Words: Jens Heig
You haven't seen the name Zac Marben pop up in a recent full-length video. When Vans' acclaimed LANDLINE. was revealed in January, the Minnesotan known for his suave yet intense approach to the street and backcountry was noticeably absent. It wasn't by choice. Between an uncooperative shoulder and a large, talented cast, the longtime team rider's footage wound up on the cutting room floor. "Shit happens," he said, with a tinge of regret in his voice.
The roots of Marben's passions, however, have only become more deeply rooted in his life. He started a family with his wife, Jenny. A paintbrush still finds its way into his hand, despite converting his art studio into a bedroom for his son, Radley. He unleashes his creativity on a fretboard as often as a snowboard and records more songs than tricks. For Zac, if it's not enjoyable, it won't occupy much of his time because there isn't enough of it to do all he wants to do.
However, Zac's tenure as a pro isn't over. Watch any of the Instagram videos he's posted from last season, and you'll realize that refinement comes with age. Until you see his name before a video part, you'll see his name on Spotify or iTunes, in the corner of a painting, or maybe even illuminated above First Avenue's 7th Street Entry on a Friday night. When shit happens, Zac makes the most of it.
When did you start playing and recording music?
I started playing guitar and drums when I was around nine years old, around the same time I started snowboarding. I learned a couple things from my dad but mostly taught myself. It wasn't until I was 16 or 17, when I was going on trips with Volcom, that I started playing every day and traveling with a guitar. I met Scott Sullivan, the photographer; he's an amazing musician. He told me to play my guitar every day, no matter what. I really took that to heart. Since then, I've been writing songs and playing as much as I can, learning all the other stuff too: drums, bass, song structure. In the past 10 years, I've probably recorded 500 songs.
Since I've started, I've just wanted to play more and more, keep doing it. I play with my buddies Jonas Michilot and Brandon Larson sometimes; we have a loose band going. Then I just do a lot of recording in my basement.
And you recently released an album.
Yeah, I just released Dunes. I've been working on that for pretty much three years. Took a little while, but I'm psyched on it. It's the lighter side of my music. I have a plan to do another album in the near future with some of the heavier stuff I do.
Who inspires you, musically?
I get influenced by the bands I'm listening to at the time. I listen to a lot of metal, Black Sabbath. I like to play into some dreamy aspects, like Pink Floyd style. I take little hints and parts that are similar to other bands, but I don't try to use somebody's style too much. I want to have my own.
Would you say your snowboarding is influenced by your music or that your music is influenced by your snowboarding?
I think they're totally different. Maybe some of my creativity feeds into both of them, but I don't know if I really treat them the same.
Do you want to keep on the hustle and do big things in snowboarding, or are you in a place where other aspects of life are becoming more important to you?
Snowboarding is still the same to me; I'm going to do it no matter what. I'd like to go on some bigger trips, but not having as many sponsors, that stuff doesn't happen as often. I'm not going to be flying overseas just for fun because I can't afford that. I'll still be snowboarding, but it will be ten minutes, more or less, from my house at Hyland [Hills] with the boys. We have a good scene, a good crew there. Just having that convenience makes it fun.
The risk that's involved with professional snowboarding is considerable. Now that you have a family, does that change your outlook at all?
A little bit, for sure. Over the years I've had quite a few injuries. Now, with Jen and the little guy to look after, I take it a more serious with backcountry safety and the risk-to-reward ratio. I'm not going to risk my life because of the potential to get in a magazine or have a ten-second clip in a video. I'm not going for the shock factor as much as bringing it back to the roots again. It's not all about the risks. I would rather be doing it for the reason I started—because it's fun. If it's not fun, then why do it?
Though it was unrelated to snowboarding, seeing what happened to Dillon… Where has your mind wandered since?
It's terrible. He was the coolest kid and had such a bright future. Just a great personality, super talented on and off a snowboard. Dillon has done some of the craziest rails out of anybody. He could do that. I don't know exactly how to say it, but you just never know what can happen.
It definitely makes you realize you have to appreciate every day, your friends and family. It's made me look back and think about things I've done, then look forward and realize the importance of thinking stuff through because accidents happen. Like I said, the concept of risk-to-reward has been on my mind lately. Is this really worth what you're getting out of it?
Have you learned things in your career that influence the way you raise your son?
When I started snowboarding professionally, I was on my own with a bunch of older people at a young age. Instead of being in high school and going to college, I had to learn how to be an adult quick, while still living as a kid. I'd like to show Radley how to do stuff but also let him learn his own way. I'm always trying to expose him to things that I think are cool—like skateboarding and playing music, and he loves that already. He's only three, and he's learning quick. He was playing harmonica today.
He just picked it up on his own. From snowboarding, I've learned you can be creative and carve your own path. I want him to realize that you can do whatever you want, as long as you're having fun.Instead of being in high school and going to college, I had to learn how to be an adult quick, while still living as a kid. I imagine I'll treat Radley like that—how him how to do stuff, but also let him learn his own way. I'm always trying to show him things that I think are cool, like skateboarding and playing music. And he loves that already. He's only three years old, but he's learning pretty quick. He was playing harmonica today.