Whether we like it or not—or even care to admit it—snowboarding has changed. As a collective industry we have grown and made a transition through generations. We have morphed slowly over the years, into something that many only know, and something that others no longer recognize. But through growth and transition there have also been those who have sought to preserve the essence of fun.
Earlier this month I sat down with Jesse Grandkoski and Travis Parker, two of three founders, of arguably the most fun brand in snowboarding, Airblaster. We sat at a small table in Whitefish, Montana, where both Travis and Jesse grew up, and where Airblaster has chosen to film their next month long movie project, aptly titled, March. We talked about history, friendships and careers, farts, the future, and why we are all so infatuated with snowboarding. For Jesse and Travis, snowboarding has always been, and will always be, about having the absolute best time on hill. Below is their story.
Photography by Owen Ringwall
Owen: Jesse, you grew up here in Whitefish?
Jesse: Not quite, but I was born in Montana and I went to all of the Whitefish schools.
Travis: I grew up in Texas, outside of Austin in a place called Jonestown. I moved up here when I got an opportunity to go ski with my aunt and uncle and then this is where I met Jesse.
J: Yeah, kind of a funny time in life. Thirteen years old, our freshman year in high school. Neither of us had snowboarded, and that was the year we both started snowboarding.
T: Moving to Whitefish from Texas was quite a change, hot to cold, and my Texas accent too… [laughs] But Jesse was always a real positive, kind person, and when you make friends you want make friends with nice people. I was all about skiing, I wanted to learn how to ski, but sure enough Jesse and all of the other guys—everyone was in the snowboard world—so I was like, “I guess I will try snowboarding.”
"I think I also ate some road kill every now and then." — Travis
O: Did you guys have a regular crew?
J: [Andrew] Crawford is definitely part of the Whitefish story for us. I remember riding the chair with Travis and always seeing this kid around. Crawford was a couple years younger than us, he must have been eleven or twelve when we first started snowboarding, and he had been snowboarding for a couple years already, so he was good. I saw him do a backflip when he was twelve and he was still small, he hadn’t sprouted at all.
T: Just this little punk, skater kid. I remember at first being like, “Who is that kid? I don’t know about that guy…” But we wanted to snowboard with him because he was really good.
J: We linked up with Crawford pretty quickly and obviously made fast friends because all we wanted to do was rip around the mountain. It was a cool opportunity as a kid because our parents would let us go up there and it was total freedom for us.
O: Did you guys have a crew name?
J: I think the only posse name we ever had was the BMSC, which was Crawford really. Big Mountain Soft Core, because there was a MBHC, Mount Baker Hard Core, and we were the BMSC.
T: I think the fact that we were a posse… That’s just what we were. Sometimes thirteen people at a time; a mass of humans skidding down the hill hitting jumps.
O: Any stories of being young and getting in trouble on the mountain?
J: We did the normal stuff, we ducked ropes and probably got in trouble a little bit. But we never wanted to lose a pass, so we were always pretty good.
T: I think I ducked a rope once and ski patrol caught me and clipped the corner of my pass, I didn’t mess up after that—maybe I did. I don’t like to do that anymore these days.
O: Travis, you mentioned that your mom worked up at the lodge…
T: She got a job at the Summit House in ‘89 or ‘90 and it was to get my brother and I a ski pass. Man, we were living on five bucks an hour working at that place. We were getting food at the food bank, and it was good food! I think I also ate some road kill every now and then.
J: Yeah in Montana if they get some fresh meat they will bring it right to the food bank and cut it up. It is good venison.
O: And you graduated from Whitefish in ’92?
J: ’94, yeah, so we spent a good four years up here. I think of how fast we progressed at that point. We would watch videos but we were just learning from each other. I thought that was interesting, that it was a pretty organic progression. Crawford skated a bunch and everyone had their own style. Everyone knew if you landed something that was a step up. People would go off.
T: It was definitely a brotherhood.
O: What happened after graduation?
J: So I went to college in Colorado, and you (Travis) were up here for a while.
T: Yeah I was only here for a semester; I didn’t plan on college life. You went out to Colorado and I was like “man, my snowboard buddy is gone, what am I going to do?”
J: I remember saying, “get out here there is sun and photographers man.”
T: I had a couple hundred bucks and an auto-harp.
J: Yeah you were like, “I don’t have anything, and in case I need to play this autoharp on the street… I don’t know how to play it, but I will figure it out if I need to.”
T: Yeah it has these buttons and it opens and you can put money in [it].
J: Yeah the worse you were, maybe people would feel sorry for you and donate.
T: [Laughs] Yeah, play off peoples emotions…
"I told Travis to come on down and I would wrangle a bunk bed somehow." — Jesse
J: I was going to college and had a single room in the dorm. I told Travis to come on down and I would wrangle a bunk bed somehow, so he just stayed in my room for like a month until we got busted and kicked out of there. We were flying under the radar. We figured out how you could sneak into the dining hall. We would scale this concrete wall and jump up on the balcony to get inside to get food. It was a school where a lot of kids were pretty wealthy, and that was pretty fortunate because I remember one of our buddies, Doug, helped us get passes.
T: Yeah and he also said that he couldn’t take all of his classes and asked me, “please, I’m not going to choir, just show up for me.” So I would show up and be Doug in choir, jewelry-making class too.
J: I remember it got hot so you had to move out of my room, but we had some other buddies that were staying in this weird basement zone, they had these weird bonus rooms that really weren’t meant to be lived in.
T: There was a rabbit that lived in there.
J: The way I remember it, there were two bonus rooms, and you had one, and the rabbit had the bigger one.
T: Something like that. I smelled rabbit poop a lot, and there was hay. But that was fine, I was a bum and I am grateful I got to hang out with these awesome, smart people.
J: You weren’t there long though. I remember you were there for maybe two or three months and then I had these friends that lived in Vail. I think you linked up with those guys and started renting the couch from them for really cheap. That was when your career started taking off. You had that opportunity and you were just like “alright, I am going to do this.”
T: I was bussing tables. It was a beautiful Austrian restaurant and I would bus tables and work in the parking lots and at these pizza places. Snowboarding as much as I could. I had a couple crashes and went down in a sled once. I was never the same after that head banger. I can still think and talk and walk, so praise the Lord I am thankful, but I just tried to eat well every day, drink plenty of water, and snowboard.
J: You worked your butt off and eventually linked up with the right people, got sponsors and just kept going.
O: When did your professional careers really take off?
T: It was during the dot.com boom, so was about ’96 or ’97 when I got the opportunity. I had been working at a logging company, and I got these boots and board from K2. I got introduced to Chris Engelsman and Shempe this guy from Shimano that was working with K2. They wanted to see if I would promote the Clicker binding. Nobody wanted to ride Clickers, but I did because it was my window for money, travel, and snowboarding.
J: They wanted to push it and they were really trying to push riders to push it.
T: I was like heck yeah, give me some Clickers! And I was off.
J: Didn’t they have a bounty out for one thousand bucks if someone could run and jump and click both feet in? That was a weird one; the whole step in thing has always been funny to me—solving a problem that isn’t really there.
T: It had really good advantages. It was really good for clicking into your board and going snowboarding, and then clicking into your snowshoes or approach skis, backcountry style.
"We needed to fly the fun flag and let people know." — Jesse
J: Clicker was your opportunity. I also remember coming up this one time and you were like “I can’t go boarding.” Your feet were all mangled up.
T: Yeah I had numbness too, some nerve damage in the back of my leg.
J: Yeah, but you were working your ass off, getting shots, repping the product and scratching K2’s back so they would scratch yours.
T: Yeah, well they did. I got photo incentives, and in the beginning they would give me a paycheck and take us to these really nice dinners. I loved it and couldn’t believe it. Nice places to sleep too! I was lucky.
O: Moving forwards, Airblaster started in 2002?
J: Yeah, something like that. I was working at High Cascade in the summer and Travis bought a house in Portland in 2001–02. I got sick of moving around, so I lived with Travis in his house there. That’s when I was struggling to find work, I remember I got this stupid job at Radio Shack. I think I made it about two days before I couldn’t do it. They were trying to really incentivize us to sell cell phone plans, and it was the absolute worst. I knew I couldn’t do that and Travis and I had talked a bit about doing something.
T: Yeah at this point I had money. And it was in a bank account and it was sitting there for things to do.
J: And you know, I always thought, you put your spine on the line for these companies—and some of them paid you pretty well—but you beat yourself up pretty good and after you’re done you don’t have any ownership in them. Travis you had made it. And then one day a mutual friend, Paul Miller—I think you guys were at a skate park or something—you guys started bullshitting about it.
T: We were sitting in the middle of the road talking about it. Wasn’t a high traffic road, but anyways…
J: So yeah, you and Paul talked and that was about the development of it at that point. Snowboarding at least in 1989–90 wasn’t really an industry yet. It was super fun; nobody did it to be cool or to make a million dollars. Fast forward to 2002–03 when we were starting Airblaster, and snowboarding was definitely an industry. All of these kids were showing up to camp, eyeing each other up and down. The easiest thing to sell a 16-year-old boy was, “buy this product and you are a badass.” So it was all blacked out, all punk studs. People would even hang their goggles low, remember that? Everything was getting real clean, especially with Mack Dawg. But when kids watch that, and they haven’t snowboarded a bunch, they look at these parts, and there isn’t a lot of falling. The kids were getting pissed at themselves because they weren’t learning these tricks super fast. Some kids were having fun. It started to change so much from when I was those kids’ age, for me it was pure freedom to express your own style and that was it. We were progressing just about the fastest I have ever progressed in my life, just by having fun. That was what I wanted to bring into Airblaster. We needed to fly the fun flag and let people know. You were living that, and showing people through those Robot Food movies.
"Relax, have fun, we are all kooks." — Jesse
T: It was all a really big effort to do my best every year and to reinvent myself a little bit. I had to get good at humor, I don’t know if I was good at it, but I wanted to be good at it. I love to laugh and all. I was a role model for young kids. So it was a big effort on my part to set a good example, I wasn’t perfect, I cussed, I drank, I smoked.
J: You farted.
T: I farted. Sometimes I would speed down the highway. Oh gosh, I wasn’t perfect man. It’s not easy. Gosh, I knew this guy (Jesse) was a smart, intelligent, human being that would make something great. I was like, “I have capital, I have to do something with it, this is my moment I don’t know how much longer I will be in snowboarding.” And we made it happen. Then I got to the point where I was like, “ok, well we need to find someone else with money because I am getting kind of at a scary spot.” So that’s when we…
J: Yeah we brought on Tyler [Scharpf], and we just went for it. The moment it was really born was when you and I and Paul sat in your basement in the Hollywood district of Portland. We put a couple sheets of wood up in the wall and we wrote stuff, like a white board. We all loved snowboarding, but we could all see that it had changed. I didn’t want to just move out of it, I wanted to own a little piece of it. There were so many positive things about it, but I also felt like there was something missing from these kids I was coaching, and I wanted to tell people “it’s ok to have fun! Relax, fall down, have fun, laugh at yourself.” You might see this guy, (travis) he’s having fun…
T: I’m serious too though…
J: You’re serious, you worked your ass off. Anyone at that level does, but, we were doing more laughing. That’s how you fall in love with it, and if you are athletic enough, and you have done it long enough, and if you try for long enough, you might be able to make something of it. But most people are going to do it and they are never going to make a dime, so you might as well have fun. We sat in that basement, and we sketched and we talked, and we were sketching up all of these names, and there were a bunch of funny names, ‘thrash blast,’ although that’s pretty similar, ‘sfree’, s-f-r-e-e, circus oil, circus tears—we wanted a name that contained that essence, relax, have fun, we are all kooks.
O: Travis, what is your role in Airblaster now?
T: I have a company called Safe Work, it’s basically a handy man company. Raking, shoveling, digging dirt, putting it in a planter, making a planter box, non-structural handyman work. But I feel like, what I do now [for Airblaster], is I wear the clothes and I try and make sure I don’t damage them, and if I do damage them, I look at them and try and figure out how that happened. I think the only thing I can really do is just put it on, use it, and communicate how I think it protects me. It protects me from the snow and the cold, and it is really a piece of safety gear, gear that helps me from not freezing.
J: You’ve got a Sessions shirt on dude, I just realized that…
T: Yeah, this is an old shirt that Sessions made me.
J: Probably should have noticed that earlier. There goes your photo incentive. [laughs]
T: This is something that when I rode for Sessions, Shell Gomez had these made for myself, Tara Dakides, and the other folks. It’s history man! I care about it, I think snowboarding is a neat community and culture, and I like the fact that K2, Smith, 686, and Bonfire, and all of these companies supported me before Airblaster was even here. The economic reality is unique.
J: Well we would never be anything. You made your career with those companies, Airblaster couldn’t have started without your success.
T: K2 was one of the biggest, I don’t think I would be anywhere without K2. My economy was K2, Sessions, CAPiTA, and Bonfire, and all of these other companies.
O: What is the actual story behind the name Airblaster? I have heard a rumor that it is a farting joke.
J: Well yeah there is no one definition, because that’s why we liked it. Airblaster, it could be a fart—it’s totally a fart. It could be a move, “That guy did a sick airblaster! Did you see that!?” Some people think it’s the leash, it could also be a person.
T: I just thought of someone blasting off on a snowboard. You have this little mogul jump—blasting off a jump and snow going everywhere and it’s kind of like that feeling you get, like those old Juicy Fruit ads.
Together [Singing] “The taste is gonna move ya!”
T: “BLAST AIR!’” It’s kind of an explosion, I don’t think it was meant to be a fart joke.
J: If it wasn’t, it quickly turned into one, probably that day. Anyways, that was when Airblaster was born, and I guess a good transition to talking about March would be December, because we had this idea for a month-long movie, so you grabbed Crawford and Jake Price and rented a van to go around Europe. It was better than I could have ever imagined it. Some of my favorite moments in December, were places where the snow was no good, and you guys knew you only had a month. I love those shots where your talking to Marco [Grilc] and ollieing on to the pile of sticks, and your just like, “Hey Marco, the snow is really sticky!” there are about five stick jokes in a row. And a lot of that stuff is what would be considered subpar conditions for filming.
T: Yeah that would be B-roll.
"We’ve got these 40-year-old guys jumping off cliffs and shit." — Jesse
J: Most of the guys that made their living filming would be like no way man, we’re not going to burn film on that. But you guys made December, and it was hilarious and great.
T: Thanks to CAPiTA for that travel budget, I blew it in a month.
J: Oh yeah, you spent way too much money. Tyler wanted to strangle you.
T: Yeah I was used to spending money and I liked it, it wasn’t smart and it got me later on.
O: When did the idea first come to fruition, this is the fourth month-long movie project, correct?
J: Yeah so this is the fourth month-long movie project, and the idea has never changed. The idea has always been from the beginning to make a more accessible experience than the super polished movies with huge budgets. I love those movies they are awesome to watch, and kudos to those guys for doing what they do, but on the other side, Airblaster has always been about accessibility and inclusivity. And we will tell people it’s for a month, because part of it is we don’t want to be compared to your Standard Films project that took nine months to film.
O: What brought you back here to Whitefish?
J: Actually it wasn’t even my idea. It was Jack [Hewitt] and Kyle who are orchestrating Airblaster marketing. I was thinking about this place in Michigan that I have wanted to go to for a while. But they were like, “come on, let’s go to Montana, it’s really cool there and it is where some of the foundations of Airblaster developed.” And I was down. We have been up here for what, three days and been just face deep powder the entire time. Everyone is so pooped because it has been storming and we’ve just been shredding. We’ve got these 40-year-old guys jumping off cliffs and shit.
T: I ate some powder yesterday. [laughs]
J: Yesterday I was eating powder and chewing on it. You can probably see it in some of the photos! But yeah, so I think part of it is just to tell the Airblaster story. Paul Miller, he’s the other founder, we will have to go up to New Hampshire or Mt. Hood where we met at HCSC to do the full history. But especially when you talk about a lot of the creative stuff and having that sense of humor. I think that’s really where Travis and I connected by having a sense of humor; in high school we were pretty inseparable. The combination of history, good conditions, and prospective powder like we have had, those are the things that led us back to good old, Whitefish, Montana.
T: I am just thankful I got the invite, and I am so thankful to be here. It has been a while. I didn’t go to the high school reunions or anything. It is good to be back here, I got a week out of this year to go out and snowboard at an old resort and I love it.
J: your looking good dude, looking good.
T: [Spits on himself.]