Sunday, May 19, 2024

Why is everyone so hyped on the Orca?

Travis Rice thirst trap. Photo by Tim Zimmerman via Lib Tech (2019 model shown)

At any given moment on the Internet, someone is asking the snowboarding hive mind what snowboard they should get. Snowboarders have been asking each other this question ever since there were two different snowboards available to choose from. And for the most part the answers tend to be the same, general purpose all-mountain boards from the same handful of manufacturers every time.

But for the past few years a new, and slightly surprising, answer has been showing up with unusual frequency. The Lib Tech Travis Rice Orca, with it’s unwieldy name and diminutive size, has become a regular recommendation despite not being a “general purpose all-mountain board”.

That isn’t to say it’s a bad recommendation. The combination of nimble handling and reliable stability is a hell of a drug, and the surprising flotation makes it a worthy selection when powder is in the picture. It’s a good board, and it’s one that I like. But it’s not the kind of board I’d recommend to the kind of person who asks these questions on the Internet.

So why does it keep coming up? What does this board have that so many others do not, which has allowed it to so quickly become one of the most talked about boards on the Internet?

What’s in a name?

No doubt some of the hype comes from the name. “Lib Tech Travis Rice Orca.” Lib Tech on it’s own is enough for some of the hype, and putting Travis’ name on it brings all the bros the yard.  Even “Orca” taps into the vein of lusted-for boards with aquatic names, though unlike the Fish and Brushie’s Trout, this one isn’t from Burton.

But this isn’t the first board with Rice in the name, and his previous Lib Tech pro-models haven’t created a fervor the way the Orca has. So there must be more to it than that.

Small Board Fun

The “shrunken” board idea isn’t exactly new, but it’s been having a moment for the past few seasons. Making a board shorter, without giving up stability and most importantly float, does all kinds of things for the riding experience of said board. To put it bluntly- they’re easier. Easier to turn, easier to float, and easier to handle in the air or into the back of your car for the drive home.

No doubt that surging popularity is related to another trend in snowboarding- aging. Not that young kids aren’t snowboarding, they’re doing fine even if skiing has stolen some of our design, technology, and style. But those of us who started riding in the halcyon days of the late 90s and early 00s are at best in our mid thirties now. We’ve got kids, mortgages, and jobs.

To put it another way- we’re busy. And given the choice between fighting a super aggressive board down the mountain or just having some chill fun before hanging at the bar for a few hours, we’re going to take the easy way out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Snowboarding is supposed to be fun, and fun doesn’t have to be hard.

And small boards like the Orca deliver that experience. You can go out, have some fun without trying too hard, and then go home. Without injuring yourself. What’s not to love?

Small But Manly

If smallness is what makes the Orca similar to a lot of other boards, what makes it different is how Lib Tech talks about it. When Burton made a short fat, they called it the Nug and made weed jokes for a few years before giving up (like they do with every idea they promise is the future.)

When K2 introduced their shrunken boards, they called them the Party Platter and the Cool Bean. They made them part of the “Enjoyer” line, broadcasting that these boards were not to be taken seriously.

Which is similar to how CAPiTA did it with the Slush Slasher, as well as their entire Spring Break line. Kooks only, no locals, don’t take yourself too seriously.

But Lib Tech? They went a different route. They made their mini board a pro model of one of the burliest pros out there. This board isn’t about fun, it’s about performance! Because heaven forbid we don’t treat every turn down a groomer as a serious mission in high consequence terrain.

And that really is the Orca magic. It’s a fun board, easy to ride regardless of the terrain and conditions. But it’s sold as a performance enhancer, so when someone recommends it to someone else they’re not telling them to to take the easy way out, they’re propagating the marketing that says you can ride harder without trying harder. It’s not a cop out, it’s compensation.

Travis Rice has five pro models. But it’s the smallest one that gets the most hype. Photo via Lib Tech