Q&A: Trevar Cushing of “Powder & Rails”

By Peter Madsen

Trevar Cushing is a friendly and remarkably tall snowboard nerd from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is where the 1993 Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day was filmed. Trevar, wanting to avoid the small town continuum, moved to New York City where he began working night-shifts at VBS.TV. There, he had an idea for a retrospective show about snowboarding. Now with its first season up and running on the VBS site, the cutesy-named “Powder & Rails” straps viewers in for a little shralp through snowboarding’s neon history. Trevar has since spent his down time working night-shifts at VBS—just as he always used to. We sat down for a Polish lunch of pierogies and cutlets to talk all about this stuff.

So tell me about your time in Montreal. You were there recently for a “Powder & Rails” screening.

Well, it was more like a party with the show on a projection screen in the background than a screening. It was like a big party. It was really cool that a lot of people showed up despite it being -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

That must speak to the thick skin of the Québécoix.

I guess. I think they were just down to party, no matter what the weather was. It was a Thursday night, there was a cover because there was a deejay, it was negative-15 and there was a lot of people there. And they stayed until three in the morning. The bouncers had to tell everyone to leave.

Which episodes did you show?

We showed the Jeff Brushie episodes and the Damian Sanders episodes just because they’re completely different from each other. Their careers explain certain aspects of snowboarding. But by no means does it explain everything. Damian Sanders, for sure, was the first rock star. He got to be one of the very first famous people because he had a lot of flair with his style. He stood out more in a video because he went bigger than anyone. He was very charismatic, and he was the star of the first famous video, and some of the ones after it. He made sure people noticed him. At contests he would backflip the landing and go bigger than anyone.

It seems like that spoke to certain moment in the ‘80s. In skateboarding you had Gator–

–Yeah! People would make fun of the clothes. In skateboarding you have to realize they had some pretty stupid outfits, too. I mean, they were wearing neon spandex shorts—at least snowboarders were wearing pants! We would have worn the same gear, too, if we’d been there.

Let’s not mention the baggy cargo pants we wore in the mid-‘90s.

[laughs.] I didn’t use this in the show, but a lot of guys compared Damian Sanders to Christian Hosoi. Damian was always doing big methods and tweaking stuff. You know, Hosoi had bandanas and shit flying, he had big hair, and I’m sure he had babes, too. They were as stylish in their clothing as they were in the way they rode. Damian was the first to ever do a grab-backflip, which was a pretty big deal. Nobody had ever thought about doing flips and spins and grabbing them. But as far as Brushie, I think a lot of people credit him as the Fonzie in that he instigated getting the ski style out of there—he was definitely the first skate-styled guy. You know, he still did races, but I think he really brought the street skateboarding style, and I think he made that the popular route. During races he would just pop a method in the middle of the race course, just messing around. He still did the racing because he had to, but he would piss around and do freestyle tricks for fun because he didn’t really care, but you had to do it for overall points.

Some snowboarders resent comparisons with skateboarding. But back then the skate style was really fresh and raw. How do you describe ski style at that time?

I just mean more like the ski disciplines, like racing and slalom, and stuff like that. They didn’t have any other way to gauge skiing. But once you got the skateboarding mentality of doing tricks off anything — like, there’s a curb, I’m going to 50-50 that, or there’s a tree, I’m going to 50-50 that. There’s a little snow mound, I’m going to bonk that and then do a backside 180. Or, this hill looks like a hip; maybe we could do airs off it, or a do a McTwist like Mike McGill.

There you go.

That was what made it more popular—it wasn’t just skiing number two or something.

When you first came up with the idea for a show, “Epicly Later’d” had already been on air for a season. Why did you choose to go with a more historical angle?

Well, for one, I didn’t want to do an “Epicly Later’d” number two, obviously. Nobody had really done much snowboard history stuff. There had been a few short things here and there, like a history of a guy’s life, but not much as far as a broader view of things. I felt it would be good to talk about people who were in the first big videos, the people who really started off the whole freestyle thing for the kids today so they could be like, “Oh, wow!” Obviously there were people who came before Shaun White. There are tons of people who were about the style of the freestyle tricks. It’s the same thing in skateboarding how there’s so many kids who are really good right now. But you gotta realize, with, for example, the flip-in/flip-out combos in skateboarding, these aren’t brand new. They already did stuff like that in Plan B’s 1992 Questionable. Now, maybe they make it look smoother, cleaner, or bigger, but that’s kind of what kids do in snowboarding today, too. They land it cleaner, with more style, and over something more impressive. But these are the first guys who said, well, let’s just film what we’re doing and not go to these racing competitions. They found a way to make themselves even more marketable to a wider audience and make it even more popular by doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing. They did what they thought was fun and cool. That gave them more personality than winning any race could–

[Our waitress brings dishes of pierogies and cutlets]

Oh, great!

Thank you.

Okay, so while we were finishing up our lunch (which was amazing), you were talking about how skateboarding, with regards to retrospective videos and stuff, has had more time to catch up with itself. Snowboarding is just now getting to that place.

Yeah, I mean, those ON videos were pretty retrospective. Dogtown and the Z-Boys was very much historical. And “Epicly Later’d” is also retrospective. It’s almost like day-in-the-life style documentary stuff, which is always pretty cool.

Are there any snowboard videos you can point to that are historical in their focus?

There’s a Craig Kelly documentary, which I’ve never seen. I can’t say more about it beyond the fact that he’s a very influential person and very important. That’s probably one of the biggest things. That 2005 documentary First Descent is historical in a sense. Other than that, the magazines will always feature historical stuff. I know Pat Bridges does stuff in Snowboarder about old school things. He was very helpful about any questions I had or contacts I needed for “Powder & Rails.” I would hit him up and he would be like, “Yeah, It’s great you’re doing something.” In fact, any of the guys involved with the show have been very receptive. I mean, they don’t want what they and their friends did to be forgotten. I thought that was really cool.

When you first approached people about the show, you weren’t exactly a figure in the snowboard industry.

No, not at all. Before all this, I had nothing to do with the snowboard industry—I was just a fan. But I thought it would be cool to pay respect to people who made contributions. I wanted to showcase that. And it’s funny, because I’m still not in the snowboard industry in any way. I just make my little documentaries.