Words: Amanda Hankison
On a late June drive to Mount Hood, somewhere between Bend and Government Camp, I let myself drift into an existential wandering, the wholehearted kind that becomes available when you've spent more time behind the wheel than at home in the last six months. As my truck barreled northwest through the desert toward the very mountain that taught me how to do it myself I couldn't fight the nostalgia. The last seven summers spent on Mount Hood shaped me to be who I am. I grew up at that mountain with snowboarding as my compass, where doing it yourself is true north. I'm one of hundreds with the same story. What is the motivation behind doing it yourself though, and why have so many strayed from conventional lives and nine-to-fives in favor of creating their own path? What does DIY give the snowboarding community that established institutions can't and why do we keep coming back for more?
The first stop on the way down this rabbit hole was a conversation with Sean Genovese—absolute royalty when it comes to DIY. We caught up on the first day of my journey to Hood, in the High Mountain Café, a hub for summertime reunions and computer nerds. From starting Dinosaurs Will Die thirteen years ago with Jeff Keenan to the integral role he played in producing numerous Think Thank videos, Sean breathes life into the DIY spirit of his peers and those who look up to him. In explaining his take on the concept, he mused, "By doing it yourself you take control of your own destiny; you have a say in where you're going, what you're making, and who you do it with."
DIY, to Sean, is not waiting for permission from a corporation or the all-powerful, omnipotent "they" to make a vision reality. "When we started Dinos, some of our closest friends told us not to, that it was a bad idea to start a snowboard brand," said DWD co-founder Jeff Keenan. DIY holds you accountable. You can't blame anyone else for your shortcomings or complain about how it should've been done better. When you do it yourself you respect and understand the process to its fullest. You're invested in it. Jeff and Sean poured their heart and soul into building what they have and through their hard work, they've not only created a future for themselves in our industry, but they're able to support likeminded creators around the world.
Bidding Sean adieu, I made the short drive down to the Windells skatepark, only to see none other than Jon Stark's unmistakable silhouette approaching in late afternoon light. As the media landscape changes, full videos are more rare than ever. They've been dissected into web series, online video parts, and Instagram clips, but the people who create videos are not gone; they're still compulsively making art out of snowboarding. Jon, a filmmaking fiend, is testament to the importance of these visual artists. In nine years, he put 327,025 miles on a Subaru Outback, ferrying a vast array of snowboarders across the country in order to film several full-length movies. His creations have shined a light on unknown riders and sparked the careers of some of your favorite snowboarders. Jon has given his life to filming. When asked why, he answered, "It ultimately endorses a healthy lifestyle full of adapting to your environment and overcoming fears of uncertainty—qualities that are priceless. Like a lot of skills in this world, it's a form of art, and when it's done well, it's absolutely beautiful." His creative force, when combined with individuals like Cole Navin or Mike Ravelson, to name a couple, has managed to document some of the most innovative snowboarding of our day.
After skating, I made my way down to Portland to visit Jon's former roommate, Desiree Melancon, another artist. I met Des years ago while she was digging at Mt. Hood, casting off into the tumultuous waters of professional snowboarding. Before Instagram, before everyone had an HD camera in their pocket, when video parts were called parts because they were an actual part of a full movie. Since then I've watched her teach herself to draw, paint, sing, and play music. She's become a photographer, learned to film, and how to edit—all the while delivering award-winning video parts with Peepshow and Think Thank—built a camper, produced and starred in a multiyear documentary, and slaved alongside her peers to feed the creative fire burning in the heart of snowboarding. Desiree has withstood both insult and injury on her rise to become one of the most iconic women in our community as snowboarders.
A small office in her Portland home holds trophies from a litany of banked slaloms, Riders' Polls, and contests—more than I've seen in one place before. It's a collection amassed through pure love and dedication to snowboarding, in all its forms. Her grace on snow is matched by the artistic renderings printed on her board, boots, goggles—all of her own design. Desiree is DIY. As I distracted her from the board graphic she's painstakingly been illustrating for the last month, she offered this: "Every time you embark on doing something yourself you're combining everything you've already learned and using all the tools in your toolbox. DIY is a never-ending experience of learning new skill sets to be able to successfully complete something on your own, and that's exciting."
As I pulled away from Desiree's, I decided it was time to make some calls to other DIY aficionados who have influenced my path and that of many others. I immediately dialed Corey McDonald, an avid DWD supporter and the man that taught Jon, Desiree, and I how to wield rakes on Mount Hood. Digging, the act of building and maintaining terrain parks, is one of the most inherently DIY activities in snowboarding. The process of moving and shaping snow in order to ride it began almost immediately after snowboarding's beginning. Before the summer snowboard camps we know now, riders would converge on one of the only patches of snow in the continental US hearty enough to withstand the summer sun, Mount Hood's Palmer Glacier. They would build halfpipes and jumps by hand, unknowingly creating the basis of snowboarding's modern freestyle form we know today. The men and women who put shovels to snow on Mount Hood have a legacy of continuing on to become professional snowboarders, filmmakers, builders, and well respected members of the snowboarding community.
Corey McDonald manned the helm of High Cascade's storied digger crew for many summers and runs the park operations at Bogus Basin outside of Boise, Idaho, during the winter. "Growing up in Boise, we didn't have a skatepark, so we built one in an empty parking lot. That's how it's always been. If you want to do something, you just have to do it. We never had terrain parks at the mountain either. We had to do it ourselves; we had to create our own jobs." Corey excels at not only building features but at building and leading a community of people who truly understand what it means to pitch in.
Something told me it was time I caught up with Ted Borland, another former digger that came up under Corey's influence. When I did, he was in the middle of printing up a fresh batch of t-shirts for longstanding Salt Lake City brick and mortar shop Milosport. After his tenure as a digger on Mount Hood, he went on to work at Cobra Dogs, an institution of initiative emanating from its founder, Cory Grove. From rallying the Think Thank crew around the East Coast in his van to wielding a chainsaw at the Bonezone at Brighton, Ted is constantly on the move, looking for the next opportunity to make an impact. Ted's screen printing business is a new endeavor with his fiancé, Nirvana Ortanez. It was established with intent to serve the snowboarding community and follows his first year producing Falling Leaf, a project rooted in Think Thank and meant to shed light on up and coming riders. While we talked, he spoke of his time filming with snowboarding's legendary avant-garde production company. "A lot of Think Thank people do it themselves; we're kind of like the misfit group in snowboarding, where nothing was handed to anyone. I think [Jesse] Burtner was attracted to those kind of people because they're likeminded. They aren't going to wait around for something to happen. We like to create things and create it on our own terms instead of someone else doing it for you." When I described an iconic aerial photo of the Bonezone packed with early season enthusiasts, he shared this: "It's an incredible feeling. There's a reason why people that build features have so much pride in what they make because its an awesome feeling to see others enjoying something you created."
In the midst of an Idaho skatepark tour, Parker Duke was hanging at Corey's house. Growing up under the tutelage of Corey, Parker became an accomplished builder and rider. His expertise in shaping takeoffs is renowned in our community and his penchant for high consequence street riding exemplifies a well-rounded approach to snowboarding. To him, the act of building a spot or digging is just as rewarding as snowboarding on said feature. "It's just a part of the foundation of snowboarding. The key ingredients. Spending time snowboarding with friends is such a unique and genuine experience. I have a longstanding history with snowboarding—building, digging, and filming—it's still very much what I live for and look forward to." When asked about his influences, Parker cites a long lineage of builders he looks up to including Corey, Lucas Ouellette, Krush Kulesza, Luke Mathison, and the legendary Pat Malendoski. "These people are such experts at their craft and have played a significant role in creating the snowboarding culture we have today. What they've been able to provide the people within snowboarding is indescribable."
The next day, I went back to Windells for a panel discussion. Leanne Pelosi sat next to me, and former pro turned Dakine Digital Marketing Director and default team manager, Colleen Quigley, provided Pelosi with an introduction of magnitude: "Leanne could be considered the person who has done the most for women in snowboarding." Following the discussion, I talked with Leanne about how she managed to earn that kind of preface. Leanne always knew she wanted snowboarding to be her job, but her career's beginning was during a time when opportunity for women in our space was less than it is now. She took it upon herself to start Runway Films, which provided not only an outlet for her own riding but created a platform for other women to ride at a high level in front of a camera, culminating in her latest production Full Moon. Leanne echoed Desiree's excitement in saying, "When you set off to do something yourself, it can be scary at first but that fear turns to excitement. And then you just do it." Never one to rest, she spent last winter pioneering zones in British Columbia on her snowmobile—areas that have only been seen from a helicopter. Her passion and drive to keep snowboarding led her to create the reality she now lives in, and it's a good one.
After our panel discussion, I caught up via phone with Jess Kimura between waves at what she calls her timeshare—a rebuilt camper she drove from Canada to Mexico. Jess leads by example and has set the bar for female progression sky high. When faced with back-to-back injuries, she kept at it by starting a film project showcasing the talent she sees in the next generation. It's called The Uninvited. She's producing, editing, and funding the project, which is set to launch careers for the most promising young ladies coming up right now. "A lot of times DIY comes down to 'make it happen yourself, or don't do it at all.' Even back when we were filming for Peepshow, we used to go to Radio Shack and buy a shitty video camera, film with it all day, and return it that night. These awesome, creative, unique things are born because there's no other option. You have to take it into your own hands to be able to make something happen and create that outlet for yourself; that's what DIY is to me. It's born out of need." No stranger to the limited opportunities provided to women, Jess's unyielding commitment built the foundation of her career and has created hope for a future with improved opportunity for female riders
Back in Government Camp, the High Mounain Café was closing for the afternoon as I hung up with Ted. I relocated across the sleepy main drag to Charlie's Mountain View and settled in. Freedom to turn vision to reality combined with intense dedication snowboarding were the themes stitching these conversations together. Passion seems to be a driving force for the DIY mentality. Chris Beresford, just as Sean and Jeff did with Dinos, turned passion into action with Dang Shades. "In snowboarding, you hit a point where it's like, do you want to do it? Do you want to keep doing it? If the answer is yes, then you need to figure out how." Dang is a company born at the famous High Cascade staff sale. "I was 22 and had nothing to lose. I was also too stupid to know anything else. People asked me questions all the time, and the answers, well, I didn't even have anyone to ask. No one in my family owned their own company; they all worked for someone else, and that's what I was supposed to do."
Chris's work ethic and career are driven by the need to keep snowboarding. With Dang's success, Chris is now able to spread the love and create opportunities for team riders like Ted to ride in faraway places like Japan. From handplant tweaks to the occasional cab nine, Chris is still snowboarding just as much as when sponsors were paying his bills, but now it's on his own terms.
A name that continually arose during my discussions was Jesse Burtner. When I tracked him down, what I got was not only a history lesson on how Think Thank, the production company he founded, came to be, but insight into his inspirations and the importance of energy in all forms. Jesse led Think Thank's revolution with confidence in knowing that, "When you put enough energy in, people are attracted to it. You get people excited, and they flock and bring their talents—the right people come. It's all about that community, and it's fun to be involved with energy. You catch a vibe from someone and you know, like Scott [Stevens] for example."
Stevens, after giving Jesse credit for launching his career, spoke of the energy Jesse was referencing. "I like creating energy when I snowboard, and I've noticed I can do it even if I'm not the one riding. People get excited, and I can actually feel their energy because I'm so excited to see something go down." By collaborating with riders like Scott, Desiree, Parker, Ted, Chris, and Jess, along with the creativity of Sean Genovese and Christina Burtner, Jesse was able to visually communicate what snowboarding meant to him. By their third movie, Patchwork Patterns, Think Thank broke away from the conventional arc of snowboard films and created an artistic masterpiece that gave context to a legacy that was to follow. "I just said, 'Everybody forget what you thought was normal; do whatever the fuck you want.' It was really Micah Hollinger, my longtime friend from Alaska. He set the bar so high for everyone up there and was dramatically changing his skateboarding at the time. We were like, 'Whoa, okay! This is exciting. This is changing everything.'"
Think Thank movies are marked by wild but cohesive artistic direction that gives depth and personality to the film and its riders. Jesse gave the riders the freedom to operate within this creative arena because, "I think snowboarding, for most people, is closer to an art form than it is to a sport, whether or not they realize that. It's about self-expression and communicating something that's inside of yourself. I think I have a burning desire to communicate with people, I think everyone wants to communicate with each other."
Three weeks into my time in Oregon, I found myself atop the Drink Water Rat Race course. It was the third day of building, and the event was set to kick off the next morning. Between shovelfuls of snow and directing course builders, DIY phenom Austin Smith told me his story. As co-founder of the charitable Drink Water brand and an integral part in creating events like the Rat Race and Double Tap, Austin is no stranger to wearing all the hats that come with doing it yourself. "DIY is not waiting for someone else to do something, not worrying about perfection and doing it to the best of your abilities. You're not going to let the details or the improbabilities or the minutiae stop you from doing it. Everyone has a ton of ideas, but so many don't get executed upon because of the work it involves or the logistics or the financing or whatever. There's a hundred reasons why you don't do things, but I just try to ignore those things. Once you commit to doing it, whatever it is, you can work through any problem that arises along the way."
Over the years, Austin has formed integral partnerships with other riders who share this vision, like Bryan Fox and Curtis Ciszek. At a time when video projects were pulling people in different directions, they took it upon themselves to create their own project, eventually spawning the flippantly named Drink Water Media House. Through collaboration, these guys have landed magazine covers, created unique films, and contributed to those less fortunate. When I asked what role he plays in the production of these projects Austin responded, "We're all just kind of in the doing role. It usually happens organically, and we kind of divide and conquer. I wouldn't say any of us have titles of producer or creative director. We decided to do these things and collectively we do them together."
Who Is DIY?
Those who do it themselves are creators. They are artists, visionaries, and jacks-of-all-trades. They know how to use shovels, stand behind cameras, and how to best support others in their quest for self expression—all in the name of snowboarding. It's not coincidental that these makers and creators run in the same circles; the need to communicate their vision or create their future naturally brings them together. These 11 are only a tiny fraction of so many that work tirelessly to keep snowboarding moving in the right direction, continuing to grow the core of creativity and increase its gravitational pull. Our community, snowboarding's livelihood, is dependent on DIY. Supporting the people brave enough to break away from the pack, the people who create something new and give breadth to our linear existence, is the only way to ensure our unconventional lifestyle remains available for generations to come. Be bold, trust your intuition, take the initiative, and don't be afraid do it yourself.