Custom Snowboard Manufacturer Savage Panda - The Q&A

12th of June 2017

Savage Panda’s the new kid on the block and they’re letting sparks fly. Image:: Supplied

Mountainwatch | Matt Wiseman

There's nothing unusual about a custom surfboard, they've been common for decades and are as old as surfing itself. Snowboards however, have by and large succumbed to mass factory production. It’s easier to hand shape a surfboard blank than combine all the elements of a snowboard sandwich after all - the wood or foam core, the topsheet, the metal edges, the p-tex base etc. etc.

As such, Savage Panda Snowboards say how they saw a gap in the market for high-end fully customised snowboards. Here’s what Simon and Kate of Savage Panda had to say about their business and why #offtherackisdead.

How was Savage Panda conceived?

S – Savage Panda was conceived on a one of our regular snow trips – this one was to Mt Buller in 2015. Over dinner one night we were talking about my new custom surfboard as I’ve had them personally shaped for me for over 20 years. And Kate said “wouldn’t it be great if you could do that with your snowboard too. . . you know have it personally shaped to exactly what you want and need?”

Lightbulb moment!

So, I went looking for a snowboard maker to design and build a truly custom snowboard just like my surfboard shaper does, and guess what, I couldn’t find that offering in the market – not really. Sure, there were company’s doing a fairly basic shape, length, width, artwork version of custom – but none of them shaped the core from scratch like my surfboard shaper does.

Why go custom?

S – As you look across the globe, the world has grown tired of the ‘one size fits all’ offering in many industries. Consumers are weary of being treated like a number. This ‘sameness fatigue’ has seen a rise across the globe for bespoke, one-off items specifically designed for the individual in a range of industries.

In the sporting field, surfers, golfers, cyclists and tennis players have had fully customised options for decades and the technology continues to develop. The snowboard industry has been way behind in providing a solution for those serious snowboarders who want a snowboard designed and crafted to meet their own individual needs wants and desires as a snowboarder. Savage Panda has now filled this gap. Off the rack snowboards always come with a compromise. Something just doesn’t work or needs to be compromised.
We think that snowboarders shouldn’t have to compromise any more.

Simon fibre glassing one of the Aspen wood cores. Image:: Supplied

How many people does it take to make a custom snowboard?

S – There are a minimum of 6 people involved in the building of every Savage Panda Snowboard. There are always 2 snowboard designers involved to ensure that the design of the shape, profile and essence of the board and core is as perfect as it can be for the requirements of the rider. The design of the core for each rider is where the magic lives.

K – An artist then works with me as Art Director and the customer on the design of the board’s top sheet to ensure each board reflects the artistic taste of its owner.

We will select the right artist to suit the customer from our panel of Savage Panda artists who herald from the UK, Italy, Russia and The Netherlands. Not only are all Savage Panda artists talented graphic designers and visual artists, they are also passionate snowboarders.

S – The board is always built by either myself and/or Kate. Having got the design right, the commitment to the quality and precision of the build rests solely in the hands of the owners of the company.

Finally, all Savage Panda snowboards are finished in our factory and then given an extra level of precision finishing with a stone grind from our Montana partners, who not only ensure that the base of the board is finished to an exacting standard, but who also applies a unique Savage Panda base structure, developed exclusively for Savage Panda Snowboards, to the base of each snowboard.

The result is a board that is perfect in every way when it is shipped to the customer.

How does the custom experience unfold?

K – The customer experience at Savage Panda is totally unique. Once a snowboarder realises they deserve better than ‘off the rack’ and takes that step to join the Savage Panda clan, they initially complete a comprehensive online questionnaire which explores all aspects of the rider’s experience as a snowboarder, and what their ideal board feels like.

This is then followed with at least two Design Consultations (either by Skype/phone or face to face if they want to visit our Queenscliff factory) with one of our designers. These consultations explore the info, intelligence and insights shared by the rider in the questionnaire which allows us to arrive at an initial design concept for the core of their board that give the rider the exact snowboarding experience that they’re looking for.

This concept, once completed, is shared with the customer for feedback and further discussion and this continues until the customer is happy with their design of the board itself.

This process is also repeated for the graphic design of their top sheet until all aspects including the design of the core is finalised. Only once this is completed does the board go into the production schedule for building.

Product testing a Savage Panda snowboard. Image:: Supplied

What questions do you ask the customer to gauge their riding style and needs? On your website, it looks as though you can’t access any questions or get a feel for the level of customisation or begin the process until you pay a considerable deposit?

S – The questions we ask our customers go into every aspect of how and who they are as a rider. We think this, amongst many other aspects of the Savage Panda experience is unique and so we don’t share it with everyone. If a customer pays the deposit and doesn’t like the personalised, tailored design experience or isn’t convinced that a Savage Panda board is for them then we’ll simply refund the deposit. Not everyone will be ready for a fully customised board and that’s ok. For some snowboarders, an ‘off the rack’ board with its inherent compromises is a better fit. We’ll still be here in a few years when their riding matures and they want something more personalised.

Aside from altering the obvious; length, width, and camber what else can customers control? Could I have a swallow tail for instance?

S – The very cool thing about full custom is that you can have whatever you want!

We’ll design it for you, advise you along the way if we don’t think it will work but together with the customer and our designers, we’ll come up with as good a board as we can make to suit the individual rider’s needs.

We were chatting with an Olympic level coach the other day and showing him around the Savage Panda factory and he asked about how we can possibly do every board as a fully custom board – you know, it’s not what the industry ‘does’. And once he saw what we’ve invested in - the best possible equipment that allows us the flexibility to build anything the customer wants... he realised we’re unlike most other snowboard manufacturers, and that’s going to make a BIG difference for our riders.

We’ve designed directional, twin tip, powder boards, all rounders, swallow tails, scallop tails, squashed noses and lots of other points in between.

So if your request is unusual, we say bring it on!

What kinds of materials are used in the production process? For example, is there a range of wood cores you choose from to suit the rider?

S – We use a wide range of materials from only the top end material manufacturers from around the world. Most importantly we only use the most advanced base material available from Europe and USA. All of our blanks at this stage are aspen and imported directly from Quebec in Canada which are simply the best available in the world. These bases are then fully shaped and customised based on what each rider needs and wants, so yes, the core absolutely suits the rider.

It is certainly our intention to explore the use of high quality Australian timbers in the laminates for our blanks and we’ll be starting this research shortly. It would be amazing to do R&D on how we blend timbers from around the globe to create something really unique to the snowboard industry.

Up close and personal with the Aspen core. Image:: Supplied

Are the boards shaped by hand or with a machine and where does this take place?

S – The cores are shaped in our factory in Queenscliff on a specially designed ski and snowboard CNC machine imported from USA that shapes all our cores in 3D. This allows us to get the design and shape of the core to 0.1 mm tolerances.

We invested in this technology to ensure that we are in control of every aspect of the design and production process. No area of our boards is outsourced to anyone. Other companies outsource their cores to mass produced factories and punch out 100’s of the same core to put into their production boards. At Savage Panda, every one of our cores is individually designed and shaped in our factory. The core profiles are created by our designers and each core is cut by either Kate or myself to ensure 100% quality control.

The snowboard CNC machine in action. Image:: Supplied

How different can the needs of individual snowboarders actually be?

S – oh wow - very different. And it’s not until you start having genuine conversations with people about their snowboarding that their needs really emerge. Every snowboarder is an individual and we embrace that diversity. Already, half of the riders who have engaged with us have been riding an ‘off the rack’ board that totally doesn't suit them! Their needs have not been met by what they’ve currently got.

Our years of research tells us that every single snowboarder is unique and is seeking a different experience when they ride, and ultimately in their board. Nearly everyone talks about issues, limitations or concerns with their current ride.

They’ll often comment “oh yeah my XYX” model is a great board but it doesn’t hang in on fast turns or it collapses on the nose when landing a big jump etc. It’s our aim to remove these limitations by working very closely with our customers to craft a board that doesn’t mean they have to settle for compromise any longer.

Do you think snowboarders necessarily know what specifications they want?

K – Some do and some don’t. Some really experienced riders and former competitors come to us with a full specification and as long as we think it makes sense then we build them what they want. There’s usually always a suggestion or two we can make to improve it, but we’re happy, when we know the customer really knows what they are talking about, to build them their board to their specs.

Many others haven’t got a clue about the technical side of what they want, so using our Double Helix Design Matrix process we really get inside what the rider wants to achieve, where they are at currently and we learn from their successes and mistakes of the past.

Designing a perfect board for where a rider currently is in their snowboarding journey is about building a relationship with them and immersing ourselves in getting the best board for them that’s possible.

Do you see custom snowboards competing with the big name brands eventually?

K – Really great question, and we’re not about ‘competing’ with the big guys. We are a very niche snowboard company that caters for the really passionate snowboarder who wants to ride a board designed specifically and only for them that is totally unique. Our riders want something no one else has got – it’s pretty cool.

We love trailblazers of the industry like Burton and have owned Burton boards ourselves when starting out, but we just think it’s time that the snowboard industry caught up with what surfers have had for generations.

However, most brands will continue to diversify into other forms of boards like skateboards, surfboards or into skis etc. This is where Libtech is heading. For us we aren’t interested in any other products. Our passion is for building snowboards and to customise those snowboards to create the best ride we can for our customers.

Savage Panda’s factory is located in Queenscliff, Victoria. Image :: Supplied

What can snowboarders look at paying for a custom Savage Panda?

S – Our boards cost $2200AUD plus GST. In addition to their board, Savage Panda riders also receive a level of service like free tuning and servicing in Australia and New Zealand, some special ‘secret’ gifts with their board and value add that no other manufacturer delivers and no non Savage Panda customer can buy.

This is completely bespoke, built completely from scratch in our own Australian factory from only the best materials available.

How did you arrive at this price? The very top tier ‘off the rack’ snowboards go for a third of this price, so why should people pay for a custom Savage Panda?

K – The ‘off the rack’ manufacturers sell their high-end boards at between $1,500 and $1,800. Most current so-called ‘custom’ offerings will stack the price up with added features to be around the same… but we all know these boards start with a ‘one size fits all’ core, so they’re not truly custom.

So we needed to be a bit north of this price – given the extensive design process and fully tailored core or ‘brain’ of the board.

It’s a paradigm shift for the snowboard industry but we’ve already got boards in production from serious snowboarders who will get the value in a completely bespoke snowboard designed and built to meet their needs and riding choices.

Obviously priced as a very high-end product, what type of person is going to buy a custom Savage Panda?

K – At their essence, a Savage Panda customer doesn’t want to compromise anymore… They are a serious snowboarder who say’s “finally! The snowboard industry has needed this for years.”

The people we’re currently building boards for are a mix of both really experienced riders, and riders whose current board doesn’t feel like it ‘fits’ them. Some have competed internationally, some are still coaching internationally, some are surfers who’ve had their surfboards shaped for them for years and are loving the fact that this fully customised offering is finally available for their snowboard, whilst others are just your regular snowboarder who wants to be able to have a say in their board design so their ride is a superior one and genuinely help them progress and enhance their snowboarding experience, then there are those who just want to embrace an alternative to ‘off the rack’/mainstream production models.

Snowboard retail is predicated on a ‘hands on’ approach in a store or on the hill demo-ing a range of boards. It follows that a lot of snowboarders might not be comfortable with the lack of catalogue or product range… What would you say to these people?

S – I guess our approach is about an alternative, and a new way of thinking – sure, demo days and store experiences are about being ‘hands on’, but it doesn’t matter how ‘hands on’ you are at these things, you can only put your hands on something that’s been made for the mainstream with no ability to mould it for your personal needs.

Obviously you don’t want to pigeonhole yourselves with a set product range or catalogue, but will you showcase some of the customised boards you’ve made?

K – Of course, we are in the process of creating videos of many of our boards and we will post them on our site and to YouTube so people can see the thinking that went into a particular custom board and how we landed where we did with the design, structure and brain.

It will also showcase how very different all of the boards are – in look, shape, design – everything. This will really shift the paradigm of people’s thinking and help them realise anything is possible with a Savage Panda snowboard.

How many custom boards have you produced for people so far?

K – We’ve already put together our first 10 boards for our Savage Panda “Rule Breakers”, and on top of this there’s been another 6 boards built so far but this is growing daily, so that figure will be out of date by the time this goes to print!

Every snowboard company started with one board, then two then five, then 15, then 50 and on it goes.

The daily grind. Image:: Supplied

As a new brand, there’s inevitably a lack of testimonials. Do you think you’re asking a lot of customers to simply trust your vision and mission statements?

K – It’s not only about trusting our vision and mission (and our guarantee of course), it’s also about them trusting themselves – that deep inner yearning for something that is truly theirs, something that will suit them better than anything they’ve tried.

Then, they simply engage with us and we bring those wants to life in their own board.

We will build our brand reputation on delivering these quality custom boards for our clients, and we’re confident their feedback on the experience of working with Savage Panda to get their first truly custom snowboard will be captivating.

Say the customer isn’t entirely happy with the product after a few days of riding, what then?

S – Our guarantee is rock solid and industry leading:

We are so confident that your board will be perfect for you and you will love your hand-crafted, one-off extension of your DNA as captured in your customised Savage Panda Snowboard, we want you to try it for a full 60 days (good conditions and blizzard) from your first shredding trip. We are incredibly confident that you and your board will form a love-love relationship during this time. If, in the unlikely event that a love affair doesn’t blossom, then perhaps you’re not ready for a fully customised board. So simply contact us to discuss your unrequited love.
Maybe a better lover for you is an ‘off the rack’, mainstream production board from another snowboard manufacturer. If this is the case, we’ll buy that ‘off the rack’ board for you – AND we’ll refund the price difference (after shipping costs).
It says it all!

How long would you expect a custom snowboard to last? Obviously the technology within it and the riders’ needs will change with time.

S – We design our boards to support the development of the rider to take them to the next stage of their evolution as a rider. We also build our boards out of the best materials available. Some will ride 150 days a year and some 5. This is hugely variable, so if their needs DO change over time, they know that, given their first Savage Panda board elevated their riding experience and suited where they were at THAT time in life, their next board to suit their next evolution is only a phone call away…

One of the benefits of owning a snowboard company is the mandatory product testing... Image:: Supplied

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