It doesn’t get more Australian than making snowboards in a sheep sheering shed. That’s where I caught up with Rich Evans, owner and maker of Catalyst Snowboards, on his property in Smeaton.
Rich has lived in Smeaton, north west country Victoria for most of his life. He started making boards in the late 90’s. “Back then if you wanted to buy a board it was $1000 for any old board that they were making in China for 60 bucks. I thought I’m not buying a thousand dollar board from someone who doesn’t know about what makes a good board”, Rich tells me.
Rich had been snowboarding for a couple of years and living in Canada for a year and a half. He met a couple of guys over there that made boards, and had a look in a few factories giving him ideas of where to start with the machinery. “It just went from there”, Rich tells me, almost getting shat on from a bird nesting overhead. “We built our own press to start with and ended up with the current press a few years later.”
Back then it was hard to find information and materials without everything being on the internet, so it took a long time just to find out where to get the materials from. He ended up flying over to Seattle and getting materials over there. He bought enough to make 10 or 15 boards and just bought it back on the plane with him.
“The market’s changed a lot”, Rich tells me. “Especially in the last two or three years. People are buying custom shaped boards for back country rather than just riding the resort, and with a lot of people going to Japan and riding powder, the types of boards have changed. Some of the guys that I make boards for, Offshore Snowshapes, only do powder boards. There’s definitely a movement in snowboarding at the moment changing things a bit which is good. To me it’s a more legitimate form of snowboarding”.
“When I first started building boards I thought it would be more efficient to do a whole bunch of prints at once. Then I found if you only sell one of them, you end up with all these bit’s of print that were a waste basically. So you either had to build them and sell them cheap, or chuck them out. I don’t really like chucking things out at the best of times, so I decided that it would be better if people wanted to order a board, I would just print what they want and go from there.
To me that’s the best way of doing it, plus it gives you the ability to do a personalised board. So I started with the print, then I could change the side wall colour and the flex of the board as well. A bit more to personalised than just the graphic. So I suppose all the boards I make are custom.”
Rich is also now getting international orders. He just sent five boards over to the States and has just sponsored another rider over there. He now sponsors five riders; two overseas and three locally.
Rich lives on a farm not far from Daylesford in North Western Victoria with his wife, three kids, 4-500 sheep, around 150 cattle and 4-500 acres of crop. He also imports and sells gates, cattle yards and wire, but making snowboards is what he loves doing. “It’s what I enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work I guess, but everything has it’s moments. There are plenty of times when I get sick of doing this. In the winter sometimes I’d just rather go out and drive the tractor than work with cold paints and epoxy”, he tells me.
Rich doesn’t proclaim to be an artist but he did the artwork for one of next seasons boards. “I drew it on transparency paper with a black pen. It was amateur at best, but it looks alright,” he says smiling. He has also made some snowboards from his five year old twin daughters drawings. Rick likes to use several artists to try to get something a bit different.
Things have been busiest in the last 3 to 4 years for Rich. The future is probably going to be pretty similar to what it is now. “I just like to experiment with different shapes and try new materials, but not a lot has changed, material wise, in snowboarding. Since it began almost, in the early 90’s, very little has changed except for the hype and marketing. It’s still basically the same, fibre glass laminates and cores made of wood. Split boards at the moment are a big thing. I’ve got some shapes for splitties but I haven’t built any yet so maybe one day I’ll put some shapes into action and get out there and make one” he tells me laughing.
Not getting to go snowboarding in Australia much anymore. Rich is usually busy in the winter and would rather go overseas and get some powder. He’ll be heading over to the States early next year to Montana. Sounds like the ideal place to try out some new split boards to me.
Rich doesn’t care for the magazines, but it surprises me to hear that in 12-13 years of making snowboards in Australia, he has never been contacted by an Australian Snowboard magazine. “It’s all about money to the magazines and to me it’s not all about money, snowboarding is about fun”, he tells me.
Rich likes the idea of supporting local, he also likes the idea of buying from someone who makes things themselves. He custom makes his boards by hand on his farm in Smeaton. Check out the Catalyst website for a custom made board and support local!
Some pictures of Catalyst rider Josh Crisp at Perisher last winter