Austin Smith’s Pro Spotlight

Words: Joel Muzzey

He’ll do the male modeling. Obviously. He’ll wear the Swoosh. He’ll even do a rail trip. But there are certain things Austin won’t do. Like use deodorant. Or buy a new truck. Or follow what everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it.

Austin Smith. PHOTO: Frode Sandbech.

Nobody would fault Austin or even question him for following the herd into the electric-green pastures of an energy drink contract. But he’s not down. He’s got other ideas. And he’s not trying to force these ideas on anyone. He’s also not seeking approval or calling anyone out. He’s just doing the snowboard thing the way he wants. And isn’t that what we all want?

Why Drink Water?

It’s diabetes-free, obesity-free, heart attack free, hangover-free, and it ‘s literally free. Bryan Fox and I started it about two years ago to make fun of our friends who promote sugar drinks to kids that don’t need any more energy than they already have. We also wanted to provide a flag to wave, for people like us who snowboard but don’t support or identify with these energy drinks that almost seem to be the face of snowboarding and skateboarding these days.

But the energy drinks are supporting riders, events, and movies in a way that snowboarding brands can’t or won’t. Isn’t that good to grow the sport?

Bullshit. Snowboard companies run by snowboarders will always be the best thing for the future of snowboarding. We need them to say no to investing in certain things—it’s our checks and balance system to keep snowboarding cool and realistic. Energy drinks are inflating snowboarding and creating a false illusion of growth. It’s unreasonable for there to be a massive contest every weekend, but there is, and the cost of this growth is seeing people on the podium drinking water out of energy drinks cans tricking kids. It’s not worth it. I don’t care about the sport growing—it’s big enough. Snowboarding is built on what guys like Craig [Kelly] and Terje have created over the past 30 years and if we can follow in their footsteps and promote snowboarding like they have, it will result in more kids wanting to snowboard, buying snowboards, and growing the sport. Right now we have more money in snowboarding but also fewer kids wanting to try it because it’s so commercialized and blown out.

Austin sending it in Laax. PHOTO: Frode Sandbech.

Where do you draw the line at what’s acceptable to promote and what’s not?

It was probably seven years ago, I asked more or less that same question to Todd Richards, as a 17-year-old kid getting offered a variety of opportunities and money. It’s hard to know what to do. He told me, “Only endorse products you actually use,” or something like that. I thought it was pretty straightforward and simple and it stuck with me. This way you don’t find yourself in the a situation where you say, “What the f—k am I promoting to 12-year-old kids?” It’s like when people ask “What’s the difference between riding for Nike and an energy drink?” Well, Nike creates a useful product. You need snowboard boots to snowboard, whereas the alternative to drinking an energy drink is pretty awesome: water.

When people see the Drink Water logo they just come up and start talking to you. Do you ever get sick of answering questions about it?

Talking about it is really refreshing. It has initiated conversations with people that go beyond 720s and 270s—about questioning what’s normal or expected. And talking to people that say this little initiative has affected their lives or is responsible for them quitting soda or energy drinks is awesome. But the support we’ve gotten from individuals like Louif [Paradis], [Lucas] Debari, [Jake] Kuyzk, [Josh] Dirksen, and Terje as well as media from here at TWSNOW to stuff like Juxtapoz, Saturdays, and The New York Times, has kind of given me a sense of responsibility. If all these people are going to back it, we better follow through. And if our presence makes anyone second-guess energy drinks’ involvement in snowboarding or shines a light on what they’re actually promoting—and it’s not just an extreme lifestyle—then I’m hyped.

That’s right he still hits rails. PHOTO: Andy Wright.

Sounds like you have it all figured out.

Not in slightest, I just have my opinions and that’s all. There’s no right or wrong. I might be kicking myself down the road, but for now I’m doing what feels best. Snowboarding has given me a pretty awesome life, I’m grateful for it and I want to give back and hopefully make it better for the next kids that come through. If we all just take as much as we can and milk it for every last drop, it might start to look like a monster truck demo and not be as rad. Snowboarding is who I am, and I want to be proud to say that, not embarrassed at what it has become.

Are you guys going to produce a product for Drink Water, more than just stickers and logo-wear?

Not really, Drink Water isn’t based on a product and our success isn’t measured with sales. We just want people to know what we are about, recognize the logo, and if they support it, scribble it on their snowboard or slap a sticker on their bike or skateboard; and obviously hit us with that follow on the ’Gram.

You also created an event. Why the Rat Race?

Bryan and I don’t do many contests, almost none. But we both make sure we’re at the Dirksen Derby and the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom every year. These two contests bring together all the people I want to see. It’s the greatest snowboard reunion I could ask for. But we both really enjoy summer snowboarding as well, so we wanted to create something to attract those same people to Mt. Hood in the summer. With Drink Water being involved, it gave us the opportunity to turn it into a fundraiser, and now over 1,000 people have clean drinking water for the rest of their lives because of a little snowboard rally in the summer.

Water for a thousand people?

Yeah, so we donate through the water.org charity—they have programs that drill wells throughout the developing world and they’re really good about following through with the communities where they work, supporting local ownership of the water supply. It’s a really good organization. Our first well we helped with was in Haiti. Part of our sales of Drink Water stuff also goes to water.org.

Austin Smith sending it on a cool shaped board. PHOTO: Andy Wright.

You always have something new in the works.

I don’t think I have ADD or whatever it is, but I don’t like to chill. I don’t listen to music or watch movies, I would rather be doing something, learning something, or building something. Doing anything, creating an event, a brand, a movie all takes work and time. But in the end it’s pretty sweet to create stuff and to have a sense of pride or ownership of something. Bryan and I are working on a video project for this next winter and I’m more excited about it than anything I’ve ever done in the past because it’s our own, and we have to work for it.

Austin Smith. PHOTO: Andy Wright.

A Drink Water movie. What’s the plan?

We’ll, we don’t have it totally figured out yet and I’m not sure it’s really a Drink Water movie. Bryan and I want to do a trip around the world but not going to the normal spots we’ve been to before or traveling the normal way. We’re planning to take the Trans-Siberian railway across Russia. Stuff like that. And it will be more about the personalities—finding people doing cool, creative stuff. Riding with them, experiencing their lives… not just trying to bring back hammers.

Austin’s part from Nike’s Never Not: