Before the Internet. Before the X Games. Before snowboarding was firmly wedged in the mainstream consciousness between rollerblading and football, a bunch of rogues in California were doing it and wondering when every one else would catch on. Damian Sanders was one of those rogues, a kid who managed to shape his own image, and got to go on the ride of his life. 20-plus years later, he’s still living the life in So Cal (albeit a bit more subdued) and has nothing but fond memories of those good old days.
In the early ’80s, it was phenomenal just to see another snowboard, and you couldn’t believe somebody else did the sport that you were doing. And now it’s just – it’s as normal as skiing, as normal as football, it’s just nuts. I never would have dreamed that 25 years ago or 30 years ago when we started.
Brooke: You were kinda the poster boy for that rockstar snowboarder image and there’s all these stories about you partying with like the Sex Pistols and you married a Penthouse Pet – was that what being a pro snowboarder was at the time?
Damian: No, we were making it up as we went along I would say. I was young. I turned pro when I was about 14. There was no such things as a pro back then — you were either really good or just starting, and so, I was one of the better guys because I kind of got into it before anybody else. So I guess to be considered pro was just being sponsored by anybody. In my case my brother was giving me these snowboards, so I was a pro snowboarder because I was sponsored. And then I got hooked up with some other companies like Ocean Pacific and Vaurnet and that’s when it really got serious.
We started getting paid to tour the world and do competitions and get into the magazines. This was all in the early to mid 80’s, then when it really got hot was like around ’87 to ’90. Those were really the fun years when snowboarding started to get big. The world started catching on to this new crazy sport and I was kind of the rockstar of it cause I was always wanting to be, you know… the band member kind of look. And all my heroes were like David Bowie type guys, so that was kind of what I modeled myself after.
I wanted to move to California. Not California, but Southern California, and live in LA and that whole deal. So I met my wife Brandy when I was down here in Southern California, my wife at the time. I’ve since been remarried, but we lasted for about four years. and that was in the prime of my snowboarding. So that was like 1988-92, the wild years for snowboarding, for me anyway. I had probably like a 12 year run, but those were the craziest years.
That was really the most fun. Around ’92 was when I blew out my knee and that kind of changed everything for me, I have that typical athlete story where once you get hurt really bad it kind of ruins your career and I did get my knee fixed and it blew out again the first time I went back snowboarding after 7 months of rehab and that just basically was the end of it so I just started partying like a rockstar. And that was when the parties came to, that you’re mentioning.
Brooke: Yeah, yeah. Is Club Rubber still a thing?
Damian: Well the house parties were legendary at the time. I lived in Huntington Beach, California and at the time that was where everybody seemed to live. It was all those pro motorcrossers, skateboarders, snowboarders, everybody was in the Huntington Beach area, Newport Beach… Huntington Beach over to Riverside that was where all the motorcrossers lived and that was 15-20 minutes away so it was so much fun to be part of the scene back then. It was the hub of all these creative people who were doing all these crazy new things and making snowboard movies and making the Crusty Demons of Dirt motorcross movies and then Club Rubber was born at that exact time so it was full of all these superstar athletes – or action sports athletes – and so the house parties were legendary but they got way too big for the house. I had a huge house at the time that it would be packed with 200 people and it was out of control so I got approached by a nightclub to do a club. I did a small club and it was a success, but then we realized we kinda had something, so we went way bigger and went to this concert venue, which didn’t even host clubs at all. My partner at the time talked them into letting us throw a Club Rubber there – he had the name for club rubber and we just kinda laughed about it, and thought that’d be great, and the first night in 1996? Maybe 1995? The first Club Rubber had 1500 people and we never dropped below 1500 people for almost 10 years. That was phenomenal and that got bigger and bigger. It got too big for the club in California so we went to Las Vegas to throw a huge event at the arenas like the Mandalay Bay and the Orleans, the Venetian, all their giant arenas. We were selling out 10,000 person arenas with our pimps and hoes parties which were just out of control. I mean it was 10,000 people dressed like pimps and hoes and it was the most fun party in the world, and yea it was insane. So we did that for years and years until it’s finally faded away… that kinda brings me to where I am now. I’ve got two different companies now.
Brooke: Yeah so you’re still doing party promotion, planning?
Damian: What I do is more the production. I work with the big casinos in Las Vegas. Some of the biggest casinos, they all have clubs in there now that’s their big revenue and so they all kind of – I sort of sold out while I could and while they were buying in and so that worked out really well. So I started a company called Monster Stage and started doing the props and décor for all these other parties, and that has been what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. And then recently I invented the X Bar, which has been my full-time, I would call it second job and project, and it’s going really good.
Brooke: I saw you got funded on Kickstarter?
Damian: Yeah, that was quite a cool experience. I invented the product when I was working at Monster Stage Warehouse. We were setting up for a party, and I had this shower bar that I was doing pushups with, and just knew that there was something more to it. I hooked these elastic bands to the shower bar and did some curls, and I couldn’t believe that it actually was going to work. My mind went crazy. I could make this swivel in, I could do push ups, I could do all these different things, and so for about a year I was down in there every single day working on this project. I came up with probably 30 or 40 different prototypes, then partnered up with a friend of mine who’d already made products in China, and the rest was history. We came out with this insane product. We did the Kickstarter campaign and raised way more than we thought we were gonna raise – that was such a cool experience – it basically did exactly what it’s supposed to, it kickstarted the company, and so we asked for $50,000 and we ended up making $170,000. That all was in our account a month later and we had money to start the company and make our first run of X Bars. I think we made 1500 on the first run? We sold 1,000 on Kickstarter so we supplied all the orders. Kickstarter is notorious for being very late – people always over-promise and then they under deliver, and we were right on time, which was almost unheard of in the Kickstarter community, so that was really cool.
Damian: We got a lot of good hype for that. Now I work on the X Bar all the time and do Monster Stage for a living.
Brooke: It sounds like you have little to no time for snowboarding.
Damian: Snowboarding, yeah. I still love to go, but my knee is still messed up. It’s been years and years and I keep getting surgeries, cortisone shots, and nothing is like it used to be. I gotta say it sucks going from being really good at something to just sucking over night and that’s exactly what happened. I was really pretty good and then the next day I sucked because my knee. I was so powerful of a rider when I was totally intact, and then that happened. I spent 7 months in rehab and then blew it out again the first day I went riding, which is the biggest nightmare for an athlete. So then I went and got it fixed again and they diid all the orthroscopic this time because it wasn’t as bad as the first time. Then every time I’d enter a contest or go off a large jump my knee would pop out, and it would be stuck in this popped out position — I’d have to have my friends yanking on my knee on the ski slope. I look back and it was funny but at the time it was just horrible. My friends would be like yanking on my knee and it would pop back in and then I could ride until the next jump and then it would pop out again. It just became such a hassle that I was like fuck it I just wanna party for a living.
And then people would say things like “Oh I hear he’s throwing parties in California and doing really well.” But they had no idea they were the biggest parties in America. It was pretty funny.
Brooke: That makes sense. Would you ever consider taking a job back in the snowboard industry? Be a team manager?
Damian: I don’t know, I don’t know what I’d do in the industry now, I’ve got my own thing going. I’ve been around the industry, and once in a while I’ll get calls for little things, but not much. I see that a lot of the old pro snowboarders are now doing commentary or repping for brands. In the industry it seems like I did just disappear, and it’s almost like a “Where are They Now?” rockstar thing. The industry didn’t know where I went. All of a sudden I just started throwing parties in Southern California. Everybody in my circle knew it was a popular party, but as soon as you got out of that, nobody knew what the hell I was doing. I just disappeared off the face of the earth. And then people would say things like “Oh I hear he’s throwing parties in California and doing really well.” But they had no idea they were the biggest parties in America. It was pretty funny.
Brooke: Totally. I would love to hear about what it was like filming back then – you’re in Critical Condition, which is 25 years old, what was the process of filming those videos like?
Damian: Well, we were living in Tahoe at the time. I lived in Tahoe through my high school years, and that was when a lot of pros lived in that little area of South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe. It was almost like living in Huntington Beach with all the motorcrossers and skateboarders where Tahoe was the mecca [for snowboarding], the place to be basically. Fall Line Films was created there. The first one was the Western Front and then Snowboarder’s In Exile and then Critical Condition, those were the three that I was mainly involved with. What was so cool was that all of a sudden I didn’t have to worry about competitions anymore, because all my sponsors cared about was that I was in magazines and movies and selling product. So those movies made me a superstar overnight, and when Snowboarders In Exile came out my life changed because everybody saw it. It was the first of it’s kind, the first anybody cared about, and it broke the mold for movies. It was just phenomenal in the industry. I remember when it actually previewed at the action sports trade show in San Diego. Everybody was there. It was the whole industry. They had rented out a giant ballroom that held like 500 people and they premiered the movie there. It was just incredible. I mean having 500 people that were so excited to see it – actually probably more than that – and the first of it’s kind, it blew up like unbelievably. The next day after that movie my life had changed and I was all of a sudden some superstar rockstar snowboarder, from almost being unknown the day before.
Brooke: How long would you guys film for one of those projects?
Damian: Usually it was the entire winter, so we would go out there, and we weren’t getting paid or anything, this was just – snowboarding was so young and we weren’t even thinking about the money we were thinking about how could we make a cooler hit or a cooler jump and who could do a better trick. It was all about that and so we would film in Tahoe or wherever Jerry (FLF) wanted to go. I think Bachelor was one of our big ones. We only travelled the world whenever they decided they wanted to, or had a place to go. When we were on those trips our sponsors usually paid for that to happen. I think in all I got paid about $400 off that movie, probably got paid a quarter a copy at the time. We didn’t care about getting paid at the time it was all about showing off for Fault Line Films movies. And it was perfect at the time. A lot of it was filming in Tahoe, just going into the backcountry and finding big jumps. They definitely do that nowadays but that was what it was all about back then. We’d just take our shovels out there and set up a giant hit. Those guys would bring their cameras and we would shoot all day, get three or four good shots and that was it.
Brooke: Now there’s like people who focus on videos, people who focus on contests. Nothing’s really changed.
Damian: I would consider myself like the Travis Rice – Travis Rice doesn’t even compete I don’t think, or a lot of those guys don’t even compete they just film these incredible movies on, you know, Red Bull budgets. Back then we were just hiking up the mountain with our shovels and now they have snowcats and helicopters for everything they do.
Brooke: Some people.
Damian: It’s a different time, but we had so much fun. All the pros were in there, the old school pros like Steve Graham, Dana Nicholson, and Don Zabo and we were all just building hits and having a blast.
Brooke: Are you still in touch with any of those people?
Damian: Yeah, I still talk to Steve Graham, Dana Nicholson, Don Zabo, mainly through Facebook. Facebook kinda reached into all of our friendships because it was impossible to keep in touch with that many people without it, and then all of the sudden when Facebook became a hit, all of the sudden I was back in touch with everyone I used to ride with, which was a ton of fun. It was just kind of cool to rekindle all those friendships and all those stories of the good old days.
Brooke: What about being married to a Penthouse Pet?
Damian: Well, back in the ’80’s like when I met Brandy at a nightclub in Southern California, she wasn’t a penthouse pet at the time. It’s kind of a funny story, she was gorgeous but about twenty pounds overweight. I got her on a snowboard and we spent the whole year out snowboarding. She dropped that weight and turned into this supermodel. Everybody could not believe how absolutely gorgeous this girl was. We were all about the party scene in LA and going to strip clubs in Los Angeles and Hollywood. One thing led to another – she saw an ad on the back of a magazine it said “Earn $1500 a day being a model” and we had no idea what we were getting into. I went with her to the meeting to meet the photography company, and I see all these naked pictures on the wall and I was like “This is nude modeling, holy shit.” We had no idea. They asked her if she opposed to that, and she looked at me and I was like “I don’t oppose, do you oppose?” Great. And she did her little sample photo shoot where she had to take off her top and we were freaking. We were like 19 years old had no idea what was going on, but we were so excited cause we were in LA. She did that, and we sat in the lobby and waited, and every single photographer that walked by was like “Who are you? Who are you?” They wanted to know who this new girl was, and they all started booking her. She was making a fortune, and the one rule we made was that I had to be there the whole time because we felt so uncomfortable in this industry, and were super scared little kids. They said whatever you want, if you’re husband has to be there, then we’ll do it. I got to go on a ride along for all these photo shoots as it was happening I was kind of like the bodyguard, not that I could have done anything. I was 19 years old. But it was just nuts.
Brooke: That’s so funny.
Damian: But we lived that life. I was being paid to be a pro snowboarder, she was getting paid a fortune to be this model, so at 20 years old, this was a dream come true for a California kid. And that lasted for a few years.
Americans at the time were just outcasts and crazy in the Japanese minds… they were all so calm, and cool, and collected, and they were all so respectable, and then we come in with our punk rock American attitude and just ruin things.
Brooke: Do you have any snowboard stories that stand out? Like any crazy trips you went on or things?
Damian: I used to love the trips to Japan. They were always my favorite. They were the most wild. They would have some major contests over there and all of our sponsors would send the pro snowboarders from California, from all over America, to Japan. All these guys that we would see at the local ski resorts would end up in Japan together. Americans at the time were just outcasts and crazy in the Japanese minds… they were all so calm, and cool, and collected, and they were all so respectable, and then we come in with our punk rock American attitude and just ruin things. But it was wild and crazy times over there. One of the craziest was – and I remember this well. I don’t know if I’m being too hard…
Damian: … If you can print this kind of stuff…
Brooke: Oh I can print it.
Damian: I had four hits of acid in my little vest and I was going over there for Ocean Pacific at the time. My sponsors were sending me over there and drugs are no joke in Japan. Like if you get caught at the Japanese border with some pot on you, you’re probably going to jail for a while. So I had this acid in a little baggie in this little pocket in my vest and I put it in with all my other snowboard clothes. We’re going through customs, and in Japan you’re not allowed to have any porno magazines, and I had put the Penthouse magazine in between a fitness magazine or something. When they call me over and say “We need to see your bag” they start looking through it, and they pull out the magazines. They fall apart and the porno mag falls out and the guy goes “Oh no, not in Japan. You cannot have this.” He kind of freaks out, and I’m like okay no big deal, in America that’s no big deal. And so he calls more people over to start searching my bags. I’m freaking the hell out thinking “Oh my god, they’re gonna find these drugs in two seconds, and now I’m going to jail for the rest of my life in Japan.” So they’re going through every single item of clothing, and through pockets. I’m acting like it’s all cool. I can see out of the corner of my eye they got to the vest, and I’m thinking it’s a matter of seconds before I’m going to be handcuffed. They pick up the vest, and they look at it, and he turns it around and he looks at the pocket. He doesn’t search it, and he sets the vest down, and my heart is going like a thousand miles an hour. They put everything back in but they took away the porno mag and they sent us on our way. I’ve never been more scared in my life. But then two days later we’re at the ski resort and we have all these pros there. We’re all having a good time, and we go to this huge sushi dinner and we all split up these four hits of acid. There was like 8 of us now, just out of our minds. We’re out with all these Japanese guys, and we all have the acid giggles. If you’ve ever done acid… everybody was laughing so freaking hard that we couldn’t stop. This is strange to all the Japanese people because they didn’t know why we were laughing, but they couldn’t stop laughing either, so there was a group of 30 of us just dying laughing. We all look outside and see the ski resort is open for night snowboarding and it’s snowing outside. I shit you not they had Japanese techno music playing and giant different colored lights on the mountain. Everyone runs to their room and gets all their boards. We go up on the mountain and it was like a surreal dream snowboarding down these slopes with all these giant colorful snowflakes – and they weren’t just colorful in our minds they were really colorful. It was just the most amazing experience of my snowboarding career, just 10 or 15 of us just out of our minds having a blast and snowboarding down a mountain to Japanese techno and on drugs.
Brooke: So have you mellowed out at all or are you still just a Wildman?
Damian: Well yeah I’m kind of a family man now, I’ve got a beautiful little daughter, a seven year-old girl who’s just as punk as I was which is awesome. I’m still riding mountain bikes, skateboarding, snowboarding a few times a year. Workaholic because that’s what it takes nowadays just to survive.
Damian: We have a great house in Orange, California and I still keep in touch with a lot of the pros and hook up with them once in a while to go mountain biking and stuff.
Damian: But yeah I’m not the crazy party animal. I did about 20-25 years of crazy partying and you know snowboarding straight into Club Rubber was a nonstop party the whole time, and yeah. So now I’m 47 years-old, and can’t take it anymore. I party on New Years Eve and pay for it for about a week.
When I went to my first competition and saw that there was another hundred snowboarders in the world I couldn’t believe it. I thought there was a hundred snowboarders total in the world, and here were a hundred all in one place at one time – it was phenomenal.
Brooke: I got one for you. In the modern snowboard era you know there’s lots of discussion about what snowboarding needs and what’s cool and what’s good for the sport what’s bad for the sport, was that ever something that you guys talked about or did it not even…
Damian: We were so young and dumb at the time, in our early 20s — late teens early 20s — we were so self-centered and everything was about how badass we could be and how hardcore we could be. So we weren’t really thinking too much about… we weren’t trying to shape the sport for anybody else that’s for sure. We knew we were onto something huge, and we couldn’t believe the rest of the world didn’t care at the time. When I went to my first competition and saw that there was another hundred snowboarders in the world I couldn’t believe it. I thought there was a hundred snowboarders total in the world, and here were a hundred all in one place at one time – it was phenomenal. Now there’s millions. So we were like the rad gnarly dudes, almost like in the surf movies. All we cared about was going out there and hitting jumps and getting girls and stuff. And partying. So we weren’t really thinking about snowboarding, it was just so raw and real at the time. It was awesome. It was such a fun time to be a part of something so fresh.
Brooke: Yeah are you aware of what the industry is like or what the snowboard scene is like at all?
Damian: Yeah, I keep up on Facebook. I see every video that’s posted, but I’m not to up with the competition of it. I actually hate watching the competitions because they look like a bunch of robots. It looks like one kid to me. Every single run might as well have been the same guy because they’re doing the exact same tricks. And I remember so well when we were young. Everybody had a personality and a look and a style. You knew their girlfriend, and you knew their lifestyle, and now it’s like they all wear these giant goggles and hoods, and you know it could be any kid in the world. They’re all hucking some quad cork who knows what, where you can’t even figure out what their doing, so the style is gone. I’m sure to them they’re in the mix. It seemed like we had so much more personality and individuality back in our day.
Damian: Everybody knew who Palmer was and everybody knew who Chris Roach was because they had a certain style and look to them. And now it looks like all one kid you know? All the same.
Brooke: Yeah. No that’s funny that you say that, that’s definitely what it’s like.
Damian: And then not to diss on their talent because their talent is through the roof. I mean Jesus, they can do things that we dreamed about with finger boards at the time, and now they’re doing it on their way to a jump. It’s unbelievable how good they are, it’s just so boring. I see these guys do these quad-somethings for first time in the world. I don’t know who he is, I barely know his name, and I’ll never see him again because that’s his one big trick. It’s just nuts. Like a one hit wonder band that has a hit in the 80s and that’s the last you ever saw of them.
It’s unbelievable how good they are, it’s just so boring
Brooke: What do you think would help snowboarding in its current kind of homogeny? Damian Sanders comeback?
Damian: When you watch, like the Art of Flight is my favorite movie of all time. Watching Travis Rice and those guys up there just doing incredible feats, you get to know them a little bit in that movie, and I think that’s so important. In the other movies, a lot of them I’ve seen, it’s just like their just throwing moves at you so fast it doesn’t even matter, and you just start to yawn halfway through because. Who knows what that kid just did, he’s just spinning so fast off every single little hit — they’re huge hits sometimes, I mean it’s impressive what their doing — but it just gets monotonous and played out. At least with the Art of Flight you got to know the characters, you got to see it slowed down a little bit, and you get to feel it. That was one of the coolest things about the early snowboarding movies… they really got into our personal lives and there was a lot of behind the scenes stuff. So you really got to know the character and fall in love with each character individually. Now it’s just technical bullshit, so nobody even knows what the hell they’re doing.
Brooke: Yeah it seems like a lot of snowboarders don’t want their personal lives in it in this day and age, you know?
Brooke: It’s like they wanna be a snowboarder and it’s just snowboarding and all that other stuff gets left to the wayside. I don’t know if it’s like the media coverage or it’s the personalities themselves or whatever, why that is, but.
Damian: Yeah, you know skateboarding seems to have – and maybe it’s just because snowboarders are so bundled up you can’t see their faces, but like in skateboarding you seem like you get a little more personality out of the guys. But in my day of skateboarding you had all the pros, you know Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi, Lance Mountain, they were all characters, and they were all exciting… as a person and their lifestyle was broadcast as much as their skateboarding. That’s what made us think they were the coolest guys in the world. We all tried to emulate their style and follow what they were doing. I knew every single one of their lives, which was so fun. That’s what made them heroes to me and now it’s just a bunch of kids bundled up looking like Ewoks, because their outfit covers their entire body and you can’t see anything. You never even see their face, there’s no personality at all, just some badass ripper doing some trick I’ve never heard of. So, that kind of stuff…
Brooke: Can you believe how far snowboarding’s come? I mean the equipment you guys were riding was not quite on par, but…
Damian: Yeah, yeah. I remember being in Tahoe in the early days and if we saw a snowboard on someone’s car we actually followed them and talked to them and pulled over like “Oh my god, what are you riding.” It was so new, so exciting and groundbreaking that I had to know, and they had no problem talking. Everybody wanted to know everybody else in our new sport because you saw literally like one or two others a year. In the early ’80s, it was phenomenal just to see another snowboard, and you couldn’t believe somebody else did the sport that you were doing. And now it’s just – it’s as normal as skiing, as normal as football, it’s just nuts. I never would have dreamed that 25 years ago or 30 years ago when we started. I thought we were just onto some cool little thing for ourselves, and we’d go build little jumps, and do our surfer moves and now it’s worldwide.