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By William Fraser
TJ Schneider, like any good Red Deer Albertan, grew up a hockey player who didn’t care about snowboarding at all. At six or seven, he remembers being pissed when he got the classic, plastic Black Ice snowboard for Christmas. The worst present. He rode it a couple times, he said, but just put it away after that. He went out again when he was eight, but, “I froze my ears off,” he says laughing. “And I didn’t really like that.”
When he was 12, he got a massive Kemper Intruder for Christmas. A sky scrapper of a board in comparison to him. Like imagine King Kong dragging the Empire State Building down a snowy prairie road. But, besides the board size, this is when he chose to ditch AAA hockey and give snowboarding a shot. “I just didn’t really like the team aspects of hockey,” he says. “I liked that skateboarding and snowboarding were more individual sports, where you could just do them on your own and not have someone freak out on you because you weren’t working fuckin’ hard enough.”
At that point, TJ was riding all the time at Canyon in Red Deer, which, according to him, it may be the biggest non-mountain resort in Canada. A hilarious thought, considering it’s the exact opposite of a mountain, in that it’s a depression, meaning that its vertical is a result of it going into the earth rather than protruding from it.
Quickly after starting, he began making sponsor-me tapes, getting his first board sponsor after his first year. A bonus for his family. “It made snowboarding a lot cheaper,” he explains. “We could actually afford to go.”
The sponsors kept coming in. The subsequent year he was on 32 and a couple months later, he was on Division 23. Yeah, that’s right, his first sponsors were the numbers 32 and 23. Two numbers that when flipped make the other one. Crazy, I know. On top of that, he was stoked because Peter Line, the founder of the original Forum 8, was on the Division 23 team, and TJ loved him. It was a childhood wet dream come true… he was sharing a board sponsor with his hero.
Throughout high school, Schneider kept on his board, continuing to get sponsored by sending in sponsor-me tapes, and getting a couple photos in magazines. It was just an uphill climb. Up and out of that little prairie hill, right into another one: C.O.P..
At 18, Calgary was TJ’s home, and the place where his career really started developing. At 21, he came across a guy named Jason Brown on Brown’s website called Pigeonhole.com or Thinpigeon.com. TJ remembers Brown saying, “I’m starting a sleeveless T-shirt company, called Capita.” To which TJ replied, “I wanna ride for Capita! I wanna ride for the sleeveless T-shirt company.” Months later, TJ was at Capita’s launch party, and a year later-ish, when TJ was 22, he was pro for Capita, the board company…Unfortunately, the sleeveless T-shirt idea didn’t blossom.
Then he started winning. Nothing too big, according to Schneider… a rail contest at C.O.C., where he did a 450 over a gap. Empire Shakedown, where he did a pretty big switch back 450 on to a handrail. A couple weeks after that he won the Standout Rider Award at the Transworld Team Challenge, and the Individual Rider Award, for doing a switch back 360 to 50-50 to 360 out. “I was like a spinning little handrail guy,” he says.”
The next year Capita took home the whole Transworld Team Challenge. Then, at the Red Bull Heavy Metal Contest in Portland, he “tied” for first with Bjorn Leines. How do you tie, you say? TJ explains, “We were in Portland, and it was clear that I had won, but they gave it to Bjorn. And Bjorn was like, ‘No, you deserve this.’ So he gave me half the money. And that’s when I was just like, huh…”
“Snowboarding was about being around my friends and having a good time. Not being stressed about not landing a 1080 over Perfect Jump.”
Huh is right. At that point, TJ was 23, and he just realized that he could maybe make a little living at this. But, he was a guy who wanted to do it on his own terms. He didn’t want to listen to the prompting of other people. He didn’t wanna film like other people, or make things like other people. He wanted to try and have the most fun. That’s it, that’s all. “I wasn’t into filming on film and being stressed out,” he says.
While on a little trip with Mack Dawg productions, who shot real film, and thought snowboard movies should only be shot on film, TJ explains, “I remember taking a VX and bringing it to Calgary, and going filming with my friends. None of the shots made it into the video, because they didn’t want digital shots.” A bold move considering who Make Dawg was at the time. A film like that really could have continued to push TJ’s career. But he didn’t really need too much help.
When talking more about this, TJ shared a little anecdote: “Around that same time I realized, through hanging around Jason Brown (the co-owner of Capita), who just encouraged you to be yourself and not be like anyone else, that snowboarding was about being around my friends and having a good time. Not being stressed about not landing a 1080 over Perfect Jump at 7:30 a.m. in the morning.”
A couple more years later, TJ really broke off, starting the famous Snowboard Realms. Something that people said should not be done. I mean, this was early internet when people were still buying snowboard movies at shops. This was when you’d call every day to see if the movie you wanted was in yet. But TJ remembers hating that idea: “I remember telling Blue (the other co-owner of Capita), I don’t know why we’re charging kids to watch our snowboard videos. Our snowboard videos are our marketing material. Why are we charging kids to watch marketing material? Why don’t we give them the material for free and inspire them to be themselves?”
So, TJ started doing this, and within the first two years, Snowboard Realms had 20 million views! Viral. The videos were shared on multiple streaming platforms, and, if you were a kid at that time, you were hunched over your parents desktop computer watching Snowboard Realms. It was inspiring. It showed you how accessible filming and snowboarding could be.
There were five seasons of Snowboard Realms in total. And, according to TJ, “The third season it got a little better, and the fourth season it got a little better, and then I think I made a few episodes in the fifth season. But by then I was kinda making my way out. I kinda got fucked by a company and it just, I dunno, my ideas of how things should be kinda changed.”
In 2011, five years after creating one of the best things on the internet, TJ left boarding and took a nine-to-five marketing job with No Limits, in Vancouver. He lasted just over a year before saying, “No thanks,” and starting The Shop in 2012. A heavy motorcycle-inspired store that specializes in rare, selvedge denim and leather goods.
When talking about how hard it was to do something like this, Schneider credits snowboarding for instilling determination, and offered a quote by Rodney Mullen: “Skateboarders (and snowboarders), we teach ourselves to take accountability. We fall, and we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. So, we get back up and keep trying.” Amen. If there is one thing you’ll learn from snowboarding, it’s how to get off your sore, bruised butt and try again.
Five years into the store, TJ’s doing well. He has no kids, no girlfriend, lives in a small home, and paints a lot. “Not much has changed,” he says. “I still make the occasional video, just about denim and motorcycles. It’s chill.”