Interview: Rob Kingwill

Japan Grabs had the chance to sit down for a chat with Jackson Hole Shaper Summit founder back at the Shaper Summit Japan last winter, to hear how Japan has influenced his riding and board designs

We’re here at the first Shaper Summit Japan with Rob Kingwill. You call the Shaper Summit, which you started 8 years ago in Jackson Hole, a gathering of snowboard culture and design. What’s your impression of Japanese snowboard culture and design right now?

I think in some ways Japanese snowboard culture and design is a closer-knit community than what we have in the United States. It always seems like there’s such a more collective consciousness of riders, and the way people come together and support each other as snowboarders and it has always inspired me to come to Japan and see that. It’s something I try to achieve with the Shaper Summit at Jackson Hole, and this is the very first one here but to watch everyone come together and pull off this event so very well right out of the gate is really cool.

You’ve been holding the ShaperSummit in Jackson Hole for eight years now. Can you tell us about that event and how it has grown over the years?

I started the Shaper Summit because I saw a need to bring the small community of craft-level shapers and the big brands together in one place without a huge barrier to entry financially. In the end we are all snowboarders, and having a strong community that supports itself on a grass roots level is really important to attracting new riders to the sport as well as keeping the old riders interested and feeling like we still have some soul.

Rob checking out all the Japanese snowsurf shapes at Shaper Summit Japan


Do you think snowboard design culture is in a good place right now, with the whole ‘shaped board revolution’ thing?

I do think snowboard design is in a much better place than it was, with the whole shaper revolution,  just because there is so much more excitement for your consumer to be looking at all the different shapes, and to have so many options and see the real creativity that really drives snowboard design.

For a long time we were making popsicle stick after popsicle stick and putting different colors of lipstick on it and now there’s truly that innovation coming across from the designers in the shapes, and the way they look – and ultimately how they ride. It adds excitement for the consumers and makes them want to go out and try new things, and push themselves in different ways, whether it’s carving, or not having to stick to just riding the park and just riding those park boards we (as an industry) made so many of.

Rob Kingwill shaper summit japan local board
This looks about right… Rob going full local with a Prana Punks board

Putting your pro model with Winterstick to one side, what was your favorite board that you rode today?

I think my favorite today was the Prana Punks the 140 board. I was really surprised that a board that small would perform that well. It was really cool to be able to talk with Nabe, the shaper, about the choices he made in designing that board. And be able to share how I felt about it, and he really listened to what I had to say about how to maybe improve the board on the next round.

With a brand like Prana Punks there’s a big interplay between bindingless powder surfing and yuki-ita, and snowboards with bindings. Do you see that design conversation between powsurfing and snowboarding taking off in north America too?

I think there is a kind of revolution coming with people really starting to understand how dynamic powsurfing can be, and then ultimately that translation of the technologies to make the powsurfers better is going to make snowboards better and vice-versa. The coalescing of those ideas is going to improve how boards turn in general. Also in terms of Yuki-ita, it makes people look at the mountain in different ways to have fun. They go out with different boards for different things and can have a great time just hiking a little park on a yuki-ita, and maybe have a better time than if they were just riding a hardpack day on their regular snowboard.

Rob setting up Prana Punks shaper summit
Rob Kingwill and Naoyuki from Prana Punks, elbow to elbow turning screws together before social distancing

In his Shred Talk here at the Shaper Summit Japan, Mike Basich was talking about his self-portraits as creative solutions to the challenges of a pro career. That seems to echo the creative solutions of board shapers to challenges like ‘boards that float well don’t perform as well on hardpack’…

Or just completely ignore “the solution” and take the edges off completely and say this is only for riding powder like Dimitri did for Winterstick back in 1978. He had edges, and he took them off. He was like “We don’t need to ride hardpack snow. Why would you even do that?” So just dynamic interaction with the mountain is kind of the core. Creative interaction with the mountain through sliding sideways is the root of what we’re doing, and then coming up with creative ways to improve that, or to come at from a different way so we can enjoy being in the mountains – and continue to, even though we’ve being doing this for twenty years. Finding a new spark, a new board that really inspires you and rides in a certain way, and really glides or really ollies well, is something keeps that fire lit. Especially for us that have been snowboarding for so long. That’s the cool thing about snowboarding. There’s always something to learn and another way that you can look at the mountain, ride the mountain and make that turn, and make that creative choice.


Does traveling and coming to Japan open to your eyes to different ways of doing that?

Coming to Japan for me, especially a couple of years ago, I showed up with a bunch of boards that really weren’t good for the type of terrain they have in Japan. And that was right at the beginning of what I call the the ‘snowsurfers revolution’ where riders were holding their energy from the top of the mountain to the bottom in these really long turns that I didn’t understand very well because I come from Jackson where it’s so steep, all you do is brake and cut your speed: Dump speed, dump energy. Hold it back, hold it back. In Japan you have to hold on to every little bit, and if you make that hard turn, you’re going to loose that glide and it’s all over.

So just being in Japan changed my whole mind about how I approached the mountain, and (showed me) a whole different way of turning my snowboard, and ultimately a new way of how to build snowboards. So my pro model includes a little more taper than I used to ride, so I can do that snowsurrf style turn, as well as having a pretty tight sidecut where I can dump speed at Jackson Hole.

Can you take elements of that (snowsurf) style of riding back to the terrain in Jackson Hole?

Yeah, I think so. What I learned from that, adding that taper and adjustment of where my early rise was, allowed me to ride big mountain lines better without getting a lot of snow in my face, and like, fully getting in the white room on the slopes. When you are riding an old school halfpipe board on big mountains you are constantly over-turning and you’re constantly putting yourself in the whiteroom which puts you at risk on the slope and doesn’t allow you to ride it dynamically and fast. So I’ve definitely taken the new shapes to bigger mountains and you can make those longer turns in a better way than on a traditional park board.

Talking of conditions, despite it being maybe the worst winter ever, you still got a storm day followed by sun for the Shaper Summit Japan. How was the terrain at Kagura in resort and that you guide accessed from there?

The first couple days of this trip I thought we were just going to be riding slushy spring conditions with low snow, but the snow gods definitely smiled on us!  We linked up with a local guide during the Shaper Summit and they showed us a huge amount of untracked terrain, with amazing gullies and gladed trees. It was a great place to be testing boards for sure.

Where have you ridden in Japan so far? Good spots can be more about the people you’re with and conditions you get, but any favorite places?

The first Shaper Summmit Japan was held at Kagura, which has some insane sidecountry! Riding powder boards is a big part of the test, and Kagura was a great place to do it. On this trip we also visited Tenjindaira, which really lived up to it’s legendary backcountry status for me. Tenjin might be my new favorite place in Japan! I also really like a couple of spots around Niseko… I love Moiwa, and I really like the terrain that Supernatural Niseko backcountry tours can access.

Thank you, Rob. I look forward to the Shaper Summit getting bigger and deeper in Japan!

Rob and the 241 team continued their adventures after Shaper Summit Japan

Thank you Rob Kingwill, Mike Basich, Kagura resort, and the Shaper Summit Japan crew.  A special shout out to 241 Clothing Design, who played a big part in putting on Shaper Summit Japan last winter, making conversations on snowboard design like this possible.

See more of the 2020 Shaper Summit Japan here.