Inside the Endurance Conspiracy

To say Tony DeBoom is a jack of many trades and a renaissance man might be understating his many career and life incarnations.

Growing up with three athletically inclined brothers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Tony DeBoom attended West Point where he studied engineering and was an All-American in swimming and water polo. Upon graduation, he served a tour of duty as an Army Ranger. When he resigned, he hit the road as a pro triathlete with brother Tim. While Tim reached Hall of Fame heights, Tony won several major races before retiring in 2005. Since then, Tony had stints as an adventure racer, coach, agent, and helped manage the well-known Tri-Dubai triathlon team. From 2008 through 2012, he was the head coach of the successful West Point Triathlon team.

Calling upon a lifelong love of art and a passion for sketching and painting in many styles, he and his wife Elize started selling a few of his off the wall tee shirts with catchy, subversively funny slogans in 2007 and 2008. When the shirts caught on, the enterprise grew quickly into the Endurance Conspiracy, which has branched out from its triathlon base to embrace the worlds of running, cycling, surfing, music and any subculture which celebrates individuality and a forever young attitude.

Along the way, Tony has engineered his life to stay in synch with his love of family and a healthy lifestyle. He met his wife Elize at the 1998 ITU World Championship in Japan, and today she served as Tony’s partner and the indispensable COO and CFO of Endurance Conspiracy. Their three enchanting daughters Summer, Poet and Juniper mix easily at the headquarters of their family-run business in Boulder and at their home office in nearby Lafayette, Colorado. The three daughters are following their parents’ footsteps as lovers of art, dance and any and all athletic endeavors that are fun.

Slowtwitch: You had a long road through sports, West Point, a stint as an Army Ranger, professional triathlon and coaching before you began a career as an artist and entrepreneur with Endurance Conspiracy. How did you get there?

Tony DeBoom: A quick synopsis of my first 35 years would be that I was a jock. I played every sport available in Iowa and swimming just sort of stuck. Swimming and strict parents got me into West Point. I spent a little over 10 years racing professionally around the world. I've won Ironman Utah, Chicago Mrs. T's, St. Anthony’s, represented the US at the Pan Am Games, competed in the Olympic Trials and won a bunch of second tier events. Most of my favorite memories from races actually have more to do with the trips themselves and the people I met. I traveled to some amazing places with the goal of always trying to take advantage of the experience. It didn't always equate with good racing, but I've got great stories. My fondest memories of racing have more to do with Tim winning Kona than anything else. My favorite day in sport was watching Tim win after 9/11….that, and out-kicking Mike Pigg to win Chicago in '98.

ST: Could you recount some of your West Point highlights?

Tony: I am a 1991 graduate of the United States Military Academy where I majored in Engineering Management. While at West Point, I spent a lot of time at Arvin Gym. I was a Division 1 swimmer and water polo player. Sports highlights…. in my senior year on the water polo team I scored what turned out to be the game-winning shot against Navy.

ST: Given your certified badass rating thanks to your military service and sports heroics, where did your artistic streak come from?

Tony: When the DeBoom boys weren't out running around, you would more than likely find us all laying on the floor drawing. We spent huge chunks of time just sketching and making stuff - we even entered drawing contests. Our mom is a retired school teacher of about 30 years – she taught at our high school back in Iowa and was always trying to add artistic culture to our lives – museums, plays and concerts. She always encouraged the artistic side in all of us. The athletic side came easy – but she nurtured the artistic side.

ST: Back to the early days – what were those three things you brought along to every trip to a race?

Tony: Before cell phones and laptops, we packed books, sketch pads, a deck of cards. Some years my sketch pad doubled as a journal. One of the best things I did was I kept a journal for most of 1998 - which turned out to be a pretty significant year for me. My Dad Kenneth passed away suddenly, I met Elize, and I had my breakthrough win at Chicago. It's pretty interesting to go back and read where I was for most of the year following the loss of my Father and then see how important Elize was in turning me around.

ST: What sorts of things would you sketch?

Tony: I really would sketch anything that caught my eye – hanging out in the hotel room or just roaming around whatever town I happened to be in. I remember sketching boats in a harbor in Chile, I love old hand-painted signs – I’ve found some great ones in Mexico and India, barns in Switzerland, cows (born and raised in Iowa, DeBoom boys have a fascination with cows…) and I've always enjoyed making my funny monsters and superheroes. So pretty much anything. I actually had my own comic book as a kid - the Adventures of Herky the Hawk (we were big University of Iowa fans).

ST: Did you have favorite artists, commercial or high art, who inspired you growing up?

Tony: I went to Grant Wood Elementary [in Cedar Rapids, Iowa], so Grant Wood [the artist who painted the legendary “American Gothic” portrait of a Midwestern farm family] was someone we were well aware of growing up. Comic book artists were popular with Tim and I - we followed the artists more than we did the stories – Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, John Byrne. If a particular artist was drawing Wonder Woman, then we bought WW - we were definitely fans of the art as much as the stories. We had pretty extensive comic collections back then - they're safely stored in the DeBoom vault.

ST: Tell us about your significant other.

Tony: I met my wife, Elize, in Sado, Japan at the 1998 ITU Long Course World Championships - she was an amateur on the team. A few weeks later we ran into each other again in Hawaii, where she lived (right on the race course) and I convinced her to quit her job at the bike shop and hang out with me all week. Within a year we were married. Elize has most definitely been the primary inspiration behind my opening up to my creative side. She bought me my first guitar (I have more guitars than bikes now) and, having studied at the graphic arts institute, she taught me a few things about transferring my sketches onto the computer. There wouldn't be an Endurance Conspiracy without her amazing and seemingly limitless abilities.

ST: But there was more to come before Endurance Conspiracy, wasn’t there?

Tony In 2004 while training for Ironman New Zealand I took a detour and ended up adventure racing in Borneo. I followed that up with the better part of 5 months literally running around the globe as a representative of the Olympic movement. I ran around the pyramids, on the Great Wall of China, up the Eiffel Tower, around the Coliseum and everywhere in between.

This inevitably led to my retirement from racing in 2005 and the birth of our first daughter, Summer (Poet and Juniper were to follow). I then started working with Tri-Dubai, the well-known and well-documented tri team sponsored by the King of Dubai. Personally, I cut way back on organized workouts and spent most of the next couple years getting into the mountaineering and skiing scene in Colorado - multi-pitch climbs, backcountry skiing... All the while, I was practicing what would become my craft - drawing with whatever I had or could scrounge up on the road. I also helped launch our (little brother, Tim - you may have heard of him) coaching business out of Boulder, Colorado, which is still in operation today.

ST: What about now?

Tony: Nowadays, I follow quite a large group of artists from many different styles and genres. I’m particularly fond of the free, loosely drawn stuff coming out of the surf industry these days – my loose and casual style fits in well with that world. It's been really fun to get to know a few of these guys and girls at fashion shows around the country and correspond with them. Hopefully in the future I’ll get them to contribute to the EC line – we’re always looking to add to the list of contributing artists.

ST: Has your art introduced you to new groups of people?

Tony: My art has also introduced me to a number of musicians over the past couple years who have been a real pleasure to work with and call friends. The guys from ALO are the coolest around and a few other performers under the Brushfire label have been really accepting of my style. I contribute to their efforts whenever I can.

ST: What about now?

Tony: Nowadays, I follow quite a large group of artists from many different styles and genres. I’m particularly fond of the free, loosely drawn stuff coming out of the surf industry these days – my loose and casual style fits in well with that world. It's been really fun to get to know a few of these guys and girls at fashion shows around the country and correspond with them. Hopefully in the future I’ll get them to contribute to the EC line – we’re always looking to add to the list of contributing artists.

ST: Has your art introduced you to new groups of people?

Tony: My art has also introduced me to a number of musicians over the past couple years who have been a real pleasure to work with and call friends. The guys from ALO are the coolest around and a few other performers under the Brushfire label have been really accepting of my style. I contribute to their efforts whenever I can.

ST: When you were driving all night with Tim to get to a race and surviving by your wits, could you have imagined your current Endurance Conspiracy empire?

Tony: Nope, not really. We were hell bent on our racing empire. We were pretty focused on our athletic journey and that was the end-goal at that point. It was "all for the cause," as we would say. We are both pretty good at focusing on long term, years-down-the-road goals. I guess that's how we started with E|C. We wanted to grow it organically and it's been growing strong and steady the first 3 years. But, the long term vision, while not world domination, it's comfortable.

ST: When did people start to notice and appreciate your sketches?

Tony: I remember in high school doodling on the sides of my homework and notes and the teacher making more comments about my art than the schoolwork. Tim and I used to show each other our drawings back then. Now, when I make something I'm pretty excited about, I'll show it to Elize for comments. She’s a few years younger than me, so when I start scribbling down Smokey and the Bandit ideas and talking about how great Burt Reynolds is, she looks at me with a blank stare. My Magnum PI idea met with a lot of resistance.

ST: You mentioned that your children Summer, Poet and Juniper know that Uncle Tim was a pro athlete. But they have no concept that you were, too. How do you feel about that?

Tony: My kids never really saw me race. My oldest, Summer, was too young to remember, so now we just have photos and videos. They've watched and cheered their Uncle Tim in Kona and at other events around Boulder, and they've seen pictures of him in magazines and on TV, so they definitely know he's an athlete. As for me, they know Daddy likes to exercise every day and they’ve heard a couple war stories. They love to go swimming or bike riding with me, but yes, if you asked my kids about me, probably the first thing they would say is that he loves to draw. That blows me away, having spent so long being an athlete.

ST: You look to be in fine shape. Do you really maintain to be a good role model for your kids?

Tony: I try to fit in a workout every day. I definitely feel it's up to the parents to instill these qualities in our children. My kids join me in the "gym" in the basement or at the rec center regularly. Sometimes I'll use them as the weight - first a set of Summer, then Poet and then Juno. We also talk about how nutrition and how each type of food is used differently by the body. I’ve always been an “all things in moderation” type of person. So, I don’t mind the occasional cookies after dinner or scones with coffee. At this age, I’ve learned how to manage myself.

ST: Can you talk about the first, very modest days of Endurance Conspiracy? The first things you offered for sale? The places you traveled to sell them? The adventures you might have had staying economically afloat?

Tony: EC was born out of a need to get back to our roots in sport. We spend so much time working on getting faster, lighter, smaller… that I felt I was losing touch with what the original attraction to this life was - the lifestyle. That initial draw was our desire to push ourselves, to be out in nature with our friends, traveling to far off places, exploring… living in the moment. There was a sense of enlightenment in the earlier years of endurance sports that is missing now. We used to travel to races early and stay long after - soaking up the experiences and really living the adventure. Nowadays, we just zip in and out of a venue as quick as a shuttle can take us, we watch Office reruns on our iPads and we Twitter everyone every 5 minutes. I remember back when I would tell Tim, “I’m heading to Chile with Chuckie V, see ya’ in about a month", and just go. Chuckie and I would travel from the northern point of the country to the southern, racing in towns and villages as we went. Our workouts were adventures as much as anything else. My only contact with anyone would be an occasional phone call from a pay phone to my Dad.

ST: So who is Endurance Conspiracy for?

Tony: We like to say that Endurance Conspiracy is by, for, and, about the athletes, families, fans, organizers, appreciators, experts and dreamers looking for something different in the outdoors lifestyle world. EC is a collaborative effort, bringing together classic ideas and friends who enjoy the pure expression of sport and art.

ST: What were your first things for sale? And how has this idea spread?

Tony: We started EC with our favorite item in the closet - the tee shirt. A close second was the trucker hat. Our motto has always been that we don't want to go anywhere or do anything where a t-shirt isn't appropriate attire. We initially introduced EC at some of the larger triathlon events around the country and then from there we expanded into the cycling world. Nowadays, we're regulars at the Hawaiian Ironman World Champs, the Tour of California, and the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, Outdoor Retailer, and several other apparel industry trade shows around the country. We've got a couple of surf events and even a music festival is on the short list of where we're headed next.

ST: Please give me a picture of the scope and variety of Endurance Conspiracy now.

Tony: EC launched in triathlon because that is the world we came from. But, as we say, we're a laid back lifestyle brand…with soul. We go wherever our experiences take us. We've stretched into cycling, skiing, surfing, music and more during our first few years.

ST: And where is Endurance Conspiracy headed?

Tony: As for the future of EC apparel, the plan was always for more than just tees. Our first cut and sewn piece - the last hoodie you'll ever need - is heading into production soon. That's what I'm excited about right now - we're taking our time so we can do it right. And, that's just a taste of where we're heading.

ST: You have also branched out for some freelance work, too?

Tony: In 2011 we removed the EC custom department and created "Tony DeBoom Design.” I've been lucky to work with a number of really amazing companies and individuals within the endurance world and beyond. My clients typically come from those who've seen other works of mine, or recommendations from other clients. The past couple months I've worked with the Kona Surf Film Festival, Surfer Magazine, Backcountry Magazine and T20 Cycling with Tom Danielson and Patrick Dempsey to name a few. I've also been lucky to work with some of my favorite bands, which has been very cool. One of my favorite projects this last year was for the Backcountry Film Festival. It is a promotion of grassroots filmmakers telling compelling and entertaining stories of backcountry, non-motorized recreation and environmental preservation. It tours the US and the world over the course of the winter.

ST: How big is your facility in Boulder and elsewhere?

Tony: Like many small companies, we started out in the garage here at home. EC was an experiment that if it succeeded, we planned on growing organically. We moved out of the garage and into our first official office by the end of year one. We moved into a larger warehouse facility about 6 months ago and we're already busting at the seams there. Boulder is our official HQ for Endurance Conspiracy. Our current warehouse is less than 2000 square feet and houses all of our offices, a showroom, and thousands of tees.

ST: Right now, this minute, can you pick one that is your current favorite tee shirt?

Tony: I move on pretty quickly from the line that is currently available. I'm always working on the next season or special event products. If I had to pick one tee right now that I was excited about, I'd say the "Support Your Local Bike Shop." It's gotten a really strong response - so much, that even the surf shops that follow us are requesting more specific ones for them, as well as our Colorado ski town shops. So, it's sort of creating a movement - one that we feel pretty strongly about. We even sponsored a cyclo-cross team last year called "Team Small Batch." It’s a local Boulder-based team organized by our friends, Mosaic Bicycles and super frame craftsman, Aaron Barcheck. The team is funded by local companies and promotes local Boulder businesses.

ST: What do your children think about your company?

Tony: The girls are regulars at the office and at a lot of events throughout the summer months. We’ve set up lemonade and watermelon stands next to the booth at local events on occasion just for the girls. Their favorite events are Wildflower and Kona, of course. Our business is a huge part of our life. I wouldn’t say all consuming -- we have a great balance and we owe a lot of that to the girls.

ST: Do they share your love of art?

Tony: The girls are art lovers as well. Our kitchen table is rarely used for meals -- instead it is the site of daily painting and drawing projects. I finally stopped putting the art supplies away because they would just get them back out 5 minutes later. If you asked Summer what she wanted to be when she grew up she would say without hesitation, “An artist like my Dad.” Poet would probably say “a Unicorn.”

ST: How do you find time to keep in shape with your rapidly expanding business?

Tony: Health and fitness is a way of life in my family. We do it because we love it. It was the primary motivation for Tim and me to get into racing - so we could train all day. Now I just need to be more creative about it and I usually include my kids - except for the occasional epic day I throw in – gotta’ still have those occasionally.

ST: Is that growing business why you relinquished your coaching duties at the United States Military Academy?

Tony: After almost 6 years as the head coach at West Point Triathlon, it was good timing for me to step down. With everything else on my plate, I could no longer provide the amount of time and effort that those kids need and deserve as a commuting coach. I left them in excellent hands and they now have a coach that lives on post and can attend every workout - something I could never do. I'm pretty proud of the organization we built and everyone who has come through our program. Probably the hardest part was not seeing it through with upperclassmen that I had trained from the beginning of their time at the school. I will definitely feel a hole in my upcoming spring season as collegiate nationals approaches.

ST: I know your wife Elize plays a key role in your business. Can you explain the division of labor?

Tony: Running a start-up you really need to be comfortable wearing multiple hats. Elize is the operational part of the business - logistics/production/distribution…and more. I can't even begin to say what her job fully entails, she is the consummate retail master. And it is a very rare day when I hear her complain about anything… except me (wink wink). She's truly gifted with the proper balance of experience, knowledge and patience. I am all things creative at EC. Anything you see or read pretty much comes from my desk one way or another. We have a small but loyal staff that oversee wholesale, customer service, shipping and receiving.

ST: What if anything did pro triathlon help prepare you for this business?

Tony: I'm very used to managing myself and being internally motivated day in and day out. I don't need anyone checking in on me to see if work is being done. When you're passionate about what you do, it's reflected in your motivation and work. Every day I get to do something different - draw, coach, travel to events, and work with other companies and individuals on side projects… A pro triathlete's work ethic is second to none…or else they won't be a pro triathlete for too long. Most pros I know are their own mechanic, nutritionist, coach….and some work another job on the side. So I was already used to wearing multiple hats at work.