Industry Profile: Flow Product Line Manager Eric Luthardt
10 Sep, 2009
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Eric: I’m 36-ish years old, married to my daughter’s mom, grew up outside of Seattle, fluent in under 2 languages and I shred the gnar.
Shay: What is your job title?
Eric: Snowboard Product Line Manager/ Valet/ Barista/ Diaper Changer.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, what opened up more opportunities for you?
Eric: My first job came from me riding on some shitty day at Alpental in 1995 where I met the Ride staff. A little later we ran into each other and they said they had openings….that was how I got a job managing part of the warehouse and became a test rider. From there my buddy Jack who was the team manager at Ride, started working at Flow in 2003 and he helped me get a job at Flow. I had some experience with boards and it all just came together.
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Eric: Not at all but once I got it, they were both proud that I worked so hard and long to get a job like this. However the years prior were tough since this is a hard job to get and they wanted me to go to school and keep the snowboard part just for fun.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Eric: 1986 Avalanche ReFlex, Besser plate bindings, Koflach mountaineering boots….so I had a similar set up to Damian Sanders, minus the neon and Penthouse girlfriend. That board is a plank, you couldn’t flex it if you wanted, your stance options were either regular or goofy…that’s it. Tail grabs were great then, you had a little flat tail so they were easy for that. Still got it, still has some of my dried up blood on it.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Eric: Always a prototype, usually everything is a project in work. My board of choice is a Flow Solitude 164, but I spend as much time to make sure other models are doing as awesome as possible.
Shay: What was your first job?
Eric: First job in the industry was working in the warehouse/test rider for Ride in 1995. I worked at Ride for a couple of years, did a lot of testing and helped here and there till 1999 or 2000….my brain is too full of other things to remember.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Eric: Any day that’s soft. I like dark, cloudy, windy powder days where your tracks are filled in every run and it’s too nasty to go outside for most people. I grew up riding at Alpental, so I love drops, chutes and windlips. Either riding by myself or a friend or 2….doesn’t matter.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Eric: Bob Barci (RIP) for helping me get into boarding. Jason Kasnitz helping me take my first steps in learn how to design a board, Alex Draper even though he is on the dark side for showing me what work it takes to be involved in product and how to remain calm and level headed. Mike Olsen for keeping snowboarding fun and innovative when it was becoming a bastard child of the ski companies. For showing how Craig Kelly(RIP) for taking a little time out of his day to ride with me for a run and for putting soul into riding when it needed it. Jake Carpenter for being one of the founding fathers of boarding. Steven’s Pass crew ‘the Ghetto house” for being a house of incredible riders and cool guys. Dave Rogers for being the all around cool guy, his own style, freaking incredible rider and for showing that not all the best riders in the world are pros.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Eric: 23 years of real riding, but my first time riding was with my brother on a a little crappy homemade snowboard back in 84. Snowboarding then was way different, you were an outcast and you made sure to say hi to any boarder you saw just to have somebody on your side. Wasn’t till I rode Baker in 87 did I see groups of riders.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Eric: I ride most everyday when I’m home, but travel takes quite a bit of my time. I have a bit of land so I ride my own property quite a bit for quick testing and hit the lifts on the weekends.
Shay: What is your role at Flow as the snowboard designer?
Eric: Designer is one of the many hats I get to wear, so I don’t get as much time designing/prototyping as I would like. However, I do all the engineering and shaping of the board line. So material selection and developing materials is a big part, core profiles, camber/rocker profiles, sidecuts are all things I do to tie everything together.
Shay: What are the tools (computer, machinery) you use to design prototypes?
Eric: I design in CAD and send it to the factory. However I like to build a prototype or modify an older board first just to see what is possible, what the problems could be and show/tell the factory how to do it. It helps if I try it out first, then I can catch the potential problems or to see if I just designed a pile of crap, which I’m very capable of. My at home prototypes I sometimes use my inventory of boards to help shape sidecuts or I just start completely from scratch, but it’s done by hand, so I use misc hand/power tools and tools I had to make. I also have snowboard press and vacuum bag set up for pressing the board.
Shay: What are the stages of the ground-up design of snowboards?
Eric: Everything starts with the line list, this has the models, sizes and construction to create the criteria. I then divide my time between CAD, sketching and just messing with boards or wood to see how things look and to get the flow of the different materials. I don’t like to do everything on the CAD, for me I need more visual freedom and hands-on approach to designing. From there I go into prototyping and sometimes there are inaccuracies, but this is good since it can give you new ideas. It’s one thing to design a board, it’s another to make it ride great and be manufacturing friendly. I work daily with the factory so I need to design something that can be produced consistently for a wide range of riders.
Shay: Is building a snowboard a collaborative effort?
Eric: Totally, a lot of people have a lot of input and we have a couple of guys who do the graphics, which is a huge part and is the most expensive part. I help the other categories and they help me.
Shay: Do you have any input on the graphics of the snowboard?
Eric: Input yes, final say not so much, unless something is not possible due to cost or limitations. If I made the graphics they would be all black with no lacquer.
Shay: What’s involved in the process of choosing construction materials?
Eric: Cost, what works on snow/ lab testing and what’s the best fit for the ride that we are looking for. Always trying to be innovative but keeping true to what works. One of the things I’m proud of is our warranty rate, having happy customers that can ride their boards for years is super important.
Shay: Are the team riders part of the development process?
Eric: Yes they are a big part, they got my respect, so if there is something they don’t like or something they want, then I make it happen. There boards are the same as what we sell. So having a happy team rider who isn’t breaking boards is extremely important. We have a lot of on snow testers who are really good riders, from “has beens” to “never was beens” so we can create a total collection for every rider.
Shay: Where are Flow Snowboards currently produced?
Eric: Cha-Cha-China at a factory called Composite Tech. Bernard, one of the owners, basically put Ride on the map when he got the Thermal factory going and he built the Shakespeare factory for K2….guy is extremely smart….for a Frenchy. He’s had a big influence on the whole market over the years. Leaving GST was the hardest thing to do, to be fair to them they are a huge reason of the Flow’s success in boards. They set the bar for snowboard manufacturing, so this has been a big influence to get Composite Tech up to these standards and they have help shaped me as a PLM so some of the processes on how I do things are brought over as well. Goal is not to have boards just made in China, but to have basically a European factory in China and Composite Tech by far best fit this. We are one of only 3 brands there, so we’re not lost in a sea of brands.
Shay: How many times a year do you visit the factory?
Eric: I went 10 times last year but that was due to trying to find a factory in China then switching every board over and introducing reverse camber to them was a such a huge project. I think most likely it will be about 5 times a year. Things are moving so much nicer now so we have a good working relationship.
Shay: What steps are taken to ensure durability and quality of Flow snowboards?
Eric: We test the materials every 100 boards or so if there is a problem it’s isolated. We do lab testing for breaking tests, compression tests, slap tests and we do a lot of on snow testing with our testers and team riders.
Shay: What is your favorite snowboard you designed?
Eric: My next board. For me it has to be the Solitude series, just making a board for powder, carving and just everything all mtn. It was the board I rode the most. I had other boards that didn’t make it to market, but now they can for 2010, there was just not enough time to get these done correctly for 2009.
Shay: Prior to Flow, what snowboards have you designed or worked on?
Eric: I did boards for the Illuminati, Smokin Snowboards and built a few for myself and friends. Earlier on I did work on the Ride collection, not the actual designs but more testing of the ride/flex/durability.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Eric: It’s never average. It’s sorting through a ton of emails in the early morning, skype with Europe, talk with US, then China from 7pm of and on till midnight. I do some designing off and on through the year, do lots of reports, presentations, catalog stuff, help with logistics, etc. In the winter I put in time for actual riding everyday for a little bit. Oh, weekends are usually spent at an airport going or coming back or riding.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Eric: Travel and meeting so many people in ours and other industries. I sometimes forget about these things, I do get to travel the world, I meet so many interesting people and I get to ride places that people only can dream of….like the indoor slope in Shenzhen, China ok the place blows dog, but how many people get to do these things. Also, seeing the team riders winning contests on a board that I designed. Seeing Antti winning the X-Games halfpipe, watching the build up for the in 06 Olympics, seeing the guys kick ass again this year. I’ve never been to a contest but I hope to someday.
Shay: How is working for Flow (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Eric: Crapload of frequent flier mileage that I use to have my family travel….last thing I want to do is travel on my free time. Tons of gear, having my own little history of snowboarding at my house with all the boards I’ve worked on. Being able to hang out with so many cool people from around the world and at Flow. I think Flow is so misunderstood, I wish people could actually see who Flow is and how big and how small we really are. We are a collaboration of a few people that are all pretty unique, we work and play hard, but are so loyal to what we do. If you worked at Flow, you will work your ass off, but you’ll have a lot of fun since we all like each other and we like to ride.
Shay: What experience did you have or attributes to getting the job?
Eric: I had experience from Ride and Illuminati, I already was designing/building boards and I had binding experience as well. Biggest part was I knew people at the company and was willing to sleep my way to the top….ok scratch that last part.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Eric: Sleep deprived, extra 40 LBS and a lot of gray hair. Just traveling the world, meeting people and being able to ride with them. I have so many good friends now and I have a lot of great memories of riding all over the world and being able to create a board that so many people like.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Eric: I really could go for a vacation, basically it’s been 6 years nonstop, just when you think you got it all handled….wham you get a nice kick to the gnards. Always chasing timelines is a daily thing, guess that’s how life is. I rather be dealing with this than just doing a normal office job not related to snowboarding.
Shay: Since you started designing snowboards, what’s been the biggest change in snowboards?
Eric: Damn rocker boards are going to be the death to me, now we’re going even harder at it next year. They are incredible to ride, they are so worth it and I am stoked for next year, but they are such a pain in the sphincter to design. 90% of the market just does flat between the bindings then the tips go up or they have a single radius or parabolic arc….not exactly rocket surgery, so I had to punish myself and design a super complex rocker. I design the rocker to work in pow, park, but carves ice and has pop. So I had to design around the insert pattern so no matter what stance you have you still get good contact at the tips for stability and pop. So it’s a combination of flattish areas, reverse camber, cambers and a convex base between the feet to avoid getting bucked in bumpy conditions and to be rail friendly. This year, the prototypes started out great, but things got too rushed during the sample production so I had to do some tweaking at the manufacturing level for serial production. These boards go through a special processing or handling since once it’s out of the press it can have a mind of it’s own. One millimeter of deviation can effect the ride, so this has been a massive project. So yeah, rocker boards is the biggest change.
Shay: Do you try other companies snowboards?
Eric: Yeah, I have but I really need to do this more. If I go to a demo I end up having to talk to shops and before you know it I only got one run.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Eric: There really is no slow time, I am usually juggling quite a bit at any given time. I always have current production, SMU’s, next year’s stuff, binding projects.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Eric: Well experience is since I’m not the sharpest marble so it must have been the experience, I don’t think you have to be a full blown engineer to do design snowboards. You need some engineering skills, but you need to ride, be hands on and having experience means you know how to start and more importantly finish a project on time. School can teach you a lot, but you need real world experience as well to become successful.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to become a snowboard designer?
Eric: Learn CAD. I think it’s really helpful if you can actually design and build a board so I would suggest investing in getting a vacuum bag set up since it’s a low cost way to make a board and you can learn so much about what works and what doesn’t. Use the internet to search out board building forums and study other products whether it’s skis or surfboards for ideas in materials and shapes. Ride as much as possible and ride as many different brands as possible, there are a lot of great boards out there from many different companies.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Eric: I’d like to thanks Shay for giving me this interview. I really enjoy what you are doing and just keeping everything focused on boarding.
*Pictures courtesy of Eric Luthardt and the Flog Blog.