Current Job Title: Global Design Engineer—K2 Snowboards
JUSTIN CLARK “J-Stone” is a Utah resident with an impressive job title that matches his similarly impressive ability on a snowboard. A testament to what hard work and determination can provide for someone who looks to exist inside the industry outside the pro level, J-Stone has been the fodder of headlines for his line making snow crafts for almost five years. While first getting recognition for his custom pow surfers under the name Stoney Surfers, Clark has since taken on the role of Global Design Engineer at K2, where he is able to ideate and implement his creative take on board design. We sat down with J-Stone to talk about daily rituals, board-tech preference, and even dabble in some top-level industry secrets.
— Stan Leveille
Thanks for chatting J-Stone. Obvious first question, are you the youngest board designer that you know of?
I’ve never actually thought about that before, I think I am? I started designing boards when I was 24. At least as far as a board designer working for a larger brand goes, I don’t know of anyone younger.
What might a day in the work-life look like for you?
I wish I could say that most days aren’t spent on the computer but that’s the reality of it. Working with the in-house team (marketing, product line manager, artists) and our factory is a big part of everyday work to make sure our boards are looking and riding the way we want. In the summertime, the majority of my days are spent working in SolidWorks (a 3D CAD program) designing the molds and all the different parts for the new boards that will be coming out in two years from then. The molds (or “tooling” in the manufacturing world) have to be CNC machined out of an aluminum block to perfectly fit all the parts together to make the board. This is probably the hardest and most critical part of the job. If a mold is designed even 0.5mm off there could be tons of quality issues with the board.
How much on-hill testing do you get to do?
Testing boards is definitely the most important part of my job. I snowboard every weekend and a day during the work week if I’m lucky, but I try to ride a prototype or different board every time I go up. Sometimes you gotta ride a park board on a pow day just to see how it goes. I night ride after work a bunch which is a good way to finish off a day of designing snowboards, and always good to ride boards in icy conditions. The more days I can get on prototypes, the more dialed the finished product will be.
Who/what influences your work?
Skateboarding and surfing have a lot of influence on my designs which probably isn’t a surprise. I get inspiration from surfboard shapers like Ryan Burch, Chris Christenson, and George Greenough. I also get a lot of aesthetic inspiration from classic cars, high-end sports cars, and airplanes. The tail shape of the Alchemist is actually based off the hood outline on a Lamborghini Huracán.
I’d say my friends are my biggest influence on my work. Having the opportunity to design snowboards with their input allows them to ride to the best of their ability, and that is a pretty amazing thing to be a part of.
You can only ride one resort for the rest of your life, where ya going?
Without a doubt it would be Brighton Resort in Utah. I’ve been going to Brighton since I was two years old and nothing beats it. A pow day at Brighton with a group of your best homies is unmatched. If you know, you know, haha.
Most overrated part of snowboarding?
The elite pipe at Mt. Hood... Just kidding it was actually pretty sick
Why are snowboards so expensive?
Labor and materials are the main drivers for cost. Making a snowboard is extremely labor intensive. For the Alchemist, there are about 40 different steps from start to finish to make one board and that doesn’t include all the nuances within each step. The molds to make the boards are expensive too, costing as much as $30,000 for a size run of one model. I hope consumers know that no snowboard company is making insane margins off boards and the only way to make them cheaper is to automate more of the manufacturing process, which will hopefully come as technology gets better. Maybe Elon Musk will start making machines to build snowboards cheaper. But at this point for boards to be cheaper, a company would have to go all online and cut out selling to snowboard shops which would be really wack. But hey, at least snowboards are cheaper than mountain bikes and onewheels.
Did you go through a reverse camber stage like the rest of us?
Oh yeah! When I was a kid I got one of the first K2 WWWs that was full reverse camber and I was blown away by how easy snowboarding was on it. I quickly realized it wasn’t as versatile though. You couldn’t carve as well and it was way sketchier riding choppy snow. I’m actually not anti-reverse camber and I think it’s pretty funny how much hate it gets because probably 75% of snowboards nowadays have some sort of reverse camber in them. I think full reverse camber boards are great for beginner snowboarders or people who are riding untouched pow and that’s about it.
Is there a board you are most proud of and why?
The Alchemist was the first board I got to design at K2 and they basically said, “Go crazy and design the most innovative freeride board you can imagine.” It was a huge hit with our team who helped a lot with the design and it eventually won three separate board of the year awards the season it came out. That was definitely a dream come true moment.
There is a board coming out next year that I worked on with Sage and Pat that I’m definitely the most proud of that’s still under wraps. I’ve never put so much brain power into something in my life and I’m really stoked on how it turned out. It’s also special because Sage and I have been longtime friends and always talked about getting to work together on designing a board so once he joined K2, we were able to make it happen. Sage and Pat are rad to work with because they are super particular about their gear and have a really good feel for things which results in an amazing finished product.
Before K2, I got the opportunity to design Ben Bilodeau’s pro board for Public. Ben and I have been friends since middle school so it was really special to be a small part of him going pro.
Any top secret shaper tips the industry doesn’t want us to know!?
There are a lot of brands out there that don’t actually design their own snowboards or do any engineering work. Most of them use off the shelf molds of whatever shape the factory has laying around and just put a new graphic on them every year. Kind of the equivalent to off brand cereal in my opinion. So support companies that are actually trying to make the best quality snowboards possible.