Written by: Tony Gill
During snowboarding’s nascent days in the late 80s, there were three snowboard brands that left an impact on core riders: Burton, Sims and Kemper Snowboards. Burton grew into the global snowboarding leader, thrust into the mainstream by the likes of Shaun White and his three Olympic gold medals. Sims is still kicking but never reached those same heights. Kemper, meanwhile, went out of business in 1994 after being purchased by an inline skate company. That didn’t sit well with Kemper’s new owner, Jib Hunt.
“Kemper always had the best team back then. Their riders were throwing the biggest airs and tricks, and the board shapes were really progressive. Everything the brand was doing was catching people’s attention and helping blow up the sport,” Hunt says. “The second board I ever had in ’88 and ’89 was a Kemper Rampage, and all my friends were riding Kempers too. The brand is rooted in history, so when I was able to get the trademark, I jumped at the chance.”
Hunt’s a prominent figure in snowboarding history himself. He was a paid sponsored professional rider by 17, spent numerous seasons traveling and competing and ultimately became one of the notable characters of snowboarding’s early years. Eventually Hunt moved to a design role in the snowboard industry for companies like Burton, Vans, Helly Hansen and 686, allowing him to grow professionally while remaining invested in the sport he loved. “Snowboarding is my lifelong passion, and I couldn’t imagine not being involved,” he says. The only thing he wasn’t able to accomplish was convincing someone let him design a snowboard graphic.
He’s gotten that chance and more after resurrecting Kemper. In addition to graphic design, Hunt’s tried his hand designing board shapes, managing a sponsored team and marketing and selling boards. Though it’s no one-man show, Hunt was wearing a lot of hats when relaunching the brand. “We’re really starting to ramp up. We moved production to one of the top independent ski factories and we’re expanding distribution with local core snowboard shops, backcountry.com and our popup store and demo center at the base of Park City Mountain,” Hunt says.
The new Kemper line is full of modern board shapes and materials, but the brand’s aesthetics are distinctly retro. Hunt’s aiming to rebuild a brand and take it in a new direction, while nodding to its storied past. “Obviously the product has to be great first, and we’ve really dialed our board design,” Hunt says. “But we wanted to have retro graphics that are grounded in the Kemper’s history and are appealing to both an older, more nostalgic crowd as well as younger riders.”
“Moving to Utah, and Park City in particular, was a huge benefit for the brand. It’s the epicenter of snowboard culture and the best place to get visibility with more people out on Kemper boards,” Hunt says. “And as lifestyle choice, moving here’s been great. I mean, I was living in New Jersey. My wife and I have three kids and being able to ride the whole mountain as a family just a few minutes from home is incredible.”
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