It’s a real-life dream–traveling the world, paid (paid!) to be on the mountain day in and out. Your single sideways quest? Riding the best terrain in the sickest conditions. If you’re asleep, I won’t pinch you–who wants to wake up? After all, who among us hasn’t flirted with the fantasy of living the life of a professional snowboarder?
Though being a pro is generally–and correctly–perceived to be a game played by and for teenagers and young twentysomethings, quite a few team riders are aging out of that demographic. So, where are you supposed to go when your knees blow? When you’ve got a spouse and kids but you never want a "real" job?
Here are a few individuals who’ve been smart enough, lucky enough, or talented enough to remain–and even thrive–in the snowboarding industry after their days as a pro rider were over.
Don’t Call It Work
Seth Neary has been riding professionally for Nitro since 1991 and–with a pro model in shops this season–is still working in that capacity. But last summer, when the North American team needed help, Neary stepped in as team manager.
He organized riders to their appointed rounds, assisted video projects, and advised on product development and advertising. The man who Tommy Hilfiger paid to don his fashion at the U.S. Open, Neary has become a model pro rider who can work both sides of the big picture.
In fact, Neary thinks pro riders make the best liaisons between brands and pro riders. "Pros understand what other riders need–to be on the hill every day, going out pushing themselves. Becoming a rock star," he says. "You need someone who understands how teams work. You can’t have a regular job because you need to travel. I always try my hardest to get the riders doing what they want to, as long as they’re getting exposure and results."
Neary is taking courses at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont to hone his skills in design, management, and communications so he can be even more of a snowboarding asset.
But don’t call him just a team manager (unless he starts shooting more photos). In a business highly susceptible to rumor and reputation, the last thing Neary needs is to be labeled. "Becoming a team manger is seen as the washed-up way to go," he shrugs, "For me it’s not that way. For me it’s the way to continue working for what I think is the best company to work for." Neary says he plans to be at Nitro a long time, and he’s in a unique position for the consolidation age.
Working Nine To Five
There’s washed-up and the spin cycle, but Lisa Vinceguerra is claiming "Washed-up and proud!" On the first wave of successful female pros, Vinceguerra rode in the contest/photo circuit for five years for sponsors Sims and Checker Pig before becoming production coordinator at Twist in 19XX.
She was then hired as Nitro’s marketing manager in 19XX where a wide array of responsibilities–team managing, POP, advertising, photo shoots, and communications–prepared her for a plum role at Salomon.
The job she did there as snowboard marketing manager has her now assigned to brand marketing–which includes all of Salomon’s action sports/outdoor activities.
"I’ve definitely had some great opportunities in snowboarding that the sport brought to me," she laughs. "When I stopped riding as a pro it was with an opportunity that came concurrently. I wasn’t looking for a job in the industry. It was where my interest lies, so it always just rolled that way."
You could hardly imagine someone planning it better.
"In college (George Washington in D.C. and Oregon’s Portland State)," she says, "it was like ‘maybe I can tie this a job and snowboarding together’ and it happened."
While Vinceguerra appreciates her luck and timing, she is positive that for the right people, opportunity springs eternal. "As there’s less new industry, more people are vying for the same things," she says. "But there’s a lot you can get into based on your skills–sales, design–it depends on your personal strengths. You need drive and motivation and a certain willingness to adapt to a more conventional job. You get to go riding but it’s definitely less than a pro does. It’s more like any job."
Vinceguerra believes not having to talk snowboarding every day has rekindled her passion for it: "If you talk it all day and night, how driven are you to ride? That’s a personal thing. But not only has snowboarding been my hobby, passion, and job–it’s still what I like to do. You’ve got to stay in touch."
The Right Relationships
Sanders Nye grew up ski racing in Bend, Oregon, but it was primarily his pro tour racing on a single plank that brought him where he is today: product manager of hardgoods at Morrow Snowboards.
In high school in 1982 Nye was introduced to a snowboard on Mount Hood’s Palmer Glacier. The seduction was gradual, but soon Nye was riding more and skiing less. By the time he was in college at the University of Oregon he told friends at a party he was moving back to Bend to get sponsored.
He met Kris Jamieson there and rode with him and other early Northwest riders (like future boss Rob Morrow). Soon Nye won an amateur GS race at a small area called 49-Degrees North. During the race he smoked then-K2 pro Dan Donnelly who remarked, "We gotta sponsor that guy," and soon Nye’s party spray had turned into reality.
After four successful years all the races moved from the United States to Europe. Nye had the option of following, but he chose instead to finish school–this time at Oregon State.
After graduating in 1995, Nye wasn’t sure if he wanted to get back in the industry. "I wasn’t sure there would be enough opportunity," he recalls. Soon, however, he was surprised to be entertaining several attractive offers. He spent six months developing product for Silence, then jumped at the Morrow opportunity, where he’s been for the last three years.
"I knew snowboards could be at the level of skis and they weren’t," he says. "I learned a ton working with K2 ski and snowboard engineers on what works."
He advises anyone interested in job prospects beyond a pro career, "If you’re passionate about the sport and industry, make relationships within the industry. Start understanding how the market and its products work. Get involved with companies and further your education. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I realized you could apply the same business principles to snowboarding. It’s a great, great business."
Just Dumb Luck
"Just because I don’t get free money anymore doesn’t mean I’m not pro," grumbles new TransWorld SNOWboarding Assistant Editor Dave Sypniewski. There’s no reason not to believe him, thus far one of snowboarding’s only Hoosiers has made his own rules.
He left Indiana in 1990, he says, "Bored, with nothing to do, going nowhere in life."
He moved to Bend, Oregon on the recommendation of a friend. Immediately he met future pros Marcus Egge and Chris Owen (now Morrow’s team manager) and took up snowboarding every day. "As dumb luck would have it, I started getting free stuff," Sypniewski says. "From there it was more dumb luck, and some photos of me published by Ruben Sanchez in ’93 got the ball rolling. I started getting checks and I milked it doing as little as I could. I never wanted to be a superstar, but I’m almost as good as one."
Why interrupt? "So I coasted, snowboarded every day, and laughed the whole time," he continues. "By ’97, free money became a stressful job. The next year I was complaining to Matt Cummins another pro about the free money I should get for doing nothing. Matt said maybe I should get a sports agent or one of those lawyer guys. That’s when I started to question if it was worth it. Of course, that’s when my free money was being taken away."
When his new respectable job came around Super Dave renounced his sponsors to avoid conflict of interest. "I decided I wanted to grow up a bit, but that’s all just an excuse to cover up that I’m not as hungry as all these kids."
And to those hungry kids he offers, "There’s a time when you have to decide whether the free money is worth–how do I phrase this–the loss of respect. If it’s worth going against your principles.
"I never lived up to my potential, just like they said in grade school," Sypniewski frets, but you have to wonder why. After all, he’s as close to the dream as you get being awake. He says he’ll even do some events this year, "Because they don’t take the skills away along with the paychecks.
"Depending on what your goals are, live it up now ’cause you never know when your company will get bought out," he says. "Milk it while you can and if you’re trying to be a superstar, hope your knees hold out."
Behind The Camera
Dave Seoane grew up in touch with Lake Tahoe’s hardcore riding scene and the two are still close, although now there’s a movie camera between them.
After turning pro in 1989 he rode for four years with partner Steve Graham at Look and another four with Rossignol (Seoane’s collage of snowboarding friends on his pro model was well-recognized). But now any income he makes from snowboarding he hopes will be from his newly incorporated Cinemaseoane Inc.
After apprenticing at Fall Line Films (where he was responsible for new-school classics Roadkill, RPM, and 8-Tracks) Seoane set out on his own and filmed Subjekt Haakonsen for Volcom and My Way for Arnette.
Now the self-proclaimed film snob is shooting and producing another look at Norway’s Sprocking Cat called The Haakonsen Faktor.
His production schedule includes chasing Terje and friends around Europe, Austria, Tahoe, Jackson Hole, Japan, the U.S. Open, Alaska, Norway, and eventually home, "To get a new liver," he cracks.
Doesn’t sound far removed from the salad days of pro-dom, but for Seoane the transition from riding to field photography was a natural one.
"I had binoculars and saw the big iceberg ahead, so I got off the ship," Seoane says. "I loved it pro riding. It was fun. I was fine going down the hill, but I felt guilty doing nothing sitting on the chairlift."
With new success at FLF, Seoane took a two-month course at New York Film Academy to find his priorities had turned. But though he says he could never work for "some nine-to-five corporation," it was his luck he never had to.
Snowboard companies now come to him to sponsor a project. The people he films are his close friends–most of whom he’s been riding with for years. It’s his knowledge of their world and access to it that have made him as invaluable behind the camera as he once was in front of it.
Cinemaseoane might one day expand to commercials or even features, but the owner is in no hurry. "I love snowboarding," he says. "I’m not going to throw it away. I’d like to keep my foot in it."
But in doing so, he does caution his fellow snowboard riders: "Whatever you do, you’ve got to do it because you want to. Don’t take a job just to take money, that’s a waste of a life. Make sure you enjoy it. Even if it’s rock bottom ’cause there’s nowhere to go but up from there."