In August '07, in some dusty corner of the web, the then 24 year-old Shannon Johnson started a blog,"The World of Snowboarding Through Fembot Eyes." Helped along by over a decade of riding, a healthy product curiosity, and an essential openness, Johnson, who was born in Seattle but now calls Steamboat Springs, Colo. home, soon found herself an authority on snowboard products. Folks she'd never met wanted to know how this or that board really performed, and "Shayboarder," as she is known, stepped in to fill the void. With an avalanche of info and the limitless energy of the true aficionado, she did it all alone and she did it all for free...
By midwinter '08, whispers of, "Anyone know this blogger chick from Steamboat?" were starting to float between industry cubicles in San Clemente and Shay was on-track for 375,000 page viewscrushing well-funded media sites with a staff of five, a Red Bull fridge, and underground parking. Thanks to the deep, keyword-rich content and meaty commentary, Google was bringing Shayboarder up with the regularity of a band camp anecdote. Riders were searching for the kind of info only she had. Other blogs were linking in. By '09, Shayboarder.com has racked up, she says, over 800K page views total and all of it, she adds wryly, is "for a blog about a girl who rides."
"The site is popular because it's for average riders, whether they ride 10 or 50 days a year," explains Shay, now 26. "[It's for] people just out there enjoying it. It's an audience that [comprises] the majority of snowboarders... If I learned how to snowboard this year, I would have flipped open a magazine and found out how to do backside 9s versus just being able to find out how a board turns on my blog. My blog is realistic: I ride resorts and groomers, but I also try out a lot of products so people have a better understanding of them. Most snowboard media is unrealistic: pro stories; travel stories out of my reach; products that look good but don't explain why they would be good. I don't relate to that and I think many snowboarders today go online looking for something to relate to."
She's like the Project Grizzly dude out there in a wilderness of info-less über-cool.
Her site, which now hosts a few ads and giveaways, still features a heavy product/testing focus and Shay personally tested over 51 boards in '08-09. She has developed her own code of conduct regarding product and prides herself on never being unduly influenced in her reviews. "Shay is the most passionate, inquisitive, product-educated [person] in the snowboard blogosphere and her opinions make a difference at retail," says Fran Richards, VP of Marketing at Spy Optic. "She tells a truth mainstream media are uninterested in."
"Companies should find out what's being said about their products, listen to those concerns, and then address them," she said. "Each day, consumers talk about their brands and that discussion goes a lot further in opinions than a press release on how great the product is. It's why blogs are so successful: we listen and communicate daily with consumers on products. Anytime a reader comes to me with a request... I make sure to write about it."
One of the other big blog themes is unsung industry gigs such as repping or resort work. There's surprisingly little ink spilled on how Pro X's part had some less-than-ill rail combos, as shayboarder.com strays from the conceit that all riders are: a) male; b) about 15; and c) really into generators, expensive ball caps, and gettin' sponse'd.
The self-described "curvy girl" and "guru of sorts" makes no apologies for her approach, either: "I'm sure pros are interesting but they get a lot of attention already. I was always more interested in the work that goes on behind the scenes, the people at each company who design the products, make the decisions, and basically run [things]." The riders she looks up to are her friends who make appearances on the blog, grassroots slayer TJ Schneider, and Pat Bridges: "[He] gives me hope for someday doing a handplant and making it look good," she said.
Her About section reads: In the end this is my opinion, take it as you want and enjoy the world through my eyes. And people clearly do. She's like the Project Grizzly dude out there in a wilderness of info-less über-cool. If she has a bro-proof suit it might be her total lack of guile regarding her role. Johnson figured out her mission early on and has stuck to it with a tenacitycritics might say audacitythat makes it hard to believe she has a day job as a content specialist for Steamboat. Shay told ESPN that she spends "about 18 hours a day" either planning new stories in the back of her mind or answering the constant volley of reader questions from Twitter or Facebook.
The rest of her time is spent ridinga lot. July 26th marked her 100th day on snow this season. (Since then she's gone to Mt. Hood, too.) And let's just point out it's pretty funny that a woman who rides triple digit days can be called out by anyone for not being 'core enough,' but she has her share of haters: "I just ignore the haters and continue with what I do, because the majority of riders aren't core, aren't pro, and like [my] reviewsbecause I lay it down in a standard format that any rider can use... Luckily for me, for every negative comment there are 10 positive ones."
Anytime a reader comes to me with a request... I make sure to write about it.
--Shannon Johnson aka Shayboarder
Male or female, snowboarders everywhere want to understand whether the new rocker/widget/slidey-thing really works or just replaces something that worked fine before. For riders starved for hard info, shayboarder.com is a rock solid resource. "I continue to push out reviews because there are few out there that actually give feedback and can break down a board or binding," she said. "There are even [fewer] female reviews out there to find out more information on how it rides (other than 'it's fun!'). It is nerve-wracking when I put out a review on next year's product and I make sure I am dead set on my opinion before I publish it."
Shay's growing recognition and trusted voice have led to work writing for the sport's leading trade journal, Transworld Business, but her commitment to her own blog remains a priority: "Definitely, if a great opportunity came around, it would be a consideration, but my first question would be: Can I continue the blog?"
It should be said that shayboarder.com is no Huffington Post: Photos tend to be fairly basic; the cyan and white on black can hurt the eyes; a number of the long Industry Profiles run into redundancy issues both within and amongst themselves; and commas can feel like they just sorta fell into the keyboard like stray sesame seeds from a bagel. But then you find a straight banger Q&A with Bluebird Wax honcho Willie McMillon that would never see the light of day elsewhere. Or insights on snowboarding's true value from the founder of Automaton (complete with comments by mom)... You might even click on a solid, no-BS review of that new park board you were kinda wondering about and it's here that you gain a true appreciation for what Ms. Johnson has built with her blog: Something personal, passionate and real that finds a large audience because ofrather than despitethose qualities.
Kind of like snowboarding...