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BlackOut Art Director recounts trip to Oakley

I am now at a point where the details have begun to blur together into passing glances and puffs of smokes on an event that can easily be looked upon as one of the best experiences I have had in my 30+ 1 years on this planet.  In late November 2008 Oakley inc. had announced a contest to repay all the loyal fans who have supported their brand with their own sheer insane love for the product.  Post a few pictures.  Answer a few questions.  Then sit back, relax and wait for the judging to begin.

For months I had to listen to my mom ask me every time we spoke, “Did you win yet?”  Finally when February 12 came I was able to call her and inform her that in mid March I was off to Southern California for a weekend in the sun at Oakley Interplanetary HQ with 49 other official Oakley Co-Pilots.

I boarded a plane the morning of March 19 headed for Atlanta were I was meeting up with 4 other east coast Co-Pilots as we made our way out to Santa Ana.  One fellow Co-Pilot, a good friend and fellow O-Review member (and site creator) Dann Tombs was one of these winners.  We had met previously at HQ in the second year of the Reviews existence and I was thrilled we’d be going back together for this as our 5th year anniversary approaches this Summer.

We arrived late getting into John Wayne Thursday evening where we were greeted by an official Oakley representative, as well as fellow Review member Edwin Chiu, another Co-Pilot winner and longtime online friend whom I was thrilled to finally meet in person.  We all piled into the Dodge Oakley Dog Catcher and we were off to Foothill Ranch and the event was about to begin.

As we pulled into our hotel, amongst the last to arrive, we were greeted by a flood of fellow winners from the ranks of the Review.  Flashes popping and heads spinning the weekend had begun.  We checked in, received our Co-Pilot gift bags that consisted of an Oakley backpack, hoodie, tee, SI Desert Assault boots and assorted other swag and headed across the street to Wahoo’s for some dinner and to locate the rest of the Co-Pilots.  We had winners coming from as far as Australia and as close as 45 minutes away.  One of the best parts was already knowing close to 20 of the winners and having met a handful in person previously which made this just as much a reunion as it was an event to connect with other fans.  Despite the late hour both Pacific time and especially Eastern time we had to make our way up to Oakley HQ to bask in it’s glory before we could call it a night to prepare for what the next day had in store for us.

We awoke early Friday and were treated to breakfast before piling in the bus for our ride to HQ to begin the event.  As we unloaded in front of the massive bunker we were all greeted by Oakley president Colin Baden escorted under armed guard and were welcomed as the 50 top Oakley fans in the inaugural Co-Pilot event.  A large group photo of all the winners was taken and from there we entered the bunker.

First up, videos and presentation in the Oakley theater.  One such presentation that stuck with me was a marketing presentation from Sr. VP of Global Marketing, Scott Bowers on Oakley marketing philosophies that have elevated the brand to what it is today.  We were also treated to features on creativity and design and up close and personal demos of Oakley products vs. competing brands.  Before breaking for lunch there was one last order of business, Q&A on Oakley history and trivia with prizes awarded to those who knew their stuff.  Myself, I walked away with a pair of Oakley Juan Pablo Montoya Singature Splices made for the man himself adorned with Columbian flag icons.  Other prizes consisted of watched given to Olympic athletes, one off and limited run glasses as well as a pair of hand painted Oil Rig sunglasses to test colors and patterns for the limited edition Flying Tigers line of military inspired eyewear.

Lunch at HQ was no less than an event in itself as we made our way to the on premises helo pad were we were treated to a buffet style faux japanese bbq with Oakley employees to mix and mingle with.

Upon our return to the bunker we broke into smaller groups as we parted ways for tours of the facility.  I was lucky enough to have Jason Spencer as my guide.  Jason had been a guide of mine on previous excursion to HQ, and is responsible for product placement in movies and television, on top of being an all around great guy.  The facility tour for us included trips to Rx, Frame and lens manufacturing, Quality Control testing for more lens destruction demos on competitor brands and Marketing for a sneak peak at Oakleys next wave of advertising materials.  As we walked through HQ it was great to have peaks at little things like eye wear from a generation past, prototypes and finished, but yet to be released pieces as well as a personal favorite of mine, a helmet created for Star Trek 6 that was sadly still sitting in the same place it resided when I last walked through HQ 3 years earlier.  It really was like being a kid in a candy store.

As the day drew to a close we walked back to the lobby where we were treated to a custom pair of Oakley Flak Jacket sunglasses at the Eyewear Bar.  The very same that was set up in China for our Olympic athletes last summer.  We were allowed to pick our frame color, lens color and cut as well as earsock and icon colors.  I went with a nice bright green adorned with matching icons and slate grey rubber components all on top of a VR28 lens etched COPILOT 09.

From there the day was far from over as we were escorted into the Oakley museum.  After a quick run through company history in product and advertising we were allowed to see some of the product Oakley had placed in films over the past years from the helmet worn by the Predator, to Cyclop’s Juliet and Penny worn in X-Men and items created for the upcoming summer release of GI Joe!  It was cool to know a company I admire dearly has crafted the visor and mask to be worn by one of my favorite Joes of all time, Snake-Eyes.

To end our day the 50 winners dropped an estimated $15,000-$20,000 on discounted product in a shopping spree the likes of which most have never seen.  We then exited through the back onto Oakley’s very own patio and fire pit to enjoy RC car racing, dinner and drinks into the later hours of evening.

When we came to Saturday it was time to load back up onto the buses.  This time we were off to wail on one another in an Oakley sponsored paintball event.  We played through roughly 7 or 8 games in 2 and 4 team skirmishes.  A few of the games were even Oakley themed from Protecting the President to Team Oakley vs. Team “Competitor”.

Upon returning to the hotel we had about an hour to shower and relax, as well as locate the missing bus, before we headed out to Irvine for dinner and games at Dave & Busters.  While at the Spectrum we even had a chance to visit the very first Oakley Store where I am told Co-Pilots spent another $5,000 without any discounts offered to us.

Not to call it quits to soon we hopped the early bus back to the hotel and had the driver stop at a mini mart so we could pick up some drinks for the evening.  We tipped him well for the stop.  As the party grew and others returned from the Spectrum a select few of us with close ties had one last order of business to take care of, group photos of the longer standing members of the O-Review.  We broke into groups and made our way up to Oakley in the later hours of the night for some “antix” and “hijinx” in front of HQ.  Many laughs and group photos later we had but a few hours to spend with one another before bed, and our flights home.

I believe the whole weekend I slept a mere 12 hours for 3 nights and as bittersweet as it was, was looking forward to getting home.  It’s been a full month now since my return and I don’t think I’ll forget the experience and was thrilled to have been part of an event of this type.  To thank out hosts I had left a few of them with 5th Anniversary O-Review posters I had taken out as gifts for fellow members as well as a group pool that culminated in Joanne receiving a garden of flowers in her office a week later, a custom etched beer mug for Cale and a plaque thanking Oakley from all the Review members.

Pics from the event can be seen here:

The Co-Pilot contest entries can be viewed at

My Fan page on