The eyewear brand's co-founder on humble beginnings on Skid Row, online haters and the possibility of an NBA eyewear team
by Graham Hiemstra in Culture on 06 March 2014
In snowboarding, style matters above all else—or at least it should. And whether we like it or not, each rider (be it a pro, am or just another weekend warrior at their local hill) is defined from afar by how baggy their clothes are, who they ride with and what brands they rep. It's a tendency seen in most subcultures; individuals surround themselves with like-minded people for solidarity's sake. Speaking generally, the same goes for skateboarding. And while both industries may now count on global corporations and sugar-water purveyors for consistent cash-flow, the core culture thrives on those niche brands that embrace creativity and promote individuality.
One such brand that's thrived in this environment is Ashbury eyewear. Founded in June of 2007 by brothers Lance and Mike Hakker, along with former pro snowboarder Nima Jalali, the independent brand makes goggles and sunglasses that appeal to a certain sense of style not shared by all. In doing so, Ashbury has set themselves apart—while at the same time setting trends and establishing a loyal following both in and outside of the world of skate and snowboarding. To learn more about the brand's humble beginnings on Skid Row, finding motivation from detractors on the internet and the possibility of an NBA eyewear team, we recently caught up with co-founder Lance Hakker.
Let's start with the basics, how did Ashbury come about?
At the time, I was living in Seattle and was K2's team manager. Nima was a pro snowboarder and he had just blown his knee out filming for "We're People Too" and my brother was a designer at Planet Earth before Planet Earth went under. We were just kind of all doing our own things. Then [Nima] was like, "Let’s start an eyewear company, there’s nothing right now." To us the only thing going on was Airblaster—because you know, Airblaster is a smaller brand that I personally could get behind. But that was the only thing, and [eyewear] wasn’t their focus.
We’ve all been around for so long, we all have our opinions on how things should be and we don’t hide them. And I think in snowboarding a lot of people that don’t like how things are split. They’ll do the snowboard thing and then they’ll get into something else and they’ll leave. And part of it is because they’re jaded and they’re over the way the industry is run. And you know, I don’t like the way anything is run, I don’t back a ton of stuff, but our thought was, "If we don’t like it, let’s try to change it—let’s do our own thing and do it the way we want to do it." And at the end of the day, it’s strictly a goggle brand or sunglasses brand—it doesn’t stand for anything.
Was it a conscious decision to create a brand that would only appeal to certain people—knowing a good portion of the industry might not dig it?
Absolutely, it was. We were just trying to make ourselves happy, and to do something that us and our friends like—something that we thought was cool. But obviously by doing that, it does alienate some people that can’t connect with it. We were just doing our own thing, regardless of what other people wanted.
What were some early responses to Ashbury product?
We [started with] the tortoiseshell goggles because that made sense for us. We went with simplicity and just did stuff that was (to us, at the time) super-obvious. But people hated it. There were so many people that hated us and we didn’t have a manufacturer yet. We were just putting things out, introducing Justin Hebel, introducing John Kooley, and I think when the Jordan Mendenhall [signature goggle] hit, we wanted to make the intro graphics look like old western (not "wanted") posters, so it kind of had a sepia tone. I remember some kid wrote on Transworld something like, "Ashbury is all hype and sepia tones." The kid obviously hated Ashbury, you know. I was like, "Man, that kid nailed it," because that’s all we were in those days. [laughs] When people don’t like Ashbury because we’re not making something for everybody, it makes the dudes that do like it love it that much more. They hold onto it even tighter.
Ashbury seems to be driven by a "basic is better" mentality. Will this always be the case?
Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. But at the same time, things do change—we’re six and a half years deep now. But we have a spherical lens [goggle] now. When we first started, within the culture of the time we said, "We’re never gonna do that, we’re not martians." But it’s something we heard and it was getting to the point where I was getting more used to it, so we took the time to make one that we liked. And it’s really, really simple. It’s not over the top.
We’re definitely going to move forward with the industry and catch on to different technologies that suit us. Right now, we’re working on doing a fast-release lens, but we need to take the time and not rush something out just to have it. We also have our own little counterculture that we want to stick with because, at the end of the day, there aren't really problems with regular goggles anymore. We don’t need new technology.
Your sunglasses feature Carl Zeiss polarized lenses. How'd you link up with such a legendary glass purveyor?
They do pretty much all the best lenses that are out, so we met with the rep one day and our offices were on Skid Row, so here’s [the team from] Carl Zeiss driving down to Skid Row in downtown LA to meet with us—and this was a few years ago, so [Ashbury] was even smaller then. We were like, "This is so weird." [laughs] But yeah, they were super-down, they liked the brand. I think they saw this was something that they didn't do at all, so while they were just looking at their overall umbrella, we were just these dudes trying to be a sunglasses company on Skid Row. We were just psyched.
Did you watch any Olympics?
No, not at all. I don’t watch X-Games. I don’t watch Olympics. I have opinions on it though.
Fair enough. Well, at the Olympics Nike gave the public their first look at their googles. Do you have an opinion on that? Doesn’t seem like people buying Ashbury are going to be buying Nike, but it is a larger corporation taking another big step into snowboarding.
When it first came out we were like, "No! A Nike swoosh on the side of a goggle? We’re done." Then we realized we have very few crossovers, and who knows how big it’s really going to be. At first we were bumming, because it is big for Nike. But Ashbury kids aren’t going to get all high on Nike goggles and go buy them, because chances are, it’s not really even going to dip into our side of sporting culture anyway.
There are people that love Nike—and I don’t hate on Nike. So there might be the random kid who just loves Nike and buys their goggles, and cool—that’s sick if that makes them happy. But it’s not something I ever think about unless I see their goggles in front of me.
How important is it to have "The Others" group of creative individuals involved alongside your snow and skate teams?
Right now I wouldn’t say it’s terribly important. Just like our skateboard team isn’t terribly important either. Just because we are a really small brand and—I mean, it’s cool, it’s a good look and it makes us look good, but people don’t really buy sunglasses for any of that stuff. A lot of what we do is really just to make ourselves happy. So "The Others," these are actual friends of ours. Like, Seu Trinh, I’ll go walk around to the bar by my house and he’ll be skating the curb. And Cody Comrie used to live with me and used to snowboard for us. Josh Brubaker, the shoe designer—I’ve known him since we were in elementary school. These are all actual homies.
So, it’s not super important, it’s just something we like to do—and even with the skate team too. We started a company and we’re like, "OK, snowboard team—obviously we want that because we make goggles. And we like skateboarding and we know some skaters, so let’s have a skateboard team." So basically we’re into snowboarding, skateboarding and basketball—NBA. My brother and I are into bass fishing too, but the three of us, those are the things we’re really into. And so we’re putting together a basketball team as well—NBA team.
Really, an NBA sunglasses team?
With snowboarding, skateboarding and NBA, we know who we think is sick, so we can make intuitive decisions on it. Me, my brother [Mike] and Nima—we thought it would be so sick to get some basketball players. It would be a personal accomplishment for us.
And I used to shoot skateboarding back in the day—like Leo Romero and Brian Herman and all those guys—but I didn’t want to be a professional filmer, so I stopped and I sold my camera. But I always loved it, I loved filming. So recently I bought a camera and I make skate videos and you know, there’s no sunglasses in the videos or anything, but I’m just making Ashbury videos because that’s what I like to do and that’s what I’m doing. That’s pretty much why we do anything like that, whether it’s "The Others," or basketball or skate. It is what it is and Ashbury is literally an extension of me, Mike and Nima—and that’s it.
We have made mistakes here and there and made something that we didn’t really like because we thought it made sense. We learned quickly that that’s not fun, if we don’t get psyched on it, it’s not going to do well. So from now on, if you see something Ashbury puts out, it’s because we’re psyched on it personally.
Visit Ashbury to browse their sunglass and goggle collections.
Images courtesy of Ashbury
Fully automatic, compact and simple to use, the Italian-designed espresso machine sets a new standard
by Hans Aschim in Design on 06 March 2014
It's hard to beat a handcrafted espresso from a skilled barista. Pulling shots and texturing milk takes skill and attention to detail, and the human touch in preparing coffee will never become obsolete. Still, stepping out to your neighborhood cafe isn't always an option. Whether you're at home in your PJs or cranking it out at the office, a barista-quality latte, cappuccino, or even mocha is just one button away with the PrimaDonnna Exclusive from design-centric Italian appliance-maker DeLonghi. We've been impressed by the quality of automated espresso machines of late, like the Breville Oracle, but DeLonghi's latest offering takes the experience and design to the next level of both automation and sophistication.
Coffee is a matter of personal preference and everyone likes their brew differently. With ultimate customization in mind, nearly every aspect of the coffee experience is adjustable on the PrimaDonna Exclusive—certainly living up to its name. Most notably, there are six programmable profile settings for users of the machine—giving family members or co-workers with particular preferences a one-touch ticket to their perfect coffee. Choose from four beverage sizes and five different strengths of coffee for cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos with a chocolate container for hot cocoa and mochas. An internal silent burr grinder offers 13 different grinds to get the most out of your chosen roast. The machine's full-color, high resolution screen makes cycling through these settings a simple enough task for when you've just gotten out of bed: though the machine is complex and thorough, it's easy to use.
At just under 30 pounds and taking up no more room than other machines in its class, DeLonghi's latest offering packs a punch. Unlike most automated home espresso machines, everything in the PrimaDonna Exclusive is internal; the only thing you'll see is your coffee. Beans are ground then tamped internally, once your shot is pulled the grounds are deposited within the machine. An indicator reminds you to empty the machine after roughly 14 uses. An internal water filtration system ensures the purest cup while a dual boiler system known as the thermoblock maintains precise temperature cup after cup. Plus, a cup warmer atop the machine ensure your beverage stays warm long after its made.
Perhaps the machine's most innovative feature is its detachable milk frothing system. The patented Latte Crema system produces rich, well-textured milk at the push of a button. Fill the Latte Crema system with milk in the morning and its insulated chamber keeps milk cool for hours. With reducing waste and increasing convenience, the chamber detaches easily from the machine and takes up little room in the refrigerator. Maintaining the PrimaDonna Exclusive is simple, with little regular cleaning necessary. Keeping the milk chamber refrigerated is the best way to ensure the quality of your beverages stays high. Our only reservation with the machine is its somewhat meager water tank, which holds just shy of 48 ounces. Still, refilling is easy enough and the modular nature of the parts make taking the machine apart easy.
For espresso lovers looking for an easy and hassle-free fix, the PrimaDonna Exclusive is a dream machine. However, dreams this easy come at a price with the machine going for $3500 from Amazon.
Photos by Hans Aschim
The best places to scuba-dive in the ever-evolving and always spectacular Central American country
by CH Contributor in Travel on 06 March 2014
by Abby Morgan and Blake Whitman
Any experienced scuba diver will have Belize on their shortlist of the best diving destinations in the world. It's home to the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere, there are hundreds of islands ("cayes," as they are called locally) that dot the 240-mile coastline and give visitors an abundance of diving opportunities. While there are picturesque white-sand beaches, luxury shopping and vibrant culture on land, there is just as much happening underwater.
For most traveling from the US, the best point of entry is to fly directly to Belize City and then head to one of Belize’s largest and most inhabited islands, Ambergris Caye. Ferries run frequently to the island, but one of the most spectacular ways to travel is by small plane. If you're comfortable in a smaller plane (14 seats to be exact) and don't mind the extra expense, this is by far the best and fastest way to travel around Belize.
Ambergris is the largest and most popular of Belize’s islands and it's only town, San Pedro, offers plenty of accommodation and cultural delights, and the town’s close proximity to the barrier reef makes it perfect for scuba divers. Most of the dive sites off of the caye are shallow, colorful and teeming with marine life. Diving sites “Paradise Canyons” and “Shark Ray Alley” are popular spots and a quick boat ride from town and most resorts. If you aren’t yet SCUBA certified—a prerequisite for exploring the depths of the sea—many diving operations in San Pedro provide three-to-four-day courses.
Lodging options on Ambergris Caye are varied, so there's something for every kind of traveller and budget. Matachica Resort and Spa is a small, superbly run resort that makes you feel like you're on your own private island—highlights include a dock overlooking the reef and an infinity pool surrounded by trees and wildlife. Diving can be arranged with the concierge and there are free shuttles by boat to San Pedro if you wish to explore the eclectic island town.
St George’s Caye and the Blue Hole
After a few days on Ambergris, those looking to focus more on diving and less on luxury should venture to St George’s Caye—a 25-minute boat ride from Belize City. The St George's Caye Resort is laid-back and familial. It offers all-inclusive packages for lodging and food—meals are served at communal tables at the same time each day—with thatched bungalows that face the ocean or are located on a circular dock along an inlet. The resort shares the island with several mostly idle vacation homes; giving the island a slight ghost-town feeling. The resort is perfect for its proximity to the mainland and its access to Belize’s premier sites for diving: Turneff Atoll, Lighthouse Atoll, Glover’s Atoll and the infamous Blue Hole.
Those looking to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau should not miss the day trip to one of his favorite diving sites: the Blue Hole. This famous diving destination is a two-hour boat ride from St George’s Caye, but the trip is well worth it. Totally other-worldly, this circular sinkhole extends down 400 feet in the middle of a shallow reef. Divers are able to explore deep into the Blue Hole’s abyss—weaving in and out of massive stalactites as they slowly dive up and down along its walls. What it lacks in color and diverse marine life, it surely makes up for in its grandeur and mystery. After the Blue Hole, explore other parts of the Lighthouse Reef, where you'll be surrounded by stunning colorful marine life, sea turtles and even dolphins.
Located at the end of a thin peninsula in the southern region of Belize is the fishing turned tourist village of Placencia. The area has gone through big developmental changes over the years—both boom and bust—and is a reminder that Belize is an ever-evolving country. Along the only road meandering through the village are a smattering of restaurants and shops, with houses and shacks scattered in between. One of the best local spots is Omar’s, an open-air Creole joint with tasty coconut curries that comes highly recommended by many locals. A lot of the best places to stay are outside the main village, to the north, like the Turtle Inn. Certainly not cheap, this Balinese-inspired resort is one of Francis Ford Coppola’s resorts, and while it's luxurious, it's also unassuming. The entire resort is a thatched wooden paradise which creates an indoor/outdoor vibe throughout. Diving services are also operated out of Turtle Inn as well as other operators in and around Placencia.
When it comes to diving, Placencia is famous for its access to the Gladden Spit reef, which offers diving and snorkeling with majestic Whale Sharks during the spring months. Most of the diving is an hour offshore, with trips to small cayes that offer a base of operations for the day. The diving from these islands is particularly stunning due to the abundant sea life. One particularly special place is Ranguana Caye, which may lack certain amenities, but is entirely charming. With just three cabins and one communal dining area, it's the perfect destination to unplug from the rest of the world. With boats arriving almost daily, you can join diving or snorkeling trips and use the island as your own private diving center, or simply read a book on the white sand beach under that gently sloping palm tree you’ve seen in all the postcards.
See more images of Cool Hunting's diving experience in the slideshow below.
Article photos courtesy of Blake Whitman; diving photos by Karen Day