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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!!