Men / September 2019

Not Our First Rodeo

Our jeans have been lived in and loved by generations of cowboys since we patented the first blue jean in 1873. As professional rodeo sports grew popular in the early 1880s, Levi’s® became the unofficial uniform of bull riders in the American West. In the 1920s, Levi Strauss & Co. began sponsoring professional rodeos and bull riders, supplying them with 501® jeans.


Rodeo has always been a part of our heritage, and today, we’re still along for the ride. We recently had the chance to speak with two new Levi’s® Brand Ambassadors and world-ranking riders of the Professional Bull Riders Organization (PBR). Read their stories below to learn about the cowboys of today and why they still wear Levi’s®.

Derek Kolbaba

Where are you from? When did you start bull riding?

I’m from Walla Walla, Washington. My dad was a professional bull rider in the ‘90s and my whole family has been in rodeo one way or another. That was all we did growing up. Ever since I could talk and walk, all I ever wanted to be was a bull rider. I started out riding sheep when I was four and worked my way up to calves and junior bulls. At 18, I transitioned right into the pros. But it’s more than just wearing a cowboy hat. It’s a way of life.

What’s one unexpected skill you need as a bull rider?

The one thing a lot of people overlook about bull riding is how mentally strong you need to be. While physical strength is important, confidence and mental edge is what helps you set anxiety aside and stand apart from the other riders.

Why do you wear denim? What’s your favorite Levi’s® fit?

Levi’s® jeans are part of my gear. Quality denim is something you need as a bull rider, and they have to hold up. My favorite style is the 501® Original Shrink-to-Fit. When you think about it, denim and rodeo go together. For me, no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing, I’m usually in jeans.

What’s your family history with Levi’s®?

My great-grandpa was a stock contractor — someone who provides animals for rodeo competitions — and he wore Levi’s® jeans on his ranch. It’s neat to hear his history with the brand and then be wearing and representing Levi’s® today.

"When you think about it, denim and rodeo go together. For me, no matter where I'm going or what I'm doing, I'm usually in jeans."

Cody Teel

Where are you from? When did you start bull riding?

I’m originally from Kountze, Texas. My dad was a professional bull rider throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, so I grew up around it. Seeing pictures of him and hearing his stories really got me interested in the sport. I started riding sheep when I was five and eventually graduated to calves, steer and then bulls. I grew up on 15 acres of land and we always had bucking bulls and a little arena in the backyard. As far back as I can remember, my dad and I were having practice sessions.

What goes through your head when you’re riding a bull?

Bull riding feels second nature to me. It’s all about anticipating what’s coming and feeling it out – and a lot of muscle memory. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush.

What’s it like riding for PBR?

The caliber of bulls in PBR is on another level. It’s definitely challenging, but even if you get bucked off or slammed you have the opportunity to try again. Win or lose, it’s about about trying again.

What’s your favorite Levi’s® fit?

With Levi’s® history in rodeo and the western world, I feel honored to have the opportunity to represent the brand. I wear the 517 Bootcut Jeans. They’re my go-to to ride in and wear every day. They get a lot of wear and tear during bull rides but the distressed denim tells a story.


For more stories that tie back to our roots, check out the Levis’® History section on the blog.

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