Roots | Blue Montgomery
For Blue Montgomery, founder of CAPiTA, snowboarding arrived like a gift from the gods. “There wasn’t even a question about whether I was going to ride; all my prayers were answered.”
Growing up in the cold mid-west of America, he’d been looking for a winter alternative to skating; in 1987 he found it. He begged his mum for a snowboard and she obligingly scoured the local advertisements – boards were not that easy to come by back then – eventually finding an early Sims Pocketknife that she hid under the tree. “That snowboard changed my life forever,” he affirms.
We’re chatting across the table on a pimped-out tour bus in which Blue and the current CAPiTA team are travelling the length of the UK to promote their latest movie Defenders of Awesome 2. Today, his company is one of the biggest brands in snowboarding – but it’s been a long and bumpy ride to get here.
Like many an American dream, it began by breaking out of his hometown. Inspired by local heroes Dale Rehberg, Roan Rodgers, Nate Cole and Jake Blattner (“they proved it was possible for mid-west kids to make it”) Blue stole his parents’ car while they were on holiday and drove it more than 2000 miles to Mt Hood, camping with his buddies deep in the Oregon forest. Eyes opened to snowboarding’s potential, he soon left home full time and moved out to Utah, where he became only the second ever rider on the Vans snow team (a relationship that goes back even further than Jamie Lynn’s) as well as enjoying hook-ups with various now-defunct board sponsors and a young eyewear company called Dragon.
By the turn of the millennium, snowboarding was on the crest of a wave. Money was flowing in, riders were
becoming superstars and the industry was booming. Displaying a wisdom beyond his years, however, Blue moved still further west to take a job as K2’s international team manager in Seattle. “I was super grateful for the opportunities I’d had as a rider, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever.” It was a shrewd move that broadened his experience and would lay the foundations for CAPiTA when, during a rowdy night with fellow pros Jason Brown, Kevin Jones and Travis Parker, he vowed to help found “the greatest snowboarding company in the world.” He was just 26. “We all put our hands in the pot,” he recalls with a smile. “ We were like, ‘We’re doing this. Tomorrow we’re all gonna go quit our jobs and start CAPiTA.’”
In the end, only Blue and Jason would follow through with this bold promise (Travis and Kevin, still at the peak of their riding powers, received other offers that were too good to turn down) and so for two years they ran the fledgling brand out of a Seattle bedroom. “Jason came up with the name. It’s a derivative of per capita – by and for the people. So it’s kinda the people’s company.”
Like every entrepreneur worth his salt, he’s known some hairy moments. “The single biggest challenge by a mile has been financing. Cos I don’t have rich parents, I don’t have a trust fund, I don’t have a BA from Stanford – I was a 26-year-old snowboarder with a real dream that I believed in, but you can’t take that to the bank. So the diciest parts of CAPiTA? I could tell you stories where I’ve had 50,000 dollars on my visa bill at 18% interest. You wanna experience some stress in your life? Try that.”
On top of all this, Blue had to get to grips with the realities of being an employer (“there’s a lot of responsibility when people believe in you and you have to take care of them, especially with limited resources”) as well as develop what he now admits was an “understaffed, underfunded brand”. Unsurprisingly, the stress of running such a business occasionally took its toll – he and Jason Brown parted ways along the road – but Blue’s faith in the project has remained unshakeable. “Over half of my life has been dedicated to this activity,” he explains. “From the moment the first person believed in me, I had the absolute refusal to fail.”
Underpinning the success of CAPiTA today – beyond Blue’s sheer willpower – are three factors: quality boards, quality graphics and a quality team. On the graphics (which since day one have been eye-catching and ahead of the curve) he credits the brand’s art director. “He’s as much part of CAPiTA as me or anyone. But he doesn’t go to trade shows or events; he gets his inspiration from outside of snowboarding. I think it would benefit the scene if [more of] our creative leaders were influenced by stuff outside of snowboarding.”
As for the team, Blue’s own experience riding and team managing has turned him into a natural talent scout. Like Manchester Utd in the 90s, youngsters have been regularly nurtured through the CAPiTA ‘farm’ and into the first team. Dan Brisse, Dustin Craven, Brandon Cocard, Cale Zima, Jess Kimura… all burst out with Blue’s boards under their feet, having been quietly supported as groms; in fact only their Japanese recruit Kazu was a ready-made star when he signed in 2012 “under special circumstances”. The idea is for the team to be woven firmly into the brand; individuals yet united; in short: a family. “Some companies have a very defined look and feel and style, and they want people to fit within that, but for me I’ve always wanted the CAPiTA team to be very diverse – people from different places, with different personalities and riding styles,” he explains. “The trick is how you get these people to form a collective unit that loves and respects each other.”
An integral part of this process has been the CAPiTA team movies, Defenders of Awesome and Stay Badass, which mix up insightful rider intros with obligatory face-melting action. “Most filmmakers make a movie that’s really about the adventure. It’s about the destination first – like, Japan or Alaska – and then it’s about what’s happening there – like a first descent – and then finally it’s about who’s actually in it. But with the team movie the destination doesn’t matter – I don’t care where it is – it’s all about the who.”
Released three years apart, the ongoing CAPiTA films also resist the modern temptation to sacrifice footage (and viewer interest) to the daily churn of the internet. “I wanna make something people are excited about,” says Blue. “There has to be a level of anticipation.”
The diciest parts of CAPiTA? I could tell you stories where I’ve had 50,000 dollars on my visa bill at 18% interest.
Keeping the punters excited, creating a quality product: these are also the motivations behind his bravest move yet – namely, the purchase of a dedicated snowboard factory. When their Austrian based manufacturer hit trouble a couple of years ago, CAPiTA stepped in to save the plant and gain full control over the process of building their boards. Running a factory is not without risk – most brands leave that complicated overhead to others – but Blue once again displays a business savvy that belies his shred dog appearance. “There’s only so much longevity you can have as a design and marketing based company. If you look at a lot the cool freestyle snowboard brands that we’ve loved historically, a lot of them – all of them, basically – have gone out of business or been sold.” As a bonafide producer, he reasons, CAPiTA can push the R&D, produce unique lines (like their recent Spring Break colab) and generally pursue that ambitious original goal to be the world’s greatest snowboarding company. “We just feel that the key is controlling your own product. You can have the greatest team in the world but if your product sucks you don’t have any longevity. Everyone likes to say they have the best stuff, but if you really, honestly have the best snowboards in the world then you don’t even need marketing because they sell themselves. We’re always gonna have a strong team and message because that’s the core identity of our brand, but in addition to that we wanna focus on making the best boards in the world for real.”
So what’s next? CAPiTA recently announced plans to move into an even better factory, christened ‘The Mothership’ – a state-of-the-art facility custom built for their needs. Business, it seems, never stands still. For his part, Blue takes such progress in his stride. Indeed, evolution has been the name of the game since that first, life-changing Christmas present.
“People like to tell you what you are all the time – pigeon-hole you and try to put you in this little box. We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to prevent that. Even down to our logo – the metaphor symbol – it’s something that’s always evolving. All it is is various pie pieces emanating from a central core, and the pie pieces can represent things in your life that you’re passionate about, but the central piece represents snowboarding, and CAPiTA more specifically, because that’s what brought us all together and allows us to have these experiences. So right when someone thinks that they have us figured out then those pie pieces are gonna morph and that shape’s gonna change and stay elusive.”