By Brad Steward:
By Brad Steward:
Through the mid 80’s, early 90’s, there were many things Tom Sims and I planned to do together. We had a list:
1. Build the first permanent half-pipe ever at a Ski Area, in Snow Summit, California.
2. Teach every skater in Japan to snowboard.
3. Get the Sims Skate brand away from Vision Streetwear, sign Hosoi.
4. Start a mountain bike company.
5. Make a snowboard photo album for that thing called the Internet.
6. Decide if we were Canon or Nikon guys. Fuji or Kodak film (he would do some testing and later tell me which way to go).
7. Open every ski area in the world to snowboarding.
8. Beat the Vermont guy who married the rich girl (his way of referring to Jake Burton, in the early days, before they (sort of) mended ways).
9. Create the world’s leading Surf, Skate and Snow business enterprise.
10. Start a magazine.
11. Get snowboarding on MTV.
12. Date playboy bunny Kim Herrin.
13. Make a snowboard for riding waves.
14. Make a bike for riding waves.
15. Teach Kevin Staab, Hosoi, Alva, Jerry Lopez and all the badass North Shore lifeguards to snowboard.
There were hundred’s of other things on the list, these are a few I remember.
Alongside the list, Tom had a set of rules:
1. Never, ever, ever, cover-up any part of the Sims Triangle logo. This was Holy.
2. Never talk to Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta or Stecyk about snowboarding, they might teach the Bones Brigade to ride and make Powell into the coolest snowboard company in the world, and erase Sims from snowboarding like they did in skate.
3. Make sure all the Bones Brigade guys have a free Sims board.
4. Never go snowboarding without a camera and loads of film.
5. Never shoot riders on anything other than Sims.
6. Never tell anyone at a ski company we are making money.
7. Never let Barfoot get bigger than Sims.
8. Never do anything to hurt Chuck Barfoot.
9. Never give up the back cover advertisement in any magazine.
10. Never let Palmer, Kidwell or Craig Kelly ride for anyone other than Sims.
11. Never buy coke for anyone on the team. Beer, Pot, Acid and Mushrooms are purchased at my own personal discretion and risk.
12. If you can’t be the best rider in the group, be the best-dressed.
13. Never forget to send every ski area owners kid a free snowboard.
14. Never directionally scrape wax off your board from tail to nose, always work from nose to tail.
15. Never remove your side fins when you have to ride on hard pack.
16. Never ride without style.
17. Always fold your high-back down in photos where you are holding your board next to a Burton guy (so you can show that Sims highbacks fold, and Burton’s don’t – a product difference now long erased).
18. Never wear a backpack. Fanny packs are cooler and show the Sims logo better.
19. Never wear ski clothes. Wear a wetsuit or something bright that you bought in Europe, preferably at the Jet Set store in downtown St Moritz.
20. Always ride gear that no one else can get, and ride in places no one else can go. Make sure you get a photo of you doing it.
21. Always shoot Terry Kidwell doing skate tricks, never show him cruising around or turning.
22. Always go to the Nastar slalom course when you get on at a ski area, make sure you post one of the fastest times on the course. Make sure you sideslip the course beforehand, to clean the ruts and prevent you from wrecking. If you wreck in the course, all of snowboarding’s image suffers.
23. Always remember that snowboarding is just skateboarding on snow.
24. Never go to work for Burton.
25. Never marry someone that isn’t blonde.
26. Don’t drink too much, never smoke and never take pills unless you absolutely need to.
27. Never talk about the list.
This list too, could go on for many pages, on all topics of life. None of it was ever written down or consciously accounted for, it was simply what we knew together and talked about each time we were together. It was the knowledge he dropped.
I worked and rode for/with Tom, in one form or the other, from the ages of 15-23. I was a blank slate of a kid, living on the edge of an Indian reservation with a small town half-pipe ramp in my buddy John’s backyard and a 2 chair ski resort 30 minutes from my front door. Skateboarding, Snowboarding and the few heroes who did it were everything to me. While under the tutelage of Tom I kept his rules for the most part. He, as the originator of the lists, kept the rules sacred – I never saw him violate them once. He looked sharp, rode fast and strong—always made sure we ‘got the shot’.
As for the ‘to-do’ list, some we got around to, some we didn’t – but everyday at work, or on the mountain, there would be lengthy one-way discussions, goal setting, flights of imagination, laughing, ego, hyperbole and bluster. That was Tom. He lived to create the list, and counted on me to note down and deliver on every idea we/he could think of.
The only listed topic he ever remained silent on was Playmate Kim Herrin, who I learned later; he had somehow scored a date with.
After a few years with Tom, I became an adult and gained a deeper appreciation for the manic, caring, inspiring, informative, insane and interesting person he was. As more layers of my youth wore off I also came to learn how different from Tom I was – and how important it was to do my own thing, in my own way.
He did funny and fantastic things when he could see I was growing up. He once paid me for 9 months “not to start a snowboard company” – and required me to do no real work for the money. On a different occasion he took me to a bar in Zurich, Switzerland and demanded that I get drunk with him. Halfway through the drinks he asked me to dare him to play James Brown “I Feel Good” on the Bar’s jukebox until we got kicked out. Nine song plays in a row we were thrown out into the street (I have vague memory of him taking a swing at the barkeep as we lay on the sidewalk laughing). He laughed for days over this event. We also later met up with Lopez, Derek and Tom’s close friend Terry – and took the whole legendary surf crew out riding. As one item on the list reduced, he immediately would replace it with a new item to do.
What I remember most of this time however was the coming of age experience and slow realization that Tom was capable of fear and anger, like anyone would be.
He was mad his business skills were beginning to fail him. Mad that Burton had taken control of the sport, the history and dialog around snowboarding (he rarely acknowledged the work and dedication of anyone at Burton). Mad that Craig Kelly’s contract (signed in haste at the bus station in Albany, New York) hadn’t held up when Burton came calling. Mad that all of his partners, in every facet of his business, always screwed him in the end. Mad at Vision Streetwear. Mad he couldn’t ride longer and live lighter. Mad at being mad at all of this. Yet somehow, he always kept it light. Whatever feeling he had always flashed, verbalized itself and was gone.
In the early 90’s, when I told Tom I was moving on to start Morrow Snowboards (not the shadow of the
Morrow brand you see today) with Rob Morrow, Todd Richards and Noah Brandon, I expected mad. A true contrarian, he congratulated me and asked me to give him part of the company, if I could. When I started Bonfire, he again congratulated me, asked me for a Fireman Jacket and part of the company, if I could. I gave him a Jacket, and an option to buy the company 5 years later—not because I knew he really wanted it. I did it because I knew his pride would permit him to wear the coat or buy the company, and in some way I wanted to challenge him to move forward. I did it because I respected him, loved working with him and had grown up with his strange and fortunate influence in my life and work. Mainly, I did it because I was no longer a kid living by his impromptu mental list. We never worked together after that.
We moved through the later years of our relationship like many old friends do. Hooking up for the occasional run at industry events. Talking on the phone every now and then, I sent him a note after one of his Facebook rants—told him to mellow out and realize his legacy was sealed, strong and real. He didn’t need to say more about his work. We laughed about snowboard stories old and new—conducted a few secret meet-ups at trade shows, where he would master the ability to speak both deeply and cautiously about his business and personal challenges. We talked when Craig was killed in an avalanche. We talked about divorce, and then remarriage. Mostly in these talks, I listened, took notes and respectfully added to the mental list as the conversation went along—my way of acknowledging what a tremendous influence and friend Tom was to me. I assume that somewhere we each secretly knew too, there were parts of the list we had each never given up on.
My final memory of my life with Tom Sims is also my first memory of meeting Tom Sims. I called him one day when I was 14 years old, and asked him to tell me why his snowboards were so expensive. He ran me through all the technology; Rocker base, Solid Maple Plies, Steel Fins, Channeled tail, 3 inch Velcro ankle closures on the binding heel cup, 2 inch on the toe, “Same material Tracker Trucks builds their truck lappers out of, so you know my bindings are beefy”. I was sold, but explained to him I was currently riding on free Burton gear that Jake had supplied me with a season or two earlier. Tom said he would change that, and followed through a few weeks with a personal visit to my house some 600 miles drive from his home. I’m convinced he drove all that way after I told him Jake had recently visited and rode with my friends and me.
The contrast of their visits and the impressions remaining are indelible in my mind. When Jake arrived, he was in a road-grit covered mini-truck with a cheap camper slapped on top. He slept in the back while traveling. As a west-coast born and bred kid, my initial impression at 15 years old was that he was a Hippy hold-over from Vermont. I thought he was cool, and very well educated. Everything he had was Navy blue.
A year or so later, Tom Sims arrived, in a brand new gold BMW with wide, custom wheels, spoiler on the back and a gorgeous blond girlfriend in the passenger seat. Both Tom and his girl smelled like coconuts and the ocean breeze, rolling up to Flagstaff, Arizona. I breathe it all in. Tom’s car was filled with boards, drills, cassette tapes, camera gear, duct tape rolls, boot liners and everything else he could fit in the backseat. It was total chaos and I was immediately attracted. We met at his hotel, the nicest hotel in town, where his girlfriend pranced shyly around in a bikini bottom and sweatshirt (fresh out of the pool I presumed) while he preached the gospel of Sims and ran me through all his gear, each one of his boards, experiments and views on riding. I remember sliding a case of duct tape aside to view a nose shape from what he called ‘The proper distance to see the whole shape’. He made me move boxes, dig for screws and hold things while he drilled innumerable holes in decks, searching for the perfect stance. I was dizzy with the feint smell of wax, waves, wetsuits, women and willful indulgence. The entire conversation was passionate, quick, opinionated, filthy dirty and filled with eye contact and energy like no other adult had ever spoken to me. I was a child who had inadvertently stepped on the burning bush of snowboarding, and I liked the burn.
At the end of it all I thought, “Go! Go to snowboarding with everything you have in your heart…and I did”.
By virtue of these single and separate visits by Jake and Tom, I have come to believe I had a front row seat to the invisible ‘Matrix-like’ consumer and corporate context of snowboarding today, a context (I will add) that most never know exists—even as they work tradeshows and industry ladders. Tom Sims created the ‘Who’ a snowboarder was. And on the other side, Jake Burton created ‘what snowboarding will become’ and ‘how we will do it’. Both of their efforts, alongside many of us from the second wave, grew a sport.
This dynamic lives on today. When you get a board online, or at a retailer, then go to a resort and buy a lift ticket with no hassle or problems, thank Jake Burton. When you see a teaser of Jed Anderson sliding a massive handrail with bloody board graphics that feature his middle finger and a ‘Cheese Dick’s’ sticker, thank Tom Sims. When you see Danny and Dingo, thank Tom Sims. When you see the Sex Pistols, Black Flag and Minor Threat on your riding play list, thank Tom Sims. When you see riders with the freedom to design their own board graphics and image, thank Tom Sims. This is the consumer context, the rider archetypes set into place before an industry or business existed; one archetypal rider which is informed by nature and instinct—loose, fast, fun and untamable in all forms. The second archetype, an anti-form of the first; purposeful, intentional with a personal architecture whose only outcome is successful execution of the plan; Tom and Jake. Terry and Kelly. Palmer and Terje. Danny and Shawn. The archetype, by the way, knows no gender boundaries, Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn, Laura Hadar and Kelly Clark. It spins on ad-infinitum and snowboarding is always more interesting when it does so. It may also be the reason that Hybrid versions of snowboarding never hold the same imaging power as the pure archetype which is invested in the DNA of the sport by Tom and Jake – boardercross anyone? Moguls? Slalom and hard boots? We are children of a sport with an invisible purity seething out of every seam. Black. White. Cane, Abel, Goofy, Regular.
While the Sims brand has primarily failed in the core market today, in the 80’s they exposed the Achilles of Burton that brands like Bonfire, Capita, Airblaster, Ride, Rome, Lib, Union have all exploited over the last 20 years to define a point of difference in the business. As for Burton, for the last 20 years they have mastered indoctrination over incubation, leaving the latter to the ‘cool companies’ to serve up for their swooping while they use their expertise and passion to bring it to market. Neither part of this dynamic is wrong, or better or worse than the other. The point is that Tom Sims saw this structure, and knew these archetypes would drive the sport and everything around it, well before anyone in the second or third waves of snowboarding would ever puzzle this out. If there were a network of X’s and O’s behind the curtain of what was developing, Sims was Neo – and saw the horror, hope and hype of all of it.
For this reason I will never believe Tom Sims invented snowboarding, I will always believe that he invented the Snowboarder.
Tom Sims was a true Pioneer.
I have been called a snowboard Pioneer too, for many years now. Have even referred to myself as such, on speaking oc
casions, press releases, articles and imagery. It always makes me uncomfortable, living under a label. It is fundamentally against what Tom taught me. I have also seen many other people in the industry under the banner of ‘Snowboard Pioneer’, claiming a particular date they started a brand or began riding. Today, on Tom’s passing, I posit this is all bullshit. I’m no Pioneer. No other leader of any other snowboard company around today is a Pioneer, because we should honor the people who achieve this standard by defining Pioneer in precisely the meaning it was given in the days of the old west.
A Pioneer is someone who rides in rough off the plains and out of the wilderness; uninvited, dirty, disgusted and dying to get cleaned up—thirsty for the affections of anyone who will sit down and listen to the improbable tale of how that Pioneer came to be in front of them on that particular day. A Pioneer is someone who comes in hot – defies convention and corporate models. A Pioneer is to be approached with trepidation and some distance, until we hear them speak the will of their intent. A Pioneer is disruptive, disappears and moves on when you need them the most; they will not be lassoed into a tradeshow meeting, contract or business plan. A Pioneer will not settle in and mend the fences or build neighborly relationships with other Pioneers; because they’re dying to get outside and get to the shit they ‘gotta get done’ before they get to the next town, the next venture, the next idea on the list.
This is a Pioneer. Tom Sims was a Pioneer.
The rest of us ‘so called’ Pioneers?
We are like the land developers in the days just after the first slimy, glittering rock of gold was panned out of the murky dirt by that poor soul of a Pioneer who searched so hard and deep for something shiny to prove his worth. We are the ones with clean hands, tradeshow teeth and technology, who have happened upon that Pioneers’ clawed out hole in the river. We are the second wave, who put in resorts, retailers, magazines, websites, teams, terrain parks, teasers, podiums and profit.
We are too clean and too calculated to be true Pioneers.
As we of the second, and many other waves of snowboarding to occur since, look down at that unnamed shiny thing in the dusty desert that was the world before snowboarding, I say we all pause today and put a name to that first Pioneer, that first burst of energy that made us think, “There might be something to do here, something to grow here”.
The name of that Pioneer is Tom Sims.
I can see Tom Sims standing in the middle of that open area of the afterlife now. Feet pressed into the ground, so at to leave a mark for us in the twilight of life. His neck and body are bent down, looking into a small trickle of water, hardly enough water to require more than one step to pass over. He reaches into his pocket to grab an old piece of paper and a pen. He scribbles a note of what will become the new list, before looking up into the blown out hot sun (shoot email@example.com and close down two-stop, shoot Fujichrome 50 for better blue skies; he would say in analyzing the filmed image of these words). He places the paper back in his pocket and crosses the stream alone.