WHITELINES ISSUE 107 - FEBRUARY 2013
Keep Calm and Carry On
Change, ain't nothin' stays the same
Unchained, yeah ya hit the ground runnin'
Eddie Van Halen’s flanger-laden guitar swoops overhead like an airplane coming in to land as Dave Lee Roth wails the vocals to Unchained. On the screen another man with a double-barrelled name, David Carrier-Porcheron, hurls himself off a huge powder kicker and against all probability stomps it. This is the ender of Back in Black, a film that proved to be the last ever by Kingpin Productions. But at the time Rob McConnaughy and Brad Kremer were editing it to Van Halen’s music, they couldn’t have known how prescient those lyrics would be, for either their film outfit or for the rider.
Fast forward ten years to the Butcher’s Hook & Cleaver – a pub just across the road from London’s Smithfield meat market: David Carrier-Porcheron (or DCP as everyone knows him) is just wrapping up his interview with Whitelines. “My greatest achievement in snowboarding? Probably one of the closing parts back in the day. I have to choose one? OK, that Back in Black part from Kingpin. Or maybe the Chulksmack part…" he muses. “Or maybe actually I would say graduating the Burton University and creating my own company is a bigger achievement. Keeping it alive for that many years you know, keeping my stoke and my passion. That’s a big achievement too." It certainly is. Having listened to DCP talk for two hours about the ups and downs, and how he’s kept his career going despite massive changes all around him, we’d say it’s one he can rightfully be proud of.
There was a time when DCP’s path through snowboarding looked like an easy one. It started off simply enough. “I grew up in Chicoutimi, about two hours north of Quebec City. My mum’s a teacher and my dad is an architect and they both ski, so I was skiing when I was young. Then when I was ten years old, I started snowboarding." It was a classic case of early 90s snowboard envy, and a kid wanting to do what the cool kids were up to. “I was skateboarding before, from when I was very young, maybe five or six. At the ski resort where I grew up, Valinouet, there was a group of guys riding who I looked up to from skating. So I was like ‘I want to snowboard.’" He’d been given a new pair of skis for Christmas, but showing the kind of calm but firm determination that would characterise his later decision-making, David insisted. His parents had just split up, so almost as a sop to his son, Mr Porcheron (his surname, like many in Quebec, is a composite of his parents’) bought him his first stick. “A Kemper Kid 133." DCP remembers. “I rode that for a year and after that I grew. So I sold that for a Mistral George Pappas P40 and then after that I traded that for an Aggression JB144 and actually I still have that. Well, I sold it to my mate and then a few years ago he gave it to me as my wedding present, with the original bindings and sticker job and stuff still on it. That was pretty cool."
It’s no surprise DCP remembers that particular board particularly fondly – it was probably one of the last he ever bought. “In 1994 I think, about three years after I started snowboarding, my friends were going to a provincial halfpipe contest in Quebec. It was the first time I ever rode halfpipe and I won the contest." He laughs out loud at the memory of it. Although neither the pipes themselves nor the kids that rode them were anything like the pro-standard they are today, David’s achievement was still remarkable enough to get him noticed. Burton’s rep came knocking with a sponsorship deal, making paying for boards a thing of the past. “That’s when it started you know. I went from provincial contests to the national contests, to the US Open in 1996." As a teenager, he rose quickly through the ranks at Burton. A trip to Europe with two senior members of the team, Johan Olofsson and Michi Albin, big-name pros with big attitudes, clearly made an impression on him. As did a trip to Whistler. “I smoked a whole bunch of weed and partied with Al Clark, Mark Morrisset, Kevin Young, Trevor, all the boys. I was like ‘holy smokes that place is the shit!’" He spent the following summer there shaping the park and filming, a move that turned out to be the making of him. “It was only when I started filming and doing higher profile contests that summer that I was like ‘alright, I’m gonna graduate and then I wanna do professional snowboarding’." My mum was a teacher so she was like ‘you can still do college, just do it in four years instead of two.’ I was like ‘OK, I’ll do that’. But in my mind I already knew that I was only ever going to do one semester." Again, that calm determination to follow his own path. Instead of college, he turned down an offer from Ride and graduated to Burton’s North American team.
Riding for Burton, it seems, was a little bit like being part of the old Hollywood studio system. Actors would sign to Fox, Paramount or Warner Bros. for life – or at least for the duration of their careers. Studio bosses would spot them as young talents, nurture them, and manage every aspect of their career. They’d pair them with directors and as they became increasingly famous, design entire projects around them. In some cases, young talents would be told to re-learn English with a different accent in order to suit their ‘look’ better, or even made to change their name. So the un-heroic sounding Archibald Alexander Leach became Cary Grant, and plain ol’ Norma Jean morphed into the sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. In a similar way, Burton’s top pros would start with the company as groms and work their way up the ranks. They’d have the world’s best filmers and photographers assigned to work with them, and eventually even get their own special projects – think Mads Jonsson’s Hemsedal super-spine or the money they poured into Shaun’s White Album movie. In DCP’s case they even changed his name.
“They said: ‘Your name’s not marketable. It sounds too French. And in contests, my name was too long to fit in the box on the start list so it’d always be like ‘next competitor is David Carrier-Porc…’ every time!" He chuckles, but it clearly annoyed him at the time. “At one contest in Ontario the announcer just went: ‘The next competitor David Carrier-Whatever is dropping in.’ Burton didn’t like that ‘cos they were trying to promote me and people weren’t getting my name. So they started to advertise me as DCP. They didn’t ask me, but that became my name." So was it weird, I ask, finding yourself having your identity changed to fit a brand’s idea of what would sell? “It was a bit weird definitely. But I didn’t really mind. I was over people not getting my name too. They tried David Porcheron for a bit and then just felt like it was more marketable to be DCP."
Obviously being part of such an all-encompassing company had its upsides too. There were the sizeable sponsorship cheques that were landing on DCP’s doormat every year (“the Burton life was well paid, I won’t lie") but there was more than that. “It felt like family, everyone was super cool. We always had a great sales meeting. And Jake always said, ‘you’re gonna be here for ever, you’ve been with us since you were 13 and it’s a long-term deal. After you’re done with snowboarding you’ll be doing something else for the company’. I felt so much a part of something." It offered security, but also, like a family, Burton helped its members when things weren’t going as planned.
Having been through the demise of the ISF and the Terje Olympic boycott as a youngster DCP was peaking as a halfpipe-rider around 2001. Competition was becoming if not cool again, then at least not totally wack. With the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics coming round, everyone was getting involved in qualifiers – including Travis Rice. Both DCP and probably Burton could have reasonably expected him to represent Canada at the games. “I was ranked number one or two in the country at that point," he explains. But an injury on the day of the trials meant he couldn’t ride as well as he hoped. He had a second chance at an FIS contest in Park City. They’d be riding the pipe that would host the Olympics a year later. Travis won the contest (if not a spot on the US Team) but DCP failed to qualify for the finals. His reaction was to take a fairly radical step in the opposite direction. “I was already bummed on the FIS after France earlier that year – I’d been fined 150 euros and they’d disqualified me from a contest for dropping in after practise was over. I was like ‘what the fuck is that?! You know, that’s not why I snowboard!’ Anyway, I had started filming with Kingpin Films, so right after I didn’t qualify in Park City I called them and I was like: ‘My contest is over. Can we go snowboarding?’ After that I was like ‘I’m not competing in World Cups any more’". The decision to quit the competition circuit might not have seemed the most obvious move for a guy who’d been raised in the icy parks of Quebec. But the Burton family supported his decision. In fact, they went one step further. The following year, in true Hollywood studio style, they designed an entire project around DCP and four of their other young stars.
The UnInc program has now acquired semi-legendary status in snowboarding. A sub-brand based around the personalities of five riders who as well as being supremely talented, shared something of a renegade reputation. With their own graphic designers, board types and marketing budgets UnInc was separate from the rest of Burton, allowing DCP, Romain de Marchi, Gigi Ruf, JP Solberg and the late, great Jeff Anderson almost complete creative control. The five of them became close, and all look back on the project fondly. DCP is no exception. “When we started with UnInc and it felt even more of a family – our own little project within the company.“ They were given the freedom to concentrate on filming, following in the footsteps of the riders they admired - the Johan Olofssons and Michi Albins. But while those two found themselves dropped by Burton, UnInc continued to be backed by big budgets. It turned out to be a smart move, and made these five the best-respected crew in snowboarding (and the best brand ambassadors Burton could have hoped for) in the mid-2000s. This made it all the more shocking when DCP, Romain and JP Solberg were dropped unceremoniously in 2009.
DCP had in fact been asked to move off the UnInc program and ride the Custom X board the year before, but as he puts it, “there was still no doubt that I was ever going to get re-signed year after year". He was on his summer break in Costa Rica when the call came. “I was pretty much planning my winter already knowing that I’d be on Burton, and then right before sales meeting, the team manager Rene Hansen calls me and was like: ‘Err we’re not gonna resign you.’ For one month we’d been negotiating, or rather he’d been blowing me off from negotiating, but I’d been like ‘ah fine, it’s all good’. And then he calls me up out of the blue like that. I was with them 13 years, and they didn’t even fly me in somewhere or talk to me, it was just a wack phone-call. I was like: ‘What?! What are you talking about? Let me go meet you guys and we’ll talk about it right?’ ‘No, no, we’re not going to re-sign you. We’re done with you.’" Across the pub table from me, David is miming his reaction at the time, mouth hanging open. It’s clear that the decision still stings four years later. Asking him how he felt at the time seems almost redundant. “It was a shock, you know. I was shocked and I was pretty hurt. I really felt like I had a future for a long time and that company meant a lot to me you know? I’d been growing with them. My first ever sponsor was them. I’d been riding their boots and designing them, since their very first boots. And all the bindings, the Cartels. And the boards you know, we were so involved in development I felt really part of the process." It wasn’t even a question of DCP being over the hill. As he puts it: “I felt like I was just in the middle of my career. I was only 27. I still had a lot to give. I had such a good year that year, I had two movie parts. And I think I even won a contest that year!" Not only that, but DCP was recently married, and had his one-year-old daughter to think of. “Actually the day I got cut from Burton, I signed paperwork to start building a house in Costa Rica. I signed it, then I was on my way to the airport when I got the phone call. I was like ‘Are you shitting me? I just fucking signed like a $150,000 construction. And now I’ve got no income!’"
He laughs at the irony of the timing now, because he can afford to. A lesser man might have given up on snowboarding, but he kept calm, and his innate industriousness has seen him pick himself up in the years since. At the time however, the change must have been hard to swallow, and the way forward was far from clear. “I had an offer from Arbor Snowboards, which was pretty decent. But the guy was like: ‘Yeah I can get you on that money but we’re gonna have to cut the rest of the team, so you’ll be the main guy.’ And I was like: ‘No, I don’t wanna be that guy the team gets cut for. I just got out of a situation where Burton cut all their riders and it sucks!" He’d been talking to Romain and JP, who were also fuming about being axed. “We were all very good friends obviously, and we were talking like: ‘Fuck, what are you guys gonna do?’" Ultimately the three would go on to start their own successful company, Yes Snowboards. But before they did there were a few more dead-ends.
“In September we were all in San Diego for a movie premiere. Romain calls me and he’s like: ‘Hey man, Rome’s gonna sign me. They got an offer for me and they actually wanna meet you too. Why don’t you jump on a train and come and meet me at the roof-top of this hotel right now.’ By the time I get there they’re fucking shit-faced, they’re in the roof-top pool with chicks, drinking and stuff. I’m trying to find out what the offer is and stuff, but I’m hearing nothing, so I’m like ‘OK, gimme a shot’. Anyway, we go downstairs for the movie premiere. And Romain’s like: “Aaaaarghhh let’s get a limo!" So we’re waiting for the limo, and Romain and the Rome team manager start wrestling. Romain gets him in a headlock, Navy Seal style, blocks his airway and he passes out. Boom, he hits the curb with his head and he’s unconscious. The doorman comes out and he’s like: ‘What the fuck?!’ Trying to wake him up and then this limo rolls up - it was a scene. [laughs] Anyway, he wakes up, we get in the limo but he’s freaked out. He’s like ‘holy fuck man, that was crazy.’ Romain is just wasted though, he’s like: ‘Fuck you man, you fucking pussy. Cummon, you pussy!’ Someone asks ‘Who’s gonna pay for the limo’ and Romain’s like: ‘You are, you got us all here to talk to you, go get your fucking wallet you pussy!’ So anyway we drive for a bit, and then just before we get out the Rome guy puts his hand on Romain’s shoulder, and says: ‘Romain, just a bit of advice. Do not fucking choke your possible future team manager.’ The next day, he calls up and he’s like: ‘You know what Romain, it’s not gonna work. I take the offer back’. If they weren’t gonna take Romain, they weren’t gonna take me, so we were both waking up with a hangover going ‘fuck…’ [laughs].
Romain de Marchi may not sound like the kind of person you necessarily want to go into business with, but DCP insists the three-way partnership that is Yes works. “Romain when he’s drunk is someone else. At the bar is when he lets loose, but when it’s time for business, Romain is Swiss. He is on it." Certainly when his friend first asked him if he fancied starting their own project, DCP didn’t hesitate. “The Nidecker factory was talking about doing a limited run of 100 boards with Romain. But he was like Mr. Super Solidarity, he was like: ‘Yeah I wanna do it, but I’d like JP and David to be on that as well. Let’s do it the three of us, that’ll be more powerful. We’ll have like North America, Scandinavia, Europe, that’ll make more sense.’" That sense of solidarity - a reaction against their own experiences at Burton - has continued with everything the three of them have done since. “We have friends on the team." DCP explains, “and I think maybe I take an almost too emotional approach to that, because of where I’m coming from. But my main thing is, I’m trying to be fair to people. So whatever it is, it is. And I’m going to have a truthful conversation." The implied contrast to the lies he feels he was sold by Burton is obvious.
DCP is old enough and smart enough to appreciate what Burton did for the three of them of course. As he explains: “It’s almost like Burton financed Yes because they’d spent so much money marketing us as individuals up that point. Then they cut us, made a scandal out of it and then we started a company. So our whole marketing and publicity for our initial launch was pretty much paid for by Burton!" But while he’s thankful for this, and the many useful things he learned at the “University of Burton" he’s also determined to right some of what he sees as their wrongs.
When Yes started, it wasn’t just the way DCP, Romain and JP set out to treat their team, but the very brand itself that felt like a reaction against Burton. “For us, we all felt like ‘we’re not done’. So when we made those first boards, the limited run, we put ‘Yes We Can’ on the base. It was ‘cos of the Obama campaign but also because everyone had said no to us - all these companies. There was the recession, everyone was like ‘you can’t start a company in a recession’. This was like ‘Yes We Can’, we can do it by ourselves." Even the name itself was like a two-fingered salute to the naysayers. “We had a bunch of names kicking around, we had Amour, this and that, a full brainstorm. And then we were like: ‘Fuck, it’s right there – Yes’ It’s positive, everyone says we can’t do it, we can, so let’s call it that." This early can-do enthusiasm was once again backed up by David’s calm determination to make the decision work. And so, despite the massive change in income, lifestyle and all the rest of it, four years down the line, he’s happier than ever. While riders he’d looked up to like Johan and Michi all but disappeared when they were culled from the Burton team, DCP rode out the change, and came out fighting.
Yes is now going from strength to strength. In fact, the reason DCP is in London in the first place is to host the premiere of their second full-length movie. A few years back, Trevor Andrew actually quit Burton to join their team, alongside young guns like Helen Schettini. Recently, they added Mads Jonsson to their roster. With that crew to manage, the company to run and his family, you might think DCP would be too busy to ride himself these days, but as the pictures on these pages show, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, his video parts have picked up in recent years. His penchant for combining big lines with big tricks earned him an invite to Travis Rice’s exclusive Red Bull Supernatural contest last year. Despite injuring himself on the Baldface course, he says he’ll be back for more. “I’m gonna have a good year this year. I’m not gonna get hurt," he says, touching the wooden pub table. And so, having reached the relatively senior age (in pro-snowboarder terms) of 32, DCP finds himself in an enviable position – he can not only look backwards with pride, but also forwards to the future. And that, I think, as we finish our pints, is definitely a great achievement.