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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Updated: May 11, 7:54 PM ET
The Power of Glove

By Alyssa Roenigk
ESPN The Magazine

Olympic medalist. Businessman. Rebel. Danny is living the American dream.

HANDLE Matt Kass
BORN Sept. 15, 1978; Pompton Plains, N.J.
BASE Portland, Ore.
STATUS Ex-pro snowboarder, Grenade co-owner
BRAGGING RIGHTS Invented the Kasserole (an inverted rodeo 540)
X FILES 2001 Winter X Games (20th place in superpipe)
RIDE 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser


HANDLE Danny Kass
BORN Sept. 21, 1982; Pompton Plains, N.J.
BASE Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
STATUS Pro snowboarder (superpipe, slopestyle); Grenade co-owner
BRAGGING RIGHTS 2002, 2006 Olympic silver medals
X FILES Seven WX medals, including 2001 superpipe gold
RIDES 2001 Chevy Silverado 2500 pickup, 1995 Winnebago Warrior



THE METAL DOOR slides easily as you step into the dark warehouse of Grenade, LLC, the six-year-old company founded and run by brothers Danny and Matt Kass. As your eyes adjust, you make out boxes, floor to ceiling. A closer look reveals the contents: "Eddie Krueger," reads one scribble. "Human Leather" and "Bob Gnarley," read two others. Labels indicate destinations: Norway. Russia. New Zealand. Grenade's reach has spread across the globe-a worrisome development.

You make your way to the office, kicking aside piles of invoices and product sketches. Grenade is said to be highly organized, run by a cell of devotees with a taste for death metal and size-too-small jeans. Clutter aside, there is clearly a method to this madness. You're here to find it, on a quest that started with a tip from a nervous industry insider. "Beware the brothers Kass," the voice said. "Their Grenade Army wants to overthrow the ruling snowboard gear order. Think of the chaos! The lower profits! The havoc their guerrilla campaign could wreak at Winter X. Their movement must be investigated, infiltrated, inflammalated!"

That last word can't possibly be English, you think as you rifle through papers, not knowing exactly what you're searching for. Then-jackpot. Heart racing, palms sweaty, you tuck the pizza-stained document into your waistband and make for the door, primed to expose the brothers as the troublemakers they are.

What follows is the blueprint for the Grenade Revolution. Or maybe not. Maybe what follows is just the story of two brothers with loads of talent, ambition and something that used to be known as cred, something that still gives The Man chills. Either way, with the Winter X Games kicking off on Jan. 25, it's time the world knew of their plan.

THE GRENADE MANIFESTO: A 10-POINT PLAN FOR GLOBAL DOMINATION

BY THE KASS BROTHERS

I.

Snowboarders of the world: unite! Together we shall grow our revolution from the bunny slopes of the east to the Sierra Nevadas. . .and beyond!


The Kass brothers have always had oversize dreams. "Matt was the entrepreneur, the visionary," says mom Joanne. "Danny was the entertainer." The partnership jelled early. Eight-year-old Danny skated the ramp in their Jacksonville, Fla., backyard while 12-year-old Matt collected 50 cents an hour from gawking neighborhood kids. In 1992, when Mom moved them back to New Jersey to be closer to dad Craig, the boys ditched skateboards for what would become an even more lucrative ride: snowboards.

The brothers rose quickly on the mid-Atlantic contest circuit. In 1996, near the end of ninth grade, Danny wanted to enroll at the Okemo Mountain School, a ski and snowboard academy in Vermont. When Craig told his son he'd have to come up with half the tuition, Danny sold his used gear to local kids. "I made three grand and moved to Vermont," he says. Matt, just out of high school, headed to Mammoth, Calif., to train and compete full-time.

II.

We shall establish a base of operations where powder and recruits are plentiful (and gloves scarce).


After his junior year at OMS, Danny dropped out of school. He and Mom promptly joined Matt and a handful of Jersey riding buddies in Mammoth. Danny—who eventually earned his high school degree and now gives free gear to kids with good report cards—lived with Joanne until he turned 18, when he bought a condo with sponsor and prize money and moved his pals in with him. It was all very clubhouseish: On Sunday nights, the gang would gather around Danny's dining room table for home-cooked meals, courtesy of Mom.

By late 2000, Matt was a team manager for snowboard clothing company Mission Six, riding the occasional contest but looking to start his own business. "We wanted to get more from snowboarding than just riding for people and collecting paychecks," says Danny, who had sponsorships from Gnu Snowboards and Quiksilver but, without a glove deal, was wearing a mismatched set to events. "We didn't want to do something that would conflict with our sponsors," Danny says. "Gloves made sense." And the name? "That was easy. I had a grenade sticker on my board."

III.

We shall control the means of production and evolve our designs in search of the freshest product.

The elder Kass brings in flow from the Northwest, holding it down in PDX.

With funding from Danny's contest earnings and Matt's real estate investments, the brothers were in business. In early 2001, operating out of a renovated gas station in nearby June Lake, they took a sketchbook of drawings made by two arty pals to a trade show in Vegas. Without even one sample to show buyers, they collected good-faith orders for 3,000 pairs of gloves. A few months later, the first prototypes arrived from China. "Those were scary times," Danny says. "We were afraid we'd open the boxes and they'd just be filled with rice."

A week after the trade show, at 2001 Winter X, Danny took superpipe gold wearing a custom Grenade hoodie. It was in Aspen where a few friends, armed with spray paint and Grenade stencils, began the guerrilla marketing campaign that has since defined the company. The Kass crew tagged snowboards, trees, halfpipe walls—even the back of TV host Sal Masekela—with the Grenade logo. "The Grenerds were in full force," Danny says, using the term coined by Matt to ID the brand's faithful. Matt also dreamed up the Grenade Army, a web-centered club whose members fulfill "missions" like shaving a Mohawk, growing a mustache or submitting product ideas, some of which have made it into the line. And it was Matt who named a majority of the company's shred videos, including 2004's Revenge of the Grenerds and the latest, Smell the Glove.

IV.

To truly represent the issues of the shredding class, the Grenade elite shall share the wealth.


With little cash on hand, the brothers had to convince potential Grenade team riders that money wasn't everything. Leading by example helped. By 2004, the company had expanded into outerwear and T-shirts, so when Quiksilver offered Danny a larger contract in hopes of limiting his Grenade wear to gloves, he parted ways with his longtime sponsor. "It was a lot of money," he says. "I could have made back every dollar I'd put into Grenade in one season. But it was more important to push something we started."

Unable to pay staff the kind of money they wanted to, Matt and Danny gifted several early employees with small percentages of the company. "On paper, at least, they owned a part of something," says Danny, who by 2002 was an Olympic silver medalist and a regular on contest podiums. But the fame and prize money had no effect on Danny. After each event, he'd return home and fund a party, courtesy of a long-standing Grenade edict. "Always spend 10% of your winnings on your friends," says Danny. "It's in the snowboard bible."

V.

We shall take our message (and product) to the people, who shall spread the word of Grenade.


By 2004, with Grenerds making ample use of the logo stencils included with each pair of gloves, the brothers offered a pack of stickers and gear and a shout-out in East Coast Snowboarding magazine to the kid who submitted proof of the coolest stencil job. Very quickly, shots of grenade-bedecked halfpipes, skate parks and police cars began rolling in. The eventual winner spray-painted a 10-foot-tall Grenade logo on the side of Vernon (N.J.) High School, the Kasses' alma mater. "We decided it was better not to print his name," Danny says. "But we hooked him up." Of course, all mayhem has its limits. When Mammoth locals tagged water towers outside of town, two police officers dropped by Grenade HQ with a not-so-subtle warning. "We stopped giving out stencils after that," says Danny.

VI.

We shall expand our movement—and our line-through the strategic placement of Grenade bases.


How do two brothers who run a company ride together and live within five miles of each other not drive each other nuts? By putting 750 miles between them. At the end of 2005, with the company growing, shipping from the mountains was becoming too costly. So Matt and wife Nicole moved to Portland, Ore., to head up a new shipping and design center.

The plan worked. Today, Matt and Danny do most of their business via IM. More important, they remain friends. "We argue only when it's deadline time," Danny says. "And we try not to pull rank." When faced with tough choices, Danny plays Pinky to Matt's Brain. "Once, we had a really important decision to make," Matt says. "I was really stressed. Dan was so casual, it pissed me off." So Danny wrote the pros and cons of each choice on a sheet of paper and laid the papers on the ground. Matt explains: "Then he says, 'We'll throw my cat up in the air, and whichever paper she lands on, that's what we do.' I got the message: Nothing is that important."

VII.

We shall ignore the mainstream media and take our message directly to the masses and, on occasion, to the President of the United States.

With sales up 5,000% over the past five years, Grenade's chairman of the boards is sitting pretty.

Coming into his first Olympics, in 2002, Danny was exhibit A of irreverent snowboard culture, partly because he was an irreverent snowboarder, partly because he had little patience for media ignorance and the hype surrounding snowboarding. "After the finals in Salt Lake City, a reporter asked me if I take acid before I ride," says Danny, who turned down a post-Games invite from the White House. "We had just swept the podium at the Olympics, and they want to know that?"

In 2006, after a second silver run, not much changed. "They wanted to know if Shaun White parties like Bode," says Danny. Still, this time around, Danny accepted the invitation to Pennsylvania Avenue. On May 17, he walked into the White House carrying two items: a George W. Bush bobblehead and a Sharpie. "When it rode out of the X-ray machine, head boppin', the Secret Service cracked up," he says. When the president finished his speech—"He called the snowboarders dudes and dudesses"—Danny held up the doll. "Bush walked over, signed it and kind of smiled," says Danny, who keeps the bobbler in his room near his Olympic medals. "I hear I could get $1 million for it on eBay."

VIII.

We shall save the world from the drab, dull and dreary—and confuse the hell out of The Man.


With a name like Grenade, things can get dicey. In early 2002, Matt received a call from Homeland Security—"They thought we were a grassroots movement." And the brothers keep the local post office on speed dial. "Mailmen always question our shipments," he says, pointing to the grenade-shape stickers used to seal boxes.

There's good reason to worry. In 2002, a friend in the (U.S.) Army "borrowed" a real grenade and sent it to the office with Shane Flood, a rider on the Grenade team, which, according to grenadegloves.com, also includes "Patrik [sic] Swayze," Elvis Presley and the Misfits. "Scariest thing I've ever done," says Flood. The ordinance was used to blow up a van in their 2003 video Night of the Living Shred. Team rider Travis Rice yanked the pin. "We couldn't pull that off today," Matt says. "Security is much tighter now."

IX.

After we subvert the snowboard market, we shall make followers of the entire free (riding) world. The resulting capital influx shall fund the revolution.


In the six years since Grenade's inception, annual sales have grown from $120,000 to $6 million, and the brothers have turned down buyout offers from Quiksilver and Oakley, among others. And while gloves remain the company's signature product—Grenade thrives more on aesthetics than technology, with gloves designed by artists and riders—its catalog includes everything from outerwear to beanies to videos. Next season's line goes even further, offering Slim Goodbody-style glow-in-the-dark jackets and pants. But don't hit the brothers up for a loan just yet. "We are not getting rich," Danny says. "Everything goes back into the company." That doesn't mean they're not counting on a future payday. "We would like to hit $15 million in sales in five years," Danny says. "That would be a big chunk of the market." And future offers to sell out? "The company would have to be one we respect and see a future with," he says. "It would have to feel right."

X.

When conditions are right, Grenade special ops shall set into motion a final push to change the very face of sport. . .or at the very least, sell a lot more cool gear.

Consider yourselves warned.