Industry Profile: Vans Boot Developer Tristan Modena

17 Sep, 2009

Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Tristan: I was born and raised in Tennessee. I grew up on a farm (in the boondocks) until 6th grade. Then I moved to Nashville, which is where I started skating. Skating changed my life. I stopped playing traditional sports and skated every day. Skating eventually brought me to snowboarding and the love of both of these sports (and boredom) brought me to California, which is where I reside now. I live in Venice beach and work at Vans making snowboard boots. I also started surfing when I moved to Venice.

Shay: What is your job title?
Tristan: Snowboard Boot Developer

Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Tristan: Never.

Shay: What was your first set up?
Tristan: Supernatural 158 (Mervin) , Drake F50 Bindings and Northwave boots

Shay: What is your current set up?
-Last season I rode a couple of different Arbor boards, with the Wasteland being one of my favorites. They are located near my home in Venice Beach, CA. So, I know a couple of the guys over there and we try to keep it friendly.
-Burton P1 bindings.
-Vans boots (obviously) Fargos (Boa) and Hi Standards (lace), depending on the conditions.

Shay: What was your first job?
Tristan: I grew up on a farm in TN, so I had a lot of jobs, from a young age, that I didn’t get paid for. The first job I had paying taxes (I got a job the day I turned 16) was at a BBQ restaurant called Hog Heaven. The most bangin BBQ you’ve ever had. I eat there every time I’m in Nashville.

Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
-fresh, soft powder
-good friends
-no injuries
-no lift lines
-going fast
-jack daniels at the bar

Shay: Who are your influences?
Tristan: Growing up in TN, we didn’t have too much snow. I only got to go snowboarding about once a year in Vermont after my parents got divorced. That being said, I was a skater, first and foremost, so my influences are from the skate realm.
-Jason Lee
-Mark Gonzales
-Ray Barbee
-Tommy Guerrero

Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Tristan: I think the first time I went snowboarding was in Kentucky (if you can believe that). Age 15? So, 18 years.

Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Tristan: Now that I work in the industry, I get about 25-30 days a year.

Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, what opened up more opportunities for you?
Tristan: I had a friend from high school that worked at Vans, and he helped me get my foot in the door. Other than that, a killer cover letter, lots of years of skating and snowboarding under my belt, understanding how things are built (I used to be a carpenter), and understanding and applying knowledge of anatomy (my college degree is in the health care realm).

Shay: What is your role at Vans as boot developer?
Tristan: ?I take the Adobe Illustrator file that I get from the designers (essentially a 2-D picture of a boot) and turn it into an actual product. I pick out the materials (synthetic leathers and textiles), manage the cost of the boot, approve molds for outsoles and other molded parts, go to the factories in China to make sure they are building the boots properly and ensure that the quality is up to par. I also manage a wear test of our boots to make sure we are not missing anything and to prepare for any unforeseen issues.

Shay: What are the stages of the ground-up design of boots?
-Product briefs – description of a boot (model)
-design reviews – meetings to pick out our favorite designs
-sample building – working with our factories in China to make sample boots
-testing – snowboarding on our new products before they go to market
-production – the act of making thousands of pairs of boots in a full size run

Shay: How is working with each of the Vans lacing systems to design boots?
Tristan: We try to offer a lacing style to fit all types of riding/riders.

Shay: Does your role involve the aesthetics (colors, prints, fabrics)?
Tristan: Not so much. They will ask our opinion, but at the end of the day, whatever Product management and Design want (within costing constraints) I try to deliver.

Shay: What’s involved in the process of choosing construction materials?
Tristan: There are certain benchmarks and standards that Vans maintains for our boots. Sadly, our biggest challenge now is the cost of materials.

Shay: How many times a year do you visit the factory?
Tristan: 2-3

Shay: What steps are taken to ensure durability and quality of Vans boots?
Tristan: We do extensive:
material testing
product testing
waterproof testing

We highly value our signature/professional rider’s input. We also get some good input from our wear testers that ride our boots for an entire season before they go to market.

Shay: What is your favorite boot you have designed and why?
Tristan: We make a lot of great boots. Right now, my favorites are the 2010-2011 Andreas Wiig and the 2010-2011 Hi Standard W’s (Hana Beaman). Why? Super comfortable, mid-flexing, sick styling, great price points, ill colorways.

Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Tristan: Come in between 8-9am, check my email, return some emails to China, eat Baja Fresh for lunch with the homies, answer questions that the designers have regarding construction, skate the mini-ramp (if my ankle is feeling up to it), update specs on our boots, dissect some competitor’s boots, and drink water.

Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working at Vans?
Tristan: SIA, snowboarding with Chris Coulter, sick powder days in Utah with my boss, going to China, skating the mini with Ray Barbee, Omar Hassan and Johnny Layton (just to name a few).

Shay: How is working for Vans (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Tristan: I like it. It’s a laid back work environment. We can skate around the office. We work a half-day on Fridays. There are art and music events. Warped tour, Triple crown of Surfing, the list goes on.

Shay: What education/experience did you have before getting the job?
-Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from Tennessee State University
-Tour Manager for The Pierces
-Occupational Therapist working in hospitals, schools, clinics

Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Tristan: Cheap or free product.

Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Tristan: No.

Shay: Since you started in the snowboard industry, what’s been the biggest change?
Tristan: I think one big change is how urban/street snowboarding is becoming. Kids hitting rails and other urban obstacles in parks/schools whatever. Basically, people not paying money for lift tickets to do traditional mountain resort riding.

Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Tristan: Winter.

Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Tristan: I think they are equally important. I would not be sitting here right now, if I did not have a Bachelor’s degree. I also would not be sitting here if I hadn’t skated and snowboarded for the past 20 years.

Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to become a boot developer?
Tristan: Network with people as much as possible (without being wack). Get a degree (in something). Keep snowboarding and skating.

Shay: Final thoughts?
Tristan: Buy Vans boots!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pictures courtesy of Tristan Modena.

About the author


From the beginning of time, I was Shannon. From the beginning of snowboarding, I was Shay. From the beginning of online communities, I was Shayboarder. In the end, I’m the writer, photographer, editor, publisher, guru of sorts, product tester, curvy girl, and most importantly the snowboarder behind it all. Follow me on this journey through snowboarding, mountain biking, traveling and fun experiences!


  1. LateBloomer
    September 17, 2009

    So did you ask him about the problems you had with your latest pait of Vans? My take was the Vans needed long break-in time whereas the Bonfires were comfy out of the box.

  2. September 17, 2009

    Good Question, I don’t consider it a problem, breaking in is something I’m used to with Vans boots. My last pair took a number of days to break in but they lasted me two years because they didn’t break down or lose the flex quickly. I know that the break-in period for me lasts 10 or so days but then after that it’s smoothe sailing for comfort, plus it’s a stiffer boot which I prefer. For the longevity of the boot, I prefer that cause I know after 100 days it will still be in great conditions.

    The Bonfire boots I rode were comfort right from the start and a softer boot which was great at camp where breaking in a boot was the wrong time. We’ll see how those boots do over a period of time, I’m interested in that for sure.

  3. September 17, 2009

    ahhh it’s Tristan the boot survey guy. nice to put a name to the face.

  4. Anthony G.
    September 17, 2009

    Wow, so this is who is behind my love and joy (Fargos). Cheers..