Bryan Sutherland, a bearish electrician, fairly heats up as he remembers the day in detail. He was riding up the lift with an old surfer buddy, when the dude said that his wife used it a lot, and what a great asset e-Bay is.
“Yeah, that’s that Y in the road, Sutherland now says, hairline rising up. “You don’t realize it at the time but everything changes. Sutherland went home, did a few simple searches and found the hybrid snowboard he’d been coveting. It’s a skateboard deck atop a yellow plastic sled, like an outsized banana, that’s now much too valuable for riding. The rare Sims Lonnie Toft--world’s first pro model--can trade on the Internet for well over a thousand dollars.
Vintage snowboards, those crude relics from our formative years, are suddenly hot collectibles. Time was, you pawned off your old model each season for a better one. Today, buying equipment that had trouble negotiating a golf-course slope helps document and preserve an era of bygone ingenuity. And just as trading conforms to laws of supply and demand, the scene is not immune to jockeying, cheating and alleged theft.
Money is not what motivates Sutherland. He’s learning HTML to better manage his oldsnowboards.com, which is entirely devoted to snowboard history. It’s his passion, he says, surrounding himself with cool old boards. And Sutherland is quite literally surrounded.
Former pro turned magazine publisher Jason Ford freely gives the lay of the land. He doesn’t consider himself a collector--he only wanted a few boards to pass on to his family. Just like a rider back in the day, he booted up and dived into the scene, describing what he found as an interesting culture and racket. Only to play you have to pay. “You think you want just one (board) but you don’t, he says. “It’s addicting and expensive.
Ford got some good deals, admitting he overpaid for others because he really wanted them. Much of what he bought has now tripled in value. He witnessed constant bickering, hoarding of certain models and collectors bidding against one another and themselves to control prices. There are offers to take existing sales offline to make a private deal, a tactic that’s illegal on e-Bay. Some traders have even been banned from the site, though they can easily switch to a new screen name. In short, it’s the same stuff going on when anything of value moves. But what would make an old snowboard valuable?
Sutherland says that as little as two years ago he was dreaming of a Burton Londonderry. The first boards Jake Burton produced in Londonderry, Vermont, before moving to the company’s current headquarters in Burlington, are the collector’s Holy Grail. The series is referred to by their serials numbers of “BB1 (without bindings) and “BB2 (with bindings). Besides the Lonnie Toft, BBs command the big bucks, going for 3,500 dollars because they are the premiere wooden Burtons. A vintage Dogtown skateboard from the same era fetches about the same price.
“To see those old Backhills go for thousands on e-Bay is about as ironic as it can get. There were days when I couldn’t give those boards away, Jake Burton now says. “If you had told me then that this would ultimately be the case I would have laughed very hard--and stashed a couple more in the basement.
One would think the original Snurfers could fetch a higher price, but scarcity is what breeds value--relatively few Londonderrys exist. Sherman Poppen may have launched the sport after watching his daughter stand up on her sled, but parent company Brunswick pumped out an estimated 18,000 Snurfers.
Variations are another factor keeping boards in demand. Sutherland shows us his range of Sims FEs which are supposed to all be the same model, from the same production run. One has completely different graphics. One has edges, another, black P-Tex. If each purchase is supposed to improve the collection, you may grasp Sutherland’s storage dilemma, where every inch of space is stacked five or ten deepp with classic gear-- “What one am I going to give up?”
Any Internet search for vintage boards leads to Salty Peaks. Open in Salt Lake City for over seventeen years, Dennis Nazari culminated his wealth of old school experience into “one big-ass store, of 10,000 square feet. The only public museum of snowboards is housed there--750 on display, and no duplicates. Every item is security tagged and inventoried. And though thirty-eight surveillance cameras keep watch, no photographs of the boards are allowed. Someone might use one to try and sell a board back to him.
Sutherland and DC owner Ken Block may have sizable private stashes, but Nazari is indisputably collecting’s kingpin. He has been consulted about board prices for a book on garage sale scores. In e-Bay auctions he can parlay the store museum to affect the bidding and market for any model. When asked if anyone could actually best him in open trading, he replies matter-of-factly, “Depends on how stupid you want to be with your money.”
Nazari still scours the country to turn up an artifact, running ads in local papers before personally traveling there. Like the handful of truly serious collectors, he doesn’t buy boards to sell them for money. People who do are looking for him to buy theirs. Nazari bristles at the idea that he’s a board hoarder, and echoes Sutherland in wanting to document and preserve the culture. That may be why they’ve each been burned by bad deals. Online anonymity mixed with money can create a hostile environment.
Back in the day, as they say, seeing another snowboarder was like meeting an instant friend. Now the results are more mixed. Some may view an old school wooden snowboard as a priceless cultural totem. Others may see nothing but dollar signs. Not to worry either way, Nazari explains, “Mountain boards are where snowboards were ten or fifteen years ago.