From Koas to CORE: Erik Leon and His Core Collaboration with Arbor Snowboards

Last August, I headed to the Big Island of Hawaii with Erik Leon, Marie-France Roy, and a crew from Arbor Snowboards and evo. We traveled to Hawai’i to go to the Hawaiian Legacy Forest that Arbor has partnered with for the better part of the past decade, to plant Koa trees and get our hands in the dirt of a tangible give-back that is so integral to Arbor, not only as a brand on a large scale, but to the people who make up the brand as individuals. Sustainability and a bigger-than-just-snowboarding mindset have been a part of Arbor from the beginning; founder and CEO Bob Carlson has imbued those things in the ethos of the brand, and every person that is a part of the company, from in house marketing, design, and product to regional sales teams to team riders find common ground in the belief that in pursuing their love of riding, they can give something back in bigger and greater ways.

For Erik, this is rooted deeply in his personal philosophy and is the foundation on which his collaboration with Arbor and the creation of CORE are built. Contributing to community. Acting in sustainable ways. Using your resources to share snowboarding with others and contribute to the bigger picture. In Hawaii, Erik visiting the Arbor Legacy Forest for the first time and after the trip there, we sat on the balcony of where we were staying and talked about Hawaii, CORE, and giving back. – Mary T. Walsh

First off, you’re in Hawaii right now. What have you been up to while here?
I’m here on the behalf of Arbor Snowboards to check out the Legacy Forest. We came to plant some trees.

You’ve been a part of Arbor Snowboards for essentially your whole career. What is it like to get to come here this year for the first time and see this tangible thing the brand is doing to help the environment?
Yeah, I’ve been with the brand for thirteen years and this trip has been pretty insane. Thinking about it, I’m like, “Oh, wow, we actually do create change. We are contributing to ecosystems in certain places. We are taking sustainable steps and contributing, in general, around the world. It definitely deepens my place with Arbor because I’m like, “I’m a part of a bigger picture.”

I think being here and seeing the Legacy Forest and seeing Arbor’s contribution to it—to a place that is so far from where we snowboard generally—kind of shows the interconnectedness of everything. Do you feel that?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, this was the first place. Everything started here—surfing and action sports.

You surf a lot, right?
Yeah, it started when I was 12, and then I kind of re-found it when I was 16.  I’ve been surfing solidly for about ten years.

Have you surfed in Hawaii before?
No. This is my first time to Hawaii. We did get to go surf for a day, which was pretty cool.

What’s your general take on your first experience in Hawaii?
Super mellow. People are really relaxed. I want to spend more time around areas that have the Legacy Forest vibe, rather than the tourist vibe.

Speaking of the Legacy Forest, what the most striking part of that day for you?
Probably just the fact that in ten to twelve years, how much the trees had grown. Just the massive amount of growth, how pretty the undergrowth was, and how natural it really looked to have the Koa trees back into that zone, rather than the planted eucalyptus, which was a disaster. [editor’s note: read more about the eucalyptus in this feature story on Arbor and the Hawaiian Legacy Forest from issue 19.2.]

Over the last few years, you’ve been really invested in CORE and doing things that give back to community, strive to improve access to snowboarding, and contribute to sustainability. When did you first start feeling interested in that aspect of snowboarding and giving back?
I’ve always been super interested in it because I feel like my whole snowboard career has been a hand-me-down, starting as a kid on used boards, and then getting pants given to me from my older friends, and then running people’s boots that already ran, and stuff like that. I don’t know, I feel like it was just always in my nature. I didn’t have brand new things quite often until I got sponsored, so the idea of snowboarding to me has always been to pass it down to the next generation. Once I had the resources to do so, I definitely worked as much as I could to give to as many as I could because I felt like that was what was done for me.

You’re heading into the fourth year of CORE this winter?
I honestly don’t even know because we had product coming out ’19 and ’20, so two years before the product came out, CORE came to fruition as an idea. CORE existed–we just needed a tangible product to tie the name to and then the initiative could actually get jump-started. We couldn’t just do all this random stuff with no tangible backing. So, the idea is probably four to six years old.

CORENATION at Big Bear in 2022.

That is one of the very unique things about CORE, that it’s tied back to product as a foundation for the whole thing. What is it like working with a Arbor to be able to make CORE-backed products and how does that fulfill what your intentions and aspirations are?
I mean, it’s huge. I think I’ve mentioned this in quite a few interviews, but tying to make a product affordable is not that easy because at any brand, at first it’s like, “What are you talking about? You are trying to make an affordable product? Don’t you want to make a bunch of money? If your product doesn’t cost a lot of money, then why does anybody want to buy it? That doesn’t make it a ‘pro product.'” It’s just trying to re-imagine being a professional snowboarder, and being like, “Hey, as a professional snowboarder, I want to be an advocate for the sport of snowboarding and not just for my wallet.”

With Arbor, it was pretty easy because the brand mentality is like, “We actually want to focus on sustainability and giving back to the rest of the world, not just our pockets.” For me, we connect on that tip. It was like, “Oh, we’re actually not for just personal gain. We want to help other people grow. We want to help ecosystems grow. We want to help everything.” Right?

Yeah.
So, though it was difficult, it was kind of a no-brainer once we painted the idea on the wall. I don’t think many other brands would be as hyped if I came to them with the same idea.

Last season, you were able to bring another facet of CORE to life, the events.
I had five events last season. I had one at Killington Mountain in Vermont that was presented by Arbor Snowboards, and then I had one at Trollhaugen, Wisconsin. I’m always going to have one there. My first-ever event started there. The last ones will be there. I always go to Troll. It’s family-owned. It’s what snowboarding needs, and what it means to be a snowboarder is to ride Trollhaugen, in my opinion. And then we did Bear Mountain, which is my home resort. That was awesome. Shout-out to Bear Mountain, family forever. And then, we did a Colorado stop at Ruby Hill, which is a free snowboard hill in Denver proper. Winter Park manages the park.

That’s awesome.
Yeah. The city of Denver donates a million gallons of water to blow snow that lasts anywhere from two-and-a-half to three months. Free snowboarding. It’s insane. Oh, we did a Timberline event in May. So, that was five, as well as some online activations and stuff.

What is the online stuff that you’ve done?
During the pandemic, I did video projects and tied a tangible item to the video project as well as a local artist. And I produced some sort of sustainable product and sold a limited amount of them, and all the proceeds then went to non-profits that we collaborated with during that project.

That’s cool. How do you balance running all of these events with your own snowboarding?
I don’t know. I don’t really balance it. I’m still learning. I’ve had this big goal of doing these events, and then going and filming video projects—being able to do it all—but I quickly learned last year that I wasn’t prepared to do that. I had to establish myself and really follow through with all the CORE stuff last year, so that this year, everybody understands what we’re doing and if we just get the job done, then I’ll have some free time to do all the rest. Last year, I didn’t really quite have that, so hopefully this year I’ll have a little bit more balance—or maybe I won’t. So, I’m not sure if there’s quite a balance here. I’m still trying to learn it.

Well, that’s another important thing of having sponsors that are just stoked in what you’re doing, that understand that it’s all part of who you are.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’m definitely longing to film again. I kind of freaked out last year that I wasn’t able to film a true video project, but at the same time, I looked back on my year and I was like, “Oh, I actually did quite a bit.”

Do you have a crew of people helping you with CORE, so that you can potentially find that balance?
Yes and no. Pretty much, it’s all me, but at each event I work with the local teams at the resorts and at the partner brand for that event. When the event comes, we have a partnering sponsor that helps host the whole event, so that it’s not just a bunch of brands sponsoring five different events. Everybody gets their own time in the spotlight, like Arbor Snowboards sponsored Killington. So, we were able to utilize our local reps in that area. We had a number of Arbor Snowboards to give out. Basically, they’re hosting a mini demo, but it’s just an event. And then, they get to bring the rep riders along, therefore Arbor Northeast gets to be in the spotlight, and those are my volunteers for the whole week. I think that everybody works really hard to get these things going. It’s not just me. Our volunteers at the resorts and with the brands really pick up the weight.

The events are non-competitive. There’s prizes, but it’s not like a traditional contest?
Yeah, for sure. It’s not a contest. It’s basically a jam vibe. I think at the last event that we had, I was like, “If you can memorize the most names of people in this event, then you get a free pair of goggles.”

You can basically meet new friends at the events. The whole point is that the people that teach you things and help you learn on the mountain, those are the people you remember for the rest of your life. The people that leave the biggest imprint on you as a kid are the people that you’ll always reflect on. And if we try to recreate that into an event, it’s like, “Remember, if you see somebody trying to learn how to 50-50 a box and you obviously have been doing it for a while, if you go and show them how to do that or give them pointers, we’ll notice that and we’ll take that to the end.” So, there are five winners. There’s no first. There’s no last. It’s just people that stood out to us as good advocates for the sport of snowboarding–and skiing as well.

Oh, skiing as well? I didn’t know that.
Yeah. We’re open to it all. I mean, we’re all snowboarding and skiing in the same places. If you can ride the chairlift with people that you meet and somebody makes an imprint on you, even if you’re a skier or snowboarder at this one-day event, then that’s lifelong, right?

Completely. Okay, this is a guest question. What’s your go-to shave ice?
Before coming to Hawaii, it was some sort of blue raspberry, which isn’t even a thing, and strawberry. That was always so good. It was kind of the Slurpee vibe. But this week, I had some crazy shave ice. It had cherry, strawberry, coconut cream, and mochi, and macadamia and ice cream hidden in the center. That was pretty nuts.

Last question. How do we get news about the new CORE stuff happening this season?
Our flyers go live about a month before the events. Around November, we’ll start to put up flyers if we’re going to be in your location, but just look out. We’re going to do an East Coast stop. We’re going to do a Midwest stop. Maybe Utah area. We’ll do probably a Pacific Northwest, and possibly a SoCal stop. Yeah, be on the lookout for that. We’re definitely going to cover the United States, and then if we’re fortunate enough and things start to go well, maybe we’ll end up international.

The first stop of this year’s CORENATION Tour is at Woodward Tahoe on December 18, 2022. Follow @erikleon_ and @core_snowboarding on Instagram for more info.

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