Unique. Individual. Exclusive. Personal. Bespoke. No matter how you put it, when you hear the word ‘custom’ it conjures up images of something special.
Following our latest snow season in New Zealand, our snowboards had become a little battle-scarred. Jen and I had a snow trip planned to Nozawa Onsen in Japan and we needed new rides.
We’ve been following Savage Panda Snowboards for a while on Instagram and Facebook and really liked what they were about – a small Australian company owned by snow enthusiasts, offering fully custom snowboards and sourcing the best materials. We met one of the co-founders, Kate, in Queenstown last year and became hooked on their story.
After much deliberation, we took the plunge. And to us it was a plunge because $AUD2200 + GST per board, is a pretty big investment. We realised you can’t compare the price of a mass-produced board to something that’s fully customised, but it was still a significant amount to drop. What we didn’t realise was the amount of effort, time and consultation involved in the whole process and it was soon apparent what ‘custom’ in the eyes of Savage Panda really was. And by the time we buckled in a few months later at Nozawa Onsen, we knew our investment was worth every cent.
Since writing this post, we've teamed up with Savage Panda to bring our readers a very special offer. Link and details at the end of this article!
What Does Custom Mean?
I’ve always liked having something a little different, whether it’s putting special parts on my mountain/motor bikes and cars, or even something as simple as The Snow Chasers stickers on my boards, it makes me feel like it’s ‘mine’. So, when we were in the market for a new board, customisation was definitely something I was seriously considering. I’ve been a fan of LibTech for many years so I looked at their options but it was a case of customisation rather than fully custom, i.e. I could choose from their standard sizes and designs, putting my touch on it by choosing from a selection of top sheet and base graphics. Even at this limited level of customisation, delivered it would be around $AUD1300. I was after a bit more and it just happened we became aware of Savage Panda a few months earlier.
Savage Panda is fully custom – no predetermined base, camber, core, flex, shape, size and top sheet. Everything is made from scratch based on what you want. You talk directly with the owners and designers who are passionate about riding and their product. It quickly becomes apparent they want to design the very best board for you, ensuring that your riding becomes even more enjoyable and rewarding.
The whole experience and your snowboard couldn’t be more personalised. Even at the initial stages, Jen and I understood why we paid the extra bucks.
The Savage Panda Custom Process
By now you’re probably thinking, “but I don’t know how to design my own snowboard”! Luckily you don’t have to be a techy nerd who understands camber, side-cut radius, flex ratings, effective edge angle, setback, directionality, etc. Unless of course you’re like me and you love to nerd out! Savage Panda has the interrogation process down pat so their designers will nut out all those specifications based on your requirements.
How do they get your requirements? You start off with a clever online questionnaire consisting of around 30 questions. Much like a psych questionnaire, many questions will try to deduct the same answer but from a different perspective – they really want to make sure they understand your requirements! They’ll cover things like your preferred riding terrain (e.g. groomers, off-piste powder runs, park, etc.), what you like and dislike about your current board(s) and what you’d really like out of a board, e.g. responsiveness, speed, stability, etc.
Once Savage Panda have had time to process the questions, you’ll have a video call (or face-to-face if you live in Melbourne) so they can clarify exactly what your dream board would be. Our consult took around 60 min each – it’s pretty detailed!
The funny thing is, when it was all said-and-done, Savage Panda said, “So Jen, from your questionnaire, it seems like you just want to go fast”!
Side note: if you’re interested, our specs centered around speed, big mountain stability, and powder. We weren’t after park boards and initially they were to be used in Japow and later as our go-to powder boards.
Your board will now be designed and within a couple of weeks your proposed design will be presented. The design will explain things like core, setback, width, length, base material and camber. Again, if you don’t know how all those factors will affect performance, don’t worry as it will be explained to you. Once you’re happy, the design is sent off to manufacturing and the board starts to be built!
Around this time, you’ll be asked to think about the artwork for your top sheet designs. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry as Savage Panda have graphic artists ready to help. You can also use one of their designs to give you inspiration. We had a rough idea of what we wanted (a picture of us at TC) but didn’t really know how to finish it off on a board. I know I wanted an industrial/racing look and Jen wanted some graffiti art. The Savage Panda graphics crew were on-the-money, understanding our vision and after a few iterations we were stoked with the final result.
And to finish off the personalisation process, not only is your name on the snowboard but you get to name it as well! I always knew mine was going to be called the ‘Herminator’ (long story but it starts with the fact my middle name is Hermann) but Jen didn’t really have an idea. She went for ‘Jen’ but Savage Panda said, “That’s a bit boring! Let’s think about it”. And so they came back with, ‘The Freedom Challenge’ based on her answers from the original questionnaire. Pretty cool and aptly named!
You’re totally engaged throughout the design and manufacturing process. We were sent snippets at different stages and you really start to develop a sense of ownership very early on. To see your core being shaped and cut – wow! It’s pretty much impossible not to get emotionally attached from the onset. Check out Jen’s core being cut (select HD for best viewing).
A note about snowboard bases
Initially, I asked if I could design the artwork on our base. I quickly discovered having a graphic or die-cut on your base actually compromises performance. To see the graphic, you need to cover it with a clear base material and the performance of that material is substandard compared to the base materials on offer from Savage Panda. And when you add die-cuts to the base, it creates small ridges and causes drag on the snow.
No surprises I wanted the fastest base possible, so I was happy to forfeit a base graphic for performance. Both Jen and I went for a race base – surprise, surprise! It’s sintered, with additives to give the best possible glide surfaces – Isoport 7816 Race Base. Nerd out!
Some planning will be required and if you’re heading off on a snow trip next week, getting onto a Savage Panda snowboard in time isn’t going to work. But the old saying of, “good things come to those who wait”, pretty much sums up the Savage Panda experience. You can get a burger at Maccas in a minute or two, but a fine dining experience will take an hour or more. You get the point.
We gave ourselves 3 months which I think was just about spot on for us as we started the process early. This gave us ample time to digest designs, provide feedback and get the artwork sorted (we went through 3 concepts). But the Savage Panda process normally takes 4-6 weeks, so plenty of time to get your new board sorted for this season.
Anticipation builds excitement and we were pretty damn excited by the time our boards were delivered! You could’ve handed me my new board in a plastic sleeve and I would’ve been stoked. But like everything else they’d done up until this point, Savage Panda personalised the experience to make it truly exceptional. The packaging, the card, the merchandise – everything carefully thought out to make you feel special. I know I’m banging on about it but really it was THAT good. Don’t believe me? Check out the video (click HD) – I don’t get much more excited than that!
The business end. This is why you’ve invested your time and money. Everything up until this point has been amazing but will mean little if your ride sucks. Well, they didn’t just 'not suck', they were incredible!
Yep, they’re good, great in fact. As promised, they were fast, stable and floated on powder like no other boards we’ve ridden. Jen’s first comment was, “this is what surfing must feel like”! Yes, it really was an effortless ride on the fluffy stuff. No need to excessively weight the back foot in fear of the nose digging in. And I’ve never had so much confidence landing off natural booters in the powder – no digging in on landing, just land and ride away. My board started to make me look like I knew what I was doing!
The fun didn’t stop on the powder. We smashed bumpy groomers at the end of the day – fast and stable. My board would carve like it was on rails and I could still ride switch when I wanted. Hitting the big park jumps were way less frightening. I think I rode out of every sketchy landing. Many times I thought, “oh no, I’ve overcooked it here and I’m going to eat it”. But no, land and ride out – yeah!
Our Initial setup
Our boards were delivered with powder in mind, but the snow gods were having other thoughts when we arrived in Japan. Riding groomers on the first day, our boards felt a little ’edgy’ and ‘grabby’. Savage Panda had set up the effective edge quite aggressively for powder (to learn more about effective edge, check out our blog on tuning your snowboard). After a quick consult with them that evening, I detuned the edges slightly – what a transformation! As a result of this, Savage Panda have revised their questionnaire – talk about adaptive and responsive!
The cons – it’s not a park board so it’s not going near boxes. It’s a stiff board so pressing and the limited freestyle tricks I do are more difficult than my park board. Being a bit larger and wider, quick turns take a little more effort but once on edge, the hold is amazing. But it wasn’t designed for this but of course it could’ve been (hmm, another board perhaps?!).
Jen actually felt ‘The Freedom Challenge’ was so versatile, loving it way more than her current board, she asked Savage Panda if it was OK to use it in the park. They suggested rather strongly to go grab an old board to destroy on the boxes and leave her Savage Panda board for kinder conditions – very funny!
Just like your 4WD SUV isn’t going to keep up with your Ferrari on the race track and your Ferrari isn’t going to go off-road, you’ve got to decide on what you want your board for. We did and everything was delivered as promised.
Was it worth it?
Yes, a resounding yes! It’s a completely different experience to buying and then riding your custom snowboard compared to going into a shop and grabbing one off the rack. We’ve both owned plenty of great off-the-shelf snowboards but the connection you have compared to ‘your’ custom snowboard isn’t close. How can it be? You’re involved in the concept, design, and manufacture. And then you get an unforgettable delivery experience.
The money you invest is not just on a board, it’s on the experience. And we’re all about experiences. Every time you buckle in, it’s hard not to think about how awesome your board is and it’s the only one of its type in the world. And that’s what it’s about – making the things we love even more enjoyable. We’re glad we took the plunge – we feel like we’ve got the best of the best.
Thinking of going custom? I’d like to hear what you think so hit me up with your thoughts and questions!
P.S. Since writing this post, we've teamed up with Savage Panda and have a very special offer for our readers! Click the link below to find out more.
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Mick is a lover of speed runs and hitting every feature on the mountain. Ex road bike and motocross racer with plans to dabble in mountain bike racing. Spends a lot of time looking at fast cars and bikes. Jen’s instagram model and selfie camera holder due to long arms. Sometimes an optometrist.