riding professionally around 1995. I could ride on a perfect day, but I still had to be super careful. I couldn’t just go out and freeride, I had to know where everything was. I would go out and ride maybe only five days a year and only when it was perfect conditions. Then two years ago I had all the [knee] procedures done, and I had them done at the beginning of the summer so I was able to ride that next year which was not last year but the prior year so this is my third season back.
Once I started riding with both capable legs it sort of started a new burn… you know what I mean? My body started running at a different temperature and I started feeling those feelings I used to feel, those ones that snowboarding and skateboarding give you. So I definitely wanted to make some moves to make snowboarding part of my life again.
Suffice to say a lot happened in the time you were gone. Were you paying attention to trends and how things were evolving in the sport?
Snowboarding was totally out of mind I didn’t follow it one bit during those years away. I started an excavation business and my wife and I started a family and that was consuming every bit of my time and that was okay because I had other important things going on. Now my family is grown up a bit.
It’s all about timing.
You know, a few years ago snowboarding wasn’t ready for D-Day and we weren’t ready for it. But now the time is right and we are ready. The timing has really just worked out you know, and I couldn’t be more stoked.
How would compare the state of snowboarding when you left to right now?
Well when I think back to snowboarding back to when I left, you know in the prime of my career or whatever, I mean, shit, obviously things have gotten a lot bigger you know with the contests and the Olympics and all that shit and with the progression of snowboarding. The progression is never standing still with any sport but with snowboarding, skateboarding, and motocross in general, things completely took off.
It’s interesting you know for a while I didn’t really see any noseslides or backside tailslides and it seemed to me that snowboarding was kind of dead to that kind of stuff and now it has sort of come full circle you know? I mean look at carving, carving is coming back around look at the Yawgoons crew and all that stuff and you see a lot of noseslide shit too.
So what is the state of snowboarding? I think it just follows trends to be honest and I don’t know if snowboarding was in a bad state when I left — I enjoyed it. Like right now everyone thinks snowboarding is such a shitty state or whatever but I’m so excited to shred and be involved in it that snowboarding to me is like a new puppy and D-Day for us is just the beginning nobody knows what’s going on here but this is just the first step of many.
There is the carving and the butters and the technically proficient style of riding that is becoming new standard of snowboarding mastery but at the same time there is this other direction that snowboarding is heading in, now with triples in the pipe and quads off of jumps. You have a reputation of being pretty outspoken on how you view snowboarding and the direction that you think is most healthy for it. Could you shed some light on that topic?
There’s always been division in snowboarding like back when the top guys were racing. For a brief moment it was all about alpine and we were like, “What do you mean?” This is more skate-y you can do all this different stuff on a board and that was the separation. But the reason everyone does these sports is about progression you know and that feeling of moving forward with your own personal style and tricks. So what’s been going on lately, all these new tricks over these huge jumps are gnarly man, I know what it takes for those guys to go at that speed and do that many barrel rolls or whatever it is he’s doing and nobody can take that from him, it’s super gnarly.
But where I get my inspirations from was a time when nobody did barrel rolls and that kind of thing wasn’t appreciated, so I never did any backflips or any of that shit, I just never got into it. I’ve always been afraid of it — not afraid of doing the trick, but afraid of where it takes us. When the first barrel roll went down at the ’89 Breck Worlds, I was like, “Oh fuck! What now…?” Now I know. Everybody knows. The quad cork and so on, that is what. And no disrespect to it, that is super gnarly, but I just don’t like that sort of bag of tricks.
It seems like for a long time snowboarding needed all these strait jumps and traditional half-pipes to help the general public, who didn’t understand snowboarding, to differentiate the riders with general measuring stick… a way to blatantly see progress that everyone could understand, and even then it wasn’t so easy. Now snowboarding has matured enough to the point where people can tell what good snowboarding is and creativity — not just in the riding but in the creation of features — is now becoming a big part of progression with events like Peace Park, Holy Bowly, and the Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge.
I think that when you go to these parks there is always an alternate line; I never look at the jump they build, the straight jump, sometimes there’s a hip to it or something rad and fun and I think with the vision and creativity and where we are at with machines, how they can make such rad things, we are not even tapping into the things we should be making. I mean look at what they put into that feature that he did that trick on you know [Billy Morgan’s quad cork jump in Italy] it just looks unbelievable. With all that effort and all that snow pushed why not make it into some bowls or hips with some perfect grade so you’re not losing speed where its all these super fun features? But that’s just me, man, looking at it from a different view point or whatever.
Now you always have to have these perfect ski jumps or whatever because that’s the way people made it and that’s the way it has gone over the years, it’s just trended to that way but I think that if we start changing things around and make some fun things even at the local resorts well then you just start changing everything again. You know what it mean? I think it’s headed the right way, I think everyone is sniffing out whats going on.
I agree, more and more we are trying to get away from these stock features and riders don’t have to do forty-foot overhead quad corks to progress and get respect.
Yeah for sure man, you talk to these athletes — and they are athletes these guys are gnarly — this is high impact stuff, you gotta have your shit together that’s some deadly stuff and why does it stop there? Why does it stop at four barrel rolls? Well it doesn’t, because he’s not dead, that’s progression, so it doesn’t stop.
But I think you’re right it will become more creative fun stuff with alternate lines and better hips and better bowls, I mean better everything, you can do backside tailslides around bowls and shit, who doesn’t want to see that? That’s board control to me and serious board control is always what I’ve been into and you see that but there’s separation for sure, man, I mean that group group of riders doing a bunch of corks are doing that because that’s what they are paid to do and it’s all snowboarding, it’s all rad stuff.
You know everyone thinks I maybe have some harsh opinion about all these gymnastic moves and stuff and you know it’s not harsh, I have respect for that snowboarding — it’s just not for me.
You talk about the timing being right for you and D-Day and I couldn’t agree more. Up until the last couple years the earliest video I had seen was Mack Dawgs’ “Simple Pleasures” and it was only recently that I went back and watched the earlier stuff like “RPM” and I was blown away at the tricks that were being done in those early shred flicks that you headlined. I had to wait for Pierre Wikberg and Robot Food, watching some of Travis Parker and Jussi Oksanen’s stuff from that time to see what pro snowboarders were really capable of when they were just pointing it strait at a jump or handrail. If only I had gone back a couple more years, my eyes would have been opened way sooner.
The face of snowboarding is against the wall; it’s hit the wall you know? Change is needed in a lot of areas, the system is broken and with D-Day we are here to help make changes and not to just go around saying that kind of stuff and be that way and argue that fact but to just be here to help snowboarding grow in a meaningful, positive way.
What caught my eye with the D-Day decks was that the entire line was traditional cambered boards. A lot has happened over the past decade with reverse camber and now with very unique shapes and sizes. What do you prefer given all these new trends and camber profiles of snowboards?
I rode Santa Cruz boards for 22 years, I never rode any other wood and I got on that D-Day, a Never Summer-built board, and I just loved it. I tried to ride some of their other stuff that was not cambered and for me I just don’t have that power or that control that you get with camber. On a cambered board you can just really lay into turns and just know that your board is there. I like that feeling so yeah I just ride totally full-on cambered boards and a little bit on the stiff side, I like them a little stiffer because then you can harness that energy like when you’re doing tailslides and you can ollie into it and ollie out of it.
I’m so happy man to go from riding that same wood for so long and now jump on some other stuff, it has been super fun. Fun to design stuff with our team and now with the new factory where we are getting the boards made we can make changes the boards pretty swiftly and it’s more cost effective then having it done through Never Summer but those guys are awesome and they treated us well, they really helped us put our feet on the ground saying where our boards were made in our first year.
The first run of D-Day boards had a very distinctive look and feel. Part of that is they were pressed by Never Summer but the whole line looked very refined and polished, like they had been conceptualized over decades. Is that the case?
We come from a different background. You know? We’re talking about Mike Ranquet who had a vert ramp back in the 80’s and everybody in the skating world has skated his ramps and I’ve been into skating my whole life as well and so our influence, our board line, our graphics, all of it, we can pretty much do whatever we want. And between Mike and I we have over 60 years of snowboard experience so we better be able to do some things right. Of course we’ll do some things wrong too but that will be the fun of it you know, it’s our turn to do some things and we know enough people to not make some colossal mistakes right away.
That experience definitely shows through in that first run of boards. I’m curious what does the Chris Roach board quiver look like?
I ride a 159 all the way around. It’s long enough that I can ride it in pow. I’ve never been able to set my boards up centered, I’ve always had more nose so I’m at least two and a half inches in the backseat and it changes everything. It makes it better for tailslides and when I go at a jump I am actually really doing a cab, I’m going fakie at that thing and I’m going to do a Caballero.
You just have to do that, just set your board up like that one time. A lot of people don’t ever try it but with the cambered boards if you ride a 157 or a 159 or something — I weigh like 160 pounds so a 159 is perfect — and you ride a lot and put enough time in you get really comfortable, it gets kind of snappier and your timing gets good and the 159 board starts to feel small for flat-ground tricks and smaller jumps.
That makes sense, I can definitely attest to having fun in the backseat. What about the rest of your setup? Things have certainly changed over the years, what kind of kit are you running?
I got in with the guys at Union and I was riding the Travis Rice binding and I really liked it a lot but it was just a smidge high on my back. So Riley over at Union mashed some bindings up for me and I absolutely love them they are super fun, they are mimicked after Travis’s binding and they don’t go up too high but they’re not low backs either, so I’m super stoked on them and they got a lot of flex where the straps cross my feet.
And then boots I just recently started talking with Vans again, I saw a bunch of their boots at SIA and they seem to be making a little bit of a softer boot which is definitely what I need. I’ve probably tried on thirty pairs of boots in the past two years and right now I am riding a pair of $180 Burtons. They had a torsion bar on them and I just took those right out — grabbed them with a pair of needle-nose pliers just to be able to flex them side to side, so for me the cheaper, softer the boot seems to be best.
Just to totally geek out for a minute can we talk about stance width and angles? I have been a serial stance changer for years, switching up width and angles compulsively, trying to find that right fit. For years I was between 24.5 and 26 inches (I’m 6’2 ) then had a brief two year stint in the 23 inch range. But recently talking to some riders around Mt. Bachelor I narrowed it up to around 21.5 to 22 inches and I have been loving it, the only time I take a screw driver to my board these days is when the bolts come loose. Do you mess around with your stance at all or are you a set-it-and-forget it kind of guy?
No I don’t set it and forget it at all dude, I can tell if it’s off a quarter one way or another or if something else is off immediately. I put it at 18 on the Unions on the front foot and as I tighten it I don’t have the bolts at the end of the slots so I can tighten and twist it so I can get a few more degrees, so I set it at 18 and then I try to open it up as much as I can, just kind of twist it towards the nose you know. So I don’t know what that really makes it maybe twenty or something but I grew up riding 30 degrees, you had to ride that, that’s how Tom [Sims] mounted the bindings on his boards. So the last few years I have totally been getting my stance straitened out and now I don’t mess with it at all. My stance is 22 and a quarter and my back foot is strait across on the unions — zero degrees on the disk but then the same thing I twist it inward as I tighten it and it probably gives me a degree or something.
So for the past couple years you have been riding the same stance not really changing it up too much?
I have it written down in every bag I travel with, and every board I ride I try to find that stance and that normally gives me at least two inches of more nose than tail you know. I’ve got to have that, so it almost makes riding something like a 155 totally out of the question.
I once heard that Craig Kelly said it took him 18 years to find his stance. How long has it taken you to find where it is best to stand on our board?
Yeah, dude. Craig’s right. I mean I had backside tailslides locked and then I put a new deck together and I was struggling, I was like “what’s my deal?” When you change boards there is a sweet-spot for everything you do especially if you’re honed in on a few different tricks, the board works really good in a certain spot for that stuff. So I’m always trying to fuss around with it. If you think you have the right shit then you’re dead. Sure it feels good and thats rad but that’s your job, to search around and improve this and change that.
A lot of prominent snowboarders from your generation and even more recent generations have disappeared from the scene. You are back now and clearly have a strong passion for snowboarding but why do you think we hear about guys who once made snowboarding their life leaving it all behind and not riding at all any more?
Life’s gnarly man, I mean look at everybody’s life. It’s easy from the outside to say “yeah homie doesn’t even ride anymore,” but go back two years, go back five years, go back ten years. What happened? Whats he got to do? we’re all here trying to do these things and life doesn’t give you everything you want so you just got to go and you got to live it.
Snowboarding is taxing man, it’s expensive, it’s living in mountain towns, you know? Maybe your girl doesn’t snowboard and she doesn’t want to be in the snow. I mean in my case I never had a job in my life, shit I turned pro for Tom [Sims] when I was like sixteen or something that was essentially my job you know? Snowboarding. It doesn’t always get gradually taken away from you, sometimes you’ve got these rad sponsors and then you get hurt or something, and it’s like shit—if you don’t have them next year and you’re used to living this way and all these bills are there, you don’t know what to do.
Everyone panics or maybe not panics maybe they’ve got it together and they go fishing in Alaska or some shit and then they become mountain men up there, I don’t know. But I can tell you one thing, nobody ever wants it to end, the shred life, it’s fun to go sit on chairlifts and then go enjoy a beer and steak and then go do it again the next day you know, that’s cool.
So these days are you still excavating full-time or are you back to snowboarding full-time?
Well I would think my goal would be to be snowboarding full-time, obviously that would be super fun and I have some rad sponsors now with D-Day and I got on Drop Gloves and I would really like to design a mitten. I’ve only ever worn mittens all my life, that would be really rad, I’m stoked to be on with those guys. And then Homeschool man, I got on with those guys and that’s how I am able to come up to Oregon right now, they have put up a lot for me to be able to ride this year. So yeah my goal would fully be to shred full time but I have these commitments to the home life and the mortgage and this and that and I can’t really afford to get all giddy over some shit, I have to make a pretty big nut at the end of the year. I have some excavating plans in my truck right now that I will be putting a number together for when I get home. But right now it’s cool just to be involved with snowboarding again and just be on the playing field.
What’s next for you and D-Day?
You know I feel that Mike and I left a pretty big footprint in snowboarding back in the day and we have an opportunity to do that again, not just with this brand but with other ideas that will be coming down the pipe. I’m just really stoked to be snowboarding again.