EAST LANSING, Mich. – Most are well-accustomed to the skateboard. There’s regional relevance for a growing snowboard culture in Michigan. One local family business is exploring the niche between these two markets with their new product.
The mind of an engineer is in constant motion, always striving to innovate. Any healthy engineer can confirm the importance of balancing this mental strain with adequate physical activity. Nobody knows this better than the Finses family of Grand Rapids. The brainchild of three engineers, GET Longboards, almost feels inevitable.
Greg Finses, a 1987 Purdue graduate in mechanical engineering, started the company with his two sons in 2009 as a side business – and a guilty pleasure for a family of action sport enthusiasts. Older son Tyler is set to graduate from Michigan State this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering, and a minor in material science. Younger son Evan is also a student at MSU, on track to graduate in 2018 with – you guessed it – a degree in mechanical engineering. Greg, Evan, Tyler – GET it?
“It started when I got a crappy longboard back in 2009,” said Evan Finses. “It had good components, but the deck was just a shaped piece of plywood. So my dad said ‘We can build something better”.
Originally just building boards for close friends and family, the company now offers a plethora of uniquely shaped longboard decks with custom graphics. Every board is designed with different riding skills and styles in mind. The process – plywood to pavement – is not a simple one, but GET manages them all.
“We kind of have established roles,” said Evan. “Since he’s home [in Grand Rapids] my dad does a lot of the manufacturing. I do a lot of the design and prototyping. Tyler does a lot of the programming and software.”
These Michigan natives don’t go into hibernation when they hang up the longboards for the winter, however. Self-described “powder addicts”, their latest creation emerged from a regional phenomenon that most despise. Lake effect snow in the Grand Rapids area is a snowboarder’s best friend, bringing frequent doses of the fresh powder that is most conducive for riding. Face planting in six inches of fluffy powder feels a lot better than it does in icy, packed snow.
“We grew up snowboarding, so we wanted to do something with GET for the winter,” said Evan. “It got to the point where we wanted to ride powder, but most of the hills in Michigan are too mellow to hike with a snowboard.”
The Finses’ wanted to create something they could use on non-resort hills, and that they didn’t have to strap into. Essentially a binding-less snowboard, the powder skate is actually not a new idea. Before there was the snowboard, early riders were going down mountains on “snurfer boards”. Patented in 1966 by a company from Muskegon, the board came attached with a rope for steering and looked like two skis attached together. This early predecessor to the snowboard was part of the inspiration behind GET’s powder skate board.
“With these boards, it’s kind of taking a step back and paying tribute to the roots of snowboarding,” said Evan. “It’s a snurfer with better shape and rocker lines.”
“The flatter the rocker line, the faster the board is going to be,” continued Finses. “The mold is the same as a longboard, but the flat section acts as a channel when you’re riding in deep snow. The upturned rails give you a catch-free ride while being able to carve or slash in any direction.”
Having no bindings to snap into means staying connected to the board is an obvious concern. Regular skateboard griptape traps snow and freezes easily. Roller pad spikes were an early idea, but they became too brittle and slippery after usage – the Finses’ scrapped that idea. Laminated EVA foam was the solution to their problem, offering a durable, but still grippy texture to stand on. Riders will be surprised at how well their feet are locked in when standing on the board.
Underneath the foam is a layer of high-pressure laminate with a Microdot finish. This adds stiffness, creating a thinner and lighter board. The Microdots also help retain wax on hills.
So what exactly is the benefit to a powder skate over a regular snowboard? Well, imagine the limitations of a skateboarder if he was strapped into his board. Good-bye kickflip. Such hyperbole is only an attempt to open up minds to all the possibilities.
“Instead of trying to a big trick off a jump, it’s a challenge again to learn how to turn and slash,” said Evan. “It takes those more mellow hills and turns them into a playground.”
GET recognizes their market is a niche, and they’re comfortable residing in it. The longboard industry in Michigan was almost non-existent when GET started in 2009. There’s now a growing market and a following that continues to expand. While no one is ready to claim a similar rise for the powder skate, it’s not hard to envision such a product catching on locally.
Offering three different shaped decks at a price of $125, the powder skate is also a cheaper alternative to snowboards that run up to $500-600 for a new one. A powder skate is designed for blazing new trails, one usually not found on the conventional terrain that comes with a lift ticket.
“You’re finding your own line and deciding how you want to ride it – versus riding down a marked trail,” said Evan. “It takes the backcountry experience, makes it more safe and accessible.”
Isn’t that the type of ingenuity and confidence that make an engineer?