Danny Davis owns a sewing machine. It's a Brother XL-2600i, a modest unit with teal accents and a prominent dial on the side for selecting patterns and adjusting stitch length. According to Brother's website, the 2600i is a versatile, lightweight, free-arm unit that can create 26 kinds of stitches, making it perfect for sewing and quilting as well as decorating clothing, crafts and home fashion. According to Davis, a versatile, modest snowboarder, it's kind of a piece.
But it's the way the 19-year-old rider uses his 2600i—much the way he carves up a mountain—that's helping him craft a reputation as one of the most engaging, imaginative riders to hit the scene in years. "People find it weird all the time," says Davis, who's had plenty of time to practice since breaking his right ankle on a Laax, Switzerland, quarterpipe in January. "Managers, PR reps, even my sponsors—they laugh and say, 'You … travel with that? Why do you even have it?' "
The stitches aren't pretty, and the final products aren't Armani—on that much they all agree. Early on a March 2007 evening in a Park City town house, snowboarders Mason Aguirre, Keir Dillon and Jack and Luke Mitrani crowd around the kitchen table for a sewing tutorial from Davis. The riders are in town for the World Superpipe Championships, but for now the
contest will wait. Davis is showing the riders how to operate the 2600i—purchased earlier that day from Wal-Mart—without stitching their fingers.
For three hours, five of the country's hottest up-and-coming snowboarders, working with an odd assortment of Wal-Mart fabrics, cut out and sew letters onto their shirts. The letters spell the word "Frends," which is what the crew (these five, plus riders Scotty Lago and Kevin Pearce) christened itself. Later, after everyone has gone, Davis assembles his pièce de résistance: six squares of fabric, cut from a tie-dyed Doors flag, sewn haphazardly onto the front panels and sleeves of a black snowboarding jacket from one of his sponsors, the Burton brand Analog.
At the U.S. Open a week later in Stratton, Vt., Davis wears the patched-up black coat during his second-place pipe run. His finish, which also seals second behind Shaun White in the 2006-07 Ticket to Ride standings, is no surprise to anyone, including Jake Burton, owner of Burton. The same can't be said for the coat.
"When I first saw his jacket, I thought, What?!" says Burton. After all, companies sponsor athletes to showcase their brands in hopes that fans will buy the gear in stores. But instead of demanding that Davis change his coat, Burton applauded him for his sewing chops. "That type of individuality is what we're built on," Burton says. "It's what we, as a sport and a brand, should embrace."
For Davis, style—and textiles—has been a part of snowboarding since grade school in Highland, Mich. As a novice on the USA Snowboarding Association circuit, Davis crocheted winter hats and sold them to kids in his hometown for 20 bucks a pop. The cottage industry kept him flush enough to buy lift tickets at nearby Alpine Valley after school and to help pay for travel to weekend contests.
An eighth-place finish in slopestyle at the 2003 Vans Triple Crown earned Davis, then 15, his first taste of national attention. The performance led to his acceptance at Vermont's Stratton Mountain School; it also yielded a sponsorship deal with Burton.
"We sponsored him because he had the whole package: progressing quickly, great attitude, stoked about the sport," says team manager Dave Driscoll. "And he's always original in everything he does."
By the time Davis graduated from SMS, in June 2006, his riding had become both technical and creative. It's not that he does a more difficult lineup of tricks than other riders, but his grabs on every trick are stylish, and the flair of his overall riding is as distinctive as the clothes he creates. Before 2006 was out, Davis had won superpipe at the Nippon Open and halfpipe at the U.S. Grand Prix. He'd also begun ducking into the backcountry whenever he had the chance. Burton became so impressed with the versatility of Davis' riding and with his freewheeling mentality that it tapped him for a spot on its un…inc imprint, which typically sponsors riders who avoid competition and corporate influence. "Danny is different," says Jake Burton. "He can be competitive and still convey that image."
And that, ultimately, is why Danny Davis travels with a 2600i: because he wants to control his image, literally, by modifying his clothes to taste and, figuratively, by not giving a damn what anyone else thinks. It's not often that someone with such a distinct aesthetic comes around.
Red Bull didn't get that. As his sponsor in 2005 and 2006, the company expected Davis to follow the same branding rules it imposes on all of its athletes. This included wearing a helmet prominently featuring its bovine logo. Davis says he felt "like a billboard every time I dropped into the pipe."
Mountain Dew did get it. When it replaced Red Bull as Davis' stuff-kids-drink-in-dangerous-quantities sponsor in 2007, the company sought the rider's creative input. When he said that Mountain Dew's new pseudo-extreme, oval-shape logo was trying a bit too hard to be hip, the Dew decked out his gear—sparingly—with its square-shape '80s emblem instead.
Last fall, the company sent Davis to Brooklyn to work with artist Scott Lenhardt to design a bottle for its Green Label Art collection. Inspiration came from a psychedelic van parked in Lenhardt's neighborhood, and the resulting design was textbook Davis: a tie-dyed bus, broken down in the woods, its passengers blissfully chilling outside, the word "Frends" spelled out in the smoke billowing from its engine. Says Lenhardt: "It totally captured Danny's approach to life."
Over the past year, an increasing number of companies have begun trying to tap into Davis' creative instincts. Un…inc's latest board designs—conceived during an off-season brainstorming session between the label's four riders and an artist—bear the unmistakable psychedelic swirls that have become Davis' trademark. Similarly, Davis' goggles sponsor, Dragon, recently rolled out tie-dyed frames.
Davis and his fellow Frends are also toying with the idea of creating their own brand. In the year since that Park City sewing circle, Frends has grown from a clever clique name into a fledgling empire as its members continue to have their way with the mountain. "Mason's been to the Olympics, Kevin just won the TTR, and Scotty and the Mitranis slay it whenever they ride. The riders in Frends are the best young riders out there," says Davis in a quiet voice laced with shades of surfer drawl. That success has translated into a growing fan base that shows up at contests sporting homemade Frends posters and shirts. In short, a ready-made market awaits. The challenge, though, is to come up with a product that won't rankle sponsors. But Davis doesn't need to figure that out yet. He just needs to mend.
It's February, and the wiry, 5'8" rider is perched on a brown, L-shape, ultrasuede couch in the Encinitas, Calif., home of his agent, Sue Izzo. She has played host to Davis since he had surgery at nearby Core Orthopedic and needed a place to crash during rehab. And for the time being, all of Davis' plans—backcountry riding, making videos with Absinthe Films, plotting a Frends world takeover—are on hold. In late March, his cast will come off, he'll return to his house in Truckee, Calif., and he'll finally get back on his board.
That's why today, instead of hitting kickers, Davis is hitting the 2600i. He has a handful of buttons and snaps that his mom bought at Michaels, an arts and crafts store, and he wants to sew a pair of bags for his crutches. Could he have purchased some? Sure. Or had a sponsor send over a set? Probably. But that isn't Danny Davis' style.