Outsiders: Riley Poor

Javier Fernandez

Riley Poor, photographed in Portland, Oregon.

[Editor's note: Freeskiing has always been a sport defined by its counterculture, limitless, free-of-rules nature. This interview series aims to celebrate that by featuring individuals in the freeskiing industry who are paving their own way, doing things with their own style. They are the Outsiders. Stay tuned next Friday for the next installment.]

Riley Poor is busy. At 30 years old, Poor, who got his start shooting ski action for Matchstick Productions, is now a Global Video Production Manager at Nike, overseeing all of Nike's action sports division's visual advertising production. Recently, the Oregon-based shoe establishment was named the most innovative company in the world by Fast Company. Poor, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2009, is a believer in connecting the audience to the inside of action sports culture and humanizing larger-than-life athletes.

I was born in Oregon, I moved to Southern Vermont and grew up in Wilmington until third grade when I moved out to Crested Butte, Colo.

I wouldn't leave the Matchstick guys alone until they gave me a job. My first job with them was organizing sales racks and shipping DVDs as an intern in high school. I got my foot in the door by doing a lot of free work for them.

I graduated high school early in January 2001. I spent the whole month of April that year in Alaska with C.R. [Johnson], Tanner [Hall], and Evan [Raps]. We were filming for "Ski Movie III: The Front Line." It was a pretty awesome experience for all of us being in AK for our first time.

My injury was four years ago on January 10, 2009. It was a diving accident in a swimming pool near Mount Snow.

I didn't break anything. I dislocated my neck between C5 and C6. Technically, I'm a tetraplegic, which means I'm paralyzed in all of my extremities and my core. I can move my arms somewhat because my biceps and deltoids still work, but I have no hand function whatsoever. 

It's a trip, man. Obviously you have to mourn what's happened to your body, but there's this whole other layer of things you can no longer do that you might not miss at first because you're focused on your rehab. Four years down the road, everyone's going skiing and you're not. That's a harder pill to swallow.

As time goes on, my body presents more challenges like tightness in muscles and tendons. I'm sitting for 15 hours a day. It gets to be a bear on the ol' body.

I'm trying to manage my injury the best I can while still working a 50-hour week.

I'm trying to figure out what to do outside of work. The physical side of the injury leaves a pretty big hole in what you can do to blow off steam. I used to be heavy into outdoor activities. I don't have the ability to do a lot of that now. I dedicate a lot of time to my career. Outside of work, I'm searching and trying to figure out what's going to fulfill me.

You wear a lot of hats in action sports film production when you're on a smaller scale -- you're a producer, director, location scout, and filmer…my past career in ski film making gave me a good scope of everything that goes into the whole production from an execution standpoint. That understanding is what I think makes me a good producer.

It's a lot different making a film for a company like Nike than a company like Poor Boyz or Matchstick because even though we're making a film, it's an advertising effort to sell products not the actual product.

It's an unorthodox advertising effort for a company like Nike to make action sports films. My job is to stay on top of the whole project and oversee all elements of it. I hire the staff, oversee budgets, green light the trips, watch the production as it's in motion, and then oversee the post-production and distribution.

When I look at the entire space of visual advertising within action sports, when you really win is when you can humanize an athlete and shine some light on a culture. Those are the most attractive things about action sports. If you can capture that in advertising, it helps draw people a bit closer to it.

I talked to Simon [Dumont] the day after he'd broken his leg. We chatted for about an hour about where he's at these days. I hope he can make it back for the Olympics. It'd be pretty unfortunate to see the first halfpipe contest in the Olympics without Tanner [Hall] or Simon there.

I've got all sorts of stuff going on these days. I want to keep moving in the right direction, take care of my body, and keep working at my passions.

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