One Wild Ride
"Do you guys have any weapons or drugs or anything I should know about?"
For Marc Frank Montoya, denial comes instinctively when confronted by law enforcement. He shakes his head. "Nah," he replies. "Nah, we don't got nothin' like that."
"I can smell marijuana," says the officer. "Do you have any marijuana?"
Marc Frank Montoya
"No," Montoya responds, like an involuntary reflex -- except he's telling the truth. What the cop smells inside the car isn't weed smoke, but gun smoke. So he stays cool. This is especially important when the law-enforcement official in question is from the Wyoming Highway Patrol and looks about one mustache-twitch away from tossing the out-of-state driver and his passenger into some concrete lockup in Laramie just for the hell of it.
And Montoya does look suspicious speeding east on I-80 in his 2004 silver Range Rover with tinted windows and loc'd-out rims -- the only flash of bling set against the barren backdrop of the Wyoming plains. It's Friday afternoon, and one of his longtime sponsors, Utah-based Tech Nine, is premiering a new video tonight at the Boulder Theater. Not only is pro-snowboarder Montoya scheduled for an autograph session, but he's also the featured DJ on the bill. So he's been blazing across the asphalt at 95 mph, determined not to be late, passing on the right as truckers honk angrily.
Riding shotgun is Aaron Bittner, a 21-year-old up-and-coming amateur snowboarder from Salt Lake City. When Bittner spotted the trooper's car lurking on the median, Montoya immediately thought about the two guns stowed in a black leather bag behind his seat. They aren't loaded -- when he travels, he keeps the bullets in a separate suitcase -- but just thirty minutes earlier, he'd fired one of the guns, a pistol. It wasn't anything dramatic; they'd pulled over to assist another vehicle in the Tech Nine caravan that had broken down. Montoya got bored standing on the side of the road, so he got the gun out and popped off a series of shots into the desolate horizon while his friends watched.
He'd made a strange, split-second decision to bring the guns early that morning. His six-bedroom home in suburban Salt Lake City had been half dark, his wife and two young children still asleep, so he'd packed quickly and quietly. He'd laid his clothes out on the bed, pulled the guns from a high closet shelf. Montoya had been stressed lately. He'd been snowboarding in Argentina for the past two months, filming future video segments and getting photographed for magazines. On his return, he'd expected to close on a newly built second home he had under contract near South Lake Tahoe. Then he learned that his mortgage broker had neglected to file the proper paperwork for the bank loan. That meant Montoya would not only lose the house to the contractor, but also his $25,000 down payment. So he'd stormed into the broker's office with every intention to "cold-cock that fool," but then an apologetic supervisor stepped in and said they were sending the man to rehab that afternoon. "What?!" Montoya screamed. Of all the real-estate agents out there, he had to go and find the one who was a cokehead.
Fortunately, he wasn't carrying a gun that morning. In Utah, violence is virtually non-existent compared to Denver's northwest side, where he was born and raised. But old habits die hard. After the Boulder premiere, he'll be staying a few days in his old neighborhood. That always makes him tense, wary of the beefs and dramas that never die, no matter how long he's been away. So for this trip, he packed his guns.
A missing front license plate -- that's the explanation the trooper initially gave for pulling Montoya over. But that was before he peeked inside the Range Rover and saw the white leather seats, the top-of-the-line sound system, the DVD player and the mini-flat-screen TV installed in the dash and in the ceiling behind the headrests; over $5,000 worth of amps, turntables and other electronic equipment filled the back. And now he looks at Montoya in his baggy clothes, with his blasé posture and the baseball cap cocked just to the right.
Something doesn't add up.
He detains Montoya in the front seat of the cruiser. Even though all of the information on his registration and his Colorado driver's license holds up and a warrant check comes up clear, the officer is unconvinced. "So, that car is yours?" he asks. Did Montoya buy it? Where? How long ago? All these little questions add up to one big mystery for the trooper: How did a guy like this get his hands on such a pricy ride?
It's a fair question; Montoya asks himself the same thing just about every day. In a sport that attracts middle- to upper-class white suburbanites, Montoya, a Mexican-American from the inner city, is an anomaly. But not only is he the best snowboarder to come out of Denver, he's considered one of the best all-around riders in the world.
Set against his professional counterparts, Montoya immediately stands out -- both for his highly stylized skills and his urban, hip-hop credentials. The kid who once stole cars and sold drugs for a living now collects some of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in the sport, earning as much as $350,000 a year representing snowboard-related products, not including sample products themselves and the $60,000 he pulls in annually in contest prize money. But Montoya is an entrepreneur in his own right. He's designed outerwear and hard gear for his sponsors and is currently developing his own snowboard brand. He owns Federal skateboards, named after the street that runs through the heart of Denver's Latino community, and is partners in Biltrite, a company that manufactures snowboards. He's also the principal owner of two snowboarder hotels in California; dubbed "The Block," the concept has been featured on MTV and will soon expand to locations in Colorado, Europe and Japan (see story below).
The Wyoming cop doesn't see any of that, though. He just sees another vato, a possible drug smuggler, speeding through his state. When the officer goes to check the serial number of the Range Rover and to question Bittner, Montoya feels around in his oversized pockets and realizes he's carrying a fat wad of hundred-dollar bills -- $3,000 in all -- clamped in a billfold, as well as a pocket knife with a five-and-a-half-inch-long blade. If he gets searched, he's going to jail for sure.
But no bags are inspected, and the K-9 unit never arrives. Lacking any probable cause, the trooper lets Montoya and Bittner go with a warning. Twenty minutes farther down the road, they get pulled over by a different cop -- and released again. Montoya laughs as they pull away, pressing east, pissing off truckers. He's determined not to be late. The Range Rover's rear license plate may say he lives in Utah, but the black plastic frame around it says where he's from: "Denver Represent!"
"Marco loved his Big Wheel," Heather Hyatt-Montoya remembers.
Her younger brother was five years old, a tumbling ball of continuous acrobatic energy. Everywhere the family went, they had to bring his Big Wheel plastic tricycle. Driving along 48th Avenue one day, eleven-year-old Heather marveled at the height of a new overpass arching over the railroad tracks and asked their mother to "stop the car and let Marco ride down the hill." Amazingly, she did. So Heather hopped out, set her brother and his Big Wheel on the sidewalk, and let Marco loose. He started moving down the incline -- fast. The pedals were spinning so quickly that he couldn't put his tiny feet on them; the bike's plastic, treadless tires began to wobble. Heather jumped back in the car, and they raced to beat Marco to the intersection. As they passed him, Heather turned around to look at her brother, scared that the Big Wheel might fly apart and throw him in the street like a rag doll.
"And I'm looking back at him, and he's just laughing hysterically," she says. "That's when it started. He just has a passion for speed. He looked up at me and yelled, 'Can I do it again?' She laughs. "And we let him do it over and over until it got dark."
When Marco was a toddler, the three had briefly lived with his father, Jack Frank, in Fort Lupton, but then their mother, Chris Montoya, decided to move back to north Denver to be closer to the rest of her family. Marco kept in regular contact with his father -- a racer and trainer of greyhound dogs -- on weekends; during the week, when Chris kept long hours, first at the Denver chapter of the March of Dimes and then as a sales rep at Friendly Ford, Heather and their grandmother watched over him.
"My grandma and my sister, they raised me a lot," Montoya remembers, "because my mom was always working. She worked a lot, from nine in the morning to ten at night, selling cars and shit. She always had jobs to pay for a real house and keep us out of the projects or apartments."
They lived in a series of rented houses in the Highland and Sunnyside neighborhoods, predominantly Hispanic areas where taquerías and small, Latino-focused shops lined the main streets. Sixth-generation Mexican-Americans, Montoya and his sister never learned to speak Spanish, although they picked up spatterings of words and phrases from older relatives at their grandmother's regular Sunday dinners. Those gatherings instilled an appreciation for family in the young Montoya. "Always be there for your family, even when they're wrong," he says. "And don't talk back."
In 1982, the family moved to a house near Sloan's Lake. Montoya made dozens of friends in his new neighborhood. They rode bikes, played sports and, by middle school, as skateboarding hit mainstream popularity in cereal commercials and movies, started riding. "We all had to get skateboards," Montoya remembers. All their families could afford were cheap boards from the flea market with hard plastic wheels that would suddenly stop in sidewalk cracks or freeze up halfway down a driveway, but that didn't matter to the boys, who quickly learned how to turn, how to fly off curbs and how to ollie.
Montoya caught on the quickest.
"Once he started, he could never let go," Chris explains. "He was a natural. There wasn't anything physical that he wasn't good at. But all he wanted to do was skate."
To keep him happy and off the streets, she even let him build a four-foot-high mini-ramp in their back yard, a sketchy plywood-sheeted half-pipe that ran over her beloved garden.
But by the time Montoya started his freshman year at North High School, everything had changed. His father was living in Florida and returned to Colorado rarely; he talked with his son by phone infrequently. Heather had moved out on her own. And his close posse of friends was coming apart, pulled as if by magnets into different gang sets. One became a NYG Westsider, while another friend three blocks away was GKI, and others were Inca Boyz, Northside or Bloods. "And then they all started quitting skateboarding," Montoya recalls.
"We started getting worried about him," Heather says. There were so many bad influences around for kids his age, especially young boys without a lot of male role models. But her brother was too independent to fall for the allure of gangbanging the way the others did -- and he loved skateboarding too much to give it up. "He just seemed above it all," she says. "Like he already made up his mind who he was and what he was going to be."
Even though he'd made a conscious decision not to join a gang -- and saw skateboarding as a way to bolster that decision -- Montoya still toed the line on the gangbanging lifestyle. "Those are my fucking homies, every one of them," he emphasizes. "My good-ass homies that I grew up with. My best friends. There's no way you can't kick it with them." So at North, he continued to hang around known gang members and often wore red. "At my school it wasn't cool to be a skater. But I was like half skater, half gangster. All my homies were Bloods, so everyone always thought I was a Blood, too," he says. "But I had a skateboard. There's no way I could be a Blood and have a skateboard."
He considers this for a moment. "They're just two different things," he explains. "Either you were a skater or a gangster, you know what I mean?"
As friends dropped out of school and landed in jail, skateboarding became Montoya's sole focus. He started getting out of the neighborhood, riding his skateboard along the Colfax viaduct over the freeway to meet up with other skaters and hunt new terrain downtown. By the early '90s, he was part of a tight-knit crew of street skaters who'd spend their days and nights darting between Civic Center Station, Skyline Park and along 17th Street, seeking out stairs, ledges and underground parking garages, playing an endless cat-and-mouse game with security guards and police.
It was there that he met Kelly Flynn, a teenage skater who'd just moved into the city from Littleton with his parents. Flynn would hang out with Montoya and other hard-core skaters from the north-side, Five Points and Montbello neighborhoods, the only white kid in what he calls "a whole collective of the ghetto." Clusters of skaters from across the metro area would travel downtown, searching for prime skateboarding spots. Like surfers who'd battle non-locals invading their beaches, crews of skaters would sometimes clash over turf and reputation.
"You had all these rich kids from the suburbs, and we were the ghetto Denver crew," says Flynn. "I was friends with some of the dudes from the suburbs but respected amongst all the ghetto kids. I remember there would be days where I would be skating downtown, and Marc and them would be beating up my yuppie friends. I would be like, 'Dude, you can't! Give them back their boards -- c'mon!'"
Gangster or not, Montoya was definitely one of the dominant skaters on the scene. He possessed the technical prowess to do difficult flip tricks and the fearlessness to attempt bigger stunts. One photograph from that era captures him kick-flipping an eight-foot-wide brick-lined fountain gap at 17th and California streets -- a feat that required an immense amount of speed and commitment.
"He's just stubborn as fuck," Flynn says. "He's not somebody you want to fight with or that you want to get into any challenge with. Because he digs in, man. And he has to be the best. That's where I think it comes from, because he's so stubborn. He sees some things he doesn't like, and he's like, 'Fuck, I want to do this. I can do this.' And he pushes hard and produces."
A now-defunct company called Basic Skateboards caught Montoya and sent him on a team tour of Europe the summer after his junior year. "Somehow my mom came up with a couple hundred dollars to give me for the trip, because we were just mad broke," he says.
But you can only get up so much speed on a Big Wheel, and you can only go so big on a skateboard. Looking through skateboarding magazines, Montoya saw some photos of people riding boards in the snow. And they were going huge, flying off cliffs and jumps.
Snowboarding had made its debut as early as 1965 with the Snurfer, a plastic stand-up sled for children, but it really got going in the '80s under industry forerunners Jake Burton and Tom Sims. By the end of that decade, most ski resorts grudgingly permitted boarders on their hills -- a policy that did not please traditional patrons. Because while some snowboarders sought to fashion the activity in the more respectable mold of skiing, the snowboarder stereotypes were still about juvenile delinquents and twenty-something deadbeats. The heavy influence of skateboarding -- and street skating, in particular -- didn't do much to change this perception.
And that's exactly what Montoya liked about it.
He'd skied as a kid, and even tried snowboarding when he was fourteen. He'd borrowed Heather's boyfriend's 1987 Burton Performer Elite, an archaic, ironing-board-shaped plank of wood, and had hurt his ankle so bad, he vowed never to snowboard again. But now he decided to give it another shot.
Snowboarding was a massively expensive sport compared to skateboarding, though, and the $200 boards -- not to mention boots, bindings, outerwear and rapidly inflating lift tickets -- put snowboarding out of reach for most poor urban kids. Just getting out of the city and up to the mountains was an almost impossible task. But through a ski-bus program at North that offered discounted ski and snowboard rental and lift tickets, Montoya was able to go up and ride a few times.
After Flynn got a car, Montoya was determined to get a board. In 1992, when he was seventeen, Good & Fruity was doing a "demo days" event at Loveland as part of a marketing effort targeting youth and "alternative sports." Some friends stole one of the practice boards decorated with the candy's logo. Montoya bought it off them for $20, sawed the tips and the tail down, painted the top, "and he rode that for a long time," Flynn says.
Depending on the source, Montoya's age shifts with the seasons. In January, when he was named "Rock Star of the Year" by Transworld Snowboarding, the magazine listed him as 28 years old. A month later, at the 2005 Winter X Games in Aspen, where Montoya got eighth in Men's Slopestyle, he was listed as thirty years old. Shortly after that, he signed on as the leading name for Nitro Snowboards' team; its freshly designed website posts his age as 29.
So how old is Montoya? Don't ask the sponsors. Snowboard companies routinely fudge the numbers when listing birth dates for aging professionals in an attempt to keep their riders suspended in twenty-something bliss. Snowboarding may have matured over the years -- from an outsider activity enjoyed mainly by teen males to a bona fide sport enjoyed by baby boomers, their pre-pubescent children and everyone in between -- but the target market remains mostly 14- to 25-year-olds who have lots of time (and money) to spend on the slopes.
Montoya isn't the only snowboarding star to come of age in the mid-'90s who's now in the uncomfortable position of having to appeal to consumers half his age. Thirty-five-year-old professional snowboarder Todd Richards of Breckenridge routinely finds himself announced during contest runs as "the oldest competitor" -- with most of his rivals freshmen and sophomores in high school.
Ask Montoya, and he'll tell you that he was born at Denver General Hospital (now Denver Health) on June 13, 1974, which puts him at 31 years old. But passing thirty hasn't slowed his snowboarding career. For the past couple of years, he's been ranked among the top ten overall riders by Snowboarder magazine, a list compiled through a survey of the best snowboarders in the world. "So you have the Peter Lines and the Jeremy Joneses and the JP Walkers voting," says editor Pat Bridges. "And Marco's firmly entrenched in that list."
But Montoya's popularity extends to the snowboarding masses. "He's got a really broad appeal," Bridges explains. "For a sport that's pretty lily-white -- and upper-middle-class -- Marc brings in ethnicity and a sense of hope and promise for kids who aren't the Gentiles, who aren't the WASPy kids that the sport is so known for. Marc is the antithesis of that."
In other words: "He's so ghetto," a pretty brunette sighs.
Like almost everyone else in line at the Boulder Theater, she's decked out in snowboard-chic clothing -- in her case, a tight-fitting hooded sweatshirt and a raspberry-colored spiked belt. This night's screening/signing is the culmination of a three-day snowboard sale organized by Satellite Boardshop, Unity Snowboards and two of Montoya's most loyal patrons, Trent and Troy Bush, owners of Section snowboard apparel. Montoya, who's sitting at an autograph table near the entryway next to Justin Bennee, Mark Edlund and some of Tech Nine's other professional riders, is in a gray White Sox jersey. Unlike most snowboarders, who range from medium-sized to skinny, Montoya is 5' 10 and 175 pounds, with the thick build of a wrestler. His broad shoulders and muscular arms seem to give him a low, stable center of gravity.
"Hey, girl," he smiles. It's loud, so he leans in and says something into the brunette's ear. She laughs and hands him a large poster -- a painting of Montoya standing with his arms out in a what-are-you-looking-at pose -- and he signs it with a graffiti cursive. Two teenage guys from Vail bound up next. "Hey, Marc. Marc!" They hand him a flier. "You should come check out our video!" Montoya looks at the piece of paper carefully, even though it's pretty obvious that his busy schedule would never allow him to show up. "All right, cool," he says, knocking knuckles and putting the paper in his pocket. The teens stare wide-eyed for a few seconds, then retreat to the wall to stare some more.
Snowboarding videos have become much more than cobbled footage of friends performing tricks for the camera. They're the heart of a sport that depends on performing stunts in new, more difficult ways; they show new riders, spots, tricks and trends. Contests like the US Open or the X Games may win riders money and recognition, but the respect of the snowboarding masses is won with a sick video performance.
For the past five years, Montoya has been featured in a Tech Nine-sponsored video series called "Finger on the Trigga." The latest installment, One Love, is premiering tonight. The opener, Burning Bridges, is another video featuring Montoya, and as he sets up his DJ equipment, it starts to play. Many of the shots show him freeriding down steep backcountry hills. As he does an enormous 1080 over a ninety-foot tabletop, the crowd cheers. More than the tricks themselves, it's how Montoya performs them that makes him instantly recognizable. He spins a slow front-side 360 over a thirty-foot-tall pine and taps the nose of his board on the top-most branch.
Although Montoya is known for his skills in the snowboard parks and on the rails, Bittner's favorite footage is when Montoya's riding backcountry. "He is so powerful," he says. "He can be going slower than somebody else off a jump, but go way bigger and stomp way harder."
Montoya's signature is his smoothness, according to Bridges. "His style is about flow," he explains. "He doesn't do anything too acrobatic. You know, he's got a strong bag of tricks and a lot of solid tricks. But he doesn't do anything more on the gymnastic side of it -- more acrobatics, more tumbling type of stuff. He does stuff that he thinks flows and is a lot smoother, and he grabs his board, but he doesn't make it his biggest priority. He wants to go big, and he wants to spin smooth and slow, stuff that's not really too dizzying."
Dave Buynar, who went to North with Montoya, stands against the bar with Matt Longanecker, sipping a beer and watching their friend speed down a rocky mountain face. Longanecker met Montoya in the mid-'90s, skating in downtown Denver; Buynar had met him at North, when he was a freshman and Montoya was a junior. Buynar skateboarded, and says his friends were initially intimidated by Montoya "because he had long hair and this mean-looking mustache." But he also had a ramp, he remembers, "so one day I just went up to him and asked him if we could skate it with him, and he was all, 'Sure, man, just come over.'"
Soon he, Flynn and Montoya were snowboarding together. Buynar remembers the first day that Montoya got noticed by sponsors. Montoya was up at Loveland Pass, and he was doing a jump off a cliff when he broke his board. Some riders from a local company were so impressed by his style that they invited him down to the factory to pick up a free snowboard. "I think that was the turning point for Marco," Buynar points out. "Because he was like, 'If I go huge, I get free shit. And I need free shit, so I got to go huge.'"
Montoya and Flynn started going to the mountains as often as they could. They'd shoplift food from the grocery store and fill up their gas tanks and leave without paying. At the resorts, they'd stand in the parking lots with wire cutters and ask to clip the tickets of people who were leaving the hills early.
"We liked to roll up there and be out of place -- 'What are you Mexicans doing up here?' and all that shit," Montoya says. "We liked to go up there and be loud and cause trouble. We got in so many fights with skiers."
But skateboarding was still Montoya's main focus, and when he finished high school in 1993 -- "I knew I'd graduate, because all you had to do was show up," he says -- he headed out to Los Angeles to become a professional skateboarder. He worked in the Basic Skateboards warehouse, packing boxes and skating during his off-hours. Things got tough when the company stiffed him on wages, though, and then his car broke down. "As soon as that happened, I couldn't get rides," says Montoya. "Nobody gives a fuck about you in Cali. You don't have friends. All my real friends were in Denver."
After just a summer in L.A., Montoya came home. But things were difficult here, too. His mother had gotten evicted from her house. He was burned out on skateboarding and felt like he was being sucked back into the crime and poverty he'd tried so hard to escape. He and his friends would spend their nights stealing cars and car stereos, traveling to the "good neighborhoods" to rob garages of bikes and other equipment. "That was like our job," he says and laughs. "But that's because it's hard to get a real job. It's like -- " he pauses, his voice getting serious. "It's like you have no future. Growing up in the city, it's like the grind. Everybody grinds here. It's so hard to make it. Broke. Living day to day. It teaches you knowledge, street sense. That shit's invaluable."
One night Montoya and some friends broke into a parked car in Capitol Hill, and the vehicle's owner appeared with a "huge ol' gun," he recalls. After they escaped unscathed, Montoya decided it was time to get a real job. He found it at a warehouse working the graveyard shift from six in the evening to six in the morning. After that, he'd sleep for four hours, then head up to the mountains and be clipping tickets by noon.
Flynn, who had taken many film and photo classes at school, began filming videos of his friends skateboarding and snowboarding. Montoya always ended up the star. "Marc was, like, ruling at that time," Flynn says of his first video, Obese, made in 1993. "He was going bigger than anybody. Even though half the time he'd stick it and half the time he wouldn't, he'd get all the respect because he was about a year or two ahead of snowboarding with the size of the jumps he was hitting."
Once, when Montoya landed behind bars after a traffic stop, Flynn showed up at Denver County Jail with bail money and their snowboarding gear. They drove straight from jail to the mountains and rode the whole day.
Flynn's videos got him work taking promotional footage for snowboard companies, and as he made more contacts within the industry, he started acting as a "ghetto agent" for his friend, talking up Montoya to prospective sponsors.
"He had the end part in all my videos," Flynn says. "They were pretty much just a marketing vehicle for Marco."
Then came what Montoya calls the best year of his life. Through Flynn, he met some Evergreen snowboarders who were moving up to a house in Vail -- and they invited Montoya to go with them. "And I was like, 'For real? All right, shit.' That got me out of the city and the hood," he says. "At that time, I was just doing whatever I had to do to get money, getting into trouble. I wanted to get out of the city and get out of Denver and live better and figure something out. And once I got up to Vail, I saw the light. I saw there was a way of living, like the mountain way."
It was a life-changing experience. There were five snowboarders, two guys and three girls, living in a two-bedroom house. "And they were like the best people I ever met," he says. "These people were good people. Not grimy city kids. I met those people, and I found out that there's good people out in the world. Good people who would give you the shirt off their back just to do something good. I wanted to be like them, good like them."
By the time Bogarts, Flynn's second video, came out in 1995, Montoya's snowboarding was beyond good. "He came onto the snowboard scene as part of the strong, new-school snowboard movement out of Summit County, Colorado," Bridges explains. "Here were guys who were really emulating skateboarding as much as possible when it came to their snowboarding. It was much more raw as a sense. The tricks were less ski-inspired. It wasn't about twisting and flipping and stuff. It was all about how you grabbed and ollied and the tricks you could do on the snow, the ones that were more skate-like. Like jibbing and stuff."
At the Boulder Theater, One Love finally starts up. Although Montoya isn't featured -- some up-and-comers are -- he mixed all the music for it, mostly hard-core rap. The new video is all hip-hop and urban -- "gangsta snowboarder," some have called it -- with quick, jarring shots that feature riders sliding across handrails, launching from high school football stadium stands or water towers, even pulling tricks by grinding along outdoor playground equipment. Save for African-American snowboarder Stevie Bell, all of the riders are young white males, who look preposterous with their thug poses, flashing gang signs and tough-guy glares.
"These kids, they already got money," Montoya says of snowboarders who grew up in more affluent surroundings. "They just snowboard for fun like that. They won't even give a shit if they make it or not, because their parents are already rich and they can go to college and shit. For me, once I got that check, I didn't have a choice. And I don't want no other choice. I'm so happy, man. This is what I always wanted to be."
The mostly white crowd eats up every last spoonful of faux gangster style. And at least they have Montoya spinning records to give them some semblance of inner-city authenticity. "When I came into snowboarding," he says, "I saw all these dudes in their wack skier clothes, and I was like, 'These guys are fags.' So I came to the hills all thugged out in braids and shit. Now that's cool."
In 1996, Montoya hooked up with his first professional sponsor, World Industries, a well-established skateboard company that wanted to get into snowboards. They were looking for riders with a street-tough image and flew Montoya in for a talk. "And they were like, 'So how much do you want to get paid?'" Montoya remembers. After he threw out a ridiculously high number, the team manager came back with, "No, not that much. How about $800 a month?" Montoya stayed cool, but inside he was thinking fuck, yeah! "All right," he answered. "I'll take it."
"That right there was insane," he says, still shaking his head in disbelief. "I got a check the next week, and I couldn't even fucking believe it. That was it. There was no stopping me after that. Someone paying me -- to snowboard!" World Industries began placing ads in skateboarding and snowboarding magazines featuring Montoya, and he worked hard to progress as a boarder, "just so I could make it worth it for them to be paying me," he says.
Flynn was able to hook Montoya up with boot and clothing sponsors, earning another $200 a month or so from each company.
After making a trip to Utah in 1999, Montoya decided to move there permanently. "It's so much better than Colorado for snowboarding," he says. "They get so much snow, and it's always nice weather, and it's really steep." He'd met his future wife, E'lala, at a snowboard-industry trade show in Las Vegas, where she was working as a dancer in a casino's Polynesian dance troop. Eventually she moved to Utah, too, and she and Montoya had a son, D'angelo. They got married in 2002, after the birth of their daughter, Sarynah-Lalelei.
By now, Montoya's notoriety had established him so firmly in the snowboard industry that he could have his pick of sponsors and demand top dollar. He'd been riding for Sims Snowboards and a slew of other companies, but he chose the ones he felt worked best with his image. "I never liked how skiers always hated us, but these skier companies would start these snowboard companies, and then they would make millions off us," he says. "And the owners are skiers who don't even like snowboarders. So I never rode for no skier-owned company."
Back when World Industries asked Montoya to come up with a design for a pro model, he got some stickers from a machine at the Chubby's in his old neighborhood and sent them to the artist. What that artist came up with for the board is what Montoya eventually got tattooed on his right bicep. It's the eagle from the Mexican flag, except instead of clutching cactus and a snake in its talons, the eagle's claws are pulling at shackles attached to a pair of wrists, with the chains being broken away. "Skateboarding and snowboarding saved my life," Montoya says.
A month after Montoya returned to Colorado a hometown hero for the Tech Nine video, he's over at the Denver Skatepark. There was a light, icy drizzle earlier in the evening, but not enough to get the concrete wet. So now about three dozen skaters are riding around the park, attempting tricks on the pyramids, banks and bowls.
For the eighth time, Montoya is trying a difficult transfer from a steep divot known as the "Fish Ladder" into the street course. He sprained his foot a couple of weeks ago, and his attempts are tentative but still done with a significant amount of speed and flow. He drops into the mini-bowl and pops his tail off the lip, floating easily through the air toward the decline. His wheels meet the slick concrete at a slight angle, causing his board to slip out. He slams against the flat bottom, expertly rolling into a tumble to reduce impact.
He's hurt his body a lot over the years. Torn tendons, blown-out knees, broken ribs, compacted vertebrae, separated shoulders, concussions, stress fractures and broken wrists; he dislocates fingers several times a year. He figures he has at least three more years of professional snowboarding in him. That's why he's getting involved in so many business ventures now. When his body is too blown out to compete at the top level, he'll still have a way to keep the cash rolling in.
"Is that Marc Frank Montoya?" a teenage skater asks his friend. Both have shaggy mops of jet-black hair and are Latinos from the north side. They watch with awe as Montoya skates around the park, banging his board up difficult wall rides. "Whoa," one says. "What the heck was that trick?"
Because of its central location in the Platte Valley, Denver's skatepark is one of the most ethnically diverse parks in the country. On any given day, it's not unusual to see African-American, Latino, Asian and white skateboarders. In October, Latino radio station Mega 95.7 ("Latino & Proud!") and Chubby's sponsored a skateboard contest at the park.
Marc is torn between the inner city and the still snow-white world of snowboarding. He didn't join a gang as a kid, but he still wore red. He wants to get his family away from gangs, but he still carries guns. He represents Denver at the same time that he wants to leave it behind.
Last year he bought a house for his mother at Federal and 50th Avenue; now he's trying to convince her to move to Utah. Just two months ago, a cousin was gunned down not four blocks from his mother's house.
"So many kids have talent down here in the city, but there's just no way out," Montoya says. "It's like a vice. Some of my homies are just getting out of jail, and I'm linking back up with them. Some of them have been in jail for, like, the last eight years because of the crazy shit they were in. I just wish they would've gone with me. Because when I go on all these crazy trips, going to China and Japan, and I see the world, making money, I wish my homies could be there with me.
"All these kids think there's just no way out of the city. If they could just see how good it is, out there on the mountains, they'd be out there, too."
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