Soy Sauce Nation's "Stir Fry": Bringing An Online Community Together IRL
Soy Sauce Nation's "Stir-Fry" event at Boreal Mountain was full of fun and sun. Originally an online community for Asia Pacific Islander (API) snowboarders, Soy Sauce Nation creates in-person events fostering an environment that encourages, inspires, and celebrates their shared experiences. The first 2 days were held on a private course with features for all skill levels and activities throughout the day. The last day was a community day, open to snowboarders of all ages and abilities. We did a Q&A with the man behind Soy Sauce Nation Andrew "AK" Kelly to learn more about "Stir-Fry" and the importance of affinity groups like Soy Sauce Nation.
How did you get into snowboarding?
In the third grade, I became a thief, well kind of. Rewind a week prior to winter break where I had gone on a week-long family ski trip in the Pocono Mountains in PA. I was skiing next to my uncle and could only french fry and didn't know how to stop. When the trail merge sign came up I couldn't slow down and that's when I saw it: a snowboarder doing a backside 180 over the slow/trail merge sign. The style in which the trick was done left me in complete awe. He landed switch and noticed I wasn't going to stop so instead picked up the 7-year-old little boy I was and set me down when it was safe. From then on I was obsessed. I went to school the next week and rented a book called "The Young Snowboarder '' from my elementary school library which to this day I have still not returned.
How did the Soy Sauce Nation come about and who is involved?
The first time the three words of "Soy Sauce Nation" were spoken into existence was in October 2012. I was working as a sales rep in the Mid-Atlantic sitting in the Bavarian Lounge at Seven Springs Resort PA with Burton Sales Reps Tanner Comfort and Matt Bothfeld aka Bistro aka Matty B. The Word Sauce Nation was Matty B's snowboard fraternity of good times and banter. Sitting at the table was a small bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce. Tanner proceeds to pour the three of us small shots and then drinks it! I quickly drank my shot of soy sauce after which I immediately yelled out since I'm Asian and as a play on words to the Word Sauce Nation, "Soy Sauce Nation!"
Fast forward to 2014, I landed my dream job working in the Demo Center at High Cascade Snowboard Camp. All of the staff sat in a circle for introductions. Basic ice breaker stuff: our hometown, what department at camp we were working in, and so on. Then it was my turn. I closed by letting people know that my nickname AK does not stand for "Asian Kid" as it has been presumed by many people. I was accustomed to being the only Asian person in any snowboard-related setting and I assumed that this time was no different. But then I felt it. A pair of eyes peeking behind a group of people, staring at me and piercing my soul. That was the first time I saw and met Nirvana Ortanez, a Filipino snowboarder from Southern California. She didn't say anything but her eyes said it all, "what about me?!" I profusely apologized to her. Thankfully she accepted and we would go on to joke about that moment. The moment when you think you're the only one but actually you aren't. We quickly became great friends and decided that together we would officially co-found the Soy Sauce Nation. But, would this be something that would stick?
I had always heard of Max Tokunaga but at that point had never met him. I only knew him by reputation and what I had seen in the B-Happy edits out of Lake Tahoe. A goofy-footer with effortless style, technical rail tricks, and I was jealous (and still am) at how good he can skate. A true snowboarders snowboarder. He posted a picture of him and Jesse Gouveia with the caption reading hashtag "#soysaucenation." I couldn't believe it. I took a screenshot immediately and it was at that point that Soy Sauce Nation felt real. Fast forward to when Nirvana and I were planning our future vision of the Soy Sauce Nation community we knew that we couldn't do it without Max and the core of the nation was created.
How did you guys grow the Soy Sauce Nation community?
In 2014 we started an Instagram highlighting the snowboarding of Asian riders. Matty B then hand-cut our first stickers which led us to make more Soy Sauce Nation bottle stickers and distribute them among members of our community. We had people reach out over DM's excited about what we were doing and asked to purchase stickers. Word of mouth was also a big part in the beginning. I remember my buddy who went to school at the University of Montana came back home for winter break and said "Hey AK, you need to meet my buddy Jack Thonvold aka Thorblood. He's originally from Minnesota but he's Korean too." I remember another friend showing me edits of the Buck 90 crew from Mt. Snow Vermont and saying "yo AK, there are two Asian kids Steve Lauder and Zak Wilmot, and I'm pretty sure they are adopted like you." We began searching out other riders that we identified with and along with support from other notable Asian snowboarders like Miles Fallon, Jesse Gouveia, Johnny Brady, Jacob Krugmire, Naima Antonin, Summer Fenton, and Hailey Langland. The nation began to blossom.
When did you realize you wanted to have an event?
Many of us have known about each other from IG but have never met in real life, let alone gone snowboarding with one another. We always knew we had to be more than an Instagram community. Then when the hate crimes towards individuals of Asian heritage began we knew we had to take the next step and assemble. To be the people and community that we needed when we were younger.
How did the first year’s event go?
It was wild. In early May 2021 Krush from Snowboy Productions called me. His wife Smiley is Asian and he told me that we should do a Soy Sauce Nation event in June at Timberline Resort in Oregon. Nirvana, Max and I spoke and we all agreed "it's fucking now or never" and with that we locked in our first event. With less than a month's time we rallied the community and over 50+ people showed up. It all felt surreal, like a dream come true and we all knew that we had been apart of something very special. I think we all left that event with a new understanding of gratitude.
Special thank you to Timberline Park Staff/Diggers, the Snowboard Productions family of Krush, Smiley and Ronin , Jeff Holce and my friend Rosie from Wild Rose Restaurant in Bend who let me borrow her husband's brand new truck.
How did you pick Boreal Mountain for this year’s event?
It all starts with our community member Morrison Hsieh who works for Woodward based in Park City. He put us in touch with the Boreal crew and after a quick meeting we knew we had our spot. Special thanks to the team at Boreal, Eljay Pena, Tucker Norred, Missy Konig , Matt Peterson, Food and Beverage team of Bin An and Xavier and thank you Mizl and his amazing team at the park staff. They helped make lift tickets and access to the event affordable, built an amazing set up for the riders and cooked up a special menu of Filipino food for our community.
How did the name “Stir-Fry” for the event come about and who did the flyer?
One night while eating Chinese take out I wrote down the words "Stir-Fry" as an event name placeholder. Nirvana, Max, and I always laughed when we would say "Stir-Fry" which is a dish that brings together a mix of ingredients on one plate. We felt that we were doing the same by bringing together a mixed group of Asian heritage snowboarders in one park. We thought out loud, who the hell doesn't like a good stir-fry?
The flyer was designed by SSN community member and designer Clare Cho from Duluth Minnesota. She's the best.
How did this year’s event go?
We shared stories, laughed, rode, met new friends, and reconnected as a family. The first two days were invite-only with 95 invited riders coming out! On the third day, we opened the course to the public and had an additional 135 riders join for Community Day. Boreal + Woodward Tahoe nailed it with the amenities and made us feel at home. From the curated lunch menu to the custom park allowing all abilities and ages to rip, we couldn't have asked for a better host. Rolls of jib-able sushi, they knew how to hit us at our core.
The group's energy! Down to ride all day and keep the spark going into the evening, something about the combination of California sunshine, early 2000's tunes, and green tea were infectious. We all left the 3-day event with a full heart and a full belly :)
Now that the dust has settled. What’s the plan for years to come, more "Stir-Fry’s"?
Our goal with "Stir-Fry" is to continue to hold events that bring our community together to celebrate our culture and highlight the riding of those who have historically been underrepresented in the industry. This means working with groups outside of the API community and working with more BIPOC & LGBTQ+ groups. Like them we know what it feels like to be different, and have others see you differently than you see yourself.
We plan to expand our scholarship efforts to help expose members of our community who would not have the funds for travel and get them to the event and experience the positive effects of being around their community.
I've always felt that it's easy to get anxious because change doesn't come as big or as quickly as needed. We want Stir-fry to serve as a reminder to embrace the small moments. Something as small as and say hi, listen and open your heart to those that are different from you. We hope to inspire by living and being that change.
Simply put, we are taking it slow, but would love to do more events, with more people and more good food :)
Thank you for every rider that came out to the event. Thank you to our event coordinators Kim Woozy, Sima Safavi-Bayat, Khai Bhagwandin and Ashley McQuestion. Big love to all our sponsors for being a part of the change. Special thanks to Burton for being a presenting sponsor and their team of Meg Proctor, Josh Fisher and Chelsea Waddell. Special thank you and highest gratitude to Burton team member Matt Bothfeld because without his support and friendship from the very beginning Soy Sauce Nation would not exist. And thank you to one of the first Asian American pro snowboarders Brian Iguchi who wrote "The Young Snowboarder" the book that I stole from the library all those years ago and inadvertently sparked the community that we have today. We love you all and we'll see you next time.