Wednesday, April 17, 2024

GLOSS podcast: Brooke Geery on the past, present and future of snowboard media

This interview is an abridged version of Crude Conversations EP 087 Brooke Geery on the past, present and future of snowboard media. Listen to the podcast here.

This is the first episode of GLOSS — an ongoing series between Crude and Blower Media, where Cody Liska will be talking with influential women in snowboarding. 

Photo by Keith Rutherford

In 1997, Brooke Geery started an online snowboard publication called YoBeat. It began on an AOL chatroom with 2 megabytes of free space and grew into an internationally recognized website. She says that it was a satirical site that gave a voice to people who snowboarded rather than a mouthpiece for the industry. Brooke and the content YoBeat hosted were children of the Internet, conveying unfiltered opinions and candid ideas. Many of which garnered love and hate in the comment sections that often drew just as much attention as the articles. And this all started back when there were only a few online snowboard publications. 

Brooke says that YoBeat needed to die so that she could run a more mature snowboard publication. She was 15 years old when she started the site, and that voice persisted throughout the lifespan of the publication. Now, with her new online publication, Blower Media, a more mature Brooke is re-entering the conversation surrounding the culture of snowboarding during a time when so many legacy publications have died out. There are only a few people left in the industry with the same knowledge and first-hand experience as Brooke. So, her perspective on the past, present and future of snowboard media is one to listen to.

Smell the flowers
Happiness is a state of mind. Self portrait.

Cody Liska: When I was writing for YoBeat years ago, I remember thinking there was this kind of underlying sadness, or maybe even like a little bitterness towards something. But now that you’re working on your new snowboard publication, you seem genuinely happier.

Brooke Geery: Yeah. I mean, I don’t like to place blame on other people, but I had, actually, now two men in my life who really took it out of me. When I was doing YoBeat, my partner was very difficult to deal with, he just insisted on doing everything the hardest way possible. And anytime that I would be up and excited and happy and things were be working out, he would find a way to just tear it away from me. My more recent partner affected me in different ways. And actually, I think helped me in a lot of ways to motivate me to do Blower because he was just a cheerleader for that element of my life. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to life than just running a website and snowboarding. So it didn’t work out between us. But my ex ex really was a downer and it affected me. It made me not myself. So, now to be kind of on the cusp of total freedom… I’m just excited. 

CL:  Do you feel like you’re a person who is kind of an empath, somebody who is greatly affected by the emotions of other people, or even, like, the vibe of other people?

BG: Well, yeah. Kind of a funny story: Ben Fee, who was a snowboard filmmaker back in the day. He worked for Nikita and was Hunter S Thompson’s assistant. I mean, he’s just lived this incredible, incredible life. So, we went to Plymouth State (now university, then college) together and I was always talking about the vibes. And so he started calling me the “vibrator,” which is hilarious in hindsight, but at the time I thought it was pretty lame.

But absolutely. I’ve never referred to it as an empath. In fact, I think I have a kind of icy exterior sometimes. Not so much lately, but when I was younger… I think it’s a front that I put up because it does matter so much to me, and I do want everyone to be happy and I do want everyone to succeed. Even the people who don’t like me and have been vocal about not liking me. You know, there’s the part of me that always just wants to be like, “Well, why don’t we just have a conversation and see if we can find common ground?” And I cover that up and kind of deal with that by just being mad. But yeah, absolutely, deep down it affects me just like anybody else. Maybe more.

Brooke and Killington’s grooviest groomer, Brian Hughes. When Brooke was 15, Brian was on the park crew at Killington.

CL: So, you’ve been working in some capacity within the snowboard industry since the early ‘90s, right?

BG: Mid-to-late ‘90s, 97.

CL: What did snowboard media look like back then?

BG:  Well, there were magazines and people read them. On the East Coast, we actually had two magazines. There was East Infection and Eastern Edge, and Eastern Edge was kind of like the straight-laced magazine. Neil Korn ran it and he was just more of an “adult.” And then East Infection was Mark Sullivan and Pat Bridges. It was raw and raucous and much more representative of the actual snowboard scene at that time—I think I still have copies of both and they’re amazing. And, I don’t know, we were just lucky to have all that. 

CL:  What’s interesting, is the two East Coast magazines that you brought up and how one was a little bit more straight-laced and the other one was more representative of the culture. It seems to me like one of those won-out for a while.

BG:  Sure. I mean, you know what happened, actually, was that Mark Sullivan and Pat Bridges just got jobs at Snowboarder. So, in a lot of ways, I think that they did win because Neil Korn never got a job anywhere (in the industry.) And so Bridges and Sullivan were able to translate East Infection into this amazing career in snowboarding.

CL: Why do you think magazines like TransWorld SNOWboarding and Snowboarder went out of business?

BG:  Because they were bought by giant corporations that didn’t care (about snowboarding.) Also, because they didn’t adapt quickly enough to the changing market. And I think media is a tough business. But it’s also a business that’s infinitely adaptable and you just have to be always thinking on your feet. When you’re part of this giant conglomerate that sets the trends and the standards and tells you what you have to do—it’s hard to do that. So that’s part of the problem.

And also, nobody cared. Snowboarder definitely did a great job and had some great articles, but it was irrelevant to 99 percent of the people who snowboard because 99 percent of the people who snowboard don’t know that there are professional snowboarders. They don’t care that there’s a scene. And the other thing is that they were always targeted at 17-year-olds, which was fine when that was the only option, but 17-year-olds are not picking up magazines anymore. They continue to try and talk to that same age range and same audience and it’s like, “Yo, they’re not listening.”

So, when it comes down to the bottom line, if there’s no audience, there’s no need for it. But as far as the snowboard industry went, it’s a huge loss because snowboard media is what’s going to keep the scene and the connection alive in a lot of ways. 

Don’t speak, don’t breathe, just live. Hanging with a wooden Bear in Ludlow.

CL: Other than watching snowboard clips, I don’t really keep up on the snowboard industry. So I don’t know if this question has been answered before, but within the snowboard industry you have these people who have been kind of these purveyors and curators of the sport. People like Pat Bridges, who was the editor of Snowboarder Magazine for such a long time. What do you think happens to these people after traditional snowboard publications aren’t around anymore?

BG:  So, let me correct you. First, Pat Bridges was the editor of Snowboarder Magazine long, long ago. But in more recent history, he was the Creative Director. He had a much more over-the-top job, kind of pulling the strings, holding the marionette handles, if you will. Stan was actually the editor of Snowboarder at the end. And Bridges and Stan and a bunch of other people are doing Slush Mag now. They were able to rebrand an established Instagram, and kick off Slush Mag with that. So they have like 100k followers. And they’re just doing their thing.

I told Stan that I’m very excited to launch a media brand alongside him, and to help each other out. Because there’s room for (at least) three major publications in snowboarding. Historically, that’s what brands have accepted. And yes, the internet changed everything, but I think from a culture and industry perspective, that there can be three outlets and that will create enough room for all the brands to be represented, all the writers to be represented and for enough stories to be told for snowboarding to have that robust excitement again. 

So, to answer your question, people like Bridges aren’t gonna lay down and die. Bridges will always be a part of snowboarding. He is super creative and super funny, and has as much knowledge and way more connections than I do. So, if he wants to start a snowboard media site, it’s going to happen. So, you know, I don’t think you have to worry about smart, creative people. They’re always gonna find a way.

CL: Brooke, you’re so positive [laughs].

BG: I know. Right? [laughs] Who am I?

CL: Okay, so let’s move on to YoBeat.

BG: Okay. So, that was a thing I did for a really long time. It was my heart and soul. And like I said, when we re-started I had a very negative partner who made me feel like I couldn’t do it alone, who helped a lot, brought a lot of skills and a very cool office and a lot of things to the table. And I was so convinced that I couldn’t do it without him that I let him destroy it. And it sucks. It sucks a lot. And it took me three years to get over it, but, you know, I think in a lot of ways YoBeat needed to die for me to be able to do what I really wanted to do.

Because there was always going to be that underlying feeling, that “this is the blog that I started when I was 15.” It was always going to be snowboarding from 15-year-old Brooke’s perspective. And now that it’s gone—and it’s been gone long enough that I can move on—and I can be myself, I can create the media I want to create, I don’t have to answer to shady commenters or my shitty exes or whatever. It’s almost liberating. I can take the good stuff from YoBeat and I can apply it to Blower, but I can also just forget about anything I didn’t like about YoBeat.

CL: You don’t have to hold on to any of that baggage.

BG:  Exactly. There’s no expectations. You know, and I always said, when I write the book about YoBeat, it’s gonna be called Unrealistic Expectations: The YoBeat Story because every single person involved had unrealistic expectations, myself included. The advertisers had unrealistic expectations, my partner had unrealistic expectations, my employees had unrealistic expectations. It was just not reality. And it worked for years, somehow. But it just never had that solid footing that you needed to be a bigger success than just kind of a novelty brand.

CL:  Were there ever any articles that you regret writing or publishing on YoBeat?

BG:  Sure. I shouldn’t have published that Burton letter. That was shitty. I mean, it got a ton of traffic and it got a lot of people calling me excited, but the timing was horrible. It was just inappropriate to put it up because it made life harder for a lot of people.

Other than that, no, everything was fine. People get bent out of shape over nothing, a lot of times. 

CL: And that Burton letter kind of detailed some of the toxicity in their workplace, if I remember correctly? 

BG: Yeah. And from that perspective, I thought it was a positive thing because that was the situation I was hearing about from a lot of people. And for a lot of people that worked there and dealt with that, they were like, “Oh, thank God, maybe something will change.” But what I didn’t know was that Jake was in the hospital paralyzed. I didn’t know any of that. So it was just too much. And that goes back to looking at people on a human level.

And you can look at Jake and Donna and say, “Oh, well, they were public figures and they’re kind of larger than life. And they should just know that this is just the price you pay for being successful.”

But as an “adult” now, I don’t want to be that person anymore. I still want to deliver the news, I still want to be realistic, I still want truth, but I don’t need to take people down to do it anymore. And so that’s going to be, I think, the biggest change that people notice going forward. 

CL:  Yeah. Which gets back to what you were saying about laying YoBeat to rest and how you feel like it’s this natural progression where you don’t have to be that 15-year-old Brooke anymore, you can move on to being 40-year-old Brooke with Blower.

BG:  Exactly. That’s the plan. You know, we’ll see what happens.

CL: So, what ultimately happened to YoBeat?

BG:  Basically, there was a lawsuit. I paid 50 grand to lawyers to fight over nothing. The legal battle lasted as long as it did because I had already sold ad contracts before I got sued. And so I had like five contracts that ran through March that I said, “I have to fulfill these, I have to because I made this commitment to like these five brands.” I had signed a piece of paper that said, “I’m going to do all this stuff for your brand through March.”

I got sued in probably December or January—I think it was January, that he filed like a $600,000 lawsuit against me alleging me of conversion and actual financial crimes that I couldn’t just ignore.

I even said to my lawyer, “Can we just ignore this, this is bullshit,” and he was like, “No, because if we ignore it then you’ll basically be found guilty and then you’ll have financial crimes on your record forever.”

So, that sucked. I did the best I could to stick with it, but by the end of it I just said, “You know what, you can have it, you can have every single thing on Facebook, the website, you can have the URL, you can have the name, the apparel brand, you can have the Instagram, the Twitter, you can have it all. I don’t want it, take it.

And he said to me, “Well, I don’t want the website, I wouldn’t do that to you. I just want the Instagram and the name.”

And I was like, “Fine, whatever, take the stupid Instagram.” And I tried. I tried. And I just eventually said, “You know what, I don’t even care.”

I eventually just deleted [the YoBeat website] and I did it in haste. As I often do. So a lot of it got completely deleted forever. I don’t have a backup. It doesn’t exist. But I do have a lot of stuff, especially from the later days of YoBeat, thanks to hard drives and Gmail and everything. So I’m trying to bring back the stuff that I liked and I thought was cool. 

But yeah, the Instagram and the name got sold to Korea. And that is why there is now a Korean outerwear brand called YoBeat. But I didn’t get any of the money for that. I was not involved. I don’t know anything about it. My only contact with them has been to send a Facebook message saying to take the thing I wrote off their website. But, you know, as long as my ex isn’t involved, I have no ill will towards them. They’re just trying to do their thing, and in some ways it’s kind of cool to see YoBeat written on an outerwear line in Korea, I guess.

CL:  So, now where do you see Blower fitting into that list of relevant top three snowboard publications?

BG:  I look at what else is out there and, to me, Snowboarder is irrelevant at this point. Maybe that’s ignorant. You know, I think they have that legacy title and whatever, but from an industry perspective—from the people who are involved and have been involved for a long time—Snowboarder doesn’t exist without Bridges.

So, I look at the landscape and I see Blower, Slush and Torment. And the way I figure it is, Slush can be the new Snowboarder, Torment can be the new YoBeat and Blower will be TransWorld. Number one, baby [laughs].

But, you know, we’ll see what happens.

Hippie shit.