Signal Snowboards’ jolting idea—to cover a snowboard in solar panels for riders to power up GoPros, cameras and HUD goggles out in the mountains—came from one of its buzzworthy webisodes, which went viral. Every month since June 2010, the Signal team has filmed and shared their wild schemes to build revolutionizing snowboard technology. The series, called Every Third Thursday, features ideas that range from an Italian handmade glass snowboard and recycled Christmas tree boards to adaptive snowboards and 3D printed snowboards. “We try everything,” said Signal Snowboards CEO Dave Lee, including the solar powered snowboards. Now officially dubbed the Solar Hybrid, the design caught speedy attention on YouTube—261,049 views and 248 comments to date—so Signal realized that the incubation actually had a demand. Made-to-order this 2014-2015 season for $750, the Solar Hybrid’s battery holds 2,000mAh of power and includes a USB output, as well as a removable invertor and connection cord. In direct sunlight, the fastest the inverter charges up is 5 hours, and a completely dead iPhone takes about 3 additional hours to revamp (with some variation, depending on the phone model.) The solar panels come in the form of a flexible material that feels a bit like paper, which is inlaid on the top of the board. Word on the street is that the solar panels don’t dampen the board’s pliability or feel.
“I can’t believe my phone is charging from a snowboard,” said awed snowboarder Tyler Flanagan, who rode the solar powered board through the terrain park during the episode. “It feels good…I thought it was going to be super stiff, but it’s actually super nice!” Signal’s 10-member crew makes each solar powered snowboard by hand, which is the big variable contributing to the cost. The first year of manufacturing had a learning curve, but now the team is more efficient and the process has been refined—it’s easier and faster—so next season, the price tag will drop about one hundred bucks. “An all mountain rider or a tech savvy individual would go for this board,” said Lee. He also pointed out the design’s benefits for off-grid adventurers: “It’s nice to be able to charge (electronics) with the sun when you’re in the backcountry. If a battery dies faster than somebody thought it would, or someone forgets to charge an electronic, it’s good to have something that backs you up.” So far Signal has processed 60 orders for the Solar Hybrid.
Lee, the company’s founder, was a professional snowboarder during the 90s, which eventually led him to other positions in the snowboard industry. “I was fortunate to grow up in an era of snowboarding that was so exciting and new. It was second generation pro back then. People were really good to each other and there was a lot of excitement and creativity in the sport,” recalled Lee. “Then in 2000, it was becoming a lot more focused on money and business—which is not a bad thing, I enjoy the business—but I missed the cultural aspect.” In 2003, Lee opened the Signal Snowboarding factory in Huntington Beach. The company’s cultural DNA focuses on pushing the boundaries of technology and inspiring entrepreneurship. “After working for a couple of corporate brands I decided I wanted to start a snowboard company that would turn that upside down and take music, art, family, and travel and build it all into this brand that would hopefully one day not just be a snowboard brand but be a culture brand in snowboarding,” Lee said.