WHERE YOU AT, SIMON CHAMBERLAIN?

Date: December 19, 2017 Author: Jesse Fox Categories: features
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By William Fraser

Like most teenagers boarding during the early 2000s, I thought Simon Chamberlain was the man. I remember the first time I saw his pro-model. I was 16 and with my mom at a skateshop filled with Grenade outerwear. The sales person was pushing this brand called Stepchild on us. He said it was a newer brand outta Whistler, and that if I liked basketball, I’d love Simon Chamberlain’s all-white, Air-Jordan pro-model. The sales person was right. I loved basketball and I loved that board. But, it was too pricey for a single parent. That day I walked out with nothing, but Simon Chamberlain had a new fan.

Eventually, I was watching Simon’s video parts, wearing his brand—Nomis—and seeing a bunch of Christian teenagers drawing crosses on their boards. Simon was shaking the industry. His tall-guy style, “buttery” tricks, and humble, outspoken Christian personality made it so everyone loved the guy. “I always went through life trying to be positive and a good influence,” he said.

One day, however, it felt like this good influence just disappeared. His Instagram account was gone, Nomis was gone, he wasn’t filming, and a Reddit article titled, “Does Anyone Know What Happened to Simon Chamberlain” popped up. I remember people would talk about seeing him at a skatepark or somewhere else in public, but no one really knew what he was doing. So, when he gave us the OK to interview him, I was hyped. The Reddit kids need answers! But first, from the beginning.

Simon started snowboarding with his brothers’, Matt and Andre Chamberlain, when he was 10 years old. “Growing up,” he says, “we kinda always just tried what my older brother, Matt, did.” But this older-brother-hobby stuck with Simon.

After four years, Chamberlain got his first shop sponsor and started riding flow for Option soon after. He was hyped on snowboarding, and, like the rest of us, was hoping to make a living off of it one day. “[Growing up],” Simon explains, “my dad always was a big proponent of loving what you do for work.”

In grade 12, Simon’s ambitious career goal materialized a little, via telephone. “In my last year of high school, I got a call from Sean Johnson, [the owner of Stepchild]. He was like, ‘We want you to ride for us and we’re going to give you a little bit of money.’ I was like, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’”

With that, Simon left Ontario halfway through grade 12 and moved to Whistler, starting his snowboard career by sleeping on couches, boardin’ his brain out, and probably eating a bunch of perogies. “It was a dream come true to get paid to go snowboarding,” he says. But, little did he know, another dream was also about to come true.

Soon after moving to Whistler, Simon kinda won the snowboard lottery by being selected to ride Nixon Jibfest after Chad Otterstrom hurt his back. I call it the snowboard lottery because it meant that Simon was one of the 13 hand-picked riders in the world who got invited to ride in an exclusive three-day-long contest with legendary pros at a custom-built park. And, to top it off, he won. The small-time pro, who got invited only three days before the event, won.  

Thinking back on that weekend, Simon very humbly and matter-of-factly says: “[I] just rode. And, they voted for me at the end of the three days. That started my career pretty much.”

After that win in 2002, Simon won a couple of other high-profile contests and started hitting the streets with his pals, searching cities for spots, running the genny, and getting clipped up.

His first part was in a flick called Promo Copy. After that, his video part legacy began. Throughout his career, Simon was in the DC Mountain Lab video, Derelictica, Child Support, Down With People, This Video Sucks, Cheers, Good Luck, and a web-series he and JP spearheaded for two years called Jibberish. He was also invited to film a part for the first X Games Real Snow—which is a pretty awesome watch once you find it.

Simon was on one for a long time. And, apart from all that filming, he also created probably one of the fastest-growing and most successful snowboard brands, ever. Nomis—his name spelt backwards. It was started in high school with his brothers and a couple of friends. Simon said that when it started, in 2000, “We would just make clothing for cheap and sell it to our buddies.” But that didn’t last long. Soon after he won Nixon Jibfest, it felt like every core snowboarder, high school teen, and oil rig worker had a Nomis hoodie on. The company’s exponential growth was burning holes in the charts. They needed money, fast. So, in 2005, they turned to their first investor.

This “is when all the layers started happening,” Simon said. “To stay afloat, we just needed to keep getting money, so we kept getting investors, and it turned into us not really having control anymore. Our friends started getting let go, my brothers got let go,and, in 2014, I was the last man standing—stuck in a contract.” Which might have been fine, if the company was doing well.

(Circa 2003) Frontside 270, Switch Backside Lipslide, Helsinki, Finland. [o] Oli Gagnon

At the end of 2014, however, Simon got a phone call from a big-time shareowner. Nomis, which was funding his snowboard career, paying for his mortgage, and helping support his wife and child, was folding—The Chamberlain family’s financial rug was being pulled out from under them, and there was nothing Simon could do. He didn’t have enough shares in Nomis to overrule the decision, and he didn’t have the money to buy it out. Simon was subsequently dropped from his own company and forced to quit snowboarding.  

Yes, Reddit, Simon Chamberlain left snowboarding because he was forced to.

And, because he didn’t know what to do or how to tell people he was leaving, he just chose to leave silently, respectfully, and without a fuss. The classic Simon Chamberlain way.

When talking about this moment, Simon’s voice softened and he began to speak slower.“I just… I just had to quit. It was hard, man; it wasn’t an easy thing. I was just at a point where I had a mortgage and a kid to feed. I had to figure something else out.”

And he did. Simon is now living in Comox, BC, with his wife and 4-year-old child. They sold their North Van apartment two years ago and moved to the Island on a whim—they’re loving it. “The mountain is really close; the beach is really close. It’s awesome.” Simon is going back to school soon to become a third-year apprentice carpenter—he’s still throwing down hammers—and his wife is currently in school, training to become a teacher.

Changing his career wasn’t easy, though. The unpredicted departure from something Simon loved so much took a lot out of him, emotionally. “I always thought that the end of my snowboard career would be my decision,” he said. “But the way it ended for me was that I just kinda had to walk away, [even though] I felt like I could still do it for a couple years… The first year, year and a half, it was really hard. There was depression involved and I felt like I didn’t know who I was. It was tough. I did some therapy. I’m feeling good now and getting back on track. It took a little bit.”

For so many of us, snowboarding isn’t a life-long option, which sucks. We can’t build lips, search for spots, and get down forever; life happens, bills start coming in, and our bodies deteriorate. While doing this interview, Simon reminded me that the best thing we can do is enjoy snowboarding while we have it, and appreciate it for everything it has given us: the laughs, the high fives, the concussions, the night sessions, the broken winches, the bangers—all of it. We can take those memories into what happens next, as we learn to love something new.

Looking back, Simon says, “I feel fortunate. Everyone kinda works their entire life to make their dream happen, but mine kinda happened right away. I got to live that dream for 12 years… now, I can’t really retire, but I can do something else that I enjoy, and I can still snowboard and skateboard here and there, and I can raise a kid. It’s awesome just trying to be the best dad I can be.”