Rocker for Snowboards Explained
Rocker technology offers a subtle but significant advancement in snowboard performance and riding comfort. Its popularity has generated lots and lots of rocker variations, though, and all the tech-sounding terminology associated with these different approaches can cause your head to spin. In a quest for simplicity, here is a basic explanation of what rocker is and how it works.
What Is Rocker?
First, the nontechnical story:
Rocker, at its essence, is a design technology intended to make snowboarding easier.
Snowboarders of all skill levels can benefit from rocker. Yet recreational riders, progressing riders and people who haven’t been on a board for years can enjoy an almost immediate boost from rocker’s performance attributes.
Rockered boards offer more flex than traditional snowboards and float easily in powder. Riders who are developing or rediscovering their skills quickly appreciate rocker’s forgiving nature.
Advanced riders? Rocker and its constantly evolving offspring (rocker-camber combos, hybrids and mash-ups of many past and present technologies) work for them, too. Designers, in mad-scientist sort of way, have concocted all types of nuanced rocker variations that address specific rider needs. Expert-level boarders can fine-tune their ride by seeking out the rocker mix that best suits their needs.
Now a look at rocker’s technical side:
Rocker is essentially the opposite of camber. In some circles you’ll hear rocker referred to as reverse camber, negative camber, alternate camber or mixed camber; camber is sometimes called positive camber.
For years snowboards used cambered designs exclusively, and cambered boards are still a popular choice. When placed on a flat surface, a cambered board has an uplifted waist (midsection) while its contract points rest on the ground near its tail and nose. The convex area where the board arcs upward by a few millimeters is known as camber.
Camber puts springiness (or pop) into a snowboard and gives a rider good edge control. When a rider applies body weight and presses into the board, the camber flattens, creating continuous edge contact with the snow. This permits easy, confident, even aggressive turning.
Cambered boards are popular with riders who:
- enjoy going fast
- frequently ride groomed slopes
- prefer a responsive, stable board that can handle hard snow
With rocker, a board’s nose and tail rise much earlier, and the board’s side profile reveals an upward arc, a shape that resembles the floor rails of a vintage rocking chair. (Hence the term “rocker.”) A board’s contact space is now directly below the rider, located close to the feet.
Rocker started to become popular in snowboards around 2005, and the design was fairly simple and straightforward—a balanced, continuous arc that curves up from the center of the board. With an early-rising nose and tail, rockered boards floated easily in deep powder.
What Does Rocker Do?
Rocker offers snowboarders several advantages:
- Improved flotation in powder. An early-rising nose and tail help riders stay on top of soft snow.
- Greater maneuverability. Fully rockered boards, made to stay afloat, have a shorter effective edge. Less edge contact with the snow permits easier, more nimble turning.
- Enhanced park experience. Without all the spring that comes in a cambered board, it is often easier to slide rails on a rockered snowboard with more contact space in the board’s waist. The risk of catching edges is reduced as well. Rockered boards are nice for riding switch, too.
Why Do So Many Rocker Variations Exist?
Snowboard manufacturers soon realized rocker could be combined with camber or zero camber (meaning flat) to address specific performance needs. Companies began putting their own individual spin on rocker and inventing lots of tech-sounding terms for them. All the terminology can be a little daunting for shoppers.
Ultimately, having lots of options is actually a good thing. It’s our guess that more than 100 variations of rocker, camber and flat design exist among manufacturers. Some points worth remembering:
- Rocker can be located many places. It can be in the nose alone, in the tail alone or in both the nose and tail. Variations in a board’s waist measurement can also influence its performance. At REI, we tend to lump all the combinations into a broad category called mixed camber, though manufacturers may promote their particular design as rocker, hybrid, camber medley or something else entirely.
- Rocker may be referred to by many terms. Most popular are reverse camber and negative camber, as noted earlier, but also inverse camber, alternate camber, modified rocker, early rise, banana or some other inventive phrasing. Just realize that some terms may be interpreted differently by different manufacturers. Consistent, universally recognized terminology is not a given.
Some thoughts on matching a rocker design with your usual terrain preference:
- Groomed slopes: Cambered boards are popular here for their stability at speed and reliable edge control. Rockered boards perform well on resort slopes, too. They falter a bit when conditions are icy, when edge control becomes more important.
- All-mountain: For riders who roam freely from groomers to sidecountry and backcountry, rockered boards are an excellent choice for their ability to turn easily and quickly. The extra float they provide in powder is one of their most popular advantages. Mixed cambered boards also are popular choices in varying conditions. Shop REI’s selection of all-mountain snowboards.
- Powder: This is where rockered boards were originally designed to rule. Their early-rising noses and tails easily float in the soft stuff and are much less likely to catch an edge. Rockered boards also allow you to ride more centered over your bindings in deep snow, which greatly reduces back leg burn. Cambered boards can perform well in this terrain as well, though usually using a set-back stance.
- Park/pipe: Many riders like the stability of cambered boards when executing jumps in parks. Rockered boards, meanwhile, simplify the task of transitioning from nose to tail. For jibbing, rockered boards are popular for avoiding hang-ups on boxes and rails. Pressing into a rail is much easier with rocker design. Shop REI’s selection of freestyle snowboards.
Cambered boards have been the staple in snowboard parks where most of the lines are jump lines and you need to get the most pop off the lip as possible. The camber design traditionally gives you more consistent pop off jumps.
In recent times, parks have changed to include more features such as rails and boxes. Most of the tricks performed on these features are press tricks, and they are easier on rockered boards because the boards are pre-pressed. You are also less likely to catch your edges on park features with this design.
Shop REI’s selection of snowboards.
For more shopping tips on snowboards, see the REI Expert Advice How to Choose a Snowboard article.