by Justin Phipps
In March 2014 I took my first ever snowboard trip. I had an invitation to shred at Seven Springs, PA. at an annual event called The Launch. My parents were back at home in Colorado, I barely knew anyone, and the one friend I made the trip with just got broken off hard. It got really lonely and I started to have bad thoughts about what I was doing there and I pretty much needed to find somebody to ride with.
I had met this kid named Milo and I started shredding with him because he was the one of the only kids there around my age and level of riding, and a couple of laps later he wanted me to meet his dad. Now, like a lot of snowboard parents, I thought this might be one of those soccer dads and would start yelling at his kid for not landing tricks, but it turns out that Johan, Milo’s dad, was actually super cool, a really nice guy, and later on I learned he worked with C3 which I thought was pretty rad compared to whatever else I may have thought he was.
Johan Malkoski has a really cool story to share. I didn’t know every detail or exactly how he would answer all my questions but you will be really stoked to read this. Johan holds nothing back and gives really thoughtful answers that I was reading again and again. I’ve met a lot of really cool people in snowboarding and Johan is one of them. This guy is a snowboarder!! This is a great story, please check it out.
JP: Well, we are. Let’s set the scene here. Where on the planet are we right now and what are we doing here??
Johan: We’re here in Big Bear California at Snowboarder Magazine’s Launch, which is a Superpark style event for 18 and under shreds, which you happen to be and by the way destroying things. Pretty impressive Justin on how you’ve managed to make every feature your bitch [JP: ha, yeah thanks]. I’m here with my two kids, Milo and Mac performing soccer dad duties. Two completely different things that put smiles on all three of our faces.
JP: Maybe a proper introduction is important Johan, a lot of people reading this will know exactly who you are but I’m sure there’s plenty that need to be told. Please share with the reader the companies you are working for and a little bit of detail about your job title, what it means on a day-to-day basis.
Johan: I am one of the partners in C3 Worldwide, as well as Coal Headwear, Union Binding Company and CAPiTA Snowboards. I’m the sales manager, so I’m responsible for all things that have to do with shops buying the three brands. I work with our sales force selling our goods, retailers with buying our goods and product managers making our goods. I’m the middleman between all three.
JP: Alright, that’s pretty sick. So, this is an annual trip for you (to The Launch), can you share a little bit about the roots of this event for you personally and why it has added importance to being the dad of two invitees.
Johan: Actually the boys and I are here because of E-Stone. 5 years ago I was asked to be “house dad” for the CAPiTA team during Superpark. I was there to keep the house stocked with food and beers, as well as to make sure everyone kept things in line enough to get their asses on the hill to do what they were there for. We had Jess, Craven, Scotty Stevens, Brandon Cocard and a bunch others staying there. Craven and Sleepy would grab me for runs thru the mini bike park and I had a blast. [JP: that’s cool.]
The next year at SIA I walked by Tech Nine and saw Ethan Fortier and stopped to talk shop. When I was leaving I said, “hope to see you at Super Park this year.” He said, “you should go to the Launch, you’d have way more fun and you should bring Milo.” And that set the ball in motion. Pat Bridges said to me when I checked into Super Park “Milo’s with you right?” “No, this is Superpark Pat, Milo is 10.” “Well you should have brought him down with you.” [JP: ha, yeah!]
The first Launch we came to was here at Big Bear 4 years ago. It was so rad to watch the older Launchers throwing down, as well as see the next gen of kids try to find their places. Pat, T-Bird, Stone, Mary and the whole staff are awesome with you guys. The way a session at a feature will kick into gear and you see kids’ tapping into their potential is pretty rad.
Short story long, watching my kids figure out themselves in challenging situations, as well as helping out when they ask for it is what brings me to the Launch.
JP: For sure! My dad spent a little time with you last year making some laps at Mammoth and has told me about a few of the conversations you had. He said the day before the PBRJ another dad and his ten year old son hopped on the same chairlift, and like hit you up for Capita flow, in like less than a minute after being introduced and you just looked at the guy and said, ‘NO!’
Johan: I don’t remember that but it sounds about right. It falls in line with if you have to tell people how rad you are, then you’re probably not that rad. So if your kids ripping enough for flow, he’ll get flowed. I told my boys at a young age to keep their traps shut, cause it will be way better when someone compliments you instead of you running your mouth about how rad you think you are. [JP: Yeah, that’s what my dad said too.]
JP: We don’t have to talk about this but is it accurate that you also suggested that a future in professional snowboarding is NOT exactly what you have in mind for your kids. Like because you have a unique perspective of both parent and snowboard executive?
Johan: Yea, kind of accurate. What my kids do with their future is up to them. If it’s their dream to be a professional shred, then have at it. Make a plan and execute it. I’m all for them chasing the dream, as well as having an education so they have a backup plan. But I would prefer that they snowboard not for a paycheck but for all that snowboarding has to offer. Friendships, travel, powder, methods and being out in the mountains are reward enough for it. I mean I’ve been snowboarding at a level well below average for a long ass time and it’s just as fun today as it was when I started and my body was intact. So yea, if they want to chase the dream, cool. And by the way, I’m not an executive. [JP: ok!]
JP: Am I allowed to ask how you got the nickname WWD?
Johan: Mac gave it to me on Fathers Day 6 years ago. We were at Green Lake Putt Putt for 9 holes of golfing. We made it to hole 7 before the bickering between the two was too much for me and home bound we went. I explained to them that since they bickered their asses off on the course that they were paying for it and I was pulling cash from their wallets as soon as we got home. Mac was crying and yelling at me ”I’m moving out! This sucks! [JP: LOL] YOU’RE the worst Dad ever!” And so Worlds Worst Dad nickname was born, from a 7 year old.
JP: I want to get to some questions about the industry but first I need to ask about 2015. I don’t know all the details, I understand it was very challenging and life threatening and what happened exactly, if you can take it back to the beginning somewhat share your story?
Johan: So I got the tap on the shoulder from the Gods of suck and they said “hey guy, you’ve had it pretty good so far, enjoy Cancer for a bit.” I was kind of clueless that things were imploding inside of me until I went over the handlebars of my mountain bike trying to follow Milo thru a 12 pack of double jumps out at Duthie bike park a year and a half ago. I clipped the second jump and got pinned into a berm and knew I broke something. I called my wife Lisa on the drive home and told her that I needed medical attention and she said “how bad” and I said “not that bad, maybe a rib or something.” So we thought we were saving some bucks by going to Urgent Care instead of the ER. The doctor said I had a fractured rib and thought that I should go to the ER because my spleen was enlarged and he couldn’t tell if I had internal bleeding or what not. So after a bunch of time in the ER, the doc comes out and says, “well you don’t have a fractured rib, you have 4 fractured ribs, a chipped scapula, an enlarged spleen and either Leukemia or Myleofibrosis.”
After some testing it turns out that I had Myleofibrosis. It’s a type of bone marrow cancer that turns your blood making bone marrow (myleo) into non-blood making scar tissue (fibrosis). So from there your spleen or liver takes over producing your blood and a shit show ends up going on in your body. If you don’t do something about it, it will progress into Acute Myeloid Leukemia and then, game over.
Being stupid enough to listen to my 14 year old tell me in confidence that he thought I could train him thru the 12 pack of jumps that I had no business being on saved my life because I wasn’t showing any symptoms of the disease.
So in October of 2014 I was diagnosed and my wife Lisa got me in at Seattle Cancer Care with a doctor that specializes in this type of death sentence. There was a cure for it too, but it required having a stem cell / bone marrow transplant which involves finding someone that is registered in the world wide donor registry that matches up with all markers that are needed for it to take and me to live. At last years Launch in Mammoth I was having a beer with T-Bird when I got a text from my wife that they found a perfect match for me from a 20 year dude in Germany.
Then in August they had to remove my spleen because a normal spleen is about 6 ounces and mine was 12 pounds. After 8 days in the hospital and a month of recovery, I was checked into the University of Washington Hospital and admitted to the transplant / transplant ICU floor and stayed for 29 days. I had 6 days of intensive chemotherapy that killed my immune system, platelets and red blood cells. Meaning I had no way to fight infection, scab a cut or make energy for my body. A simple cold would have killed me and if I cut myself on something I could of bled out because my body didn’t have the means to stop the bleeding. On the 8th day in the hospital a bag that looked like it was filled with watered down tomato juice was hand delivered from Germany and I was infused with this selfless 20 year old German mans stem cells. It took 100 days or so for my immune system, platelets and red blood cells to come back on line and during that time I had to take all kinds of drugs to keep me alive as well as have over 50 blood and platelet transfusions. On top of that I lost 50 pounds [JP: that’s a lot!!]. The shittiest part was that this December was “the December to remember” as far as snow fall in the Northwest. In January I was released from my transplant team and put back in care with my primary doctor. My blood type changed from B+ to my donor’s type of O- as well as my immune system is now his.
At that time I felt the need to self prescribe snowboarding again, when my doctors suggested that I would be shredding sometime in late February or March. It was some of the best medicine I’ve ever gotten.
JP: I’m sure it was difficult, what were some of the more positive or inspirational moments that were helpful during those periods?
Johan: You know what, Cancer sucks. Straight up, it blows. But looking back now there was a lot of things that were inspirational. The fact that what I went thru was in no way, shape or form is even close to the suck that people went thru 60 years ago when stem cell transplants were first tried. Even 4 years ago, it was a different process. I think of all the people that died going thru it in order for the doctors to learn what they know now is pretty inspiring. The doctors and nurses in the hospital were so incredible, it’s crazy that someone would want to be in an environment like that every day and have the enthusiasm for doing everything it takes to keep you alive when a good portion of their patients die. While I was in the hospital, there were 3 dudes that I saw getting zipped up in body bags. These guys were in there getting transplants like I was. I don’t know their circumstances and how far along in their diseases they were but it’s pretty heavy when walking around your floor and you see people in the room down the hall getting hauled out. Just the day before you looked in their room and things seemed ok. [JP: Dang.]
My wife was pretty damn inspirational. I think it was harder for her to go thru it than it was for me. For the most part I was on drugs, but she got to see the destruction of me on a day-by-day basis and had to keep her shit together as well as take care of the boys. [JP: yeah for sure.]
I was not only inspired but proud of how my company handled me being gone during the busy time of year when we make our money. Reps, in-house and even retailers, all rolled with my punches and I’m very grateful for that. The support I had from my partners financially, took a huge burden out of what most people are worrying about when what they should be focusing on is their recovery.
Friends that came by to visit me and made time fly, everyone that would text, email, Face Time, Skype, check in, make meals for the family, drive the boys to school, take them snowboarding and keep their world cancer free was pretty inspirational. One dude who I was a casual friend with would just show up unannounced and shoot to shit with me. He hated being in hospitals because his wife had died from hitting a tree on the slopes a few years before. I asked him why he would come if he hated hospitals so much and he said that he knows how much it sucks being in them, so him coming and distracting me from that was his mission. Bottom line, if you know someone that has something challenging that they’re going thru, reach out to them. [JP: Definitely.]
JP: The west coast especially has been enjoying a very good winter and since your recovery you’ve been riding again. Has getting strapped in ever been more meaningful to you than now, after all you’ve endured this last year?
Johan: Lets say that being in the mountains is some really good medicine. [JP: Heck yeah.]
JP: When you turn the clock forward five years what do you expect the snowboard industry landscape to look like more or less?
Johan: The business goes thru ups and downs, lots of snow and droughts, everyone you know is a pro and the next year they’re a regular Joe. If I looked into my crystal ball, I’d bet that a lot of these cliché made by riders for riders, putting the fun back into snowboarding brands will be doing something else. We’re back to this stage that everyone thinks that they can start a brand without a plan and have it work out. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it right?
The actual act of snowboarding though will still be ripping along and people better be calling in sick on a powder day and smiling about it. [JP: Yup.]
JP: If you were beginning a snowboard brand today what product(s) would you focus on selling and why?
Johan: Probably a mid to high-end boot line. Nike proved to retailers and customers that it’s worth spending $350+ on a good pair of boots and with them bailing on snowboarding I think that there’s a hole in the market to be filled with a proper fitting, classic looking, gimmick free boot that people can get a couple of seasons from.
JP: What sort of fixes would you like to see first in getting snowboarding 100% healthy again?
Johan: First off, who said it’s not healthy? Those donkeys at Outside Magazine and the New York Times that write that the sky is falling? Snowboarding’s in a pretty good place right now. Yes it could be better, but it could be way worse. Transworld Business just had an awesome profile with a bunch of riders, shops and industry people asking “What does snowboarding need?” To sum up what they said, snowboarding needs to drive the car looking thru the windshield, not the rear view mirror, make getting on the hill easy and affordable, pound a couple tall boys of happy juice and stop talking shit on our what we do, clip the unnecessary, work together for the better good of snowboarding, practice what you preach, get some more chicks to shred because they like to spend money [JP: ha!], figure out how to make it snow more, slow down on the flip and spin cycles so snowboarding doesn’t look like figure skating, and remember that we’re just surfing on snow with our friends. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s all snowboarding really needs.
JP: Shout outs / closing remarks?
Johan: Thanks to my wife for supporting me in this quest to sustain a habit. Behind every good man is an even better woman.
Please sign up to “Be The Match.” It’s a website where you register to be a stem cell donor. All you have to do is register online and they’ll send you a kit with a couple of Q-Tips for you to send a spit sample back. If you ever do get called up to be a match, collecting the stem cells is like giving blood. They hook you up and filter the needed stem cells out of your blood. There’s no pain involved for the donor besides the prick from the needle and the time it takes to collect the stem cells. Who knows, you might save some dudes life and then he hunts you down a couple of years later and puts you on a free snowboards, bindings and hat program for life.
If you have a friend that get’s knocked down with cancer, simply reach out to them. Don’t be scared of what you’re supposed to do to help out because you can’t understand what’s going on. Just touch base, tell them you’re thinking of them and build it from there. Just the act of reaching out makes a world of difference in persons recovery.
And thank you Justin. Thanks for showing up and busting your butt the entire four days no matter what the conditions were like. It was rad to watch you put on a clinic all week. Keep up the interview and writing hobby too, it’s a good back up plan if snowboarding doesn’t work out. [JP: Yeah, for sure, thanks!]