Dec 5th '18
morgan collett: Tell us a little bit about your company.
bryan fox: Well, the company started as a joke, as a cynical way to make fun of our friends who had energy drink sponsors.
austin smith: But it’s not like we sat down and said, “Hey we should start a company, what should we do?” It was more that the environmental lifestyle we were living in with snowboarding that brought us to start the company.
mc: So who are you guys? Where are you from Bryan?
bf: I’m from Ramona, CA, which is East County, San Diego. It’s a little cow farming town. I moved to Oregon and created my life in and around Portland.
mc: You’re a professional snowboarder. How long have you been doing that?
bf: Ten years, a lot longer than my parents and I thought it would last.
as: I’m from Bryant Hill, Washington. I grew up playing hockey, and then I decided that I wanted to spend my time snowboarding.
mc: So you guys have both been pro snowboarders for quite a long time.
as: About seven years, I guess. Since I was about seventeen.
mc: So that’s the industry in which Drink Water came about.
as: That’s the industry we live in–traveling around snowboarding, hanging out with snowboarders, and doing that whole thing.
mc: So why did you guys start Drink Water?
bf: Because energy drinks are pumping a shit load of money into action sports, and it’s working really well. And I get it, like, they do really cool events and they have crazy budgets. They just sent a dude to space to free-fall, you know?
aidan payson: They support a lot of great people.
bf: Yeah, like, a lot of our friends ride for them. They put a lot of money into snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding, which a lot of people think is valuable.
mc: It’s true. (Laughs) The sport’s grown a lot over the last ten years.
bf: Yeah, and that’s something I think they see. Snowboarding, surfing, and skating is a culture that is starting to sit next to baseball, basketball, and football.
as: Because a lot of us aren’t interested in that type of entertainment, so those types of big-dollar companies are like, “Oh, this is a market that is pretty juvenile, so we can take it over pretty easily, because we have a lot of capital.” We started writing “Drink Water” on our snowboards just kind of as a joke, you know poking fun at our friends, you know, “Oh, that’s funny you ride for, like, a sugar drink company, or whatever bullshit that is. Oh, cool, we ride for water.”
bf: I think the first time I ever wrote it, it said, “Tap Water.”
mc: (Laughs) As your sponsor?
as: Yeah, people endorse these products that they also never consume themselves. You get paid a ton of money to represent these companies, and you’re like, “I never drink that.” And so it seemed more natural for us to endorse tap water, because we consume the shit out of that stuff.
bf: And now it’s morphed into this thing where people put their own perspective on it and they’re like, “You guys are into health.” Originally, it was a “fuck you.” I grew up in the punk scene, and he grew up with super hippie parents. So I have a little bit of angst against big, overbearing, parent-style companies. He’s got a free spirit. It’s like the same vibe, but kind of less angry.
as: Coming from opposite corners, but meeting in the middle.
mc: How long have you guys been writing “Drink Water” on your boards?
bf: Like two years probably. We launched the website, and then, two months later, there was a story about it in the New York Times. It’s one of those things where you’re like, “Oh fuck.”
mc: Well, it’s super relevant nowadays.
bf: It’s good timing, you know? And a lot of it has to do with the fact that my older brother Steve was like, “Oh, we should make this real and make it like a tangible thing that people can actually hold on to.” He did all the background work to make it a functioning business. You know, there is so much bullshit behind brands and trade-marking, as you guys know, and our mental energy doesn’t really go there. So when he came in, it was really good because his brain works that way. We’re not really manufacturers.
mc: If you had to sum up the whole of what Drink Water is about, would you say it’s about promoting clean living? What would you say? After two years, it’s evolved. You’ve reached a certain realm of being a real business, and it’s actually had some traction. I’ve seen it all over the country in random places–it’s been in the NY Times, it’s been evolving everywhere. The message, I think, is what’s probably the important thing that people are really stoked on.
as: Yeah, it’s a pretty simple message to get on board with and understand. To get kids thinking about what they’re buying, and what those commercials are telling you to consume, and that thought process.
bf: Thoughtful consumerism.
mc: So it’s all about drinking water and not getting force-fed what you think you want?
bf: And it’s taken off from there. We’ve done a couple events. We’re out here for the Go Skateboarding Day.
mc: So you guys were passing out water bottles and stuff like that?
as: We had water stations set up, just trying to provide water to events and making water accessible for the kids. Because there’s usually energy drinks provided as well, so we like to be the alternative in those spaces.
bf: We don’t sell water either. We’re not going to these events and selling water bottles. It’s orchestrated heavily to be anti-that too.
mc: You work with the city, right, to hook up a fire hydrant right by the skatepark?
mc: That’s awesome. Have you guys had any backlash? Because a lot of your friends are pro snowboarders who are sponsored by energy drinks. Have you guys ever been approached to be sponsored by energy drinks?
as: I was a few years ago, when I was the cool kid on the block. But that’s not the kind of thing…
bf: I haven’t been asked by any of them. (Laughs)
mc: So you guys have been picking up some momentum. Have you felt any sort of clash with these companies yet?
as: No, what’s most surprising is the amount of support that comes in from all types of people. People send us emails with addresses from these energy drink companies, or Coca Cola, that are like, “We love what you’re doing. This is great. We’re glad someone’s doing it.” Because, those people who work at those companies, it’s just a job for them.
bf: I didn’t get backlash, but I got a little talking-to at Ultra Natural before we went to Bald Fish. But then you go there, and the higher-ups–the biggest fucking dudes at Red Bull–are like, “Fuck yeah! The shit you guys are doing is awesome.”
mc: Yeah, they’re stoked on it.
ap: You might be down there, with a tiny little hammer, tapping on the toe of the giant, but they’re not affected in that way.
mc: They will be. Aidan, what’s your role in Drink Water? How’d you come into the mix of this?
ap: Last summer, when we were in NY, these guys were traveling on their two-man vacation. It was just life-envy. I mean, to the max, that’s pretty much what Bryan and Austin are selling to the world. I had seen Drink Water and was watching it grow. I was in both of their ears, being like, “This is so cool.” It’s the same reaction everybody has, they’re like, “How can I have access to this? What is that?’” It just so happens that we’d been friends for ten years, and I wasn’t totally happy with what I was doing and I was looking for another job. I wanted to join something that I wanted to be a part of. And Steven was doing an insane amount of stuff, and there was even more time that needed to get put into it. I spent a fair amount of time last fall sort of convincing them and Steven that I could have a hand in it and help out with it day-to-day.
mc: So now it’s the four of you, right?
bf: Yeah, it’s the four of us. And, you know, I think all these things are relevant too. I wish Steven was here too, so he could chime on the part he plays in all this.
mc: Me too.
It comes right out of the faucet, I’m super grateful for this. Yeah, fill it up, keep it coming, give me a pitcher.
bf: Aidan comes from Vans, which is a large corporation that deals with whatever. You know, for us its valuable that he comes from that world, because we’re so detached from actual business reality. When you’re snowboarding, you’re like a little puppet out there, enjoying your time when there’s actually people out there selling your t-shirts and paying for you to travel around the world. Steven came from international affairs and he was the one that was like, “You should get fucking donations and stuff.” And he knew Water.org and their practices and how those structures work, which obviously both of us weren’t clued in on.
mc: Have you guys seen Drink Water expanding around the world, or is it mostly in the US? You guys probably get a lot of feedback through email and stuff like that. Has there been anything that’s been exciting or fun that has come through in terms of people’s support and stuff like that?
as: Yeah, it’s really astonishing to me just how random it is. It’s not just snowboarding-focused, because it has such a broad focus that people can appreciate it outside of snowboarding. That’s where we are derived from, but that’s definitely not where the excitement has stopped.
bf: Yeah, there’s like random fucking orders from places where you’re not even sure how they found out about it. Because it isn’t like saying “Volcom” on a t-shirt, where you either like shitty black-and-white ads, or you don’t. That’s how you decide if you like Volcom. But our thing is something where any random human could walk down the street and say like, “Yeah man, killer hat.” And they do, they really do.
ap: It’s also really interesting, because so many people are a part of that larger movement. You know, it’s really cool to watch it as a movement in addition to a brand. It definitely is a little bit of a voice that people recognize and that people sort of assign to like, “Oh, these are people that are thinking of things in a different way.”
mc: Do you guys have goals for the future? Because it seems like you have an interesting balance. On one hand, you have the non-profit side of what you’re trying to promote. I think that’s an organic and very real statement that you’re trying to push out. And then, at the same, time you’re kind of creating a brand and a lifestyle around your message. I think it’s a unique perspective, because most of your friends are sponsored snowboarders who get paid salaries from these certain companies.
as: Our endgame is that we would love it to be a household name.
bf: I would love for it to actually be like a concern for Coca Cola, or something. I know that’s a little grand, but it would be great if they were like, “God dude, people are really concerned about drinking this terrible stuff!” A lot of people have a lot of hands in that, and it’d be great to be a part of that.
as: We’re certainly not the only ones promoting drinking tap water, obviously. We’re certainly not the only ones promoting water in any aspect, but we may just being doing it in a style that’s getting the attention of some kids that are harder to get on board. But we’re not doing it because of that, we’re just doing it because it makes sense.
bf: And that’s how it starts–that’s how anything starts. You get the ball rolling and you start building from there. It’s good timing.
mc: I think so for sure.
as: I’m super-grateful to be a pro snowboarder, I pretty much travel around the world with this guy, Bryan, year after year, and we’re just constantly on vacation for eight months out of the year, and it’s totally awesome. But it also gets a little repetitive. You just go to all these events and just talk about 720s and 540s, and now it’s great to have something like this where it’s more stimulating. And we’re getting emails from little kids saying they don’t drink soda or energy drinks anymore, because of what we’re doing. That’s probably been the most rewarding aspect of it.
ap: It’s really interesting that Drink Water is coming at it from a couple different fronts. On one hand, it’s this thing that’s sort of making fun of energy drinks, but it’s also this incredibly simple statement, “Drink Water.” And it’s referencing tap water, so inside of that it’s saying you don’t even have to buy bottled water, you don’t have to provide this waste. But then there’s another component, which is that there is a water crisis going on around the world.
as: Tap water is the most underappreciated resource we have, and we take it for granted and don’t really value it.
bf: And it sucks. We were talking about it the other day, all of us. It’s actually a solvable problem in our world. Monetarily, the water crisis in the world could probably be fixed by Bill Gates, money wise. One human being. I mean that fucking nerd who owns Facebook could fucking fix it. And that’s crazy to think about, like if you were that dude and you were like, “You know what, its over.”
mc: “I’ll fix the water problem.” (Laughs) Starting this as somewhat of a joke towards the industry you’re in, you probably didn’t recognize the surface that you were starting to scratch.
Well, the company started as a joke, as a cynical way to make fun of our friends who had energy drink sponsors.
as: Certainly not.
bf: It’s cool though. That might have to do with our loose operating style. If something happens, we’re like, “Cool, yeah. Let’s do that.”
mc: I guess it all comes with asking questions. You questioned a norm that was changing in the industry, and it’s led to pretty amazing places.
as: Taking money from people that you don’t agree with.
bf: Yeah, it’s bizarre how many people promote that shit. You know, I’ve had funny conversations with parents who are pro snowboarders, and they’re like, “Yeah man, you’ll understand when you have kids and you have to provide for them.” And I’m like, ‘”I think you should understand that you’re promoting this to other people’s kids.”
mc: It’s a difficult balance between opportunity and doing the right thing.
as: It’s hard to say no to free money. Hopefully, one day, we could make it so the social qualms of drinking water aren’t so frowned-upon. Because now you go to a restaurant and you’re shunned for drinking water.
mc: Like, the waitress gets upset when you only order water?
as: “Oh, you’re just going to order water?” And, I’m like, “Yeah, this is awesome. It comes right out of the faucet and I’m super grateful for it. I’m psyched! Fill it up, keep it coming, give me a pitcher!”
bf: Slash can’t you see that we just skated across the Williamsburg Bridge and we’re all insanely fucking parched? This city is hot as fuck.
mc: What’s the Rat Race?
bf: It’s a snowboard race that we put on in the summer. There’s like a bunch of awesome races now. Basically, we just copy the banked slalom and put one on in the summer. All the proceeds go to Water.org, and it’s a really good time. People come up, and there’s a big party after it. A lot of money is raised.
mc: Do you guys do a lot with Water.org?
as: Yeah, we donate 10% of the merchandise sales to Water.org. With Rat Race, 100% goes to them.
mc: That’s awesome.
bf: Yeah, you know, we snowboarded all day, went to the lake, went sailing, had a BBQ, gave some people their trophies and awards, and at the end of all that, people got clean drinking water for the rest of their lives. The money raised from the Rat Race will provide about 430 people with water for life.
bf: Water.org is granting ownership over wells to these communities, which is a unique structure they have in place. They put it in place where members of the community own it, and they can kind of control it on their own. They have a lot of good practices there. It’s like we said before, we find a place like Water.org because people keep telling us about better ways to do this, and better ways to do that. We’re just learning as we go.
mc: Is there anything else you guys would like to say?
bf: Think about what you buy.
as: Yeah, question consumerism, question what is being advertised to you. Since you come out of the womb, every second of your life is spent being bombarded, being told what to buy, being told what to wear, being told what to do.
bf: And now we’re doing that to you. (Laughs)■