When you think of California homegrown, whatâ€™s the first image that comes to mind? Dark greens? Deep purples? Orange hairs relentlessly frescoed with the chrysalis of trichomes? Snowboards? Okay, maybe that last one doesnâ€™t come to everybodyâ€™s mind, but it should; because Tahoe-based Smokinâ€™ Snowboards has been doing it the Cali-way for over 14 years.Â Built from the ground up by founder and owner Jay Quintin, and rooted in his early growing days, the company is one of snowboardingâ€™s last true core groups. From the riders, to the laborers, to the highest point in the company, there isnâ€™t a person who doesnâ€™tÂ share in the values and principles of a small, homegrown business,Â practicing their beliefs in every board they make. Now, as they begin to experience growth, we get a glimpse into their history, their day-to-day operations, and the lifestyles led by their riders. So sit back, spark up, and enjoy the journey into the heart, brain and body of this snowboard company.
Iâ€™ve had the pleasure to photograph and meet with many of the Smokinâ€™ team riders and people in the company. Iâ€™ve always admired owner/founder Jay Quintin, because he refuses to let society keep him from speaking his mind. Heâ€™s very opinionated, and has some great stories to tell. For the first portion of this interview, I sat down with Jay, as well as Smokinâ€™ art director and former team rider Joe Fontaine, to see what they had to say about the daily life of a snowboard company.
Jay, you had what some would call a tragically short professional career. Can you tell me a bit about how you got started riding, and what finally put you into early retirement?
JAY: When I started out, I was one of the first riders at my resort, Jay Peak in Vermont. I just started racing, doing the New England Cup with a bunch of the first snowboarders. Itâ€™s a long story, but I started off with G-Man, (Shaun) Palmer and all of those guys, we pretty much made that New England crew. I got to do the first ad ever for Kemper, and from there on snowboarding pretty much enveloped my life. I ended up blowing my knees out about an hour after getting my first pro-model board trying to jump over the owner of Black Flys Optics; that was it for me.
Why did you guys go with the name â€˜Smokin?
JAY: Well the name of the company came from my nickname, â€œSmokinâ€™ Jay.â€ It came from an interview with International Snowboard Magazine. They had this photographer, Trevor Graves, I would always try to get him to smoke weed with me. In the interview they called me â€œSmokinâ€™ Jay,â€ and from then on everyone pretty much called me Smokinâ€™. It was pretty fitting since I smoke a lot of weed.
Tell me about the first snowboard you ever made.
JAY: The first board I ever made? We thought it was going to be really easy to make boards, and that first one definitely wasnâ€™t rideable, but we learned a lot from it. I made it in the basement of my house about two blocks from Kings Beach in Tahoe. We actually still have a little slice of it upstairs. It was completely de-laminated, unrideable, and I knew I still had a lot to learn.
How long had you grown for when you decided to start making boards?
JAY: I remember one season; I was hanging out with this â€˜fast moving crowdâ€™ of pro snowboarders and people in the music industry down in Southern California. I had to figure out a wayâ€“afterÂ blowing out my knees â€“to keep hanging out with the crew, so I started growing weed. While I was growing, I started shooting snowboarding pictures and getting them into magazines like Electric Ink, who I worked with for a while. When I started the brand I didnâ€™t have any investors or family to loan me money, so I just started it from the money I got by growing weed in my house. Itâ€™s funny to look back in retrospect and wonder what would be happening today if I had continued along those lines of growing weed. I love running my snowboard company more than I love growing weed, but growing weed is great too!
JOE: Why donâ€™t you tell them about when you made national news?
JAY: (laughs) Oh yeah, there was uhâ€¦Whatâ€™s that thing called…
JOE: What, CSPAN?
JAY: (more laughter) no, no, the Associated Press. I was on their story of the day because they were trying to link up snowboarding with marijuana back in the day. Snowboarding was really catching on and the national media had a field day with the fact that I was a professional snowboarder, with my boards on the shelves and pot endorsements all over them. And to top it off, I got busted for growing marijuana down in Orange County. But, you got to do what you got to do to get where you need to be.
What was the best strain you ever grew?
JAY: Oh man, â€œCalifornia Orangeâ€ was some really good stuff because each crop would be like a pound more than normal. It takes a couple weeks longer, but the Cali is good. And â€œPurple Urkleâ€ is great, everyone likes that. All the different kinds of Kush that are around nowadays are great too, but I like the Cali Orange because thatâ€™s the best kind to grow as far as making money goes, which back in the day is what I was trying to do. I would try to be a connoisseur too. Itâ€™s like a balancing bar when youâ€™re trying to pick out what strains to grow. You have to ask yourself, do you want to make a lot of money? Or do you want to grow something crazy and purple for your head thatâ€™s going to produce a quarter as much but be twice as good?
Why did you finally decide to pack the pipe away and clear out your lungs?
JAY: Well I got in trouble. Iâ€™ve been on probation in Tahoe for years. Itâ€™s all the man, you know? Iâ€™m still smokinâ€™ on the inside though.
Joe, youâ€™re currently a non-smoker as well. Did you ever puff?
JOE:Â Actually, I never really did, no. I tried it once or twice and it just wasnâ€™t really the thing for me. I grew up snowboarding, so all the kids around me were smoking pot. All of my buddies did it. I think Iâ€™m just too weird of a dude in the first place. I get pretty random thoughts as it is, and Iâ€™m pretty easily distracted. I feel if I was a smoker, Iâ€™d never get anything done.
How did you get involved with â€˜Smokin, and eventually become art director?
JOE: I actually got started at a shop back in New Hampshire called NH Snow & Skate. I was an employee there and they were a pretty small, core shop. They were actually one of the few shops that even carried Smokinâ€™ back in 2004. Jay came through one day doing his little sales pitch and I told him I was coming out to Tahoe for college in the fall. He, being the yes man of the snowboarding industry, was like, â€œoh yeah, sure, come on out and Iâ€™ll give you a job,â€ never thinking Iâ€™d actually call him. When I got out here, the first month I spent calling him, emailing him, and leaving him messages, just flooding his inbox. Finally, after over a month, he got back to me and said I could try working in the factory for a day. So I got to come in for a day, and then another day, and then the next weekend, it kind of became a weekend job in between college. After about a year and a half I started having some influence on the graphics, then later I took over, and here we are now.
You guys are pretty busy right now. What exactly goes in to getting your boards to go from piles of lumber at the hardware store toÂ solid shred-machines on the racks at the shops?
JAY: Well, when you squeeze it all down and make juice out of it, from what weâ€™ve calculated, itâ€™s about 3Â½ hours of manual labor per board. Weâ€™re trying to make it less and less, but then you have to buy lots of big expensive machines, weâ€™re just making do with what we have.
JOE: And like he said, the juice, when you squeeze it. When you actually look at the whole spectrum, thereâ€™s days for curing time, and the graphics take months to prepare, so itâ€™s really a long process.
Tell me, whatâ€™s so special about your new board lineup for 2010/2011?
JOE: Well, weâ€™ve got two new camber/rocker technologies, bringing the total to four. We run an â€œAnti-Rocker,â€ â€œClash Rocker,â€ â€œTraditional Camberâ€ and the â€œD.I.R.T. Rocker,â€ weâ€™re bringing back. Weâ€™ve got a new technology called â€œVD Fluâ€ which is â€œVariable Density Fiberglass lay-up.â€ Itâ€™s actually a new way of making the boards in the lay-up process that weâ€™re testing here in the factory. Itâ€™s made us 1.54 times stronger than any board weâ€™ve made in the pastâ€“so huge improvements there. It helps us back up that three year warranty we offer. Itâ€™s also our fifth year using â€œMagne-Tractionâ€ on our boards, so theyâ€™re all just coming out better than ever. Itâ€™s mostly just having this nice new factory with consistent temperatures, and a nice layout for what we need to do. It has really made our boards way more solid than theyâ€™ve been in the past.
Can you tell us something youâ€™ve got up your sleeve that nobody knows about yet?
JAY: I guess we can tell you one thing nobody knows. Weâ€™re going to be coming up on some big-name pro snowboarders next season. People youâ€™ve all heard of.
JOE: Yea, and the reason for that is, weâ€™ve been seeing all these companies in hard economic times cutting-back on their pros and not giving them what they deserve. We want to support snowboarding in any way we can, keeping the people that we look up to on their boards, doing rad stuff.
For the second segment of this interview, I drove over to the Truckee Horticulture Center, where they were more than happy to let me take over and turn their shop into a studio. I met up with Smokinâ€™ team riders Lane Knaack, Max Weinberger, and team manager Christiano â€œBinkyâ€ DiPasquale.
Binky, how did you come to be the Smokinâ€™ team manager?
BINKY:Â Well, I was running around Mammoth for four or five years and I met a lot of interesting people in interesting waysâ€“you could say I was a sort of â€œrecreational advisor.â€ I moved to Reno, met Smokinâ€™ Jay, our interests were kind of the same, and I knew a lot of cool people, so it worked out. This is my fourth year being team manager, building boardsâ€¦ sometimes crisis management.
Max, how long have you been riding for â€˜Smokin?
MAX: Just this past winter, actually, I started getting boards from Binky. Iâ€™ve known him forever; I lived out in Mammoth for a long time. I moved out there with all the Grenade dudes in 2000 and lived with Lane. I kind of stopped snowboarding around 2006, I was in Hollywood, and Binky was always trying to get me back into it. Then I decided to move up to Tahoe this winter. Binky just started making me boards, and he makes them good for me. Super-soft and made in the USA, so I can get what I want and thereâ€™s less of a carbon footprint since it doesnâ€™t come from China or something. People are always so worried about whoâ€™s the next up-and-coming young rider. I just turned thirty this year and basically had my best season riding, so itâ€™s pretty rad that he was willing to give me boards and hook me up.
Lane, you just got signed to Smokinâ€™ this year, how did you get that hookup?
LANE: Actually, when I moved up to Reno like four years ago, I used to go up to the factory with Binky and check it out. Jay has been giving me snowboards for years and years, but it seemed like every time he would give me a board something would come up where I could make money to support myself and my snowboarding habit. Finally, after biting the bullet last year and getting a real job, I was able to snowboard for fun and make my money elsewhere. I started riding for Jay and Binky last winter.
How long have you all been smoking?
BINKY: (very long pause with laughter) Sixteen yearsâ€¦ The beach corrupted me brah. I was nine years old and I went out with the â€œcool kidsâ€ to go smoke on the jetty out in Ventura, so ever since then.
MAX: Yeah, I donâ€™t know, like close to 20? As long as Iâ€™ve been snowboarding, basically. I started around the grunge period, like â€˜91 or â€˜92.
LANE: Since â€˜99
Do you or have you ever grown?
MAX: Yeah, actually, my mom used to take care of orchids when I was a kid. When I was in high school back in Massachusetts, instead of doing chemistry or physics for my science credit, I did the easy shit and I did greenhouse. I grew tomatoes and we learned how to clone tomatoes, cactus plants, spider plants, pretty much everything. My mom would actually go up there and get her flowers becauseÂ they grew the nicest ones in townâ€¦ I sort of grew up with a green thumb and it all carries over and helps out.
Soil or Hydro?
MAX: Hydroponics, for sure. I grew good hydroponic tomatoes back in high school and had a great experience with it, so I just continued on with that.
BINKY: Yea I put my first seed in the ground when I was thirteen. I grew up in San Fernando, the hotbed of Kush, and you could say â€œI had itâ€ at one point (laughter)â€¦The legendary OG was in my possession, and due to â€˜circumstances out of my controlâ€™ I managed to lose it. Sheâ€™s no longer with us (laughs). But I had it, and checking out some of the new â€™beansâ€™ weâ€™ve got, I think we got it. Weâ€™re working with like fourteen different strains, most of them Kush, keeping it Cali, always on the hunt for the Original.
Have you learned a lot working in a grow store?
MAX: Yeah, you know, and like I said, growing up with my mom around orchids and stuff I already knew quite a bit. But Iâ€™ve learned a bit from the customer experience. There are definitely people that come in who have been doing it for a really long time. There are so many people doing so many things you can kind of learn from their mistakes or successes.
BINKY: â€¦And in-turn help them with other people. Not everybody has the same problems or the same remedies, but you keep hearing everything in here, so you learn exactly what you need to do to get it right. Truckee Horticulture Center/Skate Park is a really cool environment. A lot of good heads hang out in here, and good information gets passed around. All the good people here at Truckee come in to hang out, skate, and ultimately get the best information and the best gear in town.
What are your favorite strains?
MAX: The real OG, San Fernando Valley Kush, even though everyone always claims to have it. The thing that is a definite that everyone can say is â€œoh, this is Sour Dieselâ€ and theyâ€™re usually on. Itâ€™s pretty similar to the SFOG, and Iâ€™m a diesel guy.
BINKY: The Holy Grail is either the SFOG Kush or the Government Issue G-13, and you canâ€™t find that. You can get some crosses of it and some bastardizations of it, and thatâ€™s the same thing with the OG. But until I find the holy grail of the SFOG, or the G-13, or some SFOG-13 hybrid – which I may or may not be in possession of now – itâ€™s a tough call.
MAX: Yea, Lane and I both drive diesel trucks, so anything named after the great Rudolph Diesel, Iâ€™m down with.
Besides acquiring some pretty big names, is there anything else you can tell us?
BINKY: Weâ€™re getting legitimate snowboarders, who want to ride legitimate snowboards, built by legitimate pro snowboarders.
LANE: Yeah, think â€œold famous people.â€
BINKY: Old famous people that have done more for the sport, than the companies that theyâ€™ve ridden for. And by doing that, weâ€™re keeping the legitimacy in snowboarding. We hired more people this year to build more boards; Tahoe-made and done right.