Staff Photographer/Graphic Designer, 686
I met Erik Hoffman during his first summer at Windells, fresh out of Connecticut, Nikon in hand. He was at camp to be the photo intern, working alongside then-Windells photog, Darcy Bacha, and tasked with shooting all of the skating and warm weather activities at the Windells campus. Over the course of ten weeks, Erik not only captured the iconic aspects of Mount Hood summer that go on after Timberline's lifts have stopped turning each afternoon, but he also went above and beyond his job title, hiking to the Windells lane every single day in order to spend his down time shooting snowboarding. His passion for photography and the lengths at which he was willing to go to in order to practice his craft that first summer were indications of how the East Coaster would approach his position in the snowboard industry in the years to come. Since his introduction to the greater snowboarding community at Mount Hood and after spending a handful of years capturing images above the Oregon clouds, Erik made the move to Southern California where he now works for venerable outerwear brand, 686, as a photographer and designer. But it's not only Erik's increasing contribution to the industry through his day jobs that make him a vital member of this 30-Under-30 list, it's the fact that regardless of where Erik finds himself, be it Mount Hood National Forest or Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach, he is constantly churning out meaningful personal projects, beginning first with The Arkives, a film-based collaborative effort with fellow 30-Under-30 nominee, Tyler Orton, and since then playing with various post-processing techniques, looking a negatives in a new light, and constantly exploring his photography beyond megapixels and action frames. His particular combination of work ethic and artistic vision make Erik an easy addition to this venerable list of youthful talent.
– Mary Walsh
What does your current position in the snowboarding industry entail? Describe a typical day on the job.
Being an independent company 686 employs a small, tight-knit group. We make a lot happen in our relatively small numbers so naturally, while my job title is Staff Photographer, it’s not uncommon for me to step out of that role and dive headfirst into a lot of the layout, design, basic marketing, social media and written work that comes through our marketing department. This work spikes in the summer months where I’m not on the road traveling and my responsibility for shooting photos is more limited to in house studio work. Of course, as winter sets in, my job becomes a little more nomadic with travel to wherever the snow happens to be best. I’m stoked, it’s definitely best this way this way from a learning and experience standpoint.
Where are you from and where do you currently call home?
I'm from Newtown, Connecticut but currently call Huntington Beach, California my home.
How did you start snowboarding?
I started snowboarding when I was a sophomore in High School when my buddies invited me to go up to Stratton with them for the US Open. From then on, I spent a lot of my money to go as much as I could.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to work in the snowboard industry?
After spending my first summer in Oregon shooting photos on Mount Hood, but specifically after spending time assisting Darcy Bacha on some evening shoots with Sammy Carlson in Mount Hood's backcountry. The atmosphere and amount of fun, like-minded people that were around drew me in pretty quickly.
And how did you make that happen?
This wasn't a path I put much thought into initially; it kind of just happened all at once. I had broken my wrist in high school and couldn't continue to play baseball, so instead of spending the winter focusing on sports, I spent it making the trip up and down from Connecticut to Vermont, staying with my friends who would rent a house for a couple weeks in the spring every year. The next year, I got the gear and a season pass and went as much as I possibly could. During my first year of college, another close friend was trying to convince me to buy a session at Windells but I couldn't afford the 1,500 bucks or so it would take, so instead he found a photo internship opportunity and before I had even gotten word that Windells wanted me to come out to fill the spot, he bought the session. Well, I got it and flew out a couple weeks later. I remember hiking up the mountain every day that summer to get to the lane and shoot—the photo interns role was to just shoot off hill, so they didn't get a season pass. I worked pretty hard, so I assume that’s why they hired me on the next year. Eventually, throughout my five years there, I moved from intern to manager. Before the fifth summer working at Windells, I had graduated college with a graphic design degree and decided to just get a one way ticket to Oregon. I went crazy that summer trying to find a way to stay out west and ended up applying for a graphic design position at 686. I had dealt with them in the past, so immediately after applying I shot Brent Sandor, their VP of Marketing, an email letting him know I applied and that I was very interested. Couple weeks and interviews later, I booked it down to southern California to start. Been here for about two years now and have since moved into a photographer's roll while still doing a fair amount of design work. I'm extremely happy to be where I'm at now, plus Southern California is a hell of a homebase during the winter. You can always guarantee some sun and warmth after coming back from a long trip.
Who did you look up to in the industry for inspiration?
Darcy Bacha, initially, for bringing me on all the raddest trips when I was still a teenager, teaching me the ropes, and obviously, for being a great photographer, as well. A close second would be Cole Barash, a fellow East Coaster who I admire for branching out of the industry. He's always moving forward with completely different work from project-to-project, so I always jump on the first opportunity to buy his new books and zines when they go on sale. Snowboarding is great and a big part of the reason why I love to shoot photos, but there's so much more out there that isn't ever seen. It's not always about getting the gnarliest action photo. The moments in between get me stoked, which is why I'm so drawn to Cole's work. Pick up a copy of his book, Talk Story that he did on John John and his family. He was with one of the world’s greatest surfers and the entire book was outside of the water in a much more intimate and interesting setting. I would rather see that than a pristine shot at pipeline. Anyway, the book is great and worth the purchase if there are any still available.
What do you feel has been your biggest impact in your line of work?
Good lord. I don't have a good answer for this. A lot of times I can barely look past what I see as imperfections in my own work to even notice if I'm having an impact. Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad, but to me it shows that I love what I do. If my work makes me happy, I don't care about what other people think.
What do you want to accomplish that you haven't yet?
I've got a personal project in the works that if all goes well, should be done before Christmas. Right now, that's my top priority and I can’t really think past that. I don't want to disclose too much, but after this project is done I hope to hit the ground running with more of these side projects for no other reason but that it makes me happy. I just want to be happy. Haha.
Anyone you'd like to thank?
Yes. Tommy, Janice, Pat and Mickey Fay from back in Connecticut for carting me up and down to Vermont every weekend, letting me eat all their food, and getting me into snowboarding initially. Kyle Gallatin for finding me that internship at Windells and buying a session before I even got the position. Darcy Bacha for showing me what's up back in the day. And obviously, Mom and Dad for putting up with me disappearing every chance I could to go to the mountains.