Shaken, Not Stirred: Snowboard Industry Survives Quake

Kurt Cobain wrote that, “Frances Farmer would have her revenge on Seattle,” and with a week this bad it’s sounding true.

First crowds got unruly at Tuesday’s Pioneer Square Mardi Gras party, injuring 43 and causing scores of property damage.

The next morning a 6.8 earthquake near Olympia shook facades off their buildings, cracked and damaged freeway ramps, streets, and water lines, and spooked citizens out into the streets.

The quake was centered 32 miles deep underground, minimizing above-ground damage, but could be felt as far away as Salt Lake City, Utah. No serious aftershocks were reported.

For their part, many of the area’s snowboard industry workers spent the morning shaken like the rest of the city but with minor firsthand damage to report. “Nothing much happened here,” said John O’Connor, board designer for Ride Snowboards now relocated at the K2 headquarters on Vashon Island, across Puget Sound near the quake’s epicenter. “You ought to call Starbuck’s-those people got hurt.”

Longtime K2 employee Dave Billinghurst concurred with O’Connor, “Nothing much happened at the office, just a bunch of freaked-out people,” he said. “I was standing in the warehouse and everything started shaking. I looked at who I was with and we were like, ‘What is that?’ Then we figured it out-earthquake!”

The alarm was sounded to evacuate and Billinghurst bolted out with the rest of the staff, where they sat while the building was checked for damage. Eventually, Billinghurst said he simply got cold and went back in to finish the day. “It was exciting,” he said, “It was wild seeing all the trees shaking. They closed the ferry down for a few hours but things were fine going home.”

Back in Seattle, the Mervin headquarters was likewise rattled, yet wasn’t thrashed. “I had a pretty good view of it,” said Paul Ferrell, “I was walking outside back into the building and saw the big metal doors and the power lines and poles shake. I felt these waves going through the asphalt. Then everybody came running out. It scared Jeannine and Annette-they sit near me and said it started when they heard my box of Bent Metal discs jingling.”

Like the rest of the stunned city, Mervin workers then huddled around waiting to go back inside and watch damage reports unfold. “We killed a good two to three hours of productivity where the company was paying us to watch TV,” Ferrell laughs.

Mervin sales rep Matt Remine wasn’t at his place near Olympia at the time, but Ferrell relayed that most all the plants and books were tossed from the shelves. Aside from the abysmal traffic due to closed freeway ramps, things were back to normal on Thursday, and Ferrell said everyone hopes nothing more serious is on the horizon. “If something really huge happens here there’s going to be mass confusion,” he said.

I inquired about the company’s satellite factory in Port Angeles on the northern coast and Ferrell replied, “Oh yeah, I was thinking about calling them … “

A Thursday call to the Snowboard Connection, Seattle’s oldest snow and skate shop, down by the ferry dock and not far from the looming freeway overpasses, yielded only this outgoing message: “We’re closed today-not because of the earthquake, but because we’re returning from our annual company picnic. We had a few good days of snowboarding, thank you very much.”

Faction, a shop owned by Ride founder Tim Pogue, might have suffered the most significant damage to their building among Seattle’s snowboarders. Worker Joe Florence reported that their three-story vintage brick building north of the Space Needle had some cracks in the walls and small, fallen pieces of brick. Still, when things had settled, staff put fallen items back on the shelves, swept up, and resumed business without ever having closed.

That left Bob Gundrum of Northwave to witness the most serious carnage. “I was in my car so I didn’t get the full effect,” he said, “But I saw facades and bricks falling. I mean, stuff was coming down. I saw one facade go and take two window frames with it. Driving around today I saw a two-story building with a whole side missing.” Gundrum said the quake hadn’t really disturbed Northwave’s hectic preparation for Vegas next week, but there were some new cracks in their warehouse slab, fallen ceiling tiles, and a big crack down First Avenue just outside. Ironically, lack of snow and rain this year meant less moisture in the ground, so more stability with fewer landslides. As bad as it was, it could’ve been much worse.

But Gundrum still had to go finish the errand he was on when the quake occurred because, “The people wouldn’t go inside and get my stuff afterward because their building moved, like, a foot.”