From drag racing to snowmobiling in the summer to just hanging out in their shop cracking jokes and playing pranks, a group of guys from the Cormorant area have built up quite a following on YouTube, showing how they have fun.

“A lot of what we do is recreational, outdoorsy-type filming,” said Ben Roth, one of the seven guys who has helped create CBoysTV, the channel that has gained 342,000-plus subscribers after just two years online.

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The guys, Roth, CJ Lotzer, Jake Sherbrooke, Ryan Iwerks, Ken Matthees, Micah Sandman, and Justin Hanson are all different ages (between 19 and 23), but they all grew up together. They’ve been riding dirt bikes, snowmobiles, four-wheelers, go karts, and the like in the area since they were kids. Then, one day, a couple years ago, they decided to start filming their adventures and posting them to YouTube.

Going viral

The first video they ever filmed was a 300-foot slip n’ slide party with a bunch of their friends, a tradition the boys had done for years. Roth says those first videos would get 1,000 views, if they were lucky - and then they did get lucky. One of their videos did really well and, from there, the channel’s popularity “snowballed.”

“One of the first videos that went viral, you could say, it’s got, like, two million views, was just us going to pick up a shifter kart,” said Roth. “I don’t think there was anything like it on YouTube at the time. We just kind of incorporated our personalities into it...we kind of took that and ran with it.”

Concerned about getting “put into a box,” the guys vowed to keep their content fresh by continually switching up what they did. They moved on to record some snowmobile videos while travelling out west. They came back to Minnesota and showed themselves “living the lake life,” boating, wakeboarding, even skipping a snowmobile over the bay of a lake in the middle of the summer.

“Over that first year, we showed that we weren’t just a group of guys that did one thing,” said Roth.

And their strategy worked. After a little more than a year they had over 100,000 subscribers and there was no hint that interest in their channel was slowing down.

“We were getting, like, thousands of subscribers a day,” recalled Roth.

Just being themselves

At this point, with nearly 350,000 subscribers, the guys say their channel hasn’t really affected their lives. They aren’t constantly getting stopped on the street by fans who ask them for a photo and an autograph, though they say that does happen from time to time, particularly when they go to events like the X Games or collaborate with other YouTubers. They say the biggest question they get is people asking them how they became such popular YouTubers. Lotzer says there’s luck that goes into it, but it’s also a lot of work.

“Compared to what people see online, where it just seems like all we’re doing is just messing around and having fun, there’s so much more of a business behind it,” he said.

Roth, Lotzer, and Sandman edit their content, sometimes cutting down hours of footage into the more concise, 20-minute video that gets posted.

“On average, it takes me 14 hours to edit a video,” said Lotzer, adding that he stayed up until 6 a.m. editing one of their most recent videos. “We definitely sacrifice a lot.”

Then there’s the “merch” side to their business, a piece that has also done really well and now allows them to fund their fun. The guys design, print, and ship all their CBoys clothing themselves. More work, but it’s well worth it since it means the guys don’t have to have side jobs to finance their channel anymore.

When it comes down to it, though, the guys love what they do. They get to spend time with their friends, travel, and create content that they really enjoy making.

“Making the videos, most of the time, I’m just trying to make my friends laugh,” said Lotzer, adding that it’s no different whether the camera is on or off.

“We don’t play it up for the camera,” added Roth.

The guys have gotten hurt a time or two riding their dirt bikes, popping wheelies, and whipping donuts in parking lots, but that’s not the goal. They aren’t about creating dangerous stunts. They’re just having fun and hoping their personalities shine through in the meantime.

“We’ve definitely taken the approach that you don’t have to do crazy, stupid stuff. You just have to have fun doing it,” said Roth. “We’re not doing crazy stunts. We’re just out having fun with a group of guys, which anybody and their cousin could do.”

A million subscribers

Roth and Lotzer say they love taking every opportunity they find to tell people they can be popular YouTubers - or whatever they want to be - they just need to go for it no matter what.

“You would not believe what we started with,” said Roth. “If we would have told ourselves when we were just starting out, ‘We’re small-town, Cormorant boys. We can’t have this big following’ would have totally changed the path of everything that we’ve done in the last two years.

Lotzer says they knew nothing about creating videos or editing them when they started. When they began, they were filming with an iPhone that had a broken screen and using free editing software to create their content, but nothing stopped them. They slowly invested in better equipment and learned better editing techniques as they went along.

They have improved greatly over the last two years, but that hasn’t stopped the haters, something everyone in the public faces at some point.

“I think for the longest time, the comments section really got to some of the guys in the video,” said Roth, adding that some of them started to shy away from the camera because of it. “When you can’t be yourself on the video because you’re afraid of someone in the comments section hating on it, it really affects the quality content of the video.”

With time, the CBoys worked past the negative comments and were able to focus on the majority of the commenters who were enjoying their videos. Roth and Lotzer say one of their favorite parts is actually getting to meet subscribers, people who have been watching them from the beginning.

“Our goal is to get to a million subscribers. That will be huge. Not very many YouTubers can say that they hit a million subscribers, and I think it would be a shame if we gave up now,” said Roth.

Most of the CBoys are on board, starting to think of YouTube as their full-time gig. A couple have their sights set on other jobs. Hanson has a full-time job as an electrical engineer lined up, and Sherbrooke plans to be a full-time turfer at the family business Sherbrooke Turf. That doesn’t mean they’re going to disappear from the videos for good, though.

“We’re best friends before we’re YouTube partners,” said Roth, adding that when they hang out, they’re sure to catch some of their shenanigans on film.

As for the other five guys, the plan is to keep making content until it’s not fun anymore.

“It’s not uncommon for people to make a living off of just this,” said Lotzer.

And the CBoys are well on their way. Between their merch sales and sponsorships from companies like 509 and Doc X, the guys have been able to fund giveaways and host events. So far they have given away a dirt bike and a four-wheeler for charity, and there’s plans for more.

“Once we started creating revenue, the very first Christmas since then, we’ve done this thing where we’ll go and we’ll buy - we like toys, if you haven’t noticed - so for Christmas, we’’ll go and buy a bunch of toys, as well as snow jackets and other things people need, and we’ll donate them,” said Lotzer.

Last year, the guys donated through the Lakes Area Crisis Center and a few of the Detroit Lakes schools. This year, they’re donating to Jesse’s Toy Box, a fund set up by the parents of a little boy who passed away, Jesse Haberman, who’s last wish was that every kid get a toy for Christmas.

“We like being able to give back and getting to do these things,” said Roth. “We’re kind of living out...our childhood dreams.”