Athleisure Mag tapped technology icon, Mike Dunn to start our new series on Traiblazers, devoted to giving a spotlight to innovators that rock the boardroom and hit it hard in sports, and lifestyle activities while on trips or away from work.
Mike's background is truly impressive, he has more than 30 years experience scaling top technology platforms for fast-growth companies. He is currently the Chief Information Officer of VER, a leading global entertainment services company. He was CTO of TrueCar, helping them to go public in 2014. Prior, he served as CTO of Hearst Interactive Media, the venture capital arm of Hearst Corporation; Corporate CTO for Time Warner; founding CTO for Dell Online; and technology executive roles with Turner and Hanna-Barbera. Mike makes frequent public speaking appearances on such subjects as technology due diligence, the semantic web and online video technologies.
ATHLEISURE MAG: What got you interested in outdoor activities and how often do you get to do them?
MIKE DUNN: I grew up an army brat, living on numerous bases around the world, including the West Point. I spent lots of time outdoors as a kid, since the officer’s neighborhoods on bases were pretty safe places for kids. West Point is a very wooded campus, with tons of hiking trails, so I got into hiking and exploring at a very young age.
I try to do some form of outdoor activity multiple times a week. My favorites are mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking and surfing.
AM: What are your favorite activities and what were the difficult aspects learning them?
MD: I started surfing when I was 12. When my dad did his second tour in Vietnam we lived in Hawaii and then he was stationed there right after, so we ended up living in Hawaii for over 5 years. Normally we moved every 3 years. I took to surfing quickly and it came naturally. I loved the power of the ocean, and the adrenaline rush that came with surfing, especially big waves. I also use to ride my banana seat bike all over the dirt trails around the island of Oahu, a precursor to my mountain biking passion.
I started mountain biking in the 80’s when I lived in Los Angeles. I was playing ice hockey at a pretty high level and riding a bike to stay in shape between practices and games. LA streets didn’t have many bike lanes back then so it was really dangerous on the roads. I saw one of the early mountain bikes in a local bike shop and decided to get one to get away from cars. It was a rigid steel framed bike with no shocks and cantilever brakes, it's very old school compared to today’s modern mountain bikes, but so much fun to explore LA trails.
Snowboarding I picked up later in life when we moved to New England, but it came pretty easy to me, given my surfing background, so I progressed quickly. I was mountain biking from the spring to fall but only playing hockey in the winter and I was looking for something to fill the adrenaline and exercise gap.
My two boys were little and they also took to snowboarding quickly. It's a great family sport because you spend time in the car getting there, time in the cabin together and then on the lifts. We love it. All three require a lot of practice and commitment. Speed and balance are critical but so is managing progression, thus it's not about getting ahead of your capabilities. The gold medalist Olympian Ross Powers held a camp in Vermont every spring that my youngest son would attend. Ross coined the phrase “easy stylin'” to remind kids to progress with your abilities while still challenging yourself to improve. It’s a great lesson that works for all the extreme sports I love.
AM: What are some key and advanced skills and mindset needed? How long does it take to hone in on these skills?
MD: All three of these activities require an understanding of the natural elements. So being aware of conditions and your surroundings is key to your safety and enjoyment. The other important similarity is they require single-minded focus. When charging a wave or trails, you cannot be thinking about anything else.
AM: What advice do you have about learning in general?
MD: I’m always learning new things and trying to improve, both in my career and my outdoor pursuits. Listening to experts, researching and trying new ways to do things that improve your abilities, whether at work or play.
AM: What types of mountain biking do you enjoy most? What trails and courses do you love most?
MD: When I lived in New England, I loved riding the hilly technical terrain, wet slippery rocks and roots. Now that I'm back in SoCal, it involves much more climbing to descend. I still like technical challenges, so I do some technical all mountain trails as well as #xc. I don’t really do bike parks anymore, the rush of catching air off of big jumps - I’ll leave for younger riders. I do like going fast, so love finding trails where you can let of the brakes and go for it.
AM: How often have you had the opportunity to enjoy recreational/outdoor activities when travelling? What have been your favorite? What are on your bucket list to go do and explore?
MD: My favorite resort is Whistler. I’ve been there snowboarding, but not for mountain biking yet. I would like to go back one summer. New Zealand is a bucket list location that I’d like to visit since it’s got world class surfing, snowboarding and mountain biking.
AM: Do you measure performance, progress, and personal bests when going out and riding? What is being in the zone for you?
MD: I track myself snowboarding and mountain biking. How many laps, distance, vertical, speed, heart rate are all great data points to understand, measure and learn. In the zone is about focus, being completely in the moment for the activity. Usually, it’s required so that you’re safe, so if you’re distracted then something may go wrong.
AM: What bikes and gear do you use and what’s on your wishlist?
MD: I ride Niner bikes. I have a hardtail steel cross country bike that’s great at climbing and can descend all, but the most technical trails. Then I have an all-mountain (#enduro) full suspension long travel bike that climbs good for its size but can descend at speed any trail except possibly a jump line at a bike park.
I use flat pedals and wear five ten shoes which I think are the best #mtb shoes made. I like gear from Alpinestars and Fox a lot so I tend to wear their kneepads, shorts, shirts and gloves. Kali Protectives is the helmet I like, their enduro model has saved me many times. Falling is a part of the sport. I also wear a helmet snowboarding.
AM: What were the best experiences you have had?
MD: A trip I took with my youngest son to Whistler years ago was amazing. Today, I get to mountain bike with him a lot in SoCal, so that’s pretty cool too.
AM: What do you love about nature, outdoor activities and adventure seeking?
MD: Doing fun stuff in nature, especially mountains. For me it's about life-balance, escapism, seeing beautiful places with amazing vistas.
AM: What was one or two of the most breathtaking views you had?
MD: Whistler is incredible, but so is Stowe in Vermont, Sugarloaf in Maine and Tremblant in Canada. I’ve never been to the top of a mountain that didn’t have a view I loved as the prize for climbing it.
AM: Have you had any bad falls? What went through your mind?
MD: Oh yeah, I’ve had many. My favorite doctor used to tell me he’d much rather treat an active lifestyle, than a sedentary one. Most recently I endo’d on my mtb while navigating a technical section at to high a speed last summer and broke my collarbone, which required surgery to put in a titanium device. I was off the bike for 8 weeks, but started riding a stationary bike after a week to keep up my conditioning.
I’ve had to have 80 stitches to close up a gashed open thigh and over 50 micro-stitches to re-attach an ear from surfing incidents and I’ve broken my ankle snowboarding. These are fast contact sports.
AM: Who are your inspirations in recreational outdoor sports? Who would you want to share adventures with?
MD: I’ve been lucky enough to be around a lot of top riders and surfers over the many decades I’ve been doing them. Jake Burton, John Tomac and Derek Ho are favorites from each sport.
AM: Have you changed your diet to help your performance?
MD: I’ve been a vegetarian for over 35 years. I’m very regimented in what I eat and drink before, during and after any extreme activity. It helps me with endurance and recovery. I always drink a lot of water and I’m kind of a beer snob, so I never drink mass produced beer, but I do enjoy a good local craft brewed libation.
AM: Do you wear any wearables or smart clothing when riding or doing other sports?
MD: I’ve used iPhone apps to track my #mtb and snowboarding for years. Strava with a heart strap helps me understand my performance zones, plus I also use my watch health app to see at a glance what my heart rate is in real-time.
AM: Do you see new technologies impacting the sports?
MD: HUDs are entering into goggles for snowboarding, but I don’t think I’d welcome the distraction in a sport that requires so much focus. I have a heads up display on my car and even it can get distracting. VR for trail knowledge and exposure, especially for enduro and dh makes a lot of sense. New safety technology, such as helmet designs to reduce head injuries and soft pads that get rigid on impact but don’t cause restriction during normal use are very welcome.
AM: What are some of your core principles for well-living?
MD: Live a balanced life, food is fuel but can also taste good, drink lots of water, have fun.
AM: How do you maintain work-life balance? How often do you get to enjoy adventure activities?
MD: I try to ride between 40-60 miles of mtb a week. I do this by either riding early or at night during the week and then get in two longer rides on the weekend. I try not to go more than two days without riding. My vacations are usually used for snowboarding or mtb.