Many athletes listen to music before competitions. Zach Vanderwal makes his own.
Vanderwal is both a forward with the Sarnia Legionnaires and a rapper who writes and records under the name Vandybeatz.
He began experimenting with hip hop around the time he joined the Junior B hockey team three years ago.
“They love it,” he said of his teammates. “They get me to play it in the dressing room.”
The 19-year-old Wyoming native only began posting his music videos online recently. Some of his tracks have already had more than 40,000 listens and have been heard in 70 countries.
That drew the interest of a local concert promoter, who booked Vandybeatz to perform at The Station Music Hall twice this fall.
“It’s not like I’m blowing up or anything like that,” he said of his newfound fame.
Vanderwal said performing on stage isn’t much different than performing on ice. In fact, his rhymes often come to him during hockey practice, he said.
Most of the recordings are done in his basement on his own equipment, but he has also recorded tracks in studios in Windsor, Detroit and Toronto.
Vanderwal has one more year with the Legionnaires, and after that he’s undecided if he’ll pursue hockey or try to make it in music.
His family always supported his music, and his mom was the first to expose him to rap, sometimes playing it on the radio when he was a baby.
Vandybeatz said Sarnia has a growing music scene full of talented artists, he said.
“If you’re not in the hip hop scene you don’t realize how many musicians are around here.”
He added the biggest challenge is proving yourself to fellow musicians.
“There’s a fine line between taken as legit and kind of being taken as a joke,” he said. “You have to get past that.”