Behind the scenes with splitboard designer Richard Harcourt
From his garage-cum-workshop in the depths of the seaside suburb of Sumner, Richard Harcourt has turned a hobby into a niche business, handmaking bespoke splitboards for snowboarders longing to explore some of
the vast backcountry options New Zealand has to offer.
Born out of a love of snowboarding and the New Zealand mountains, melded with a passion for construction, Richard Harcourt went out on a limb about 10 years ago and started building his own splitboards.
Unless you’re in the know, splitboards aren’t something you’ve probably heard of. Essentially it is a normal snowboard that splits into two halves, enabling riders to walk uphill using them as skis, before transforming it back to board mode by a simple change of bindings for the ascent.
The invention of splitboards revolutionised snowboarding, blowing the doors wide open to the world of backcountry touring for snowboarders. Back in the day, snowboarders searching for untracked snow away from the hustle and bustle of commercial fields had to use snowshoes to travel uphill. But that all changed in the early 1990s when major manufacturer Voile released the first DIY splitboard kit.
There have been a host of advances in splitboard technology in the past decade. They are no longer heavy, cumbersome, camber versions of your all-mountain snowboard cut in half longways by hand, and held together precariously with hooks and clamps. Nowadays, every major snowboard manufacturer has released its own splitboard that rides on par with regular snowboards. And with the rise in popularity, it’s given birth to a new industry of bespoke manufacturers specialising in splitboards.
Today, Richard has established himself as the main splitboard builder nationwide. He has carved a reputation for making solid, reliable, high-performance splitboards that are well suited to New Zealand’s rugged terrain.
Born in Wellington, Richard did his intermediate and secondary schooling in Christchurch. On leaving school, he embarked on a career in computing working for many of the
world’s biggest tech companies, which took him away from the Garden City for 21 years. While it was a career he enjoyed, having been involved right through the boom years, he couldn’t see himself working in the industry until he was 65.
He started considering alternative options. An avid snowboarder, Richard initially looked at purchasing a New Zealand-based snowboard business. ‘I’d been snowboarding since the early 1980s. It just suited me better. I kept thinking, I can make these myself, I don’t need to buy a business,’ he explains.
At the time, splitboarding was a relatively small sport in New Zealand. ‘A splitboard is a lot like a surfer having a surfboard for certain conditions; it’s just part of a snowboarder’s quiver that allows snowboarders to go snowboard touring like skiers have been doing for years. You can travel faster, and when you reach your destination, you simply just ride it like a snowboard. I had always liked making things, and I wasn’t afraid to give splitboard construction a go.’
In those early years, he also tried his hand at making skis.
Ironically, his construction methods were put to the test when he was called on to construct a pair of skis for Queenstownbased businessman and adventurer Erik Bradshaw, during his 800 km ski traverse of the Southern Alps back in 2011. An old school friend, it was Erik who was responsible for introducing Richard to New Zealand’s wondrous backcountry as a youngster.
It was very low key at the start, but over time splitn2.com has grown into a thriving cottage business, servicing clients across New Zealand, Australia and beyond. Initially, though, there was a lot to consider. Almost overnight Richard became an importer and distributor. Not only did he have to source the splitboarding bindings from the United States and boots from Italy, but he had to build his own unique recipe of construction and design.
Online forums (and later Facebook pages) with people willing to share their knowledge proved a godsend. Richard doubts he would have ever got his business off the ground if he hadn’t had that wealth of knowledge at his fingertips. ‘It’s
‘I had always liked making things, and I wasn’t afraid to give splitboard construction a go.’
been a big one, for sure. It’s unlocked so many opportunities. It’s allowed me to develop relationships with people all over the world. Everyone takes what they want from these forums and gives back what they can. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping other people.’
While the fundamentals of ski and snowboard design and construction are the same, he says every manufacturer will differ slightly depending on the resources, tools and workshop they have at their disposal. Where possible, Richard tries to source materials locally, but critical materials such as the steel edges are imported from Germany, and the ski and snowboard base material comes from the USA. Much of the equipment is also highly specialised.
Handcrafting each and every individual board is labourintensive, requiring a mix of skills similar to those of a boat builder, along with speed and patience. It involves a blend of traditional handiwork with progressive technologies including a CNC router for enhanced precision at various build stages.
Richard likens the board-making process – referred to as the ‘layup’ in the industry – to making a ‘really big sandwich’ beginning with nothing more than raw materials to match the style of even the most critical rider.
Preferring to stick to a traditional construction method, he starts with a tip-to-toe wooden core made from sustainablyproduced poplar from North Canterbury, and paulownia from the Waikato, before strengthening it by laminating it in fibreglass. Between each layer is a hand-spread layer of epoxy resin. ‘It’s a time-critical process,’ explains Richard. Once it’s layered up, the board is put in the ski press, where extreme heat and pressure act as an oven, curing the epoxy and giving the board its camber.
All of splitn2.com’s production work is done in-house. ‘I don’t like to outsource anything. I am trying to deliberately be
All of splitn2.com’s production work is done in-house. ‘I don’t like to outsource anything. I am trying to deliberately be as authentic as I can.
as authentic as I can. All those years spent woodworking with my father has certainly come into play. I like to do it myself, and it’s important for me, that if I say I built it, then I did actually build it,’ he says.
Richard has invested heavily into the business over the past five years. Looking ahead, he’s hoping to introduce better efficiencies by doing batches. ‘It’s all about economies of scale and generally doing things smarter.’
The business has come a long way from a hobby, but admittedly it’s still got a way to go, says Richard. ‘It’s really morphed. It’s not what I thought it was going to be at the start, but it is becoming what it needs to be to put food on the table and a business that will stimulate me until I am ready to give up working. I’m really enjoying it.’
He is now working with guiding companies to outfit customers with splitboard gear for backcountry touring, as well as working on many other one-off projects. On top of the splitboards, he also stocks products such as Fitwell Backcountry snowboard mountaineering boots, Spark R&D splitboard bindings, Voile splitboard equipment, Whitedot skis, Kinco gloves, and many more.
Richard is also heavily involved with the SplitFest Backcountry Festival which will take place at Temple Basin ski field from 6–9 September.
When it comes to splitboards, Sumner craftsman Richard Harcourt of splitn2.com is somewhat of a legend, creating his own bespoke splitboards well suited to New Zealand conditions. Tom Willmott from Aspiring Guides leading a guided tour on his splitboard. Photo, Aspiring Guides, Wanaka.
OPPOSITE / splitn2.com’s splitboards offer the latest in technology melded with traditional handiwork to create something unique. RIGHT / Over the years Richard has built his own unique recipe of construction and design; it’s a labour-intensive process.