Brad Scheuffele has membership in a unique generation of snowboarding. A pro rider through the nineties, he was an integral part in the formative years of Salt Lake City’s snowboard community where he rode, worked in shops, skated and eventually landed a coveted place on Burton’s pro team. During that time, it was the dream. But he — like many of his peers, including Mike LeBlanc of Holden and Blue Montgomery of CAPiTA — decided to contribute something tangible to the lifestyle that we love. Coal Headwear was founded when snowboarding exploded in popularity and countless companies were all jostling for a piece of the action, but what separated Coal from the pack was authenticity. It was real, different and people wanted to be part of it. Brad has led Coal into its 13th year and the brand is stronger than ever, proof of the passion he has stitched into everything stamped with the Coal name. He’s optimistic, a father-to-be and has incredible insight for how we can continue to build a great, lasting future in snowboarding.
Let’s begin with when you were a pro. How did you get your start?
I grew up in Seattle and then made my way to Salt Lake City, to the mountains. I was going to school, working at snowboard shops, waking up at three in the morning to bake bagels, riding all day and working in the snowboard shop at night; whatever I could do to snowboard or skate in the summertime. Just by being there, snowboarding evolved from being a rep rider and then doing R&D for Burton with John “JG” Gerndt. If it weren’t for JG and that connection, everything probably would have taken a different route. So I would be out testing new products and had friends that were just getting into snowboard photography, like Rob Mathis and Andy Wright, for example. People were starting to pay attention to that and I was doing local contests like the Rocky Mountain Series. So I really worked my way up. I don’t think I really cared about as much about sponsorship as I did about snowboarding as much as I could. Eventually I made it to the Burton North American pro team and I coached summer camp as well. One day after camp I was sitting in a house with photographer John Kelly and snowboarder Andy Wolf; they were talking about a trip to New Zealand. I asked if they could smuggle me in their board bag, then John asked me if I wanted to go. I called Burton to try to get some money, and they came back with $500 bucks for a flight that was $1500. Then I went to my family and borrowed money.
I came back from that trip and we had a full blown story in Transworld, I got an interview in Snowstyle Japan, a bunch of stuff. From that trip on it turned into traveling the world, going to the U.S. Open, being part of the whole Burton program, which was incredible.
What year did you move to Salt Lake City?
I moved there in 1991 and things starting really changing in ’94.
Being in the tinderbox of snowboarding at that time, what was the atmosphere like back then?
It was camaraderie. If you saw another snowboarder, that was unique. Anyone on a snowboard was a friend. There was different factions, cliques, crews or whatever, but it was always the common thing. I spent most of my time at Brighton, but you had a crew at Snowbird with a totally different style of riding, clothing, everything, but there was always the common denominator of snowboarding. If we didn’t see each other snowboarding we would see each other at Mrs. C’s skatepark at night.
If you saw another snowboarder, that was unique. Anyone on a snowboard was a friend.
But what I think got me here today was the do-it-yourself attitude. We were always trying to make our products better. It was like, “Ah I can’t tweak and this binding has a really sharp point, so I’m going to shave it down.” Or, “I’m going to shave my boots.” Jeremy Jones would come into the shop with his homemade bindings because he couldn’t find the right thing. That’s where I got involved with JG. He would give me something and instead of saying that something sucked, I could suggest doing it another way or to try something that would work in certain conditions. I learned how to articulate and decipher what was good, what worked and what didn’t work. Everything was new. Every day it felt like it started all over again.
Do you think there is a place today that is similar to how SLC was back then in terms of energy and a scene? Will be another place like that?
I don’t know if there is a particular area. Two things have made snowboarding really interesting in the last few years: one is utilizing next to nothing, like what Scott Stevens has done. A kid anywhere in the country or the world can watch his part, go into their backyard if there’s snow — or shit even those edits of kids riding on grass with PVC pipe — and have fun just making it up, doing weird shit. In comparison to watching a Travis Rice part — no disrespect to him because it’s amazing — but how many people are actually getting in a helicopter to have their run? I think that’s one way that is revitalizing and getting people excited about snowboarding again.
I also think the reintroduction of splitboarding and touring is another. You have people like Bryan Iguchi that split to something crazy, but still ride down in a freestyle way.
I think there has definitely been a return of relatable snowboarding in the past couple of years. Watching Ben Ferguson, Alex Yoder, or looking at Yawgoons. Most people don’t live near the mountains, but anyone can learn how to turn really well. So watching a cool Euro carve can inspire someone to try it over the weekend with their friends.
I think the Yawgoons are the perfect example. Look at what they have done with nothing. That makes me want to snowboard. Of course when I see someone riding pow I want to snowboard too, but it looks like they’re having fun and it’s so creative.
It’s creative and Yawgoo Valley is nothing, but they are insanely talented snowboarders as well.
I think it takes a lot more talent to look at the hill differently and do those kind of things as opposed to doing park laps. You can get creative with a park lap, but once someone knows the speed the question becomes, “How many times are you going to spin this time?” You’re still doing a lap.
When did you meet Mikey LeBlanc?
When he first moved from Maine to Salt Lake. I might have met him before in Colorado or if he came out to film from Colorado, but it was at least twenty years ago.
Were you guys living together when he was starting Holden and you were starting Coal?
No it was with the co-founder, Scott Zergebel. I woke up one day in 2001 and said, “I’m done.” I still had my contracts through the rest of the year but my friends, my peer group that I grew up riding with, had moved on. I was riding with different people and it was still good, but I just decided to do something different. So I moved up to Portland and got a job with M3 doing Sales and Marketing. Scott was one of the designers with M3 and I got to know him over the previous three or four years. We rented a house together — with Mikey in a different location — and Scott was upstairs designing outerwear and I was downstairs designing hats.
I get to go home and sleep at night knowing that people have a job here. To me, that is my measure of success. That is the most fulfilling thing.
Before you were talking about the DIY attitude, and many in your generation of riders founded companies. What do you think led to that group having that influence in actual snowboarding and then bringing the industry side up to the next level?
Well we all had different backgrounds and whether we went to school or not, snowboarding and skateboarding tied us together. For Coal, the inspiration behind the brand was hand-knit and crochet beanies that a bunch of my friends in Utah and myself were making. We were making them because one, it was fun, and two it was different. Every beanie was completely different than the other guy’s [beanie]. Aesthetically, there was different styles, different stripes, whatever. That was the inspiration behind the aesthetic of Coal, but I do think it came down to wanting to be different. Mikey wasn’t happy with the way his pants fit. Blue Montgomery and Jason Brown weren’t happy with the snowboards or the direction of snowboarding at the time. Our business ideas weren’t based around a marketing or business assignment that a professor gave us. We wanted to do something different, or do something that we truly passionate about. When I look at all of the people that have done successful things, like the Leines brothers and what they’ve done [with Celtek], they’re passionate about it. Of course there have been gloves before; they didn’t reinvent the wheel. Same thing with Coal, we didn’t reinvent the wheel but we did it differently. You can buy so many things these days and there isn’t a creative element. Maybe there is, because there is always something evolving and being developed, but at that time there was a group of people that was really passionate about what they did. They found something that they weren’t happy with, wanted to do better or do differently. That’s what it evolved into.
It took ownership of snowboarding. You guys loved it and wanted it to be great. With Coal, and a lot of the other brands, the iron was hot. Now Coal is in its 13th year and has evolved as well. What do you think about it being a teenager?
Right now I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited. We’re out of our awkward preteens. I have such a great group of people internally and externally that really love what we do. We have tried to do it really organically and naturally. I don’t think riders or ambassadors are part of this because of the paycheck, they just love what we do and like to be associated with us. We feed off that internally as well. Are we successful? Are we as big as we want to be? Are we both? I get to go home and sleep at night knowing that people have a job here. To me, that is my measure of success. That is the most fulfilling thing. People probably look at us and think we’re big, but we are so small. I look at the numbers that SIA throws out there about winter sports brands and we’re nothing compared to these other guys.
Is giving people a job what you’re most proud of?
Absolutely. I sit back and pinch myself sometimes. To create something that is inherently part of yourself, as far as aesthetic, things that you appreciate, and just the fact that it’s involved in snowboarding; that alone is a huge satisfaction. But again, my measure of success is the fact that I don’t have to worry about my people getting paid tomorrow. We not stretching ourselves thin. We work hard. It’s hard to explain I guess.
No you explained it. You’re providing, giving, it gets to a point where it’s not about you anymore. You can provide for your friends, your coworkers, people that are inspired about what you’re doing. I think that’s the transition.
That’s exactly it. Those words really define it. For the first four or five years it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It was “me and I.” As soon I realized that it was “we and us,” it wasn’t about me. It was really cool to go somewhere and talk with someone that knows the brand, but knows nothing about me. Then we start to talk and they tie it together with me, the brand and have an even bigger appreciation. That’s humbling, like fuck yeah. It puts the brand before me and that’s fucking awesome.
Looking at the people that you have on the team, it’s a really particular set of individuals. What do you look for or what are the things that you want to see in the people involved with Coal?
It has evolved, but first and foremost it has always been a prior friendship. There has always been a connection. Even today, if I’m not personally invested in that person or knew them before, they’re coming from within the family. I’m talking more about some of the up and comers, like Austen Sweetin. I didn’t know Austen three years ago, but I knew who he was. As soon as I got to know him it was the same. I feel the same way about Austen as I do about Jess Kimura, Scott, or going back to Mikey in the early days with Jon Kooley, Jordan Mendenhall, Justin Hebbel. They are all friends, and we have a lot of them. I just find that the people that are involved and we are associated with as really special people. They let their actions speak louder than their words. We’re not out there chasing the next Olympian. It’s not what they do it’s how they do it. I think Scott is a great example of that. One of the best snowboarders in the world who is doing things in ways that no one else thought of years ago.
Being involved in other things doesn’t change the fact that we came from snowboarding, I am a snowboarder. There is no question about that. But I also live in a city where I don’t snowboard every day.
He loves what he does. I think that speaks a lot to Coal about having him, Jess, Austen and everyone else involved. It’s people that are passionate and it has gotten to the point where it’s beyond snowboarding as well. What about some of the other things going on?
Whether it’s someone that’s playing music, an artist or photographer, I look at Coal as a lifestyle. We live in these cities, whether it’s Glacier or Seattle, Wasthington. Denver, or Boulder. Your personality comes out in different ways in these cities. When you’re just snowboarding or skateboarding, your personality is expressed through those actions. But 13 years ago, you took your snowboarding hat off at the end of the day and that was it. Or if you walked around the city with a big logo, that’s how you identified as a snowboarder. We wanted our personalities to shine in different ways without that logo. That’s how we’ve evolved and become involved with a bike race, or a skate contest, or whatever. It’s a lifestyle thing to me. It’s a fashion accessory, and I hate to use those words because we’re not talking Gucci or Prada, but more people now where a hat all the time. That’s how I see it. Being involved in other things doesn’t change the fact that we came from snowboarding, I am a snowboarder. There is no question about that. But I also live in a city where I don’t snowboard every day. I still dream about it, I dream about skating like how I used to be able to skate. But it doesn’t change the fact that I want to be able to show my personality through my style wherever I’m at, on or off the hill.
It’s a lifestyle that surrounds the people involved in snowboarding, whether it’s surfing, skating, travel. It’s about the things that are the fabric of snowboarding.
You’re not transported to the top of the park or the top of the mountain. It’s cliché but it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. How did you get from LA to Bear? How did you get to Mammoth? There is all of that in-between stuff. Ultimately you want to get up there and have a great day, but you still have to come down. There is so much to it. Being involved in photography and art, there are so many people capturing those moments between the jumps. That’s what is cool to me.
The response is insane on photos like that and it goes back to being relatable. More people are likely to relate to someone carrying a snowboard and in act of snowboarding, but they’re not doing a 1080 or something like that.
Everyone can relate to that. To the kid starting out, that’s the little out-of-bounds hike where they can get one turn. Or it might be at the top of some gnarly chute to someone else.
Not to say that there is anything wrong with snowboarding, but it’s not the easiest time right now for people and brands. What is something that you think is really positive right now, that should happen or needs to happen?
I like the fact that there is a bit of turmoil and a reduction of production. For years, people would overproduce to meet a bottom line for some shareholder. That came back and bit them in the ass, so they’re not doing that anymore. I’m glad. Now we can finally cycle through this old stuff and make it more enjoyable. It blows my mind when I go up on the hill and I see people using 20-year-old boards and bindings when there is such great product out there. I’m watching beginners on stiff boards with so much camber, it’s no wonder they come away hating it. I wish we could get a truckload of new boards and bindings and swap with every person that is up there with gear older than 10 years.
To make a positive about it, I’m glad that we’re not being flooded with goods. Maybe it will happen again. Hopefully the powers that be are producing what they’re selling and not flooding the market. But I’m also stoked to see people of my generation have families and bring them into the fold. Not to be negative, but I think it’s really tough for a family to go shred with as expensive that it is. Fortunately, many resorts have beginner programs that include a rental with a lift ticket, and hopefully more resorts and in tune with that.
Look at the resurgence of Jamie Lynn, of Bryan Iguchi, or how Dave Downing is still involved. I made Downing’s first splitboard 20 years ago.
What gets you excited when you wake up in the morning?
Honestly, my wife and I are having our first kid in a few weeks. So that’s what I’m most excited about right now. I’ve been playing for the past twenty years so I’m excited to step back from that and start a family. That’s exciting for me.
I think there is an image of snowboarders and snowboarding as a young, crazy thing. Seeing it mature and people who have been involved for a long time and continue to be involved, I think that’s one of the most important things for snowboarding right now.
Beyond a personal level, I don’t think we’re there quite yet as an industry, but we’re evolving. I was talking with Blue the other day and he made a really good point. We have a few, but the day will come when snowboarding is like skateboarding where the innovators and heroes of the previous generation are still involved, still looked at. Whether that’s a Rodney Mullen, a Lance Mountain or even a Daewon Song. Look at the resurgence of Jamie Lynn, of Bryan Iguchi, or how Dave Downing is still involved. I made Downing’s first splitboard 20 years ago. So when splitboarding reemerged, I thought about how that was two decades ago. That’s pretty deep. But it’s about that acceptance and appreciation for the legends. Again, we only have a handful right now that are really revered and as generation after generation keeps coming up, that will continue to happen. We will keep these people involved and there will always be snowboarding.
Nothing against the big contest names or anything like that, but it’s great to have guys like Jamie or Guch around because it’s an alternative role model to someone that’s hucking huge spins. I think Peter Line falls into that category too.
I totally agree. Watching Pete evolve, to call him a friend and also a hero, and to see him transition into design. He’s so incredibly gifted. He’s still part of this industry whether people know it or not. That is so cool and the kind of support that I see in skateboarding is slowly starting in snowboarding. I hope that continues to grow.
What makes you excited for the future?
Being a dad. As for the future of business and snowboarding, I feel like everything in life is cyclical. Hopefully the environment holds up and continues to bring us snow where we need it. I was listening to the radio about the drought in California; the governor enacted a mandatory water restriction and people surpassed it. First of all, he’s telling people you can’t water your lawns and you can’t wash your cars in a place where everyone is about green grass and clean cars. Then this restriction comes down and people go above and beyond to say, “Hey, I’m cool with a brown lawn. I’m cool with a dusty car.” If we can continue to think that way across all of the things that we affect, hopefully we can continue to be around and have healthy businesses that meet people’s needs, but also reduce our impact wherever we can.