Damian Sanders, the original rock star of snowboarding, fueled snowboarding’s popularity and acceptance in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Known for his wild hair and bright cloths, Damian pushed the boundaries always going bigger than everyone else. Damian rode professionally for over thirteen years and was voted “Most Extreme Snowboarder in the World” for four of those years.
OGRT: Damian, thanks so much for doing this. What’s new in Damian Sanders world?
DS: No problem, thanks for having me. There’s a lot going on. I can’t sit still for too long. I’ve been going a hundred for about 30 years.
OGRT: I saw Szabo’s pic of you guys mountain-biking together, you got tore up pretty good. You all healed up?
DS: Yeah, that was brutal. My first day out riding some real jumps up in Big Bear and wouldn’t you know it, on the second run I got pitched over the bars of a decent sized kicker. I’m told now my rebound wasn’t set properly. Haha. Szabo made it look so easy and I was following him. He hit the six-foot kicker, got all sideways in the air and pulled it perfectly. So I tried to follow suit and the next thing I knew I was on my head. 25’ to my head! I remember that split second before I crashed down on my head and shoulders thinking, I’m way too old to be doing this shit. But miraculously I rolled out of it pretty good and my back took the worst of it. Just stoked that I walked away and didn’t get carted away. Took about a month to get back to functioning. I’m still hurting but I’ll be fine.
OGRT: So how did you get your start in snowboarding?
DS: This is a tale I think I’ve told about 1000 times but it goes something like this. When I was 12 years old I was living in San Jose, California. I was your typical skate-rat / BMX troublemaker. My dad got a job offer to transfer up to a small mountain town called Arnold California. I had already been skiing about 20 times in my life so I was pretty excited about moving to the snow. The first thing on my mind was getting this new thing called a snowboard. A Burton in fact. At the time there were only a few snowboard companies that even existed. Burton, Sims, Barfoot, and my brother was talking about making a board in his wood shop. So my mom told me to hold off and save my $100 because Christmas is coming and who knows.
So I remember it well, on my 13th Christmas, my brother Chris gave me the first ever Avalanche snowboard. It was hilarious by today standards. Swallowtail, heavy side-cut and 1-inch deep metal fins to keep you from spinning? Haha
Anyway after the festivities on Christmas morning we rushed up to the local ski resort parking lot. We found a decent hill. None of us had ridden before. The board was untouched, the first one ever.
Chris had even fashioned some makeshift bindings out of plastic buckles.
I remember it like it was yesterday, I had Sorel boots on and I strapped them into the little bear trap bindings. Chris helped me stand up, gave me a little push and I took off down this hundred yard long slope. I picked up just enough speed and started bouncing turns just as I would’ve on a skateboard. I don’t know how, but I connected about 10 good turns before wiping out. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. Frictionless, effortless, so fun and painless. I was so excited I was trying to crawl out of the board before even got the buckles unsnapped. I remember running back up the hill as fast as I could to do it again and again. Chris and I spent most of the afternoon there just bouncing turns down this little powder slope.
Chris lived in Tahoe at the time and within a couple of months, I knew that’s where I had to be. But I was 13, so that wasn’t going to happen for a while. So for the next two years I hiked the local mountains. I remember I would hitch hike 20 miles to Bear Valley with my skis and snowboard. I would hide my board in the trees. Ski for an hour at the resort and then hide my skis and hike and board for the rest of the day. Then hitch hike 20 miles home. All alone, every weekend for the entire winter. WTF? I got to snowboard a few times with other people when I went to visit Chris in Tahoe.
He saw my progression and thought that I could be a contender. As if there was anything to contend with back then. Haha
I remember all too well going to the very first world snowboarding championships at Boreal in Tahoe. When I showed up at the resort and there were 100 other snowboarders I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know there were 100 snowboarders in the whole world let alone all in one place. I was about 15 by now and all I wanted to do was show off. They had the worst makeshift half pipe you could ever imagine. The first manmade pipe ever. Really just some hits pushed up with the cat. But a couple of them were big enough to launch six or 7 feet out. Landing didn’t matter, as long as I got the attention. It was nuts, I was hooked for life. And I was having the time of my life. Until I hit the jump at the very bottom of the half pipe and woke up in the ski patrol cart. Knocked out, and a dislocated shoulder but I couldn’t wait to get back.
So somehow, Chris talked our mom into letting me move to Tahoe to become a professional snowboarder when I was 16 years old. Whatever that meant in 1985. And the rest was history.
OGRT: OK, I have to know… Why the hard boots man?
Hard boots gave me power and control that I never could touch with soft boots.
DS: The thing about hard boots is, if you didn’t do it you would never understand. Hard boots gave me power and control that I never could touch with soft boots. You could stomp landings, you could gyrate so much speed on the way to a jump, everything about it made you a more powerful rider. I could rest on the hard tongues and fly across chopped up mountains when guys with soft boots couldn’t keep up. Hard boots are the reason I could get so much air. I could generate so much speed. I guess because I was a skier first, it just seemed like the right thing to me. Plus we were inventing things as we went along back then. At the time I really thought the entire industry was going to switch to hardboots within a year or two. I can’t believe 30 years later and no one uses hard boots. Hahahaha
OGRT: How much of a process was creating the cut outs in your hard boots?
DS: One hell of a process! We would get our new boots and spend six hours crafting every little tweak point. I remember standing on the board in the living room and tweaking the way I would tweak in the air and drawing where I needed to cut out with a black marker. Then hacksawing parts out, sanding it down and cleaning it up. So in reality they weren’t ski boots anymore, they were a hybrid between soft and hard boots. And they kicked ass!
OGRT: The hard boots have anything to do with your knee injury?
DS: Not at all. I just went way too big for way too flat of a landing. I came down perfect but with way too much downward pressure. So my knee hyperextended backwards and tore up all my ligaments. Anyone that has launched the Blackcomb windlip knows that. It’s the most beautiful take-off on earth, but there’s no flat top. So you end up 25 feet high with a shitty landing in sight. But at the time I was too young and dumb to realize it. All I cared about was how high I could get. Haha.
OGRT: You blew out your knee twice and did not have surgery the second time, have you had knee surgery since then?
DS: Yeah, after I blew out my knee, I had reconstructive surgery and ligaments replaced, then seven months of rehab. So I thought my knee was golden. But that didn’t work out. I went riding at Big Bear down in Southern California as soon as there was snow. The very first day back and I launched a big side hill kicker, did a 720 and had a lot of rotational torque going. I landed with all that rotation and blew out my knee again! I knew the second I landed that it was done. I think I might’ve even cried. Lol
Ended up back at the hospital getting scans and the doctor said it wasn’t torn completely but bad enough. I had arthroscopic surgery and cleaned it up. But it was never the same. This was almost 20 years ago so The techniques for fixing knees wasn’t nearly as good as it is now. People like Shaun White come back after a horrible knee injury and are stronger than ever. Wasn’t the case with me.
So I stayed off my knee for a few months, came back and every time I hit a big jump it popped out. After about 1,000 times of your knee popping out it got real old. I lost that Mad Max energy I had before. When you go from being really good at something to sucking overnight, it makes you not want to do it anymore. But, I was still getting paid so I did what anybody would do at that age, I started partying!
DS: Yeah, I milked it for years. I was able to ride still, sort of, and I still had a big name in the sport so I did all of the demos and some comps but I was not nearly as good as I was before. It became predictable, I would hit a big jump, my knee would pop out, and Dana or Szabo would have to yank on my foot to get it to pop back in. Then we take off and ride to the next big job. It was lame. I wanted to ride with all the power and aggression that I had before and I just couldn’t do it.
Honestly, I don’t think I was ever cut out to be a snowboarder.
I tried to make some half witted come backs that never panned out. Plus I was having way too much fun throwing huge house parties in Huntington Beach so I just moved on.
OGRT: Talk to us a bit about the lifestyle you lead as a pro snowboard rockstar?
DS: Haha. That’s funny. Honestly, I don’t think I was ever cut out to be a snowboarder. I didn’t really fit in with the grungy mountain snowboard world. I wanted to live this rockstar lifestyle and run around in Hollywood with Brandy. I had the ridiculous hairdo, the flashy car, and all the friends that wanted to party. But I had a ton of energy and was lucky enough to have some talent in snowboarding. So I had some fame. So all of that led to this pseudo-rockstar lifestyle. I wouldn’t change it for the world though. We had so much fun snowboarding all day and then partying all night. Although I may have a looked a certain way, in reality I was very nice and polite. I was brought up right. When I was younger if I was a little prick, my brothers would kick my ass for it. So I grew up solid. And being totally hyperactive as a kid turned out to be a great thing in my 20s. I had energy on tap. I was going a hundred miles an hour with everything I did. Sleep when your dead mentality. This was right around the time that Creatures of Habit and Crusty Demons were happening. So we were living in the epicenter of it all. Huntington Beach in the 90’s was insane. Pro-riders, strip clubs, huge parties, surf contests, filming for the movies, Hollywood chaos. It was absolutely nuts. We were living the dream. I remember when I was about 26, I thought if I died tonight I was totally fine with it because I had lived such an incredible life already. At 26! WTF. But little did I know it was just getting going.
OGRT: From pro snowboarder to professional club promoter, can you tell us about that and any other new ventures you’re currently looking into?
DS: Absolutely. After my snowboard career came to a screeching halt, I started throwing legendary house parties. I had a great house on the beach in HB. The parties got too big for my house so we moved them to a club. I join forces with a couple of HB friends back in the day, Joey Bag-o and John Huntington, and we started a club called Rubber. From the first night in 1996 and for over 12 years it was a sold out. For the majority of those years it was the biggest traveling club in America. This was before all these EDM festivals and shit like that. Club Rubber changed the industry. I’d like to think we forged the trail for a 1000 other clubs. The pinnacle of our career was The Pimp n’ Ho Costume Ball. This started as a small house party and grew to mega proportions, selling out 10,000 person venues in Las Vegas for years. We had to pinch ourselves. We couldn’t believe how many people would come to these parties. The really cool thing about it is, I have dozens of friends that are married with children now that met at our clubs. And literally thousands of memories that could never be topped. If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know, but for thousands of people Club Rubber was all time.
Now I own a production company that stemmed from Rubber called Monster Stage. We do production, design and build huge props for mega events and casinos in southern California and Las Vegas. It’s pretty fun work, we get to build some amazing shit. Halloween is hands down our specialty, so we are going to be working our asses off for the next 45 days.
Then about two years ago I stumbled on an invention. While working at my warehouse and trying to stay in shape I invented a small portable workout device called the XBAR. It’s hands-down, the most amazing and functional portable workout device on the planet. It’s basically a curl-bar with this incredible rubber grip and end cap hooks that swivel 360°. So you clip resistance bands on to the ends and use it like a curl-bar. You can do well over 100 gym style exercises. It also has a push-up docks so you can put it on the ground and do dozens of ground exercises. It’s truly revolutionary. After about a year of prototype development and testing, we did a Kickstarter campaign to launch the company. We killed it on Kickstarter! We asked for $50,000 and raised 370,000! That started the company and my future. I’ve worked on it every day for the last two years. We’ve sold almost 5000 units and we’re really starting to really blow up now. The future looks bright! XBAR.com
DS: Oh man, that’s a tough one to pin down. From 16 till about 26 years old, every single day was crazy. If I had to narrow it down to one single thing though, I have to say it was the big jump I did for a McDonald’s commercial. We got flown out to Colorado and then helicoptered into the mountains to find this huge cliff that they wanted to film for their Super Bowl commercial. I guess the year before their commercial sucked and they got laughed out of the Super Bowl. So they wanted to come back with some hard-hitting extreme sport McDonald’s commercial. Anyway pro skier Scott Schmidt and I ended up on top of this mega cliff in the middle of the Colorado mountains. The crazy part was, they had about 12 McDonald’s executives out there that needed to be on site for some reason, so they flew everybody into the mountains just to watch us hit one jump. Ridiculous waste of money. Anyway it took them about two hours to set up cameras and get everything ready. They had a real 20’ boom arm to extend off the cliff. It was all way overkill. Meanwhile Scott and I were freezing on top of this cliff. He was older and wiser. So when they asked him to go, he check-turned and popped off the cliff. Classic Scott Schmidt style. Clean and pro. I was much younger and much, much dumber. So I built a 2 foot kicker on top of this 50 foot cliff. Went up the hill about 100 feet and strapped in. Feet frozen, just wanting to get it over with. All I could see was the kicker on the edge of a 50’ cliff and the valley in the distance. Anyway, this totally backfired because I hit the cliff hauling ass! I launched with so much speed that they missed the entire shot. They thought I was going to drop off like Scott and I hit the thing with speed. I remember looking down from about 70 feet thinking I’m going to die. But I had already planned my big frontside nose bone. So I poked it out there and waited for what seemed like forever. I held it for as long as I could just thinking I’m going to be so famous! Lol. I flew 120 feet down the mountain and smashed my knees into my face and was a bloody mess. When I got my head back on straight, there was blood everywhere and I couldn’t feel my lip. I thought I bit my lip off completely. I ripped off my glove and it felt like it was gone. So I was frantically looking everywhere for my bottom lip. They had a ski patrol on site with us and he went around the cliff and got down to me. He was able to see that I just bit a huge hole through my bottom lip and it was still intact. I could close my lips and breathe though the hole! Pretty gross. Long story short, the amatuer that was filming missed the entire shot. Luckily they had one other camera angle from underneath the cliff but it wasn’t half as impressive. So they used that anyway and I was on a Super Bowl commercial which was pretty damn cool at the time.
But I remember getting back in the helicopter with everybody and looking for my landing and I couldn’t find it anywhere until they pointed 100 feet further down the mountain and there was a huge explosion hole where I landed. Even I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t look possible from the helicopter that I could have flown that far. So, that was probably the craziest stunt for me.
DS: Hands-down Japan airs! There was just something about the way you could tweak your board when you had a Japan grab. It felt just right. People always looked at pictures of my knees all tweaked when doing Japan’s and said it look like it hurt. Haha.
And of course huge laid out methods and Iguana backflips.
OGRT: You seems to like to mix up your grabs on backflips besides you’re Iguana grab, any other favorites while you were inverted?
DS: The funny thing about that time was no one could do that shit. There was like five people in the world that could even do a backflip. So I think it was in Snowboarders in Exile, or Critical Condition, when Steve, Dave and I started grabbing backflips in any way we could. It was revolutionary at the time, now we’d look like we were having a seizure. Haha. Cool thing about iguana backflips is you could totally tweak upside down. So you’d grab in that front side grab and tweak the shit out of it. It also helped me stall out my back flips when I was launching big hits. Loved it.
OGRT: Favorite snowboard memory?
DS: There were literally thousands. But some of the most fun times of my snowboard career where rat packing with the crew at Donner ski Ranch, and then later at Squaw Valley. We had such a crew back then, we would all show up at the mountain at 9:30 and there would be 12 to 15 pros all ready to go nuts. I used to think it was like an old bones brigade video. The crew was legendary. My brother Chris and his wife Bev, Earl Zellers, Chris and Monty Roach, Dave Seone, Steve Graham, Don Szabo, Dana Nicholson, Tom Burt, Jim and Bonnie’s Zellers, Mike Chantry, Tucker Franson, Shawn Palmer, Terry Kidwell, Keith Kimmel, Bud faucet, Shawn Farmer, Nick Perata , Dave and Mike Hatchett, Shane Peterson, the list goes on. Even Glenn Plake, the pro skier was part of our rat pack. It was nuts, you could’ve busted out a camera at any time and filmed a movie with the crew we had. And that’s pretty much what Jerry and Arty (from Fall Line) did. Haha
DS: Coincidentally, the only thing I have left is that ridiculous green speed suit. The suit that landed more magazine shots than any other. It was so lame but it photographed well. Haha. Which is going to end up in a museum in Colorado I think.
OGRT: Talk to us a bit about the YES signature snowboard and what that meant to you.
DS: That was super cool. Alex Warburton contacted me a while back and told me about their project. Of course I was honored to be involved. We went back-and-forth on a bunch of emails. I sent him photos and he sent me some great designs. I signed off and before I knew it I had one of the boards in my hand. I have to say the coolest thing about it was that my daughter was impressed that I was famous. Lol She’s too young to understand the history of snowboarding so that was the first time she actually thought I was cool.
But yeah, it was really cool that they hit me up for that and I was happy to be a part of it. The board is still wrapped in plastic and will be one day framed on my wall.
OGRT: How has becoming a father changed you?
DS: Oh wow, I’d like to say that I was as crazy as ever but all my crazy is now directed at her. She’s a female version of me. She is the craziest little kid I know. And so damn cool. When I originally found out we were having a girl I was actually pissed. I wanted to have a little boy that I could teach sports and pal around with. But now seven years later, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love having a daughter. Especially one as badass as she is. She’s an adorable little punk and she makes the boys look like pussies. She’ll launch anything I tell her to. Now she’s starting to understand Facebook fame so she’ll do anything to show off. Just like her dad was.
I have to say I’m pretty damn lucky, my wife Cory of 18 years is (still) smoking hot and awesome and my daughter is the coolest kid on earth. Can’t complain.
OGRT: Have you ever taken your daughter out snowboarding?
DS: She’s been a couple times when we were up in Mammoth. She wasn’t a natural so I didn’t force it on her…yet. I live an hour and a half from the mountains now so getting up there isn’t as convenient as I’d like. Were always so busy here in Orange County that snowboarding might not be in her future. I’ll take her again this year and see if she falls in love with it. Whatever she decides to do though, she’s going to dominate.
OGRT: Given your heavy influence on snowboarding, what do you think of its progression?
DS: It’s had its ups and downs for the last 20 years since I disappeared. There were some years where I couldn’t have cared less to even watch it. But recently, I am blown away at the talent level and the cool new ways of filming. GoPro is a big part of that. Quite possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen is the Art of Flight. I think I’ve watched it 100 times. Those guys are doing now what we did then with 10 times the talent. When they were launching those straight up kickers in the backcountry, I felt like I was there. I know exactly what they felt like. There are a couple shots were there generating speed for the hit and I felt every foot of that. Fucking awesome. Travis is my hero!
But when it comes to competition, I’m bored. It looks like robots. The talent is through the roof, they deserve mad respect for that, but everybody looks the same. I can’t tell one rider from the next. Back in our day, it seems like everybody had a very unique style. Whether it was Palmer, or Kelly, or Kidwell, everybody looked unique. You could tell who was riding from across the mountain. Now that there are all these rules and guidelines about what makes a great rider, it really takes the edge out of snowboarding. Especially in the half pipe. If I see one more triple corked who knows what, I’m gonna throw up. I’d rather watch someone do methods and huge front side nose bones down the entire pipe than that. I guess it’s like the difference of watching Hosoi or Hawk. Tony Hawk is undeniably ridiculously talented, but I would rather watch Christian sky any day the week.
DS: I’m not gonna’ front, they are all starting to look the same to me. I don’t really know one from another anymore. They all rip so hard but they all look so similar. Not even in just the way they ride but in their personalities. It’s like one big snowboard kid. I mean a guy could throw a quad corked inward flip and I don’t even know his name and I’ll probably never see his face. It’s a weird world. But I’m not it in the mix anymore. I’m sure to all of them they all look unique. But take skateboarding for example, back in the day we used to know every single pro. You knew his personality, his face, his favorite tricks, his chick. My skateboard was plastered with the stickers of all my favorite pros. I don’t know, the times of changed.
OGRT: What about the old dudes?
DS: It’s pretty cool, a lot of my old snowboard teammates and friends are still in the sport and still kicking ass. I guess had I never got hurt, I would still be in it too. When I see Tom Burt still charging and he’s a little older than me, that’s fucking awesome.
OGRT: Any shout outs you’d like to give.
DS: Yeah, first and foremost, to my brother Chris and and his wife Bev for getting me into the sport. Had I not become a pro snowboarder at a young age my whole life would’ve been different. No telling what I would’ve done but I have lived 10 lives in the last 30 years and I wouldn’t change any of it. I used to say we lived like rock stars without being in a band. My life has kind of been in chapters. Snowboarding was the first chapter, Club Rubber and Monster Stage was the second, and now I am embarking on the third chapter. Raising a family and growing a potentially huge fitness company.
And a big shout out all my sponsors back in the day that paid for me to live the rockstar life. Especially Bonnie Crail from Ocean Pacific. She was my team manager when I was in my prime. They paid me more than I knew what to do with. Never give a crazy kid that much money! Haha. Damn it was wild.
For sure Fall Line Films. They are the reason for my snowboard fame. Jerry and Artie made me the star of their early movies and it changed my life.
And all of my good snowboard buddies / teammates. Dana Nicholson, Jeff Miles, Don Szabo, Steve Graham, Dave Seone, Tom Burt, Jim and Bonnie Zellers and Chris and Bev. The original Tahoe rat pack. We had times no one will ever know.
DS: Haha! Right on. Thank you for having me and always remember…More Air!