It doesn’t take long to find him, just look for the front of the crowd. That’s where you’ll find mountain athlete legend Shaun Palmer, making his first in-store appearance at downtown Portland’s US Outdoor Store, one of his snowboard company’s main Northwest dealers.
“We don’t really have any dealers in the Northwest,” jokes Palmer Sales Manager Bob Klein, one of snowboarding’s Tahoe originators. Klein came to work for his friend a few years ago and is now deeply involved in making their run a success. To that end, he’s entirely dropped any salty Old School demeanor. “I’m probably the only one who can get Palm to go to these,” he says.
And why not? In a time when striking NBA players like gold-clad Allen Iverson (Reebok), squeaky clean Grant Hill (Fila) and cottage industry Shaquille O’Neal (Reebok) can be seen pressing flesh at the local Foot Locker, a financial analyst was quoted on the phenomenon saying, “You’re not going to build a billion dollar company wooing one kid at a time.”
I wouldn’t be so sure. You have to try something, and from the curious to the hardcore, Portland seemed plenty appreciative an X-Games superhero showed up to get their consumer vote in person.
Behind Klein was the man himself. Seated in a grade school chair, clad in baggy jeans, a beanie, shiny silver Swatch, and Superman T-shirt. Tattooed arms across his chest. The often brash, smack-talking dropout whose snowboarding, motocross and mountain biking USA Today claims make him the greatest living athlete. Courtesy of contest winnings, his snowboard company, and mountain bike sponsor Specialized he should be a rich man. With most of the autographs signed and the small talk exhausted, he looks bored.
Understandable. Palmer is a man of action, or at least fun. As much as everyone wants to actively participate in the scene nobody wants to be an overt, fawning fan. Mostly, they hang around the periphery, intimidated. Palmer isn’t exactly chatty, recovering from a broken collar bone. Is such mixing a new approach?
“Naw, I done this a million times before,” he drawls. It’s obvious he’s rather be out on the hill, or at least somewhere else. But he graciously signs posters, gives away stickers, accepts a Cadillac photo printed for him by a fan and converses with anyone who engages him.
“Are you with Palmer?” a woman asks.
“I am Palmer,” he says evenly.
“I know you!” she says, pointing, and soon he’s autographing one of his boards she buys. After a summer European dealer tour, Klein says there will be Palm Daddy stops in the Midwest. For start-ups in the age of consolidation, snowboarding needs to be in stores as well as on the mountain. Making things happen.
“That woman was looking at another board and now she bought one of ours,” Klein says with a smirk. Indeed, Intel worker Wayne Wertz said his wife was looking at Ride boards but, “Wanted to get something she wouldn’t have to sell, like Roller Blades or a Schwinn.” She looks supremely happy with her new acquisition. A guy who soars overhead methods and races 60 mph down a singletrack course makes a decent salesman in real life.
“Who’s Forum?” Palmer asks a kid he’s talking with, deadpan. And there’s more of Team Palmer-Matt Donahuue from Hood and Greg Goulet from Boise, Idaho-there in support of their patron. Mostly it’s by seceding all authority to the main draw.
“I know you,” an older lady says to Palmer after looking at the sign above his head for a while.
Soon it’s time to dispense with product. A pretty shop attendant tries raffling T-shirts and beanies to the gathered, but the pace drags and soon Palm is hucking them in a good, old fashioned product toss. Things quickly get out of hand. “Don’t wreck the shop, now,” he scowls. They’re docile again immediately, and I wonder what a fifteen-year-old Mini-Shred would’ve said.
Soon shy, fourteen-year-old Tyler Lavespere is walking out with a brand-new board as the winner of the raffle. Klein slaps his hands, “Our work here is done.” Shakas are thrown. Right on! Yes! Totally! All is positive.
Later, I leaf through the Palmer catalog. Amid the burning flags and logos and serious ass-kicking glares at the lens and helmets and raw jock energy, there’s a tiny photo of his Palmness on a chair or in a gondola somewhere high in the mountains. He’s smiling.