Interview: Freeride Legend Dave Watson on His MTB Apparel Company Sombrio
If you’re tuned into the gravity side of mountain biking, then Dave Watson will need no introduction. A fixture on the North Shore since the beginning of Freeride, Dave has achieved entrepreneurial success in channeling his lifestyle into his clothing company, Sombrio. At one point or another, Sombrio gear has been seen on most of the big names of freeride, and now the company is making a push into the All Mountain and Enduro world of mountain bike technical apparel.
We sat down to chat with Dave about what’s new with Sombrio, his history, and jumps over the Tour de France.
Read it all, after the break.
Bikerumor: Hi Dave, I think it’s safe to say you’re a bit of a legend in the bike industry, tell us a little about yourself?
Dave Watson: Well like a lot of riders, I started riding at a young age, riding bmx, you know jumping garbage cans and things like that. From there I got into mountain biking, but at the time there really wasn’t any true DH, you had to ride XC as well. So I got into XC riding, and even though I was a pretty good cross country runner, mountain biking for me was better when it was gravity fueled. I started racing DH at the world cup level when I was 17 and was doing pretty well, then at 25 I shifted from WC DH to freeride as it was just getting started. I got my first video segment in Cranked 2, I made the film and made the bonus reel, and it just kind of took off from there. You know, I grew up in Whistler, BC, I love snowboarding, surfing, I just get stoked on the free aspect of these sports. With freeride, I kept at it through my sponsors, and as I was wrapping up my career in racing that’s when I started Sombrio.
Bikerumor: You started Sombrio in 1998 right? What was the catalyst that made it all happen?
Dave Watson: We created an apparel company around two wheel culture and the early freeride scene. We are a Canadian brand based in Vancouver primarily focused on the Western market, both Canada and the US. Growing Sombrio in the US has been challenging in that, without the right people on the ground – sales team, marketing, etc. to advocate for the brand it has been tough. We’re currently expanding our team and slowly building the Sombrio brand back up in the US.
Bikerumor: So this is really for me, but I think our readers will appreciate it too – How did the Tour de France gap come about?
Dave Watson: Ha, well I was there that summer with the New World Disorder guys, filming with Cedric Gracia. I had this idea that I wanted to jump a train, I still want to jump a train, and it ramped up from there. So then I got the inclination that I wanted to jump the tour. We got in a car and started scouting for a good location, and we found it on the col de Galibier. We went back a month later, built the kicker, and waited for the tour to come up. We also waited for a safe time to jump so as not to endanger the riders or cause an incident. We really spent a lot of time to make it safe as possible, but I had really no chance to work on the gnarly landing. The first 2 days there wasn’t anyone there, and we worked on the kicker but I was concerned for the riders, and I was concerned for landing – it was steep, but it was really rugged and rough. I wanted to jump Lance Armstrong -I thought that would be sweet, but he was a ways back and the helicopters were flying really low to the ground. We were in this bowl of the alps, and all of a sudden it was filled with 30-40k people, there were just way too many people to jump. So I sat down and waited, about an hour went by, and then the bowl just emptied out, and there were still some late packs riding through, I think it was the 7th or 8th pack back from the leaders. I would have preferred for the gap to go out further, instead of being such a drop. Everything was kind of rushed, but I made sure landing was clear, and aired it. It ended up being more of a lob than an air, I had to jam on the brake just before the take off, and when I landed it bucked me hard, blew my rear shock, and sent me over the bars. I really hoped to stomp it. I was so bummed that I didn’t stomp it, up to that point I had nailed all my big airs. Afterwards the gendarmes came by and gave me a ticket, but after I explained it they were pretty cool. The race continued on, and that was that.
Bikerumor: Who is carrying Sombrio now in the US?
Dave Watson: We are currently launching a new dealer list on the website, so that will be up soon. Currently we have 15-20 IBD accounts in the US that we’re growing through merchandising support and helping to grow the brand. Online sales have also been good been good for us in the US, so really a complimentary mix between building building our IBDs and online sales.
Bikerumor: I seem to remember something about crab shells being used in the fabric of the jerseys I bought back in the day. Is that right? Are you still doing it?
Dave Watson: Yeah, we had used a fabric called ChitoSante – a polyester based fabric that utilized crab shells for anti stink, wicking propeties. In the end, the jersey didn’t prove to be durable enough for us to continue with it, but we have a program now called the Raw Collection with a similar eco story. We now have new fabrics that are more performance oriented for our jerseys and have some really killer stuff for the Epik range. Our Seamless jerseys are awesome. Take the best UnderArmor, whatever jerseys out there, and our Seamless jerseys have a better fit and are super comfortable.
Bikerumor: In a nutshell, tell us what Sombrio is up to for 2013, you were just nominated for a local 40 under 40 award, right?
Dave Watson: Yeah, I was a winner of the Business in Vancouver 40 under 40 award, it was neat to be included in that for a local business. I think the biggest push for us in the next couple of weeks is the Epik range – it’s geared towards all mountain, or enduro riders. It’s not XC, it’s for guys that are going out and doing super long rides that are still gravity focused. As part of that we have the lightest AM short – the Highline, and the merino wool stuff is killer, too.
Bikerumor: Anything else you’d like to touch on?
Dave Watson: The other big thing we’ve been doing is our team – we’ve been building a groundswell, grass roots type team. We’re calling it the Sombrio Society Project – we’ll be doing short little film segments with local riders and such, so look for that coming soon.
Bikerumor: Thanks, Dave.