Last week, BRANDON CLEMENTS COUNTed HIS RENT MONEY TO SEE IF HE could MAKE ENDS MEET. The 25-year-old bartends to support his interview podcast, Dead Dialect, and this week, he made it—just barely. Then he unexpectedly received a message via Instagram that said the apparel company Volcom wanted to get in touch with him.
Canarus Leon received the same message in the bathroom. He was taking a break at breakdancing practice, and the 24-year-old’s friends were already tagging him in an unfamiliar video.
Both Clements and Leon are Houstonians, and both were named finalists in Volcom’s #ThisFirst contest. The company is sponsoring 15 individuals worldwide—five from North America—to turn their passion projects into full-time gigs. For Clements, that passion is podcasting; for Leon, it’s breakdancing. Out of more than 10,000 entries, Clements and Leon were picked to receive a $5,000 prize and six weeks with a professional mentor.
This all happened fast: Winners were announced Tuesday, July 18, and by Thursday both Houstonians had been whisked away to California to convene at Volcom Headquarters.
“They explained to us that the next six weeks is our opportunity to make whatever happen,” Clements says. “What would happen if a company said, ‘Look, we believe in you, and we will invest in you, let's just see what happens?’"
When Leon and Clements met, they didn’t know each other and weren’t familiar with the other’s passion. They did, however, share the sense of hustle they attribute to Houston culture. "We were talking about how Houston is a big city and it's full of people that are so ready to follow their passion and go get it, you know?" Leon says. "I think it really means something for two of the people to be from Houston.”
Leon's entire life revolves around bboying, something he knew he wanted to pursue since he was flipping through channels and stopped on a movie with a dancer spinning on his head. He would watch and rewatch and rewatch again that specific part, transfixed by what he saw.
Today, Leon is in two crews, RAD and MZK, and tours with Fly Dance Company, a group that focuses on youth outreach. “We use that as an outlet to teach them that in whatever you want to do, your dreams, just stick to it because that's what got us here and around the world," Leon says.
Clements’s venture into conversational journalism started when he realized with all the creative friends he had in Houston, there wasn't a place for them to talk openly about their art and their lives. So he and his partner Julian Lara created Dead Dialect, teaching themselves how to audio engineer and edit video all while working full-time to support themselves. The podcast hosts real, honest conversations with musician guests, activists, artists and even athletes.
The show started out local, but eventually they started reaching out to bands as they rolled through town. He didn't tell them how many followers or listeners they had, but simply invited them on. They almost always said yes, including big names like Silversun Pickups and Warpaint.
"I knocked out this huge bucket list podcast, had some of my favorite musicians on, and then the next day I had this really gnarly juxtaposition where I'm going to work and cleaning dishes," Clements says. "So, it's like, 'If I want to do this full-time, I've got to find a way to do that.'"
The first day at Volcom headquarters outside Los Angeles involved settling in and getting to know everyone, despite a general sense of uncertainty about what they were doing there. The second day was time to get to business. After a conference with the Volcom CEO and a tour of the facilities, they were let loose in the shop.
“They hooked us up like sponsors do, and that was unreal,” Clements says. “I've been wearing the same band T-shirts for like five years now and all of the sudden I've got this amazing wardrobe.”
After that, each winner was paired with a professional mentor in their field, who were there to not only guide them but to provide them with valuable resources from a pool of Volcom connections.
"My mentor was telling me how his daughter just started dancing... He showed her videos of me and stuff and her eyes lit up. And I was just like dang, it's crazy because that's all I ever really want to do is to inspire people," Leon says.
Clements just got back from covering Float Fest in San Marcos, and Leon is training almost daily for a huge lineup of competitions. At the end of the six weeks, they’ll reconvene in Austin for the Wrap Up party featuring the work of all the global winners.
"This is like a big eye opener, you know?" Leon says. "I was always passionate about it, but for all the Volcom people to notice me, it really shows that there is no limit and for them to acknowledge that, it's just another milestone pushing me to achieve more.”