Stephen Duke: Von Zipper Team Manager

Stephen Duke. Cred: Kyle Beckman

Stephen Duke.
Cred: Kyle Beckman

by Justin Phipps,

I met Stephen Duke, the Von Zipper snow team manager, at the SIA On Snow this past winter up at Copper Mountain. Since that time, he’s been giving me some really great support and helping me look sharp with some of VZ’s signature eyewear. This interview was really fun to give because he gives some really amazing answers, he was really engaged. I was super stoked with the way it all turned out. I think you’ll really like it and wanted to give a big thanks to Tahoe legend Stephen Duke for his insight and keeping it fun!

SD: What’s up dude?! How are you?

JP: Good, how bout you?

SD: I’m great. I’m actually working from home today and taking the trash out right now.

JP: Oh nice.

SD: Yeah! How’s your summer been?

JP: It’s been great so far, really just chillin’ around the house and trying to skateboard a lot.

SD: So what’s up you’re gonna give me an interview?

JP: Yeah so you ready??

SD: Whoa dude, c’mon, fill me in just a touch before we get goin..

JP: Ok, yeah so it’s just for my savedByTheGnar blog.

SD: Yep yep.

JP: So I just wanna like interview a bunch of people, from like some of the friends I’ve gotten to know in the industry.

SD: Well alright then dude, I’m down, totally down!!

JP: Alright, so maybe just take me thru a typical office day at VZ.

SD: Ha ha, oh no! Yeah typically office day starts anywhere between 7:30, well pretty much when I wake up I’ll check and start emailing, and typically arrive at the office anywhere between 7:30 and 11a, see if anything has slipped through cracks email wise. And then pretty much get coffee immediately and then go through the list of product that needs to go out. Either to riders and just getting stuff through to shipping cause it’s better to get that taken care of early. As soon as that gets taken care of move on to sort of bigger picture type stuff, which could be an ad campaign like the one that just went down or just magazine type scenarios, deadlines, ect. Other than that, just sorta check in on some team people and stay caught up. Then, and this depends on time of the year, try to get with design and creative people and touch base with where we’re at with things. Which could be design, color ways, technologies we’re working with, bringing these into new goggle frames, ad layouts, concepts. Definitely surf the internet, check the mag sites, check yoBeat!, check all of ‘em basically and see who’s getting coverage and where. Then.. yeah sneak home as soon as I can (laughing).

JP: Alright..

SD: I mean, yeah, just some of the things in an average day.

JP: Sounds chill.

SD: Try to take care of some people every day with product and see what their needs are and other than that look at the big picture and make sure we’re not missing any deadlines and that we’re getting things done in a timely fashion.

JP: Okay. What’s the most positive development that’s taken shape for VZ snow since you’ve taken on TM duties?

SD: Um, oh boy I like that one (pause). Most positive development by far was to kind of redevelop the snow team. Our program was really small when I first got there, consisted of a handful of people that represented the brand and now a little over a year later I would say we have a really strong set of international pros like John, Eric, and Hana. Then underneath that we have a whole new set of what we’d call our North American professionals, you know Hans, Brendan Gerard, well I’m not gonna name all names, but basically redeveloping the team on a new level. Then on the regional level we’ve become much much more involved with our flow riders and our ams and really paying attention to each region specifically making sure that we’re kinda spread out the country and Canada. I think taking the team and having gone from four or five people to now having a solid number. Really just creating a full team with riders throughout the country, including yourself in Colorado, and basically getting the team program back up and operating. And then the other thing is really proud of the fact that it’s working with these really really awesome people, like I really love every single person involved with the team aspect of it. I’m super proud of that.

JP: Yeah. Cool. So, is there any TM duties that you would wanna remove from the job?

SD: (laughing).. yeah not really. Maybe erase some of the jobs? Just the overall budgetary restrictions and the amount of structuring of all of that. The organization of it all. In a perfect world there’d be endless money to do everything and pretty much have nonstop fun without ever having worry about organizing it all, but you know, that’s never gonna happen.

JP: Okay. You’ve been in the game for parts of three decades now, do you want to counsel younger riders and share your experiences with them?

SD: Yeah, I mean, especially because snowboarding has changed so much and certain opportunities for young riders. They (kind of) make such grandiose plans for their careers at such a young age. The fact that kids are getting real heavy support from non-endemic sponsors like the energy drink companies, and the like. I would really maintain though that the most important thing is to keep it completely fun all the time and that you’re not basically getting overly serious about it as a career if you wanna call it that. Just make sure that your number one reason for doing it is the passion you have for snowboarding alone, the fun that snowboarding brings to your life.

JP: Yeah.

Inside the on snow tent village. That's @stephenDuke in the Von Zipper tent doing internet things.

Inside the on SIA snow tent village. That’s @stephenDuke in the Von Zipper tent doing internet things. 2/14

SD: .. and realistically there’s just so much seriousness that comes along with it all now, and so much progression and kids. With the progression of tricks in the last couple years has kinda brought (pause). I mean I can’t tell you put a number on how many times young people, or their parents for that matter, telling me about the double they did or even the triple. Realistically though they’re just tricks. To me that just doesn’t matter. It’s cool if you wanna progress that quickly and wanna learn those tricks. But to figure our your style and to make it look good on a snowboard, whether it’s a 180 or 1080. Some people can make snowboarding look really good and I would just say focus on having fun and how to look good on a snowboard and NOT how to look like a stuntman on a snowboard.

JP: Yeah, definitely. So, our industry seems pretty chill mostly but ever see riders or companies maybe that kind of hate each other? Either today or time gone by?

SD: (laughter) .. yeah that’s a really good question! Well the funny thing is for the most part the industry is really chill. Most people and most companies are true to that kind of opinion. I think that most people are pretty mellow. Everybody’s different, some people are more aggressive with their approach to things than others, both people that work in the industry and athletes alike. I can’t really name specifically, I mean I just can’t really recall brands in the past, I mean I know that there have been some brands that have had some tension between ‘em. I would say now, in the eyewear game, there are definitely some competitors that we don’t respect as much as others, but, that’s not necessarily to say that there’s a tension. Realistically, everybody kind of knows this but, the industry is relatively small and whether you work for this company or that company doesn’t draw the lines of where your friends are. With that being said and having been around awhile, it’s really fortunate that I’ve had friends throughout a lot of different companies that no matter who I work for or who they work for we’re always gonna maintain friends and I think most of the industry consists of people like that. Really, that’s what makes that chill or relaxed type environment. You don’t really make friends (specifically) inside the company you work for, you make friends everywhere and it makes getting through the business side of things pretty easy cause you’re not spending time out there talking to a competitor, you’re talking to a friend more often than not.

JP: Yeah. Snowboarding today vs. 15 or so years ago, do you ever think about if you had to start from the beginning today and what sort of challenges you’d be up against?

SD: like if I was trying to make it now?

JP: Yeah.

SD: Yeah it would be totally different. There are a lot of reasons it was different then. Snowboarding has always been progressing and I don’t think it was ever at a stagnant point then but just the progression level was different and snowboarding was in a different place. For me personally to try and imagine being a professional snowboarder these days seems really hard to grasp. Again, just back to the crazy tricks. Like, I’ve never done a double cork in my life and I’m sure it will stay that way. But, to imagine going down that road seems really overwhelming to me. But also there’s other things in play, snowboarding was a little bit smaller then. To become good at snowboarding then required a lot of self motivation and the ability to kinda lean on yourself and your friends. These days there are a lot of outlets to push and help people progress. So maybe that’s a good thing? The level of snowboarding is a lot higher but there’s just sort of more outlets to get yourself that level of being a professional skill wise. To me it seems like it would be a lot harder these days (laughter) I mean not harder in a bad way, in a good way, or at least in a very challenging way, just simply because of the progression and snowboarding is gnarly these days.

JP: yeah, I know.

SD: (laughing)

JP: Okay, so what rider are you most stoked on for Von Zipper right now?

SD: Oh man! You’re gonna make me call ‘em out huh?! I’m really psyched for a lot of ‘em. I truly am. I’m really psyched right now today for Hans Mindnich because he’s just wrapped up shooting for the Snowboarder Mag video. I know he had a good year and I’m psyched anytime anybody kinda pulls through a pretty heavy filming season without getting injured or keeping the hurt to a minimum and has a productive year. You can’t help but be psyched for ‘em. Hans, for example, the kid has a ton of style and I know that he works really hard for it. To see that pay off for him is always a good thing, I can’t wait to see that movie and I can’t wait to see that part. I’m really psyched for Eric Jackson, he’s been shooting with Travis Rice and I’m sure that will be a great thing for Eric. I think, I hope, it will be a little bit of a game changer for him and career. Without being too vague I’m honestly psyched on a lot of kids we have. There are a lot of people showing a lot of potential. Back to what I said earlier, there’s a lot of kids I’m really psyched to have around and really looking forward to helping out with their careers over the next three to ten years.

JP: Alright, cool. What gets you stoked, like really motivated to strap in and get on the snow?

SD: Powder. I guess just being a little bit older, a really good snow day is the ultimate motivation. Now I’m pretty much antsy constantly, being that it’s the middle of summer, to go snowboarding. A little bit of summertime fun at Hood. For me it’s the fact that I have two healthy knees for the first time in probably five years? The idea that I can go snowboarding and be healthy is exciting to me. Riding off and on these past few years with a blown out knee has just been a pretty big downer because all I was paying attention to was what I was or wasn’t doing to keep my knee safe. The idea of actually being healthy and wholeheartedly snowboarding and enjoy it and maybe even get a little radical is really exciting.

JP: Yeah.. I made my first ever trip to Mammoth in April, really cool place. I’m really interested in hearing your take on Colorado snowboarding, especially with your Cali/Tahoe roots.

SD: Aww, well Colorado is a pretty big state. If I was able to still have fun riding really big park jumps I would enjoy the typical Summit County thing a little bit more. Especially after this year, Colorado still seems to have winter going on, that’s pretty awesome because it seems like winter has dried up on the west coast. It’s a big place and southern Colorado, I’ve enjoyed some of my better powder days in parts of Colorado. Speaking of the west coast Cali roots everybody has a favorite and to me there’s nothing better than the Sierra Nevadas on a good winter, obviously. Summit County is a little too parky for me these days, but, there is amazing terrain in Colorado and honestly have had almost only positive experience there. I love Colorado! (laughing), it’s just that it’s really cold and dry and maybe a little bit flat in Summit County.

JP: Yeah, so that’s about it, so maybe any questions I didn’t ask that you still wanna talk about.

SD: No, um those were amazing questions man, you nailed it. I mean obviously this wasn’t your first time doing this. Those were really good questions, all of ‘em.

JP: Thanks

SD: Yeah I mean all you said was ‘interview’ so I was kinda interested in what you had for me but that was awesome!!

JP: Hey thank you.

SD: Heck yeah!!

The 2015 Rome Label Snowboard

15_BRD_LABEL_135_TS (1) 15_BRD_LABEL_135_BS (1)by Justin Phipps,

I sized up to the Rome Label in the middle of last season. It was a big jump going from a 120 to a 130, and I rode a little bit handicapped for a while, especially needing new boots and bindings at the same time. But eventually I got used to it and had a great time.

The Rome label rocker is a great board for kids ages 10 -15 yr old. There’s four sizes at 130, 135, 140, and 145. For kids graduating up from the Rome Mini Shred decks, expect a little stiffer board. The flexibility of the board makes it really simple to be able to learn butter and rail tricks though and it’s also great for jump landings in and out of the park. One of the best features is the graphics. This years design is camo with some funny looking black and white artwork. So if you’re looking for a great all around board for the 2014-15 season I suggest the Rome Label rocker.

Head over to the Rome/SDS page for the current board specs.

Grady Skelton, Rome Snowboards Team Manager

Rome TM Grady Skelton/@gradySkelton

Rome TM Grady Skelton/@gradySkelton

by Justin Phipps,

I met Rome Snowboards team manager Grady Skelton back at the SIA On Snow in February up at Copper Mountain. I wanted to catch up with him and get a little more info on Rome’s current projects, the responsibilities of being a TM, and other fun stuff too.. like the Rome van. Here’s how that conversation went!

JP: Tell me how you got into snowboarding how you learned and where you started.

GS: I started when I was 12 years old and my Aunt knew a friend that ran a ski and snowboard bus that left every Saturday and Sunday from a local high school. She told my mom that I should probably get into it, that it would be good for me. I had no idea what it was and so I borrowed some gear from a neighbor and went up and tried it and from that point on I’ve been hooked ever since.

JP: Wow.. that actually sounds kinda cool.

GS: It was rad.

JP: Yeah, alright, so in your transition into the snowboarding industry, when did you know that it was gonna be the thing you wanted to try and make a career out of?

GS: I think it was my senior year in high school. I was on a snowboard team in high school and I was trying to decide what I wanted to do and at the time I was running a clothing company, it was like an action sports clothing company, we sold a lot of apparel gear toward snowboarders and skateboarders. And, I grew up snowboarding and skateboarding and surfing and it felt natural to wanna stay in it. So when I went to college I focused all my efforts at the university to figure out how I wanted to be a part of the industry.

JP: Cool, that sounds neat.

GS: Yeah it was cool.

JP: So during your time with Rome what might be one of the more rewarding events you’ve had being the team manager?

GS: I think the most rewarding thing is when I see all the work our team has put in the season come out in their video part, or seeing the videos that Theo and I help create with Rome. At the end of it, seeing it all come together into one piece from projects that we’ve worked all year or what the riders have worked all year on like Will in Déjà vu, or Jonah with his parts in Nation last year or VG this year. Seeing that come out is probably the most rewarding thing to being a TM.

JP: Cool. Ok, so maybe you can share a difficult time too? Like have you ever let go of a team rider or anything?

GS: I’d say probably the most difficult thing is (pause) probably making decisions on what projects we’re gonna help support, where we spend our time and effort . That can be pretty difficult because I wanna support all the projects, but you have to choose the right ones that Rome should be involved with. Having a healthy snowboard industry helps allow us to do that. So we wanna make the right choices so snowboarding stays alive and that Rome stays relevant.

JP: Yeah, alright so as a rider what does ‘making it’ in snowboarding mean from the perspective of a team manager? Cause it seems like there are a lot of levels.

GS: There are a lot of levels. I’d say its pretty standard that there is the AM/regional levels through the reps, that’s like the start. Then there’s the AM level. I’d say you’re making it when you have solidified some type of travel budget and you have a contract solidifying your finances for the year as an AM. Really after that it’s, are you ready to turn pro? Unlike skateboarding, turning pro in snowboarding is kinda ambiguous. So I think it’s when you have full support and are able to live off your income from travelling all year snowboarding. That’s when you make it.

@gradySkelton slashing away.

@gradySkelton slashing away.

JP: As the team manager what type of expectations do you have for riders moving from one level to the next?

GS: I think availability is one of them. Two, is marketability. So I expect them to understand that what Rome is doing is our goal is to help them succeed.  When you have a rider that doesn’t understand that it makes it difficult for us because we want to see them succeed. When our riders are getting attention in the media we’re getting attention. We expect them to be involved and want to create their own content, so like a drive (of their own). We like to see riders have a drive. When they don’t it’s pretty detrimental to their own success.

JP: Just in general, have you ever seen riders get jaded n stuff and maybe start to feel like snowboarding owes them something? What’s some of the worst stuff you’ve seen go down?

GS: Um, yeah I think riders do get jaded because of, well cause a lot of riders will spend a lot of time in the industry and may not move forward or they stay stagnant and they get jaded because they feel like they’ve been putting in a lot of effort, but, they might not be putting the effort into the right places to succeed. And so they’ll get frustrated and move to something else and I’ve seen that a lot. That’s probably the biggest thing. If a rider can understand that the TM, or that the company that they’re riding for, is there to help them succeed then it will benefit them in the long run.

JP: Yeah.. I get that. Let’s talk about Kazakhstan real quick you and the guys were there a few months ago, who all was there and what all happened?

GS: Oh man… so the riders that we took to Kazakstan were Ian Boll, LNP, and Ozzy Henning. It was probably the most foreign place that we’ve ever been to. As in, all of us, as individuals, and for the company. Snowboarding is very young in Kazakhstan so everyone was extremely interested in what the riders were doing, and, they were excited. I think all of us left Kazakhstan really truly seeing something unique and that is snowboarding in its complete infancy. Seeing snowboarding and its potential in that country. It was, it gave us a true excitement to go there. We hit handrails while we were there, we went to the resort, we visited the local skate shop, we drove around to extremely third world poverty stricken areas and found handrails and interacted with the people there. We also went to very high end high class areas of the country. You know, we went out to dinner with people who are very successful and treated us and took us out. We saw all sorts of stuff in Kazakhstan and it definitely had potential for snowboarding, and there are a lot, a lot of handrails there.

JP: Nice. Being in a foreign country did you maybe have to plan ahead for injuries or busts or stuff?

GS: Oh, after the first handrail we hit, Ozzy ended up breaking his wrist and injured himself, so we had no idea what to do. We had to scramble to figure out how to get to the hospital, to get an x-ray and get a cast. You know, that was a shock, and it was something as a TM I had to deal with and the riders really came together and as a team we were able to figure it out. But, it also put a lot of pressure on the other riders feeling like they really had to perform. But Ozzy’s a trooper, he came back. You know, talk about a rider who has a lot of drive and he finished the whole trip and got a lot of shots with the cast on one arm with a broken wrist.

JP: Huh? That’s kinda cool.

GS: Yeah it was awesome.

JP: Alright final question, what’s up with Rome van and what’s its most significant contribution to the industry?

GS: Haha yeah… The Rome van is THE most travelled van in snowboarding by far. Probably it’s been across the country with AM riders, pro riders, and filmers more than any other van. It’s probably been across the country 20+ times back and forth and Canada back and forth. It was something we allowed the riders have control over and if they needed it at any time for filming it was available. And really, van life is a part of Rome Snowboards, it’s something we cherish because it really brings the team together and you have a good time together and get to know each other. There’s nothing like getting to know each other spending two weeks travelling together hitting handrails, or going to a resort. It’s a lot of memories were made in the Rome van.

JP: Okay. So is there anything else maybe that you wanted to talk that I might have missed?

GS: Oh. Well I think maybe just the new Find Snowboarding project that’s coming out with TransWorld this upcoming August and September and October. The (last year) 12 Months project was revolutionary for the snowboard industry and putting out a video every month that has to do with snowboarding. At Rome, we are focusing on the things that are important to snowboarding and Find Snowboarding is exactly that where people can relate to and you know bringing that excitement back to like the time when I was 12 years old and started snowboarding or any other person that just started snowboarding. The reasons why you got in it.

JP: Cool. Well that’s about it.

GS: Right on dude, thanks for the interview.

JP: Yeah, you’re welcome!