Joel Gomez. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

Joel Gomez. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

The year was 1983, and the place was Sunnyvale, California just outside San Jose. Amidst Reaganomics-era America, 21-year-old skateboarder, snowboarder, and punk rocker Joel Gomez borrowed funds from friends and family and opened the very first snowboard-specific retail shop in the country. He called it Sessions. Plastered with punk-rock posters and a living embodiment of the skate/snow culture at the time, the storefront was groundbreaking in its own right-but would not be the brand’s final manifestation. Under Gomez’s tutelage, Sessions exploded into a music label (releasing records from the Descendents, AFI, and the Foo Fighters) and the innovative outerwear manufacturer it is today.

So how did a pool skater from the Bay Area get into snowboarding? Through Steve Caballero, of course. Around 1980, the legendary skateboarder had been shredding the Tahoe City Halfpipe and told his friend Joel all about it. “Once I saw the picture of Cab doing an invert on a snowboard, I knew I had to try it,” says Gomez, who quickly added snowboarding to his boardsports repertoire.

By 1982, Gomez was helping Tom Sims sell Sims Snowboards throughout the Bay Area. “One day I walked out of a surf shop and realized that if I opened up my own store, I could listen to punk music and be around skateboards and snowboards all day every day-a dream come true for me.” As a Chicano kid who grew up working the fields with his mom and brothers, Gomez wasn’t blessed with disposable income. He had to borrow funds to get things going, but an ultra-low cost of living allowed him to put almost every cent right back into the company. Modeling it after his bedroom, which was bedecked with punk posters and old surf, skate, and snowboards, Gomez created more than just a store-it was a hangout haven with its own gritty culture and flavor.

Punk records and T-shirts found their way into Sessions’ inventory and helped develop sales, but another new project was on the horizon-Gomez was designing snowboard-specific outerwear. Officially founded in 1988, Sessions Outerwear quickly became a driving force of West Coast snowboard culture. But it was far from simply fashion-Sessions kept ahead of the pack by innovating and taking chances. In the early 90s, the company helped pioneer the use of Gore-Tex and the idea of signature rider outerwear, releasing pieces bearing the names of Jamie Lynn, John Cardiel, and Tara Dakides. According to Gomez, Sessions was also the first snowboard company to incorporate Recco avalanche rescue systems, Skullcandy headphones, and D3o shock-absorption technology.

A quarter century later, a few things have changed. Sessions Records is “on sabbatical,” says Joel. “I do it more for the love than the money-it’s a time consuming and costly hobby.” However, Sessions Outerwear is an internationally distributed and award-winning brand that’s barreling forward even as many privately owned companies flail. What’s the secret? Sticking to what you know. Sessions makes outerwear-not watches, not bindings, not boots or snowboards. While other brands diversify their crops, Sessions maintains a fierce focus on making the best, technically advanced outwear possible.

Another change, however, is that Sessions has enlisted some financial help from Samsung America by selling the brand and trademark rights to a new company, Sessions LLC, which has Samsung amongst its shareholders. Confusing, no? Gomez says simply, “We are still privately owned and operated.”

And don’t worry-Sessions is still rock and roll, as evidenced by such rock-band collaborations as the Metallica jacket boasting Skullcandy speakers on the hood. What else? Gomez is still excited about blistering guitars, about “making cool outerwear,” and about taking steep powder runs with friends. Some things never change, you know?