|ESPN.com: Snowboarding||[Print without images]|
|Left: Sean Johnson frontside air at Squamish, B.C. skatepark, recently. Right: "Dano [Pendygrasse] shot this photo of me in the summer of 1992. Mellow lip-slide after getting out of the drunk tank..."|
From his co-creation and starring role in the seminal "Whiskey" films (as Boozy the Clown, with "the other Sean" Kearns) to his his co-founding of StepChild Snowboards, Canadian Sean Johnson has more than left his mark on snowboarding culture. The B.C. native has been on both sides of the camera -- filming and riding, drunk and sober, breaking and creating. But StepChild hitting the 10-year mark is proof of both his insane passion for snowboarding and of his continued scrappiness, even when there's not a broken beer bottle in sight. We caught up with Johnson at his spot on the West coast of Vancouver Island to see how it's all playing out, for both man and brand.
ESPN: When you scraped StepChild together did you see long-term possibilities?
Sean Johnson: It was more of a reaction to what was going on in my life at the time. I've had some pretty hard battles with alcoholism. You live this snowboard dream by traveling, partying and riding as much as possible. Years fly by and, before you know it, your moves aren't that rad anymore. Meanwhile the people who aren't snowboarding and partying their faces off are out there working hard, learning a trade, or starting a business.
At 28 I got completely dumped on my ass by all of my sponsors -- and I totally deserved it. I kept asking myself, "What do I know?" I had no education, and at the time I only knew, and still loved, was snowboarding. So that's what I thought I should do.
I have a huge soft spot for snowboarders, skateboarders and young boozers. I see myself in a lot of those kids and I just hope they make it.”
One of my best friends, Brad Richmond, wanted to do the same. He was the guy who got an education while I was snowboarding and drinking. We got together and started StepChild. Our main goal was to survive. The rule from day one was that the business would survive but the friendship was the most important thing -- something Kearns taught me.
We didn't want to "shake up the industry" like some upstarts claim. We just wanted to run our own deal and not have to work with a--holes anymore. I've pretty much worn every hat there is to wear in snowboarding -- from rug-rat am rider with nothing to an up-and-coming pro, to washed-up boozed loser; from filming video parts, then being a filmer, then running a company.
It was a slow evolution. We don't ask to be rich but we don't want to be poor, either. We want to make boards that last and ride really well. I know what it's like to be the poor kid who worked all summer only to buy a board that breaks in the beginning of the season ...
|Boozy the Clown, JP Walker, Chi Guy, Joe Sexton and Simon Chamberlain mug with copies of "Blunter," StepChild's bible of truth.|
Why does snowboarding need StepChild?
Well, one thing for sure is that we need snowboarding more than it needs us, and that's the truth.
How is the company different now from the early years?
It's not really that different. It's still independently owned. No investors. I think that's how we have been able to stay true. Besides myself and Brad being owners, we also brought in JP Walker and Simon Chamberlain. We are held together right now by duct tape and loyalty and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Those guys have done so much for this company, too. It's hard on my nerves though. When we can't pay [them] on time, I can't sleep. I know some company owners that can sleep like babies while their people starve. When you look at Simon and the way he lives it's inspiring; he's just a modest and respectful dude, [not] the typical boozer pro shred who thinks he's the s---.
He's who I would have wanted to be when I was a pro rider, but I got in a collision with this thing called alcoholism and it almost killed me. I think for five years straight I was paid to drink and do backside 5s [laughs] -- I'm not too sure though 'cause the details are a bit foggy...
How much of a lift was it to sign JP? That chin casts a big shadow...
The thing with JP is that his heart is much bigger than his chin [laughs]. But yeah, he has influenced the brand tons. Some people talk s--t on him but the guy has pulled some pretty ballsy moves in his career and [he's] been so successful, too. Seriously: how many pros at the top of their game would ride for a small company like StepChild?! Look at what he has done and how long he has been here for.
|If you wanted a shot that summarized the real vibe behind StepChild, this raging backside doppelganger of JP and Joe in a snowstorm is pretty close to the mark.|
Your rehab from bottle-smashing "clown" to a mean, clean, new Sean is well-known. Ever feel like a guidance counselor now?
Well, for me I knew that something wasn't right. I loved snowboarding more than anything and I saw the drink was even taking that from me. I was spending nights in jail and in the morning I didn't even know what I was in there for. I was nothing but leather skin and bones. I was a very reckless and violent drunk. I had lost my power to choose and anyone that has suffered from an addiction knows that this can be a pretty scary place. I'd choose not to drink but I'd still drink. It wasn't a willpower thing either. I've seen people I really care about lose their lives to this horrible illness and I was well on my way.
Alcoholics are independent to a fault. We hate asking for help or admitting defeat so we isolate in our disease. For me admitting defeat was the turning point in my life. It wasn't about fighting -- it was about surrender. I had to admit that I didn't know s--- about anything and couldn't stay sober alone. They say that alcoholism is the only prison where the key is on the inside -- for me it holds true.
I can't say in print how I stayed sober but would be happy to share my story with anyone on a more personal level. I do not feel like a guidance counselor. If anyone has a problem and needs my help I have to make myself available -- that is the cornerstone of me staying sober. I do admit that I have a huge soft spot for snowboarders, skateboarders and young boozers. I see myself in a lot of those kids and I just hope they make it.
Is snowboarding still an awkward teen trying to figure out who he wants to impress and how?
Well, I just wish snowboarding didn't breed such money-grubbing b----es. Snowboarding can give a lot of people a false sense of importance [and] entitlement. Even with the kids watching videos, they look at it and say, "I can do that" instead of just, "that looks so fun..." If a kid can front board a 15-stair rail he feels he deserves a free board.
The sell-out factor is also huge right now, too. You see a lot of companies jumping onto snowboarding right now and just buying their way in. It's just accepted now. Fifteen years ago if a rider rode for a soft drink company it was a sign of desperation.
I remember Tim Windell's "Dew Plant" where he did a hand plant and drank a Mountain Dew at the same time. That was his career ender. Now riders are starting their careers with a Dew Plant. Snowboarding isn't an awkward teen, snowboarding is a greedy little teen that always wants more and will never be satisfied.
I remember Mike Ranquet saying that the corporations will start treating snowboarding like the long-lost relatives of the lottery winner. One thing that we never predicted was that snowboarding would welcome them with open arms and dollar signs in their eyes. Pro riders never really made s--- back in the day but we had 10 times more fun. That's what it was based off: having fun with our friends. We were more in love with snowboarding than we were with fame or money. A day of snowboarding consisted of shredding all over the mountain, getting wasted and just living in the moment.
|Sean Johnson with a classic method somewhere in the BC snow ghosts. His other ghosts are way scarier...|
Now, it's like: "Did you get a shot today?" "Yeah, I got my 1080 with a heli cam, my sponsors are going to be stoked!" Good snowboarders today, but what a bunch of nerds! If you said that in '92 you would have got beaten up. Now you get high fives. I guess I'm just old and bitter. Those were definitely the golden years...
Did you really punch Bert LaMar at a team BBQ?
Yeah, I did. It wasn't a team BBQ it was a family BBQ that Bert invited a few team riders to. Bert tried to help me out so much and he treated us first few riders on LaMar like family. He was one of the first guys in my life to recognize that I had a problem. He told me that I needed to get help for my drinking and I told him that he didn't know what he was talking about. I still didn't think that I had a problem, so I quit the team and continued to talk s--- about him and his company for 10 years. Then I ended up on the steps of recovery for alcoholism... Bert was right.