The year was 2014 and I had just been laid off from one of my first real-deal writing jobs. Not really sure what I was going to do next, I got a random Facebook message from a kid I went to high school with but hadn’t heard from in a while.
“Come to Vermont, I have an extra room in the house at Mount Snow for the Winter.”
Growing up, I was friends with Casey’s older brother Dana, who fronts the metal band Kingdom of Giants. In high school, Casey and Dana’s crib was the party house, always something ringing off. But Casey had turned over a new leaf since, kicking the party habits and dedicating his life to snowboarding, spending all his time and money getting himself right physically and mentally, traveling the world in search of “stoke,” as he says.
The offer was intriguing: move to the mountain for five months, get a great deal on a crazy crib, use a change of scenery to hit the reset button and find some new inspiration and friends. A new chapter.
Ten of us went to that house in Vermont, ready for whatever adventures laid ahead. And what an adventure it was. Those are all stories for another day but the moral of the story is that Casey’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, live life by the day and seize every opportunity attitude was contagious and completely changed my outlook on “planning” my life. He showed me that the constructs and limitations I had placed on myself were holding me back and keeping me from living “for the dream,” another Caseyism.
The sayings Casey has coined were always popular among our crew but now, as he gains a huge following on Youtube and Instagram, they are becoming entire movements in and of themselves. While most people ask others “how are you,” Casey’s translation is “how’s yer neck,” used mostly to inquire whether you’ve ingested your required number of vegetables for the day. Now that Casey has acquired a sponsorship with an organic juice company carried in grocery stores around the world, #howsyerneck has transformed into a relatively viral social media challenge that finds Casey’s fans across the globe chugging green juice rather than beers.
Casey’s life has been a nonstop world tour for years, zig-zagging from snow to surf to skate spots everywhere from SoCal to Switzerland. But for the longest time, he was mostly just doing it for him, all for the love of the game. He wasn’t making much money but he lived light, crashing with friends and making it work.
After getting dumped on daily in Vermont for almost half a year, we were all sick of the snow and wanted to head for warmer weather. We left the Mount Snow house and all immediately embarked on a road trip to the Pacific, with no money, plans, or idea where we’d be staying once we arrived. But we knew we’d make it work — or at least we trusted in Casey’s ability to find a way.
Well respected in the snowboard community for his tireless work ethic and shining personality, Casey has always been a pro’s pro. But it wasn’t until he started his CVlogs series about two years ago that the world at large started to take notice. When we took that road trip to California four years ago, Casey was toying around with filming his day-to-day life, working out the kinks, and practicing for what would become one of the fastest-growing vlogs in snowboarding.
Now, he’s amassed tens of thousands of subscribers on his channel and on his Instagram, got his own Roku channel, and is stacking up new sponsorships seemingly daily as brands start to catch on to his wave of positive inspiration and extreme engagement with his exploding fan base. While he does have relationships with legacy snowboard brands like 686, many of his sponsors aren’t ones you’d expect. Cdub has been a huge proponent of Bulletproof Coffee and that lifestyle for years, long before the fat-friendly alternative to traditional coffee rose in popularity. Now, he drives more people to them than ever before, helping them reach new audiences all around the world.
We invited Casey to The Hundreds HQ while he was passing through LA from the snow up north to the surf down south, fresh off a hospital stay for a lacerated kidney he suffered on the slopes. For someone who had just been told he can’t do what he loves for a couple of months — or a couple of weeks with his Wolverine-like healing capabilities — Cdub maintained an incredibly positive outlook and stayed grateful for everything going on in his life.
DUKE LONDON: So, what happened this week?
CASEY WILLAX: I’m fresh out of the hospital. [Laughs] Thankfully, I still have both kidneys. One of them is slightly lacerated.
It didn’t sound so slight.
It was a Stage 4 kidney laceration. I was snowboarding at [Big] Bear last Sunday and took a casual digger. It caused more pain than any of the other ones and I had to go to the ER because it hurt to walk. My stomach was bleeding, a bunch of bad things. Thankfully, I didn’t need surgery. They let me out the next day but I have like three months of recovery and rehab until I’m back sending on the snowboard again.
[UPDATE: Cdub is fine now and back to shredding like an absolute savage]
You do a daily vlog. So, I saw the day after your bad fall you weren’t at the hospital, you were at the beach. [Laughs]
I did a little workout, a little stretch routine, trying to figure out what I could and couldn’t do. It felt pretty good but then I texted my mom and when she heard that it still kind of hurt to walk, she said I needed to get checked out. I was supposed to board a plane the next day to Colorado. Internal bleeding and flights do not mix.
You would have blown up.
Yeah, I would have internally combusted.
That’s crazy that it wasn’t even phasing you.
No pain the entire time, just discomfort. The doctors thought that was pretty crazy, too.
I’m sure they don’t see that often. What goes through your mind when you were told, while you’re in the middle of a run here, three months off the board?
I always stick to the positivity. You don’t know at the moment why it happens but I’m sure three months down the road, we will have established something that I wouldn’t have done without this happening. I would be like, “So stoked that this went down because if not, then this wouldn’t have happened, then this wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
You live your life on the road and see where it takes you at all points, making those fork in the road decisions all of the time. How do you maintain that positivity when something doesn’t go your way?
I always look at it like there are a million different ways to go anyway. The universe chooses the best one for you, as long as you’re resonating with that and expecting that to come. And if it doesn’t come, then dealing with it like a grown-up and not getting upset because if you’re stoked and you’re positive, you’re always going to make the best decisions. I really don’t see any other way to look at it.
If people saw your vlog from the hospital, you were literally in the hospital bed editing videos and that just goes to show the dedication to the craft. Any content creators out there know how insane it is to hold yourself to daily uploads, especially when they’re very high quality.
I fully love what I do. I just recognize how blessed I am to be able to document my day and life and put it out there for people to see. First of all, the fact that this many people care is enough motivation alone. Just knowing that I can continue to do my job in the hospital because I have created one of the best jobs that I could ever want for myself is amazing. If all I’m going to do is sit there, I might as well grab the GoPro, film what’s going on, and let the people know where I’m at. I’m fortunate for that, that’s the motivation behind it all, everyone having my back.
You’ve been living the same lifestyle for a while but you have only started documenting it every day for the last two years or so. How has life changed?
The biggest change is the support. I was doing it already. Now, I have people that back it like crazy because maybe they can’t do it themselves, or they want to, or they might not want to but they love it and support it. I think it’s easier because, for example, when you and I were in New Mexico and had nowhere to stay and we were broken down, now I could drop an Instagram Story and there would have been somebody in New Mexico that would have been like, “come through, we got you on a home-cooked meal and a place to crash.” There’s a lot more connections, a lot more love.
You mentioned people really support and people gravitate towards your content because it might be something they want to do but can’t. What about your mission and what you’re doing resonates with so many people?
Freedom is everything. There’s the type of people that see it and want to do it that actually get motivated and ask stuff like, “Ok how is he making food on the go?” And they’ll watch the video of me driving from Utah to Colorado, pulling off on the side of the highway, finding an abandoned building in the rain that somehow had working plugs for my stove. They implement that knowledge and experience from me into their journey. It’s real actual live feedback, tips, and advice for something that somebody wants to do. Then, there’s another side of people who maybe they’re older and already did it and they’re stoked that they get to see somebody else doing it. Then there’s another side where it’s a family with a kid and they wanted to do it but they can’t so they’re content with watching someone else do it. They want to see the most fun I can have.
They get to live through your experiences.
Yeah, without dealing with all of the dangerous stuff like sleeping out in the cold in a van with no heat.
Tell me a little about van life and how your mobile living situation has evolved over the years. Obviously, it’s on another level now than what it was before but what are some of the challenges with van life and what are some of the advantages and what you’ve gotten out of it?
The best advantages are freedom. I don’t have any other bills aside from my car insurance. It doubles as my rent and every other bill that most people have, except it’s in a small van and it’s $80 a month. I have the freedom to basically not need anything and have all of my belongings in my car. Anywhere I am, I have it with me if I want to use it. The cons are endless, from not being able to shower whenever I want, to actually having to cook your own food and wash it with water that you have to find, not being able to do laundry, having all of your stuff inside your van, sleeping outside when it’s too hot in the van. There are different levels to the van life, for sure. I built the framework inside of mine for $20. We used recycled pallets and wood and nails from the pallets to build the whole thing. It’s not for everybody but I get to post up wherever I want, do whatever I want, and live my dream.
You say that a lot. “For the dream.” I feel like that’s been your mission for a long time, just being able to support yourself doing what you love. Do you feel somewhat validated in the last couple of years, now that it’s gotten to a point where you’re able to support yourself with it?
It’s been 100 percent worth it in every aspect.
For people that are reading this, this isn’t an ordinary van that Casey has. It’s like a two-bedroom apartment in his van with an office and kitchen. He could Airbnb half of it if he wanted to.
I’ve had friends sleeping in the front seat, another one sleeping in the corner in the back, me posted up all against the window, all of our belongings in there, a cooler, snowboard gear, surf gear, everything. And like you said, the office. I ship out a lot of merch and stickers, and carry all my inventory and shipping supplies with me.
What’s the learning curve for the business end of it? How have you taught yourself as you went to manage the marketing end of it?
That’s when it comes back to being grateful this is my job and that I have the opportunity. I just take an extra hour or two every day to focus on that. From the content side, I make sure I pull stuff and have good Instagram posts. I have friends that help me with the shipping stuff. It’s just adding one little thing at a time and not looking at it as a giant thing. First, you pull the stickers out and envelope them up. Tomorrow, you have to go to the post office. One step at a time, baby steps are everything.
What are your three biggest travel tips for people that you wouldn’t have expected but have helped along the way?
Honestly, bring less than what you think. Everyone wants to bring more and then you end up carrying around so much stuff that you don’t need the entire time. I’m used to not showering and can always find friends that will let me do laundry so I just bring one change of clothes, if even. Pack lighter. Number two would be don’t plan anything. Have a rigid guideline of where you want to go and the end goal of the trip but leave it open to meeting people that are going to help you out along the way and show you more things. You can research and plan as much as you want but the more you plan, the less room you have for somebody to come up to you and be like, “Hey, what are you doing? Oh I’m going there too, do you want to come crash with me for the night?” And you’re like, “Oh crap, I just spent $115 on an Airbnb because I was scared that I wasn’t going to have comfortability tonight.” And that guy might have given you a job there that would have changed your whole route of plans. Number three, spend your money wisely. Don’t buy things that you don’t need. Everyone is always buying stuff and these trinkets and little pleasures. I would just wait on that, let it come to you naturally, let somebody offer you something that you can use to your benefit and always be ready to give something to somebody so it’s an open-ended give and take. I like to keep everything open. Don’t overthink it, don’t overplan it, don’t overpack.
You were about to go somewhere and the injury happened so now you’re here for a little bit. Now, what’s the plan?
It’s going to be the craziest next month of my life, but I think it’s going to be sick. When you asked where I find the motivation to keep going when I have a setback like this, there are a million things that I want to do in life that I never do because I’m always just snowboarding or surfing. So, now it’s cool I actually get to work on other aspects like filming. I have a drone that i have never taken out of the box, I’ll be able to use that thing more. I’ll be able to do a different side of content than what I’m used to. You get stuck in the same routine over and over again. I’m actually stoked, it’s going to be switching up a bunch.
Eating healthy while traveling is always tough because it’s more convenient to grab something on-the-go. How do you maintain your rigid meal plans while you’re moving all over the world?
That’s a huge one because I’m always traveling. It came to a point where I needed to figure out how to do my travel and diet all the time. You can always be like, “Oh when I get home I’m going to get back on this,” but that never happens. Having friends who support you is incredible because you can just pair up with somebody. One person can cook that night and the other person can clean. I go visit my friends and show up with a bunch of veggies or meat and they’re stoked, whoever is letting me crash or use the kitchen for that time because they’re going to get a free meal out of it. And I haven’t seen them in a while and they’re a good friend and we can offer them food and they can offer us a place to stay. We crash and clean the kitchen up. On the road, I have a cooler, hot plate, a generator. I just have to put in the extra 10-15 minutes to cook my own food.
Tell us about neck maintenance.
[Laughs] Everything goes into the neck. All nutrition starts with the neck so you need to keep it on point. That’s where all the strength comes from, it’s your grounding pole and we coined the phrase, “how’s your neck” by just making sure that all the nutrients are getting through your body.
How important has your attitude and positive outlook been in creating this massive network of people that are stoked on helping with the dream and making sure you’re good wherever you’re at?
It’s the foundation of everything and I think it’s the only reason that people even care to watch because everybody has bad stuff happen to them, every single person. Some people worse than others but when they see me every day, I can’t lie, they see it all. When I’m being filmed, that helps me out immediately. I’m not going to be upset on camera or act like a fool on camera. I just handle it the best way I can with the best mindset I can. That’s how you yield the best results when you’re most clear. More kids are going to be watching me and they’re going to be following and they’re going to try to implement it. I think we’re just trying to make the whole world a better place and it shows. That’s why the followers have been growing and the sponsors are stoked.
What would 17-year-old Casey think of current day Casey and what you’ve built? Was this always the vision or has it just been an evolution?
I feel like I’ve wanted this and been thinking of this without really knowing it forever and I would be so hyped that I’m just still living out of a van and haven’t conformed yet. That’s who I am for sure. We’re going to have to upgrade to a party bus. [Laughs]
How far off are you from a van sponsor?
How important is manifesting, putting things out there, and making things happen for yourself?
Ever since I found out that you can do that, it’s been working. We’re going on seven years now. You think about it and because you’re thinking about it, you’re thinking about ways it can happen. You’re more likely to do these things.
All photos by Mike Dawson