He was there when Jake Burton got on his first surfboard, back when he started his “transformation from a stockbroker to a dude.” Before Jake was ever a candidate to be considered the godfather of modern-day snowboarding. That’s the story you never hear about Jake, Brad says, that he’s an ex-stockbroker from New York City who wanted to do a left turn, that he wanted to be an interesting guy rather than just another rat in the cage.
And there, in that anecdote, you have everything you need to know about the snowboard industry. That to understand it, is to understand its participants.
One of the first things in snowboarding that Brad and Jake supported, in association with SIA (Sports Industries America), was an initiative called “Share A Chair.” The concept was simple: for the snowboard industry to become twice as big as it was, everybody who already snowboarded needed to bring a friend along. It was a marketing strategy, so “no deep consumer ever heard the words ‘Share A Chair,’” Brad tells me. Under the program, ski areas underwent massive infrastructure rebuilds to accommodate snowboarders. One of the most important being accessibility to snowboarders, so Brad and Jake paid for about 500 to 600 loading ramps to be widened at ski resorts.
“That was the beginning of snowboarding,” he tells me, “and it worked.”
The best marketers, like the best advertisers and propagandists, are the ones who understand that it’s a game of psychology. The better you understand your consumer, their needs and their desires, the better you can sell them something. That’s why the skateboard industry, for example, isn’t really about skateboarding anymore. It’s about looking like a skateboarder—the shoes, the clothes, the identity—because that’s where all the money is. Not everybody skateboards, but everybody wears shoes and clothes. That’s why the best skateboard brands, like the best snowboard brands, reflect the identity of the sport and give it back to the consumer. The skateboard industry is just better at it than the snowboard industry is.
“One of the things that’s so different from snowboarding and skateboarding is when skateboarding started, all the dudes who started it were rad guys. Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, all the Dogtown guys. It’s a beautiful history book to choose from,” Brad tells me. “In snowboarding, it was so different because you had this massive personality conflict basically between Sims and Burton… Burton was sort of this marketing machine more than it was a movement. And all of the other companies that were really the movement of snowboarding were trying to learn how to be good marketers, and they were scrambling. If you look at the guys who went through the early days of snowboarding, on the marketing side, it was a bunch of snowboarders and then you had the Burton guys who went to like, McDonald’s University, and worked for private equity firms.”
Mike Estes was one of those snowboarders from the early days. In 1985, while he was working as a nighttime janitor at Timberline Lodge, he had a chance encounter with Tom Sims. Tom was testing out his new pro model and he let Mike take one for a ride. It was the now iconic 1700 swallowtail. “[Tom] was the west coast role model,” Mike says. That was the beginning of his attraction to and subsequent career in snowboarding, which would eventually include three pro models with Barfoot Snowboards (’91 to ’93) and two with Luxury Snowboards (’96 and ’97).
“I’m a product of Chuck Barfoot,” Mike tells me. “Jake Burton was definitely seen as a monopolizer early on. He was an east coaster that was driven by greed… Jake represents, to me, what happens when you’re able to play the corporate game. Chuck and Tom Sims represent the true soul of skating, surfing and snowboarding. I can picture Chuck riding, I picture Jake counting money.”