By virtue of these single and separate visits by Jake and Tom, I have come to believe I had a front row seat to the invisible ‘Matrix-like’ consumer and corporate context of snowboarding today, a context (I will add) that most never know exists—even as they work tradeshows and industry ladders. Tom Sims created the ‘Who’ a snowboarder was. And on the other side, Jake Burton created ‘what snowboarding will become’ and ‘how we will do it’. Both of their efforts, alongside many of us from the second wave, grew a sport.
This dynamic lives on today. When you get a board online, or at a retailer, then go to a resort and buy a lift ticket with no hassle or problems, thank Jake Burton. When you see a teaser of Jed Anderson sliding a massive handrail with bloody board graphics that feature his middle finger and a ‘Cheese Dick’s’ sticker, thank Tom Sims. When you see Danny and Dingo, thank Tom Sims. When you see the Sex Pistols, Black Flag and Minor Threat on your riding play list, thank Tom Sims. When you see riders with the freedom to design their own board graphics and image, thank Tom Sims. This is the consumer context, the rider archetypes set into place before an industry or business existed; one archetypal rider which is informed by nature and instinct—loose, fast, fun and untamable in all forms. The second archetype, an anti-form of the first; purposeful, intentional with a personal architecture whose only outcome is successful execution of the plan; Tom and Jake. Terry and Kelly. Palmer and Terje. Danny and Shawn. The archetype, by the way, knows no gender boundaries, Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn, Laura Hadar and Kelly Clark. It spins on ad-infinitum and snowboarding is always more interesting when it does so. It may also be the reason that Hybrid versions of snowboarding never hold the same imaging power as the pure archetype which is invested in the DNA of the sport by Tom and Jake – boardercross anyone? Moguls? Slalom and hard boots? We are children of a sport with an invisible purity seething out of every seam. Black. White. Cane, Abel, Goofy, Regular.
While the Sims brand has primarily failed in the core market today, in the 80’s they exposed the Achilles of Burton that brands like Bonfire, Capita, Airblaster, Ride, Rome, Lib, Union have all exploited over the last 20 years to define a point of difference in the business. As for Burton, for the last 20 years they have mastered indoctrination over incubation, leaving the latter to the ‘cool companies’ to serve up for their swooping while they use their expertise and passion to bring it to market. Neither part of this dynamic is wrong, or better or worse than the other. The point is that Tom Sims saw this structure, and knew these archetypes would drive the sport and everything around it, well before anyone in the second or third waves of snowboarding would ever puzzle this out. If there were a network of X’s and O’s behind the curtain of what was developing, Sims was Neo – and saw the horror, hope and hype of all of it.
For this reason I will never believe Tom Sims invented snowboarding, I will always believe that he invented the Snowboarder.
TOM SIMS WAS A TRUE PIONEER.
I have been called a snowboard Pioneer too, for many years now. Have even referred to myself as such, on speaking occasions, press releases, articles and imagery. It always makes me uncomfortable, living under a label. It is fundamentally against what Tom taught me. I have also seen many other people in the industry under the banner of ‘Snowboard Pioneer’, claiming a particular date they started a brand or began riding. Today, on Tom’s passing, I propose this is all bullshit. I’m no Pioneer. No other leader of any other snowboard company around today is a Pioneer, because we should honor the people who achieve this standard by defining Pioneer in precisely the meaning it was given in the days of the old west.
A Pioneer is someone who rides in rough off the plains and out of the wilderness; uninvited, dirty, disgusted and dying to get cleaned up—thirsty for the affections of anyone who will sit down and listen to the improbable tale of how that Pioneer came to be in front of them on that particular day. A Pioneer is someone who comes in hot – defies convention and corporate models. A Pioneer is to be approached with trepidation and some distance, until we hear them speak the will of their intent. A Pioneer is disruptive, disappears and moves on when you need them the most; they will not be lassoed into a tradeshow meeting, contract or business plan. A Pioneer will not settle in and mend the fences or build neighborly relationships with other Pioneers; because they’re dying to get outside and get to the shit they ‘gotta get done’ before they get to the next town, the next venture, the next idea on the list. This is a pioneer, Tom Sims was a pioneer.
The rest of us ‘so called’ Pioneers?
We are like the land developers in the days just after the first slimy, glittering rock of gold was panned out of the murky dirt by that poor soul of a Pioneer who searched so hard and deep for something shiny to prove his worth. We are the ones with clean hands, tradeshow teeth and technology, who have happened upon that Pioneers’ clawed out hole in the river. We are the second wave, who put in resorts, retailers, magazines, websites, teams, terrain parks, teasers, podiums and profit.
We are too clean and too calculated to be true Pioneers.
As we of the second, and many other waves of snowboarding to occur since, look down at that unnamed shiny thing in the dusty desert that was the world before snowboarding, I say we all pause today and put a name to that first Pioneer, that first burst of energy that made us think, “There might be something to do here, something to grow here”.
The name of that Pioneer is Tom Sims.
I can see Tom Sims standing in the middle of that open area of the afterlife now. Feet pressed into the ground, so at to leave a mark for us in the twilight of life. His neck and body are bent down, looking into a small trickle of water, hardly enough water to require more than one step to pass over. He reaches into his pocket to grab an old piece of paper and a pen. He scribbles a note of what will become the new list, before looking up into the blown out hot sun (shoot email@example.com and close down two-stop, shoot Fujichrome 50 for better blue skies; he would say in analyzing the filmed image of these words). He places the paper back in his pocket and crosses the stream alone.
Thank you Tom for our time together. I feel good, like I knew that I would—because I have known you these many years. Put another Swiss Franc in the Jukebox and rest in peace my dear friend.