FROM PRINT VOLUME 27.2: We lost a legend last year. Still feeling the loss we focus on legacy, as we share the print feature. #rideonjake
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BURTON WORDS BY BEN OSBORNE
On November 21st, 2019, the snowboard world lost its soul. A pioneer, an innovator, a friend, and most importantly, a boarder. Jake Burton Carpenter breathed life into the world of sliding sideways against the advice of many, and for that, we are eternally grateful. Thank you, Jake.
Who are we without snowboarding? The question has been asked before, but it seemed to come to the forefront of our collective consciousness the day that Jake Burton Carpenter passed away. Growing up in Burlington, Vermont, just down the street from the Burton headquarters, Burton brought snowboarding into my life — and drastically changed it forever.
When I first heard of Jake’s passing, my thought process went like this: obviously, without Jake’s hard work and perseverance, the brand Burton Snowboards wouldn’t have existed. From there, I scaled down: Would I have loved snowboarding enough to attend a private school purely for the ability to ride every day? Would I have moved to Canada in pursuit of the sport? Would I have based my work career off of being able to have a flexible travel schedule to ride as much as possible? The short answer is no.
So, instead of asking, “Who are we without snowboarding,” maybe the more appropriate question we can ask ourselves is this: Who are we without Jake Burton Carpenter?
From the beginning, the duality of the brand’s ethos was its defining factor — a clear rejection of the norm in the world of sliding on snow at the time, but also the hot topic of the mainstream. The meteoric rise of the sport was the talk of the ski world due to its disruption of the norm, while at the same time the nonconformist culture of the sport was what made it so special. And not much has changed since then.
Snowboarders are still the second class on resorts across the world but have done more for the ski industry (and probably the sport of skiing) in the past twenty years than any new lift, marketing jargon, or ski technology could. Whether the skiers want to admit it or not, as much as they made snowboarding possible, we have opened up so many opportunities for them.
Within snowboarding, the Burton brand has occupied a similar space — balancing a soulful culture and mainstream popularity perfectly — a hard feat to accomplish in the age of the empowered buyer.
Burton’s strong foundation comes from none other than Jake, who represented this duality of growth while maintaining a brand identity that connected with the core. That started by bringing on riders who were true ambassadors of the sport. When Jake signed Craig Kelly, nobody knew it at the time, but the pairing would quickly commercialize snowboarding and take its punk-rock roots to the mainstream through a combination of Craig’s timeless style, and Burton’s support of his free-spirited approach to riding. The question was, would boarding lose that soul through its popularization? Was it destined to become just another traditional sport, with screaming sideline parents, corruption, and repressed athletes being forced to take what they love and turn it into a job? All signs pointed to yes — but thanks to a brand like Burton, and a mission crafted by its free-thinking and motivated founder — it has become something far better.
That truth is owed to Jake Burton Carpenter himself. Take the Olympics for example. While the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics has changed aspects of snowboarding, Burton has been right at the forefront of the sport’s inclusion (think Shaun White in a full black leather suit), at the same time the roots of the sport were growing stronger. And Burton played no small part in that. While some core boarders may recoil, Shaun White’s rise to stardom was undoubtedly good for the growth of our sport. And for every Olympic rider that Burton has supported, there are the riders on the periphery who helped shape the culture — think Gigi Rüf & DCP and their UNINC brand. Nowadays, the new generation — riders like Mark McMorris are afforded the opportunity to represent their countries and chase their passions, film video projects, and travel the world. No matter how commercialized the sport becomes, the essence of snowboarding has been, and will always be about self-expression and freedom — a quality of our sport that is unique and often under-appreciated. We greatly owe that freedom to Jake himself — for owning and operating a company that brought snowboarding to the masses in the purest way possible.
The yin and yang of running a company that represents both the soul of the sport and its explosion in popularity is a complicated field to navigate, but Burton’s ability to do so is what drew myself and so many others into the sport of snowboarding. The magnetism of progression and passion, no person did more to make snowboarding — in every sense of the word — what it is today. Jake’s persistence was driven by his love for snowboarding, his desire to disrupt the mainstream agenda, and his vision for growing Burton as a global brand. Today in snowboarding, the mark he has left on the sport is more apparent than ever. As the sport faces a steady stream of consistent mainstream criticism, the roots of our renegade culture remain intact — and there is no person to thank more for that than Jake Burton Carpenter.
So, to the man who made snowboarding what it is today — beyond the bindings, the jackets, and the gear — let’s honour Jake by remembering him by what he represents, the soul of snowboarding. As an individual, he was able to use his success to support groundbreaking athletic achievements, be a patron of the environment, and grow a sport that has given so many a purpose in life. We were lucky to be alive in a time where a true pioneer was living amongst us, and perhaps even luckier to pass on his story. Thank you, Jake — snowboarding is in good hands with the culture you established, and with a strong foundation your legacy will be carried on in the simplest way possible: go snowboarding, and don’t let anyone tell you how you should be doing it.