The story of YES. Snowboards is an unlikely one. Like many in snowboarding, it's a story replete with challenges and successes, but more importantly, it's the story of a brotherhood and the improbable movement they championed.
"I don’t think it started with YES. Looking back, I wish it were our 15-year anniversary, because that’s where it really started for all of us—with UnInc." JP Solberg tells me from his home in Norway. David Carrier-Porcheron, or DCP as he is known, Romain De Marchi, and JP Solberg were at the forefront of snowboarding when the YES. story began. The seemingly unstoppable trio had come from different backgrounds, with different strengths, and different approaches—but they also all were bonded by a shared vision, and perhaps most importantly, a longtime supporting sponsor.
Compiled under the UnInc. moniker at Burton Snowboards—a label void of Burton logos and founded on the notion of being unincorporated—the three had been given the tools needed for success and told to run wild. "It was always about freedom of expression and freedom of choice" DCP tells me. In reality, they had it all. Freedom to design shapes, graphics, travel—you name it, and they had it—until they didn't.
The year was 2008. The economy was tanking, and the future was unsure, even for the industry giants. All three had been commonly referred to as "lifers" at Burton, and each viewed their future with the brand as certain. But then it ended, in what was one of the most surprising team cuts to date, the three found themselves on their own.
What followed was a brief period of uncertainty laden with setbacks. While future opportunities were unclear, a collective desire to support each other continued. Romain, who had been talking with the Rome Snowboards Team Manager at the time, was determined to include both JP and DCP in his next chapter. DCP remembers, "How YES. came about really is because Romain choked out the Rome TM in a limo in San Diego." With a Rome deal off the table, Romain looked to the next opportunity.
"It was the beginning of something new. Henry Nidecker Jr., who was starting to take over the Nidecker family business, approached me and offered me the chance to start making boards. JP and David couldn't find any sponsors they liked—so I suggested we start making our own," he remembers. So, the three set off on a mission to achieve the impossible—to start a snowboard company in an economy so hurt that one of the largest brands in snowboarding had been forced to let three of its most prominent riders go.
"In one way, launching in 2009 was an absolutely idiotic move. Only fools would have done that. But at the same time, the titans of the industry had basically jammed so much product down everybody’s throat, and driven prices so low, they had weakened themselves and it was the perfect time for an underdog to come up and strike," YES. Brand Director, Alex Warburton, recalls of the time.
While the logistics involved in such an endeavor evaded all three, a steadfast passion, coinciding movement, and the brotherhood that would soon make it all happen prevailed. Their name, which began as a defiant response to naysayers, soon became a succinct means to spread their message. "If you ask any person what 'yes' means to them, the bottom line of it is positive," JP tells me. Romain continues, "YES. is a natural evolution of the UnInc. movement—being rebellious, creating your own style, pursuing what you believe in and standing up for yourself." DCP confirms, "It's an extension of UnInc., the idea was simply that we are unincorporated; we are not here for the money. Obviously we are running a business, but at the same time, we're not here to take advantage and we're not going to sell out. YES. has maintained an authenticity because we're real. We're snowboarders, and we're running our snowboard brand."
It was here, in their commitment to giving back to the community that had given them so much, that they began production in 2009 with an unusual business model. Instead of turning out a batch of boards once a year, they chose to release a limited batch of 100 every four months. Their reasoning was a simple one: create demand through a limited release, and allow riders in the Southern Hemisphere the opportunity to buy a new board at the start of their season. They made them cheap, and sold them cheaper—even going so far as to paint graphics below a clear base on the first release of boards. "We didn’t have a budget; we didn’t have anything. It was like 'let’s just get some paint and start painting these boards and we’ll take it from there,'" JP remembers.
But that's not to say they didn't strive to create inventive change. DCP remembers, "We even used a seven-ply maple sidewall at first, which was an innovation that came from our inspiration in skateboarding." While their initial business model would soon change, it was representative of the group's diverse board sport backgrounds, and their devotion to the movement they had started.
Their success didn't take long. When asked when he knew they were on to something, JP is quick to cite the first order they received at the SIA tradeshow in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Jeremy Sladen from The Snowboard Asylum in the UK shows up and goes, 'alright, where do I put my order in?' And we didn’t even have an order form. He was like 'I’ll take 300 of them.' And I was like 'What?'" All of a sudden, YES. was a brand.
Two years down the road, it was time for YES.' next benchmark, hiring Alex Warburton as Brand Director. Alex, who has a tenured career in snowboarding, from his early days as one of Canada's first professional riders, to his later years designing products for Morrow, Forum, Rip Curl, and adidas—just to name a few—brought extensive experience and manufacturing knowledge to YES. "We had to move factories, they were in a pretty substandard factory in Tunisia at the time. So, the disruptive move I did was shifting production to GST in Austria. If YES. was going to survive, it needed to produce better quality boards." From there, it became a process of "reshaping and redeveloping the line to fit the guys’ story," he tells me.
Now, ten years after the first run of boards, YES. retains this incessant dedication to authenticity. "Last year I was trying to describe to a shop in Japan that barely understood English, what YES. was all about. I wrote this equation on the board, and the equation was 'History + Influence = YES.' The history was the owners’ history matched with my history. The graphic influence was in skate and snow, while the shaping influence has been primarily surf," he tells me. Alex, who has a history in surf shaping as well as snowboard shaping, has since propelled YES. from their early days making what he calls "sub-par snowboards," to their current position as an industry-leading brand.
Boards like the 420 are a direct pull from Steve Lis’ original fish kneeboard, where relocating volume displacement allows for increased float on a shorter board. This way of thinking quickly led to the 20/20, a twin approach using complex bottom contours to help create lift and float. For Alex, this progression of shapes was inevitable and comes from both surf and snowboarding earliest days of design.
When reflecting on how far the brand has come in the last ten years, Alex tells me "I’ve worked for bigger companies that sit around and have these discussions about ‘How we can be authentic and how we can convince people we’re authentic’. What’s rad about YES., is that we never have to have those conversations." He continues, "There’s a level of confidence we reached with our combined experience, where we don’t really need to look at anyone else’s catalogs or products. We are confident that if we follow our own inspirations and go down our own path, it's going to work for everybody."
Given this overwhelming shared sense of confidence, it should come as no surprise that they are celebrating ten years of YES. with a relentless eagerness for the next ten to come. Graphics like this season's Chi Modu collaboration, which uses iconic photographs from hip-hop's early days, "speaks to a shared rebellious movement—to create your own style, pursue what you believe and just stand up for yourself," Romain tells me towards the end of our conversation.
However, while the last ten years of YES. is full of innovative thinking within snowboarding, one would be remiss to think that is where their passion ends. "YES. is a movement of positivity that we really want to push through YES. Snowboards, but also through another brand called YES. on Life that we started as an extension, with clothing and surfing and all the moments in between," DCP tells me about the latest endeavor that JP is spearheading from Norway.
JP elaborates, "This is something that I’ve been wanting to do since day one, and after ten years we felt like this is the perfect time to do it." YES. on Life, which is currently nearing launch, will be home to the brand's new premium line of clothes and surfboards. And while one might think that a departure into clothing and surfboards may seem disjointed, in reality it is only a natural extension of the movement that began back in the early days of UnInc. From the start, DCP, JP, and Romain, have all held deep ties to both the surf and skate worlds. These ties have manifested themselves as sources of inspiration for YES. Snowboards, and even have gone as far as continued collaborations with Globe, and the creation of skateboards and footwear. For them, it all ties back to authenticity, and propelling their movement forward.
Given their success, one thing that's striking about their position ten years later is the absence of retaliation or direct competition—particularly from Burton, which many might assume. Today, YES. continues to use the UnInc. logo in their line. When asked about the logo's use, all three were quick to respond that the rights had been purchased as soon as they became available. However, what's more is that the relationship and mutual respect between both brands remains paramount. DCP remembers, "The first year we brought back the UnInc. graphic some Burton brand managers came to our booth at SIA. We thought they would want us to remove it from the line, but instead they said, 'Nice line, guys. Good job.'" JP continues, "We’re completely different companies, and I think snowboarding needs both. People talk shit on Burton, and they think we're on the same page. It’s never been like that." A notion that DCP affirmed as our conversation came to a close, "We were very lucky, and we were supported very well, and we were able to set stuff up for our future. We all have families, and in a way, we all live in the houses that Burton got for us."
It is this same persistent positivity and dedication to the YES. movement that now defines the brand ten years later. They're initial beginning, no matter how unlikely, was founded in authenticity and their shared passion for snowboarding. So it comes as no surprise that now, ten years later, it is those same qualities that have allowed them to remain one of the few snowboard companies still owned by snowboarders. With ten years in the books, and eyes eagerly focused on the next ten to come, it seems the only change for the future is that its success is more likely.
A message from DCP, Romain, and JP:
We are so grateful for all the support we have been given at YES. Since day 1 . So thank you to all the sponsors over the years and special thanks goes to this year's movie co-sponsors: Warehouse Group, Now Bindings, Globe Brand, Rip Curl, Deeluxe boots, Grass Roots Medicinal, Zeal Optics, Underground Tuning, Ifound .The Positive Group.