Matt Cummins is a Pacific Northwest legend, well known for having the longest running pro model in snowboarding. As well as running ONEBALL wax and shaping boards for Lib Tech, he has deep roots in the Japanese snowboard scene. Japan Grabs caught up with him to find out about his experiences in Japan, his connection to the Tenjin Banked Slalom, and his thoughts on board design.
How many times do you think you’ve been to Japan? When was the first time, and what do you remember of that first trip?
Thirteen or fourteen times, I think. The first time was going to do some halfpipe contest in Japan with Lib Tech. I ended up going to the North Island and it was very deep at some tiny resort, I can’t remember the name. Mike Miyazawa from Advance Marketing always hooked me up and took great care of me there.
If you need a refresher on Matt’s history in snowboarding, check out Lib Tech’s ’25 Years in Snowboarding’ video.
It seems like Japan has been the hot ticket for powder-hungry filming crews for a while now. What do you like about riding in Japan?
Yes, it can be very fun and good. So many mountains and small crowds. I like the people, places, mountains, beaches and the food.
That’s pretty much everything! Do you think there are parallels between the PNW scene and the Japanese powder scene?
I can see some, for sure. Japan seemed to be ahead of the curve with the powder riding and board shapes on a large level I think. Lots of riders focusing on the good days and equipment.
You seem to have gone beyond simply visiting and riding and built ties with the scene here. How did you get involved in the Tenjin Banked Slalom?
I was talking with Taka (Nishida) who distributes ONEBALL in Japan when we were riding some gullies in Tenjin about having an event here. He and his friends took it from there. I helped get the event going with picking out terrain at Tenjin and getting some help to build it. We were planning on using some of the more defined gullies but the first year we had some deep slope action that buried the course so we ended up putting it someplace safer. Now, I pretty much help set the course and dig with the crew in Japan.
How does the course compare at Tenjin to the LBS at Baker?
I don’t think there is much to compare since they are built in totally different types of terrain. Tenjin is hand dug and very tricky with the long traverse at the top and the super steep, tight middle section. Baker is more even sloped with a nice gully to use most of the way down. I think any banked slalom course is fun to ride. It’s a lot of work and fun to session with friends. A series of Banked Slalom events for an overall winner might be fun to see in the future. Just make it technical enough that pure racer guys can’t do well and I’m happy.
With your brothers Temple and Mike both involved in the Tenjin Banked Slalom it’s quite the family affair. Was there a lot of sibling rivalry between you growing up shredding together?
No, not really. We enjoy shredding with one another for sure. More fun than anything. Having your brothers ripping, only makes you rip harder.
Talking of building connections between the PNW snowboard scene and Japan, you had Japanese snowboard photographer Tsutomu Endo come over to ride with you last year. Have you known each other a long time?
Yes, Endo is a great friend of mine. We met many years ago when I was visiting Taka who was taking on the ONEBALL Japan business. Endo is the Zen master on the snowboard and with the camera. He is always fun to hangout with and always stoked – and a good cook too. Endo and rider Kei Nakanishi come to the US and shred all the time, they have life figured out for sure.
You mention that riding in Japan influenced the design of the Woodsmith Coho board. Can you tell us a bit more about that board and how riding here lead to that shape?
Japan was at the forefront of clean graphics, clean style, all mountain boards without all the crazy print clothing and board graphics. We are talking about 8–10 years now. It was a fresh take on snowboarding for me and it was more or less what I am about. I do like snowboard graphics a lot, but they are very hard to do well. Lib Tech and Gnu being the best I think at it really. The clean boards from Gentemstick and TJ Brand, among others in Japan, were on it very early.
Your boards introduced some of the first twin tips, credited by Jamie Lynn with allowing freestyle riding to develop when boards had been limiting tricks with heavily directional shapes. Now it’s gone full circle and there’s an explosion of fully directional shapes. Where do you see the direction of board design going from here?
I want a couple years to work on boards before I answer that! I think some boards will be radically different than what is currently for sale.
Your pro models have evolved drastically in the last few years. After having the La Nina shape for a number of years, the Nootka came out and this year you’ve added the Woodsmith Coho. Do these reflect changes in your riding style or did you just want to try something new?
Yeah, Lib Tech and Gnu have plenty of boards that are twins. I wanted to do something else and get creative and they let me do whatever I wanted to do. Since I ride good snow most the time I wanted boards that excel in those conditions. Getting to try new things and be creative is what I enjoy the most. I have had a lot of different shapes in the past. Most were focused on freestyle, now it’s [focused] on pow and riding all different kinds of mountains.
Every snowboarder must have sketched their own shape on the back of an envelope at some time, but what sparked the idea to release the un-cut MC blank board?
The guys at TJ Brand in Japan were the first I have seen. I am not sure if someone was doing it before them. I got the idea from them since it was too expensive to import them myself from TJ Brand. I have shaped a couple with them in years past and I think it’s an awesome idea and it has helped me a lot with new board designs.
What have been some of your favorite shapes you’ve seen made with it?
Yeah, there have been quite a few. Check out my Gram for shapes. @smashingpowder :
On the topic of hand shaping powder shapes, do you ever go binding free on a pow surfer / yuki-ita on deep days?
No, I don’t. I am not interested in reverting backwards. Bindings allow for faster and bigger, more technical riding. Not having bindings looks fun but I like to go fast.
With the current boom in vintage snowboard collecting right now, how does it feel to see your early boards selling for more than your 2017’s? Are there any old boards that you don’t have any more that you wish you could get back?
It’s fun. I wish I would have saved more for sure.
As those boards show, you’ve had an amazing long career in snowboarding. How have you managed to healthy and riding for such a long time?
I have been pretty careful not to break myself off too badly. I try to stay within my ability level. I don’t ride park or icy days. I do like to ride a lot of powder. I ride mountain bikes a lot during the summer and I am sure that helps to keep things strong. Just playing outside as much as possible keeps me healthy I think.
Thanks for your time, Matt. We’re looking forward to hitting the twists and turns of this year’s Tenjin banked slalom. Lastly, anyone you want to thank out there?
Shout out to everyone who helps me out! Lib Tech, Oneball, Gerry Lopez/Patagonia, Pow gloves, Union Bindings, Dragon, AirBlaster.
Tenjin Banked Slalom will be held at Tanigawa Ropeway Tenjindaira ski resort in the Minakami area of Gunma, Japan, on March 4th and 5th this year. Race entry sold out within a few hours of being announced but if you want to check out the action live, there’s a great atmosphere around the event. For a taste of what it’s like, catch up on what went down last year here.