Filtering the noise: An Andrew Sayer interview

To be completely honest, “Filtering the noise” is a more politically correct title than what Andrew Sayer actually does, and that’s filtering bullshit.

I discovered Board Rap when Snowboard Mag was tagged in an Instagram post regarding an interview I did with Travis Rice following the release of The Fourth Phase. The website, with its crude but effective design, soon became the first URL on the magical “b, down, enter” technique and where I now go to feel the pulse of what was happening amongst my comrades in skate and surf. Then came the inevitable fact. I needed to figure out who ran this site.

Turns out it was easy, just a quick email and soon I was on the line with Andrew “Swayzar” Sayer. He grew up snowboarding in Whistler and enjoyed a career for several years before, enticed by waves and surf culture, he relocated to Southern California. He was one decision away from attending the fateful Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris that was the site of a terrorist attack. He swears by the surf in Morocco. And he has some pretty pointed opinions about the current state of board content on the internet.

That’s why Board Rap exists. While Andrew has featured Snowboard Mag stories on the site, I cannot stress how refreshing it is for a new, independent voice in in boardsports culture.

Andrew Sayer Board Rap interview snowboarding skateboarding surfing

When did you start Board Rap?

I had the idea for quite a while. I put it all together and designed it myself, and I don’t really know what I’m doing so it took a little bit longer than I thought. So it has probably been up in running in its current state for about a year. About a year before that I was kind of plugging it with content and seeing what worked and what didn’t, making a couple of changes from the original idea.

What gave you the idea? Why did you think that you needed to make Board Rap?

I’ve been snowboarding for a really long time and was a big magazine nerd. Even before I started snowboarding, I remember having some of the very first Transworlds. I would read them and still be too small to be able to snowboard; my parents had me on skis. There was something about the magazines that I just loved. And then I went through my snowboard career I also did a lot of writing and working with magazines, a lot of freelance stuff, then started my own surf magazine. Just seeing how the whole media landscape evolved with everything going online, advertising dollars not being spent there and more on social media and blah blah blah… You know the whole story. It seemed like [we] needed a place that got away from the advertiser’s reach. There is probably more good stuff out there than ever, but there is also a lot that has been watered down, a lot was advertorial. A lot of it is stuff that websites have to put up there to make advertisers happy.

So I wanted somewhere that people could go and instead of going to twenty or thirty different websites, just to go there every day and that would be enough to give them a feeling of what’s happening out there in the world that ties in surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding and how they relate to one another. There are a lot of good websites that do their own culture very well and then there are a lot of websites that just mix in action sports as a whole, which I think is pretty lame. If you just group those three things together: the history, the lifestyle, and the culture, it all plays off each other.

You have certain sites that you feature on a regular basis. Is there a certain criteria for the stories?

“Surfers aren’t the wack contest guys anymore. We just need to teach them how to name their tricks properly.”

There is no exact criteria because it is all curated by me. I look for stories that are a little bit bigger than just another edit. Every website just puts up the latest edit, and that’s not taking away from that but I like things that tell more of a story, have a little more history to them, even things that touch on pop culture. A lot of people think that’s kind of cheesy, and it usually is. I guess it tells a story of where we are in the culture. When The New York Times writes about snowboarding, what are they saying? Who are they getting to write it? Are they doing it properly? Then you can even build your own story out of a really cool Instagram photo. If you’re a younger kid and go to Board Rap, I think you can get a good picture of not just the latest stuff, it has a bit of everything in it from back in the day as well.

What does the following look like?

I don’t know exactly because I’m not good at tracking all that stuff and it’s pretty young still. But I do know that it’s very industry heavy. I know that most of the main editors and a lot of brand managers are on it. One guy who hit me up is a marketing manager, and he found out that his company had just been bought by a conglomerate through Board Rap.

No way.

And he had no idea. Then another guy, who was a video game developer, found out that one of the riders that they had been working on for this video game had just gotten cut, slash created his own brand. And his whole team found out through Board Rap.

One funny story. I put up an article and about ten minutes later I got a text from Dane Reynolds. I kind of know him, but not really, didn’t even know that he knew I did the website. I don’t know how he got my cell phone number. But I guess I leaked the news of his brand [FORMER] a little bit early. So it was a frantic text being like, “Sayer! Can you please take that down? No one is supposed to know yet.” Like, oh man, fuck. Anything for Dane. So I guess he obviously goes to it. That’s kind of cool to know that you can put something up and a few minutes later have Dane Reynolds give you a text message.

Andrew Sayer Board Rap interview snowboarding skateboarding surfing

Yeah it really shows authenticity if a bunch of people like that are continually going to it and pay attention, following on social and everything like that. What has been the response?

It has been really good, I live in Venice, and grew up in the snowboard industry and surf industry, so through the industry friends at least they’re all really stoked on it. It’s a lot easier to go through that and get something that’s a little bit more insider than just rolling around to a million sites every day, or having to create your own feed. I don’t think it has really reached the vast majority of younger kids yet. I think [with] the younger kids coming up, it’s not so much like, “I’m a skateboarder, surfing’s wack, snowboarding’s wack, hockey’s wack.” I think a lot of kids now are growing up where they go for a surf, they go for a skate, and then they play basketball, and they do whatever. It’s not quite as cut and dry. So I think it all kind of works together well.

I would agree.

Even if you look at the skaters now. Dylan [Rieder] surfed, Austyn [Gillette] surfs. A lot of the guys. There’s not so much of a stigma. Look at what FORMER is doing. Surfers aren’t the wack contest guys anymore. We just need to teach them how to name their tricks properly. That’s another goal right there.

There is a lot of backlash right now about the World Surf League [WSL]. What are your thoughts on that?

“I think anytime you have a big discussion like that—when some people love it and some people hate it—that’s when really cool things happen on both ends.”

I think the WSL is great as a talking point. It’s awesome that people get riled about about it. That’s another thing in general, I think anytime you have a big discussion like that—when some people love it and some people hate it—that’s when really cool things happen on both ends. For instance, the Olympics. I’m all for the Olympics because I don’t think that’s going to take away from the complete other spectrum. Just because [surfing and skateboarding] are getting into the Olympics doesn’t mean that Baker or whoever, the core street brand, is going to disappear. If anything, more people get into the sport and say, “I don’t want to do contests, I want to be a dirtbag and just film in the streets with my friends.” I think if anything, that part of it will be helped out as well as bringing more money into the culture in general. Same thing with the WSL. Yeah, there are definitely things that can be fixed but I can’t imagine surfing without the tour. It would be strange.

Do kids think that same way about snowboarding? Seeing the contests on NBC, with the Olympics coming up, and that they don’t need to do double corks or whatever. Do you think that can exist in snowboarding as well?

I don’t know. I don’t actually watch too many contests in snowboarding. The one-off events are a lot harder to get behind—they all have different concepts. Even if there is a TTR [World Snowboard Tour] world champion or whatever, I don’t think a lot of people know what that means. Until everything is a little bit more regulated, I think it will be hard for snowboarding to be anything beyond like a one-off big air contest, which I think is pretty boring to watch. I don’t get too much out of it. I think freeride could really catch on in the next few years. A full tour with the best riders. With the freeride thing, as long as there’s jumps, you can make everybody happy with style vs. tricks. It’s just really hard to get the production down and get it into a viewable format.

You have the overarching goal of sharing content that contributes to the overall culture and lifestyle of skate, surf, and snow, but is there a long term goal with Board Rap? Or are you just trying to see what happens and just go from there?

It’s more of an experiment to see what happens. I would love to be able to grow a massive amount of traffic. Going back to the original goals, one of them was never to be one of those websites that is trying to steal everyone else’s traffic. The original goal is to only have a link that shot straight to the original source. Unfortunately, it’s just really hard to build a website like that. I also found that it was nice to give some personal opinions on everything before shooting it out. But yeah, the goal is to bring traffic to the people that I think are doing a really good job, like Snowboard Mag or whatever.

Andrew Sayer Board Rap interview snowboarding skateboarding surfing

You mentioned Dane, have there been any other stories that have come out of running the site day to day?

Another funny one, but maybe not funny because it made me feel like a dick… Because I try to make [the writing] a little interesting, so some of it is off the cuff. So I wrote a story about one of those anti-shark technology bands, which, in my mind, I just think they’re bullshit. Selling $400 leashes just to give people a false sense of mind that they’re not going to get attacked by a shark… Until there is total proof, I’m sticking with that story.

“If we just lose all the magazines and core websites, then what culture are we promoting?”

So anyway, I wrote a story about Tom Carroll getting involved with one of the Australian shark band things, and just wrote a bad taste joke about how he might be back on drugs because he needs to take money from a fake company that is selling snake oil. Again, within thirty minutes I had an email from the owner of the company. An hour after that, I had an email from Tom Carroll. I felt terrible. I meant no disrespect whatsoever, he’s an absolute legend. Huge respect for his whole story, coming clean, getting straight and telling everybody, that’s totally not what I was trying to do. Next thing I know, I’m writing an eight-paragraph apology to Tom Carroll and giving him my phone number if he wants to talk about it. That was another one, learning to watch my words when it comes to things like that.

But it shows that there is influence, people are paying attention. If you can write something like that and immediately have responses, I think that’s a pretty big deal.

It is cool to see that. But there are certain things like past drug abuse, and a couple other touchy subjects. Most things are free game in this world, I think. Most snowboard and surf media is pretty tame on athletes compared to the rest of the world. I think it’s fine to start some… not beef, but sometimes people have to be called out.

Criticism is fair. Is there anything else you want to add?

Everybody out there, keep buying magazines, as well as supporting the websites. Anytime something print-related comes up I love showcasing that. As companies grow their own social media followers—and just working in magazines myself and trying to sell ads—it’s like, “ok, this company has two million followers, we’re a little magazine, we have fifty thousand followers and a small readership.” Then the brand’s like, “Why would we want to spend money if the reach is like 200 times yours?” But it can’t really come down to that, because if we just lose all the magazines and core websites, then what culture are we promoting? Then the whole thing starts to disintegrate. Keep supporting magazines and the culture. That’s the main thing.

Also, some people think that everything was always better back in the day, where I’m a big believer that everything is better right now. Even if there are certain things that you don’t like, if the right people are in the industry still I think it’s all going to come down and regulate itself. Frontside threes and backside 180s are the best things ever, that doesn’t mean I want someone to win a big air contest doing a frontside three. You still want to see the progression, and eventually the progression will have amazing style as well.

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