When it comes to interviewing companies we try to pick brands we actually believe in or know the people that work there. I’ve known Jeff Lavin the owner of Wi-Me Snowboards since before he created this brand. He’s part redneck, part mad scientist, definitely a Hollywood stuntman, and a snowboarder. So now that he’s become a business owner and started a snowboard company here in the U.S. what does he have to say about this endeavor?
Angry Snowboarder: Wi-Me why now?
Jeff Lavin: Wi-Me, why not! There’s no better time than now. Wi-Me was started to give our voice and soul back to snowboarding and to reinvest back in American manufacturing. Snowboards built by snowboarders with jobs. Snowboarding owes us nothing, we owe it everything! Had I gone the normal college 9 to 5 path I would have never seen amazing places or met such awesome people. A long time ago JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for you country”. Seeing jobs out sourced to various places oversees and the downturn of American manufacturing in the past decade has hurt us tremendously. Core snowboarding companies getting bought out and shutdown or made into low quality brands with product made in China. Eventually you get to the point where you have Joe CEO telling you to do a whirly-twirly thing in the halftube or hit that big jump. These companies don’t care about our sport or athletes, only just pure profits. I bet Joe CEO has never even been on snow and has a lunch tee time everyday at the country club! What do these guys know about our sport? We could argue all day about where snowboarding came from. However we all know it didn’t come from basketball, baseball, football, or golf!
I look back when I started snowboarding in 93/94. When everyone hated us and what we stood for. Before it was an Olympic venue or acknowledged as a sport. I was stoked to see another rider to take a few laps or shred the park with. Heck some places wouldn’t let us ride anywhere besides the park. Everything comes full circle and what’s not cool will become cool again. Wi-Me was established on a foundation of those roots.
AS: When it came to choosing your factory for production you obviously wanted to keep jobs in America and there are a handful of manufacturers here, but why did you go with Prospect out of Wisconsin?
JL: It made sense to go with Prospect out of Wisconsin. We were both getting started around the same time. With other manufacturers typically they are set in their ways with their materials and process. With Prospect I get to add input along with putting time in with production and the process. We developed the 154.5 cm shape used on the Shredneck and tested out polyurethane/polyethylene sidewall material.
Being born in Wisconsin it also makes sense. The Midwest doesn’t have enough companies or brands that represent here. Yet so many good riders come from here. I speak from experience that people take pride in what they do around here, just like Hank Hill sells propane and propane accessories on King of the Hill. It completely makes sense to give back to an area that’s sustained job losses.
AS: What does American made board construction mean to you as a brand and why should consumers be aware that you are building here in the states?
JL: American made means everything to us. We’re people who remember our roots, get on the hill as much as possible, and take pride in our work. For every snowboard sold we’re that much closer to creating more jobs.
AS: As a rider yourself how important is it that snowboarding have more companies run by riders?
JL: Rider owned is everything in the big picture. We care about our staff, keeping them happy, and stoked to be involved. Not to mention we understand go-ride breaks. Big corporations care mostly about the profits. No one is in the business of losing money. However, corporations play the economic downturn to their full advantage by fear mongering staff. Everyone is disposable for cheaper labor or dumping the veteran pro for the next Shaun White prodigy. You don’t see skateboarding pushing out Steve Caballero or surfing telling Laird Hamilton to take a hike. Even materials and quality take a hit. I remember foam cores on snowboards. Epic fail! You don’t buy your meat from a vegetarian butcher. I won’t buy snowboards that come from someone who never rode! That’s not how we do business!
AS: It seems a lot of companies are really pushing three rehashed marketing ploys these days; By riders for riders, putting the fun back in snowboarding, and made in America by snowboarders. Do you have anything else that differentiates you from the typical upstarts that have been popping up over the last few years? Also if they’re putting the fun back into snowboarding where did it go?
JL: It’s great to see made in America labels. The big question is who’s making it, are they snowboarders are they legally employable? By Riders for riders, to putting the fun back are pretty vague. We stand for quality, innovation, voice, equality, community, and safety or as we call it riders united. Anyone that puts on a snowboard is a rider, from the core everyday rider to that guy or girl just getting their turns down on day 2. Fun is just a perspective or point of view if snowboarding wasn’t fun then no one would want to do it. It wouldn’t be televised, an Olympic venue and there wouldn’t be movie premieres every fall. I think what “putting the fun back in” refers to is moving away from the pipe jock or competition jock mentality. As a guy that used to compete in the Grand Prix or Dew Tour stuff that’s just as fun. Training day in and day out, to filming video parts. Exploring the backcountry and big mountain shredding is also a ton fun. Bottom line, I’m going to go test ride a Nomad that we have made with Bamboo sidewalls at Tyrol Basin on 400 vertical feet. I suppose I’ll find away to have fun, whether it’s bonking, jibbing, jumping, or attempting the worlds smallest rodeos. Snowboarding is fun and it always will be. The fun never went anywhere and it will always be around as long as people are strapping in.
As a brand that gives you a voice. Park edicate is an issue that I still see at major resorts. They have the yellow coats out there making sure people are in control and riding at a reasonable speed on certain runs when it’s busy. However there’s no one watching the large feature parks. All too often I see that guy on his rental skis standing on a landing or attempting to hit a 60 footer (3:30 park crowd). As a rider who lost my season, ACL, and income due someone who was on my landing it’s a personal issue as well. Allowing people to go in the large park is like allowing people to run on the Broncos field in the middle of practice. It’s unsafe, and completely lacking equality. The pro rider, aspiring pro, or the local is just as important to a ski town economy as the week long guest. We’ve had enough interest amongst our followers that we’re willing to contact the safety coordinators of major resorts and sit down with them. Also I’ve seen a ton of new backcountry users. Typically they’re going out with out equipment or education. We can help educate them with information on our site to video demonstrations on how to perform stability tests, etc. Through out the season we invite riders to interact with us through our site or our Facebook. We are the voice and stand with all riders!
AS: With having your hand in the design and construction process of your boards has this allowed you to work on new technologies as well as tweak existing ones to better your product?
JL: Since the beginning I’ve immersed myself in the production process. I’m a firm believer on how you do everything is how you do anything. I have industrial experience outside of the snowboarding world, from CNC, logging, welding, CIPP lining, pipe bursting, and paper manufacturing. All which apply in some form or another. Last year we tested polyurethane sidewalls, since then we’ve used them on our boards. Now we’re incorporating polyethylene. Both give the boards an amazing response, it takes a little bit longer to finish them but well worth it. Recently Wi-Me pressed a board with Bamboo sidewalls. We’re testing out some hybrid cambers, and improved shapes. My favorite is the 154.5cm. There’s always room to raise the bar on production quality and innovation.
AS: Since you’re immersed in the production process so deeply have you noticed anything since you started this endeavor that you needed to fix or tweak?
JL: There a so many processes to full production of making boards. About 40 or so. I’m still a bit itchy from cutting fiberglass today. We’ve had some successes and some epic fails with boards. To be a brand and not partake in the adventure of getting into the process, well it’s just cheating yourself. We tried ABS sidewalls, they didn’t last that long. Lets just say there were some bonding issues, live and learn. Through trial and error they were fixed early on. We subbed it with polyurethane and UHWM. Towards March/May I rode the 153 with blown out sidewalls to see if the core would give out or snap. Even purposely rode it on cement and rocks to test the quality of the sintered 7500 base. It was great and like trashing a rental car at that point. Today it’s still in one piece.
Last summer I started pulling apart boards that I broke and studying them and the materials. Sublimation graphics will be done in house and that will be one less bottle neck. We’ve upgraded our use of carbon fiber to the amount of pressure and time in the press. Things have improved 10 fold but the bar will always be raised that much higher. There’s always something to tweak and improve on in the manufacturing process.
AS: What are your thoughts on all the various forms of camber, anti-camber, reverse camber, rocker, etc. etc. out there on the market right now?
JL: There are so many different types of cambers today. Some companies focus just on reverse, and rockers. It’s a shame because camber is still so much fun. Wi-Me focuses on cambered boards. We do offer a cam rock in the LoveFear. Some will say you can’t reinvent the wheel, however we strive to refine it.
AS: In the current state of snowboarding as a manufacturer what do you see as some of the biggest problems plaguing you and how could they potentially be rectified?
JL: As a manufacturer it’s about upping that bar time and time again for quality control. Tolerances have to be tighter and tighter to the point of perfection on every run. No matter what there’s always room to raise the bar. Everyone is trying to save a buck by cutting on materials or cranking out product faster. The fight of this generation is bringing jobs back to the US while remaining competitive amongst the world.
AS: This year was a bit of a soft launch for you, how has the reception been at demo’s and with shops?
JL: So far thumbs up amongst those who’ve demoed them. Some people want to buy them right then and there. Man that’s a good feeling. Seeing a board you created and someone with a smile on their face. Shops are getting in touch about demoing boards and they’re stoked. Wi-Me is something new, we’re the guys that said F-it lets start a revolution. Everyone is drawn back by the easy up tent. They’re like whoa who are the Cabella’s and Bass Pro guys! That’s just our style we’re those guys that like to hunt, fish, shred, throw gasoline on fires, whip donuts in the truck in parking lots, and grill out brats at demos like its a tailgate party.
AS: Going into SIA and the corporate buying season how can potential retailers reach you? Will you have a booth at SIA in Denver?
JL: We’re at the Midwest, Eastern, and Western demos this year. The focus was on the regional shows. We’re currently on the SIA waiting list, but we’re sponsoring the Pennywise show for buyers. We’ll be at the SIA on snow demo right after the show so retailers will have the opportunity to test our boards.
AS: What would you say to anyone considering to buy a Wi-Me after reading this interview?
JL: I’d say to anyone looking to buy a Wi-Me board, we’re the new guys on the block. We love to hear from riders whether it’s via email or the Facebook page, hit us up, ask about our boards, talk about epic shred spots, or just to shoot the breeze. A brand is a promise, and we stand to by it. We know and live the lifestyle, while not forgetting our roots. The shrednecks are coming in full effect in 2013!