Seated beneath the sloping roof of his small office in an upper corner of a large workshop, a portable air conditioner humming in the background, Ryan Neptune is hardly the stereotype of a successful international businessman in his casual T-shirt and Carhartts.
But a glance at the massive dry-erase calendar lining one wall, already filling with jobs that will have Neptune and his team globe-trotting throughout the winter, offers a clue to what lies beneath Neptune Industries' laid-back exterior. Since it was founded in 1997, the Boise-based company has become one of the world leaders in snowboard terrain park and skatepark design and construction.
On an early summer afternoon, Neptune, 34, quickly runs down the list of where company representatives are reporting in from, including the High Cascades Snowboard Camp on Oregon's Mt. Hood and on the other side of the world in New Zealand.
In the driveway, a set of new terrain park features awaits a trip to the East Coast. Preliminary ground work for the terrain park at the site of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics has already been completed, and Neptune was recently in Michigan for another project.
"[We'll be] quadruple booked through the winter," Neptune said, adding his crew can sometimes be found manning four or five World Cup events in three countries each weekend.
Considering Neptune never really meant any of this to happen makes his success all the more noteworthy.
"The only plan I've ever had is to really never work for anyone," Neptune said. "I've never had a job," he added with a laugh.
Yet, despite his claim of never having had a real job, Neptune has continued to carve out new niches for himself in an effort to keep ahead in the race he helped start.
Neptune's tale of circumstantial luck started in childhood, when he started skateboarding at 5 or 6 years old. Skateboarding led to snowboarding a few years later, and snowboarding led to a career. Neptune turned pro, and in 1999, was the first U.S. National Boardercross champion.
To help support his snowboard habit, Neptune started a landscaping business, eventually splitting his time between his two pursuits. But while he was on the mountain, he noticed many of the terrain parks at various events weren't up to par from an athlete's perspective. Back then, parks were built by the maintenance crews who could drive a groomer, but couldn't ride the park themselves.
Neptune was soon being asked for advice, then riding in a snowcat, helping fine tune the very course he would later compete on.
He laughs as he recalls the times he would stash his board in the woods, work all night on the snowcat, jump out in the morning, reclaim his board and head to the starting line without any sleep.
"But I loved doing it," he said with a noncommittal shrug.
Neptune saw an opportunity and began to transition his landscape business, which by then included welding, into a terrain park juggernaut, eventually working with resorts around the world to build and design parks for the season, as well as for competitions.
Neptune joined Bend, Ore.-based partner Pat Malendoski and created a board-oriented consortium of companies, including: Planet Snow Design, which builds terrain parks and pipes; Planet Snow Tools, which designs terrain-park-specific tools and gear; and Planet Skate Parks.
There's also Planet Earthwork, which does the pre-season groundwork for terrain parks and the relatively new Planet Resort Consulting and Management. After years of working at resorts as varied as Alts Resort in Japan and Mt. Hood Meadows, as well as building courses for the Grand Prix snowboard competition series and even the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics superpipe, Neptune and company are in a rare position. Their job has given them insider access to some of the world's leading resorts, and that knowledge of operations allows them to offer advice on how resorts can run more efficiently and cut costs.
Neptune said on average, he's able to help his clients cut costs by up to one-third.
"A lot of mountains sit in their own little world and never leave," he said. "You have to see how other businesses work in real life."
Surprisingly--especially considering Neptune learned to snowboard at Bogus Basin Mountain Resort--the company has done little work with the resort beyond donating a few pieces of equipment.
But when it comes to Neptune Industry's other sport, skateboarding, the company is behind nearly all area parks, including Rhodes park, Fort Boise, Kuna, Idaho City, Grangeville, Tremont and McCall.
One of the first Neptune worked on was Rhodes skatepark, which he did at the request of Paul Whitworth, co-owner of Prestige Skateboards in Boise. Whitworth and Neptune have been friends since childhood, and along with many other dedicated skaters, helped build an infrastructure for the sport in Boise.
"People really needed someplace to skate that was legal," Whitworth said of Rhodes.
Neptune has helped the parks as they've grown, often donating time and equipment, which Whitworth said is invaluable because of the cost of creating and maintaining skateparks.
"He's quite an ambitious dude," Whitworth said with a laugh.
Neptune has built skateparks across the country and has learned that no two parks are alike. Besides the physical location of the park, geographical preferences play a big role in the ultimate design.
"A park in Idaho is completely different than a park in New York," Neptune said. While Idaho skaters tend to prefer street-style courses, back East, it's all about rails. But determining what works for each community takes time actually talking to local skaters.
Whitworth said the sport has the strongest foundation ever, as witnessed by the number of small-town skateparks across the country. "There's a lot of money being invested," he said.
Neptune is hoping to see an increase in skatepark projects within the next 18 months as federal stimulus money trickles into communities around the country. Neptune is even learning how to help cities apply for funding for community improvement projects.
Still, terrain parks remain Neptune's focus. In the last 11 years, Neptune Industries has created parks at 77 venues for the Grand Prix series, which is required to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. Overall, Neptune said the company has worked at more than 400 resorts. And while reputation goes a long way, staying ahead of both the industry and the riders is a constant challenge.
"We've been able to help steer the industry," he said. "[We're always] aware we have to find a new, competitive edge."
The key to that is thinking five years ahead, Neptune said. "You have to see what the action sports industry is going to do, or lose out. It's a constant design challenge."
Neptune's team members are some of the few in the industry who can ride everything they create, allowing them to make sure a park is perfect before any other rider ever hits the snow.
He admits pressure comes with the job. "You have to always push," he said. "It's never OK to keep replicating."
Still, some of that stress must be released whenever he gets the chance to ride one of his new creations.
"I can't complain," he said with a smirk.