words: Mary Walsh
photos: T. Bird, Aaron Blatt, and Mary Walsh
In 2011, disheartened by the escalating presence of energy drink companies within the snowboard industry, friends and professional snowboarders Bryan Fox and Austin Smith decided to share their opinions on the matter. The beginnings were simple: “drink water”, emblazoned on their snowboards with paint pen or permanent marker. Garage-screenprinted sweatshirts that broadcast the same sentiment. Two of snowboarding's most outspoken individuals, for whom creatively pushing inherent boundaries is common both on and off their decks, soon found that there were plenty others in the community that shared their sentiment, who also wanted to fill up their cups at the proverbial tap--as well as the literal one.
Since then, only five short years ago, Drink Water has become a brand/movement amalgamation. They don't sell water; they never will. They produce hoodies and tees, water bottles and hats, all of which are worn proudly across the strata of snowboarding, from elite pros to weekend warriors. But Drink Water isn't about the products--it's really just the message, and the symbology and gear are both opportunities to spread the doctrine. Fill up a bottle, head outside if you like, and think a little a bit about what's being put in front of you. To this end, a portion of all of Drink Water product proceeds goes to Water.org, a non-profit aimed at bringing clean drinking water to those in need worldwide.
Not long after Drink Water was orgaincally established, Austin and Bryan, along with Stephen Fox and Aidan Payson, decided to do more to contribute. In the mid-2000s, Bryan and Austin had wielded shovels and salt as diggers at High Cascade Snowboard Camp at Mount Hood, Oregon, continuing to return in the summers since then as Signature Sessioners. In between opening the park, noon rake, and closing things down each day, Austin, Bryan, and Aidan, along with fellow former diggers Curtis Ciszek, Kyle Martin, Carson Schubert, James Jackson, and more talented turners amused themselves between opening up the park and maintaining features by creating a masochistic train of bumps they called the Hell Track: bmx whoops so close together that just getting to the end was a seemingly impossible task. Increasing the technical gnarliness and general ride-ability/lack thereof and subsequently testing one's abilities to hold the line between speed and total blow out were equally revered and enjoyed. It is out of this beloved and slightly sadistic pastime that the Drink Water Rat Race was born.
At its heart, the Rat Race is an opportunity to take something that the snowboarding community loves to do (make turns) and use that to do something bigger for the world (provide clean drinking water to residents in impoverished countries). The Drink Water crew does this by donating race registration fees directly to Water.org. Since the contest's inception five years ago, Austin, Bryan, Stephen, Aiden and everyone who has attended the summertime event as raised nearly 100,000 dollars for Water.org. It's a small token of appreciation from a group of snowboarders that has a massive impact on the people for whom the money provides and a pretty amazing example of a simple idea that two friends grew out of a garage and turned into something much, much bigger.
Of course, in addition to the real world good that the Drink Water Rat Race accomplishes, within the microcosm of the snowboarding world, the summer season banked slalom is one of the most beloved and anticipated events of the calendar year. Every July, nearly two hundred snowboarders flock to Oregon--from Canada, from the East Coast, from Europe--to drop into what also happens to be one of the most technical berm and bumped courses there is.
A week before Monday, July 11th, Austin, Bryan, Curtis Ciszek, Tim Eddy, Alex Yoder, Chris Luzier, Cale Meyer (maybe Spencer Schubert and Blake Paul) and a grip of hearty volunteers posted up at High Cascade to get to work just above the High Cascade park lane. HCSC Head Digger Corey MacDonald loaned out snowmobiles, salt, and shovels, and the Drink Water crew shouldered rakes and went to work. It was fitting, as this year marked the fifth anniversary of Rat Race, that this course was the gnarliest yet. But, this wasn't necessarily the purpose. While Fox is quick to state that while they don't want anyone to get hurt, they definitely like everyone to be a little scared, the build this year was clouded by, well, dense, thick clouds and winter precipitation that is definitely not normal at Mount Hood in early July. Building the Rat Race set up is a mix of shoveling, shaping, and testing out to make sure it not only flows, but just that the intense twists and turns plainly work out. It's a fine craft and this year, the guys were only able to try individual turns or segments on their own. Linking everything together would only happen on race day.
Summertime prevailed the morning of the 11th. Thick fog choked the sky low on the mountain, but the Rat Race venue was perfectly above the clouds. After a week of battling gray day vertigo, the efforts of Bryan, Austin, Curtis and crew had paid off in blue, sunny skies and a maze glistening, white banked turns laid out between start gate and finish line. While Rat Race is a seamlessly-run event, it's also casual and relaxes--well, as relaxed as it can be when everyone is trying to ride the fine line between high speed and careening over the side of a berm into the chunder outside the course. It's a dichotomy that has contributed to the esteem of the race, as while having a good time on hill with good friends is paramount, the competition is serious. It makes sense, too, when the roster of riders includes Mikkel Bang, Terje Haakonsen, Jake Blauvelt, Iikka Backstrom, Devun Walsh, Lucas Magoon, Sage Kotsenburg, Max and Gus Warbington, Jake Kuzyk, Harry Kearney, Danny Davis, JF Pelchat, Bobby Meeks, Ben and Gabe Ferguson, Sebbe De Buck, Danimals, Temple Cummins, Darcy Sharpe, Zak Hale, Brady Lem, John Murphy, Charles Reid, Chase Josey, Dustin Craven, Austen Sweetin, and more. The ladies' side is equally stacked. Spencer O'Brien, Leanne Pelosi, Marie-France Roy, Hailey Langland, Maddie Mastro, Hana Beaman, Colleen Quigley, Robin Van Gyn and more lined up at the start gate alongside the men. For the first time in the event's history, a lottery was opened up to the public. Every five-dollar donation to Water.org bought one chance to get a racing slot and at the end of June, fifteen snowboarders were given their bibs to compete alongside the invited riders. For this crew, many of whom had never been to Mount Hood, it was not only an trip to test their metal edges against those of many of the best snowboarders in existence, but also an opportunity to be apart of a personal and celebrated annual gathering.
Banked slaloms aren't always the most spectator-friendly competition, but the Rat Race is prime viewing due to the intensely challenging course; at any time, one of the world's most decorated snowboarders could take a turn too hot and fly head over heels off course to a chorus of yells and cheers from the onlookers. When just making it through the course in one piece is an accomplishment in itself, being able to rip a solid time while staying upright makes for heavy bragging rights. Quick bumps could be doubled right off the bat before heading into a few steep turns. A lefthand hook was practically a full circle and led directly into a raise double feature that required ample speed and quick back-and-forth. A handful of berms then raced down toward the final stretch, which was loaded with a double of double and a triple that sent From the beginning, everyone was ripping, whether they were able to stay on course or flew out and then cruised back in. Austen Sweetin and Ben Ferguson looked fast, per usual. Max Warbs completed a run switch. Gooner managed a fast time while popping multiple 180s. Tonino Copene frontran the second heat of men's pros and knocked down the handcrafted Drink Water Rat Race letters that lined the top of the course like a Pinterest postcard. Spencer Schubert laid out a backflip. Bobby Meeks fist pumped a sloughed turn (and then finished strong). Temple Cummins rode a fairly non-smooth course incredibly smoothly. Craven, Ralph Kucharek, and Danimals were crusing. Ride Marketing Manager Tanner McCarty beat out a portion of his very own team. Logan "Logey B" Beaulieu didn't think he did well in the working man's class, didn't get his evening activities covered at camp and missed his award. Strange Brew and HCSC lensman Danny Kern came out for the photogs. Hailey Langland continued her podium streak by taking back-to-back wins in the ladies division. Eleven-year old Juliette Pelchat held her own amongst her elders and sped through the course. Darcy Sharpe and Chase Josey were lightening fast. Mikkel Bang tripled into the finish. So did Ben Ferg. And Austin. And Curtis. And more.
The sun was setting and campfire smoke filling the beach when the crowd of Rat Racers descended onto the sand to hear who had taken top honors for the day. As is tradition, Bryan and Austin's parents had donated their time to make a bbq feast for everyone involved and once everyone's stomachs were filled, the co-founders of Drink Water announced the winners. It sounds cliché to say, but it's succinctly true: the Drink Water Rat Race is the anti-contest in a heavily contested year. It's its own type of banked slalom, that's seeks to humble as much as it does entertain. This is seen clearly in the awards celebration, in which Austin and Bryan give out seminal accolades, like The Java (won this year by Hannah Eddy), along with a miniroast about each winner. And every person is of course cheered and ribbed by their friends in the rowdy crowd.
As the custom Nitro snowboards, adidas Snowboarding jerseys, handmade Christenson surfboards, GoPros, Airblaster Ninjasuits and more of the prizes were depleted as the fastest riders were announced (including a , it was finally time to get to the Sponsored Men's top three, arguably one of the most competitive and prestigious podiums of the season. Toby Miller and Danny Davis tied for tenth. Austen Sweetin was in ninth. Harry Kearney, Terje Haakonsen, and Darcy Sharpe went eighth, seventh, and sixth respectively. Temple took fifth and Charles Reid, fourth. Third place went to Idaho's Chase Josey and in second was Bend's Ben Ferguson. All bets were off for first place and as the crowd started belting out their who-is-the-champion guesses, Curtis Ciszek was called up. The crowd lost it. Curtis accepted his trophy, earned without the ability to take any pre-race day practice runs. His winning time? A screaming 36:66.
Thank you to the Drink Water crew, Austin Smith, Bryan Fox, Stephen Fox, and Aidan Payson. Thank you to the volunteers who helped build the course, especially considering they had to go up on rain days in rough weather. A massive thanks to Bryan and Austin parents, who toiled over the BBQs to feed an army of snowboarders. Everything was delicious! Thank you to High Cascade, Tommy J, CMac, and the entire crew. And thank you to all the sponsors that helped make the event happen: Quiksilver, adidas, evo, Smartwool, Christenson Surfboards, Picky Bars, HCSC, Nitro, Diecutstickers.com, Crab Grab, One Ball Jay, Timberline, Traverse, Skullcandy, Mt. Baker, Airblaster, Burton, and GoPro.
first – Curtis Ciszek
second – Ben Ferguson
third – Chase Josey
fourth – Charles Reid
fifth – Temple Cummins
sixth – Darcy Sharpe
seventh – Terje Haakonsen
eighth – Harry Kearney
ninth – Austen Sweetin
tenth – Toby Miller
first – Hailey Lagland
second – Spencer O’Brien
third – Zoe Bergermann
first – JD Dennis
second – Logan Beaulieu
third – Tanner McCarty
fourth – Chris Luzier
fifth – Cale Meyer
sixth – Danny Kern
seventh – Will Dennis
If you still want to donate to Drink Water’s mission, the Rat Race fundraising campaign will be running for the rest of July. Donate here.
We had a great time, see you guys next year. For more info, check out Wedrinkwater.com and Water.org.