Gnu Swallowtail Carver Review

The Gnu Swallowtail Carver is an updated design from the 80’s with modern tech. Is firing up the time machine and going back to 1984 the way to the future?

Gnu Swallowtail Carver topsheet
All the way from Mt. Weird, comes the Gnu Swallowtail Carver, a remake of the classic Hypercarve, a board still prized in many a vintage snowboard collection. Featuring the archetypal graphics and a similar shape to the originals, the big question is whether the new tech provides a performance boost that transcends the nostalgic appeal.

I reviewed the 2016 model. The 2018 model is essentially the same – the pink paint swoosh is now green and the topsheet is made from a sparkly beans bio polymer.

The tech

The Gnu Swallowtail Carver has an XC2 profile. A shortened stronger rocker between the feet leads to longer camber sections underfoot. It’s interesting that Gnu didn’t use C3 or TT camber to fully mimic the classics from the 80’s, but the rocker definitely adds an element of playfulness.

XC2 gif

The Gnu Swallowtail Carver has a rather wide waist at 258mm, which provides more surface area for pow float, yet edge to edge the board is lightning quick and it feels much narrower than it is. It has Mini Magne-Traction on the edges, 4mm of taper and a sintered base. It only comes in one size, 157cm.

Comparing the Swallowtail Carver to the ’84 & ’85 Hypercarves, you can see the new shape stays true to the original designs – the tail is the same while the nose seems to be a mix of the older versions. One visual difference is the lack of channels on the base of the tail of the new version, and of course the different camber profile:

How does it ride?

At first glance, the swallowtail of the board gives the impression of a dedicated powder board, but this is first and foremost a hard carving charger. In spite of having rocker in between the bindings, the Swallowtail Carver is stiff and wants to go fast. As soon as the edge engages you get a rocket boost, like it or not. One big change from the Mervin boards I’ve ridden to date is the location of the inserts. Normally, a swallowtail shape lets the sidecut extend all the way to the end of the tail, providing the stability of a longer board in a shorter size. However, with the tapered tail shape of the Swallowtail Carver, the sidecut is shortened, giving it a more freestyle feel. This leaves the inserts set way back relative to the sidecut, meaning that if you set up your bindings in the same insert holes as your other Mervin boards, you’ll end up set way back on the sidecut. Right off the bat, this set up felt a touch unbalanced on groomers, but it wasn’t until I was in the pressure cooker of a banked slalom race that I realized this stance location wasn’t going to work for me. The start of the sidecut up at the nose seemed so far away. I decided to move the bindings up so they were centered on the sidecut, which meant putting the front binding all the way forward, and all of a sudden the board went from feeling pretty good to feeling amazing.

Gnu pro Mathieu Crepel won the 2016 Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom on a Swallowtail Carver. Relive the feat in this video from Almo Film:

Powder performance

Luckily for all the people who bought this board thinking it was a powder board, the Gnu Swallowtail Carver does not disappoint in the fluffy deeps. The XC2 rocker is the big story here – it provides solid float and as with most rocker boards, pumping the deck gives you added propulsion on powder traverse lines and through flat spots. The stiff long nose is a bit unforgiving if you get knocked off course in a pillow section but it makes up for it when powering through chop at speed. If I could add a 3D nose it would be perfect – that would make it a bit more surfy while keeping the charging capabilities. One can’t forget the swallowtail as it comes into play in powder and helps sink the tail, lift the nose and provides less resistance when turning.Gnu Swallowtail Carver profile

Final thoughts

Gnu doesn’t leave much to the imagination when naming this the Swallowtail Carver – it has a swallowtail and it carves. It is a stiff aggressive groomer charger with enough rocker from the xc2 profile to keep it a touch playful for the not-so-serious days, and to give it solid float in powder. I found it handled all conditions well and particularly liked it in powder where manipulating the slightly softer tail gave me an extra smooth exit out of turns. The overall stiffness makes it a little more businesslike than something like a Gnu Riders Choice but freestyle is still fun on it – kicking out methods with the low swing weight of the swallowtail is really fun. Don’t be afraid to size down for this board, for if you were to imagine a regular rounded tail on it, the board would be in the 162cm range. Definitely not a novelty reissue only for old school Gnu-heads, the Gnu Swallowtail Carver is a true contender for riders who want a serious and versatile ride with graphics and a shape that will leave a lasting impression.

Get more information on Gnu at their official site.

Disclosure: The Gnu Swallowtail Carver was purchased by the Japan Grabs Team.