"The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail. "
- Napoleon Hill
How does it happen that some people can resist the pull of conformity and continue to produce inspiring and enticing new products year after year after year? How do the Steve Jobs and Yvon Chouinards and Martin Scorceses manage the difficult balancing act between damn-the-torpedoes, creative exploration and bottom-line, pay-the-bills economics?
Tough questions. And there are probably no "right" answers. But one thing's clear — stepping off the beaten path and creating your own route to success is fraught with danger. Satisfaction too, of course. But mostly danger. And heartache. And disappointment. And derision. And...
Still, for a certain kind of self-motivated individual, anything less is unimaginable. Creativity is their oxygen. Risk taking is in their life blood. And each of their stories offers an intriguing narrative on how that outlook developed.
Consider the case of legendary snowboard shaper (and now award-winning ski designer) Serge Dupraz. A man who has been on the forefront of glisse technology since the early 1980s, the 51-year-old Frenchman experienced a life-changing moment when he was still very young. "As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare heart defect," he explains, "and the doctors held very little hope for my long-term survival. In fact, they told my parents that unless I underwent a risky, experimental surgical procedure, I probably wouldn't reach my 20s..."
The kid was barely 10 years old. And yet, he was already being asked to contemplate his mortality. "I still remember the night before the surgery," recounts Serge. "I knew how serious this was. Knew how high the risk of not coming out alive was. But I wasn't all that nervous about the outcome. For some reason, I had total faith that things would turn out okay for me."
Dupraz doesn't try to trace the link between that inexplicable youthful optimism and his subsequent career as a cliché-busting board designer. But he does acknowledge the impact the ordeal had on his view of life. "As it turns out," he says, "I was one of the only kids in my era to survive that surgery. And that really affected my attitude. Suddenly it seemed to me that obstacles in life were merely challenges for me to overcome." He smiles — an open, guileless grin that disarms and attracts all at the same time. "I guess I always kinda believed that I was meant to survive that surgery for a reason," he adds. And stops. Shrugs. "I still haven't figured out the reason. But it's made for an interesting path through life..."
Indeed. When last we left Serge last week, it was 1984, and the young surfboard-shaper had just completed his first prototype for what would become the hugely-successful Hot Snowboard line. Inspired more by surf culture than by ski culture, Serge's edgeless, pointy-nosed boards were a joy to ride in the Alps' snowy domains. But if the sport was going to grow in the way Dupraz hoped and expected it to, somebody had to convince the ultra-conservative ski industry du jour that snowboarding was not just some passing fancy.