Words: Jamey Voss
In my inbox, I have an e-mail that David Lesh sent me from New Zealand dated August 30, 2008. I contracted him to shoot some photos of Tanner Hall, as I was running a website for Red Bull at the time. Living in a van in someone’s driveway, Lesh was eager to get the $300 I owed him upon completion. “My cash situation is very tight at the moment, so this will help out a lot,” he wrote.
Less than four years later, at 26 years old, Lesh owns and operates an outerwear company, FD Wear based in Boulder, Colo., that since 2009 has grown sales over 600 percent and gone from a home operation to having a full-on distribution center. He obtained his pilot’s license and owns a six-seat Piper Lance, and he rolls in two different suped-up Subaru hatchbacks that any city snowboarder would burn their entire Affliction collection to be able to throw a giant DC die-cut in the back window and call their own. Not to mention the Summit 800 he pulls behind said Subarus.
Long known to the community at newschoolers.com as a member, blogger, and owner of a company that caters to a young, park-oriented consumer, Lesh made big waves in the broader ski community with a FD Wear video released two weeks ago entitled “Last Friday.” The eight-minute edit portrays Lesh, and FD Wear sponsored skiers B Devine and Everly Gohman, engaged in a range of gratuitous activities including casual sex, alcohol drinking, dope smoking, forklift sleeping, plane flying, grillz flaunting, corner drifting, mobile gun shooting, park skiing, sled tow drifting, slednecking, pillow dropping, clubbing, and, lastly, rain making…all in one 24-hour period in both Boulder and Breckenridge.
“Last Friday” sparked a slew of controversy across a range of skiing websites and forums, including newschoolers.com, the Teton Gravity Research forums, earlyups.com, and unofficialnetworks.com as well as a commentary piece at brobomb.com. Comments ranged from predictable self-righteous gun-safety criticism to the typical “what has happened to skiing” questions to unadulterated vitriol. As they say, “haters gonna hate,” so amusement and praise for “Last Friday” was solidly in the minority column. A notable comment, however, came via Facebook from notorious snowboard industry gangster, Marc Frank Montoya: “haha!! Holy shit!!! That was ill kid! Fuck yeah, main!!! Muhfuckaz is crazy!!!!hahaha!!!!”
The waves kept crashing on April 1 when newschoolers.com reported Lesh had been arrested on felony gun charges, felony eluding, reckless endangerment, and drug possession by Breckenridge authorities in response to “crimes” depicted in “Last Friday.” FD Wear and Lesh confirmed the report on their respective Facebook pages, and the kids on newschoolers.com seemed up in the air as to whether the report was real or an April Fool’s hoax, to which newschoolers.com has established quite a tradition. Regardless, yesterday Lesh released a supposed “court ordered apology” video for “Last Friday,” which was clearly a spoof on a LeBron James Nike commercial. Nothing less than well played, the latest video seemingly caps off what will surely go down as one of the most brilliant marketing stunts in skiing’s recent history. Whether people still love or hate Lesh, FD Wear has garnered impressive levels of exposure.
We caught up with Lesh on the eve of the release of the latest “apology” video to hear his thoughts on the whole situation.
Powder: What are you doing right now?
Lesh: I’m walking to Whole Foods with a buddy. We’re after a sandwich. Maybe a burrito.
And do you have a gun in your pants?
(Laughs) You know, I don’t actually. But I got pulled over by five undercover cops a couple days ago and they were asking about the video. They were like “Where’s your grill, where’s your gun? How come you don’t have your grill in?” It was pretty funny, I don’t think they expected me to be someone else when they pulled me over.
Yeah, so they bought the whole video thing?
I don’t know. I think they got some calls and complaints and they were having to follow up on it and see if there were really any crimes committed and see if there’s anything they can really do about it. The cops were actually pretty stoked on the video. They kind of liked it. But, you know, they had a job to do.
When you released “Last Friday” what was your intention? What were you trying to accomplish?
Well, I don’t know. I guess mostly to just document. This is a fun time in our lives, and, along with promoting the company, I just wanted to document the shit that we do everyday in our lives. Not only do we work hard and try to build the company, but we ski and backcountry ski and snowmobile and shoot guns and fly airplanes and rally cars. All that is stuff we’ve been doing for a while and we’ve really never video taped it. It was nice to just put something together that’s fun and has a good vibe and has my friends and I doing the stuff we enjoy.
So, the activities we saw in “Last Friday,” that’s typical for you?
Well, you know, we all have different personas and it was definitely exaggerated a bit, but none of us grew up very privileged, so we have done some gutter shit in our lives and been put in a lot of very interesting situations that most people can’t relate to but has shaped who we are. I’m not saying we pretend to be gangsters, because we don’t. But in certain episodes in our lives, we’ve done some quote/unquote gangster things. It’s just kind of us being ourselves and we are all intelligent, educated people who are just trying to live life to the fullest.
Did you think “Last Friday” would get the attention that it got?
I knew it would be relatively controversial. Anytime you have people showing off or flaunting their stuff or white kids acting “ghetto” or whatever, there’s always going to be controversy. So yeah, we expected it. There would have really been no way for me to predict what would have come out of it. What I wanted to do was just make it dope, and there’s actually a lot of stuff we left out of the video that we thought was a little too gnarly for it. In hindsight, it’s probably good we made that call (laughs). But I never expected people to call the Boulder Police Department. I’ve gotten calls and e-mails from all over the world from some people saying I should die or they wish I’d get hit by a truck or shoot myself. And we’ve just taken all that negativity to be absolutely hilarious, so we’ve had a great time with it.
A lot of the criticism online includes people calling you a “trust funder.” How do you respond to that?
It’s a pretty safe assumption. A lot of people in the ski industry, including pros and people with companies, have come from a relatively privileged life. Skiing is an expensive sport and a lot of people who participate in it are better off than most. I think it’s a relatively safe assumption; I’d probably make it. But in this case it just happens to not be true. I was dead broke when I started First Drop. I got $2,000 from some sponsors that owed me money and I used that to get samples made and pay for shipping and I built the website myself. I didn’t have any money to pay anyone to do anything for me so I ended up doing it all myself. From photography to design to signing the team to putting together payment gateways and online media and customer service, I was forced to do everything myself.
This whole series of events surrounding “Last Friday,” from the video itself to the arrest reports to the “Apology” video, was that all orchestrated?
No, we kind of just rolled with it. We wanted to see how people took the first video, and, with the reaction we got, we saw a chance to really sucker people in and show them we really don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks. We wanted to make a video that was even more ridiculous and spoofing the LeBron James “I’m Not a Role Model” commercial was the perfect way to do that. We filmed it all in about a week and it came together really well, I think. It’s been an interesting marketing experience, because so many people are like “Oh my god, it’s so bad for the company image,” but it’s really been quite the opposite. We’ve gotten a lot of praise and attention and recognition in the industry, and we had a damn good time doing it.
So you do think this whole controversy has been positive for FD Wear?
Absolutely. We’re already trying to figure out other ideas and concepts for other videos to put together. I think parts of the ski industry have become really lame. I think a lot of kids just sit in their parents’ basements and live on the Internet through these electronic personas, and I think it’s important to remember where skiing came from and to get out and get creative and do something fun with your friends. And I think it’s important to be yourself and really not give a fuck what other people have to say about it.
Do you think this would’ve been treated differently if you were a snowboard company?
Yeah, I think so. It still would’ve been controversial. Skiing has always been a softer crowd, and snowboarding has always been the counter-culture and the rule breakers. Skiing has generally always been this very proper, rich, white sport. And while it might, as a whole, be that, freestyle skiing really has always been that same counter-culture or at least started out that way. And as freestyle skiing moves into this more regimented place with the whole Olympic thing, we are trying to stay true to it what it was born out of and that’s really just having as much fun as possible. You know back in the day you had movies like the “Guatemalan Persuader” and “Scandalous” and they had a definite edge to them, but they had a good vibe as well and now everything just seems to be moving away from that.
Amidst all the controversy and criticism for “Last Friday” has there also been some praise?
Yeah, we got a ton of praise, and this apology video has gotten mostly positive feedback. What we really noticed is the people who are really talking shit are the people who have always hated us for one reason or another and are really not our customers anyway. I think we gained new customers and gained the approval of new people, and the people who are really hating would’ve never bought our gear anyway, which is fine. What’s really nice is the people who are really negative call our supporters to action to defend us, and I think that’s really where we’ve been able to create brand loyalty and we can really start to interact with people who actually are our customers.
Should you be more of a role model?
Well, in real life I think I am a pretty good role model. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence is able to see that we are running a successful company. We have excellent customer service and we’re making excellent products. But really, I don’t think it’s my job to be a role model. If people have opposition to a self-made man who went out there and started a company from nothing and is having fun with it and having fun with life then let them take opposition to it, I don’t really care.
Where do you and FD Wear go from here?
I don’t really know. It’s hard to say. The first few years were way crazier than I would’ve ever thought. I never really had any hope of the company succeeding like it did in the beginning. I mostly just did it because I was sick of my shitty outerwear sponsors and wanted some dope gear to rock. So everything that has happened beyond that has been overwhelmingly a surprise, which is great. As far as we’ve come, I don’t really know what the next few years hold. We do want to start offering more products and to keep refining the products we already have. I want to get more involved with stuff like this, these videos. I want to organize team trips and video shoots and put together more content and just kind of overall grow the company. It’s just me and a few of my buddies and it’d be nice to take on a few more people and get FD Wear into more stores.
Any last words?
Just be free.