Video (above): Horsefeathers | Snowboarding since 1989
How old is snowboarding? It depends on how you look at it, really. On the one hand, if you count the earliest Snurfers and Wintersticks, it has long since passed its Golden Anniversary and is getting ready to collect its state pension. On the other hand, how old does it feel? How about 30? Still young enough to party, but old enough to feel the hangovers? Nostalgic about the good ol’ days, but with a sense that the best is yet to come?
When some of the biggest brands in the game are pulling out all the stops to celebrate their 10th anniversaries it’s not only a sign of snowboarding’s relative infancy but makes it all the more impressive when a brand brings out a cake with 30 candles on it. That’s exactly what Horsefeathers are doing this month. And even better, they want you to come party with them on the 28th of November.
“Their 30 laps around the sun isn’t just a testament to hard work and a head for business but why keeping it core is the only way to survive the ever-changing trends and evolutions of the sport”
From a germ of an idea in a rural Canadian town, Horsefeathers now holds one of the most infamous global teams and a huge range of technical apparel for both on and off the hill. Their 30 laps around the sun isn’t just a testament to hard work and a head for business but why keeping it core is the only way to survive the ever-changing trends and evolutions of the sport.
We caught up with Horsefeathers’ co-owner, Hanuš Salz, their marketing and sales director, Tomáš Koudela, carving wizzard Tyler Chorlton, and snowboarding’s favourite brothers, Halldór and Eiki Helgason to find out how the company went from a handful of stickers and office-cum-party-shack in the Czech Republic to one of snowboarding’s most internationally loved brands.
1989 – The Idea
During the early days, there was never that Eureka moment. “It all developed gradually”, Horsefeathers’ owner, Hanuš Salz, tells us. Back in Rock Creek, British Columbia, a small crew of school kids looked for a different lifestyle from the one-dimensional monotony of “farms and cowboys” that ran deep in the community. The boys found snowboarding as a way out and headed up to ride their local mountain at every opportunity.
To them it made sense. To other’s, not so much. “That’s horse feathers!” Stew Carlson’s Grandmother would say when she saw the boys – boards in hand – on their way to the local mountain or skate park. It was a pretty outdated expression, used to describe something nonsensical, irrelevant… it was the sophisticated, grandmother-friendly alternative to simply saying “what a fucking load of bollocks”. But it resonated with the crew and set the tone for the years to follow.
“‘That’s horse feathers!’ Stew Carlson’s Grandmother would say when she saw the boys – boards in hand – on their way to the local mountain or skate park”
“There was a bunch of ‘product’ early on”, Hanuš tells us. Joel DeVille, one of the crew, worked with a reusable linoleum print in his art class at school. Nigel Price, another friend, created various designs centred around skating, riding and the word Horsefeathers (including the logo that is still occasionally used to this day) to stick on any spare garments they found lying around.
It was early days, but the seed of the Horsefeathers brand was planted. “It resonated only within a small group of people and eventually, it became a bit of a crew thing”, Hanuš explains. “At that point, we were all wishing we could do a brand, but we had absolutely no money and there was already a lineup of successful brands at that time.” But when he returned to the Czech Republic in 1992, Hanuš met Pavel Kubíček and the wheels began to turn in motion.
1994 – The “Office”
“When I met Pavel, I got him on board of the idea and we kicked it off in 1993 with 50 t-shirts and 200 stickers”, Hanuš tells us. The irony is obvious when he laughs and says, “that was our first official collection!”
It turns out most were given out to local riding friends. Not exactly a watertight business plan by any means, but it marked a shift from a project amongst friends in the classroom to a brand that was starting to take to the streets.
The next leap came in 1994 when they opened up their first office. Again, the term “office” should be used loosely here. Life at HF HQ wasn’t exactly a nine-to-five. “There was a lot of partying going on back then and we did drink a few beers in the office and smoked regularly while working”, Hanuš says, “but in the end we always got our stuff done.”
“The term “office” should be used loosely here. Life at HF HQ wasn’t exactly a nine-to-five”
Amidst the salvaged furniture, boxes of clothing, beers cans and skateboards, Pavel and Hanuš still had a vision. “Regardless of how punk and wild we were at certain times, we never left stuff halfassed. I think that was the needed counterbalance to the no-plan, organic atmosphere of that time.”
1995 – That Ad
“There are two sides to the story”, Hanuš explains. “I met the owner/publisher of a newly formed Czech skate and snow mag, Board Magazine, who was looking for advertisers. We had no ads ready but wanted to feature, so we said yes anyway!” It wasn’t until later when they were looking through old books and saw that picture that they knew they had an ad.
“It was that kind of ‘nonsense’ [read: horsefeathers] situation with kids just doing whatever. Along with the fact they needed clothing, it was just perfect,” Hanuš says. “I’m quite sure we couldn’t run an ad like that today.”
“I’m quite sure we couldn’t run an ad like that today”
Things sure seemed pretty loose, But the professionalism and get-the-job-done attitude was there from the start. Radek Hruska, the owner of Board Magazine, reflects on what happened: “I met Hanuš and Pavel, by accident, at one of the skate shops in Prague. I presented them with the idea of a new magazine and offered them the opportunity to advertise in it. There was no rush because the mag was supposed to be published in a couple months’ time, but an hour later, on the other side of Prague, I bumped into Hanuš and Pavel and they gave me cash to run this ad. Our first client!”
1997 – Getting Technical
Alright, business time. After several years in skate and street apparel, the guys turned their heads to snowboard outerwear. They bought everything: fabrics, zippers, insulation, labels, zippers, you name it, and put together their first official line of five technical jackets and pants. Whatever they did, it worked. Everything sold out.
The first priority after that was to ride. They headed out to BC in a van and rode for 60 days straight. However, on their return, Horsefeathers hit a junction. “After coming back from a two-month riding trip in Canada, the reality was quite different. “There was a pile of work waiting for us and we had to decide whether to let the HF project slip, or give it our maximum.”
It was crunch time. But, with the wind in their sails, Horsefeathers set their sights on building the brand.