Remembering snowboarding’s biggest rock star

Remembering snowboarding’s biggest rock star

I had the chance to meet Jake Burton on a few different occasions, but the one that sticks out the most to me is when he came to check out our new Montreal store a few years ago. After a quick visit, he followed us at the restaurant to grab a bite. In his early 60s at that time, I seriously didn’t think that Jake Burton, the man who carried snowboarding on his shoulders for the past 30 years, the Godfather of our beloved sport himself would be down to stay with us for too long, but we ended up walking out of the place together at 3am.

That’s when I came to this conclusion: Jake Burton isn’t just the Godfather of snowboarding… In my eyes, Jake Burton is the ultimate real-life Rock Star and despite the sadness, I’m happy to know that he lived his life like a rock star should: to the fullest until the very last day.

A lot of people have been deeply touched by Jake Burton’s passing, and it’s totally understandable. If you ride or used to ride a snowboard, you can say you are related to Jake Burton in some ways, even if you don’t know him personally. I can safely say that he had a huge impact on my life and I don’t think I’d be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for Jake and his iconic brand. Burton is the reason why I fell in love with snowboarding in the first place. The seed that made me grow into the snowboarder I am today was indirectly planted by Jake decades ago.

Let’s rewind to the 80s, when snowboarding was making its first appearances in the mainstream world. I was probably 10 or 11, already very passionate about skateboarding and hanging out at the local shop all the time. That’s where we started to see our first snowboards and snowboard gear. To be honest, I was dedicated to skateboarding and the whole thing didn’t really get to me at first, but that changed drastically when I saw my first Burton board, the Cruise.

I don’t think I ever wanted something as bad as I wanted this board in my whole life. Every single day after I saw the Burton Cruise at the store, I would come back from school and ask my parents if I could get the board. Did it for months! The fact that snowboarding was still new and not that affordable kept them from saying yes, but I wanted the board so bad… I just kept bugging them until they finally gave up. Only thing was I never really tried snowboarding, so in case I end up not liking it, they bought me a cheaper board. I got a Kemper…

I was so bummed, but it only made my desire to own a Burton board stronger. Most importantly, the hype I felt for the Burton Cruise alone turned me into a snowboarding addict. All I could think about was snowboarding. I was spending my Winters on the slopes and during the Summer, I would practice my grabs on the grass in front of my house. All while imagining that I was standing on a Burton Cruise board.

Years later, I finally got my first Burton board. Not the Cruise, but even better. I got the Burton Air 5.5, so hyped! By the time I could afford the board, I progressed a lot and got comfortable riding my Kemper, but stepping on my new Burton changed everything. I felt more confident, like nothing could stop me. I felt like I was incarnating Jeff Brushie on the slopes. He pretty much became my biggest inspiration and I definitely tried to mimic everything he did. Hell, l still rock his signature haircut today! That’s how big of an impact Jake Burton, his brand and his crew had on me and I’m sure I’m far from being the only one!

Fast forward to the early 2000s. I opened my own snow/skate shop and got to know Burton on a more business oriented level. Even if I wasn’t the easily impressed kid who fell in love with a Burton board anymore, I always carried the brand in my heart and it kept inspiring me as a store owner as much as it did inspire me as a young snowboarder. Jake Burton ran his business the way he wanted to and according to me, the way it should be.

Most brands today are motivated by money, but Burton always seemed to attach more importance to their products, team and brand image than to make more profits. Burton could have been a public company or could have been sold for billions, but that’s not how Jake and his squad do it. In a world where people chase the big bucks, Burton chose to stay true to its values and instead of selling to the highest bidder, they kept control and invested in what they believed in. I respect that a lot and again, I know for a fact that I’m not the only one.

This doesn’t mean that the brand is a charity organization. Jake Burton was a businessman who most definitely had to take some profit oriented decisions, but under that businessman suit, the Vermont based snowboarder/family man always stayed 100% true to his craft. The thing that impresses me the most about Jake is that he’s been able to represent the core snowboarders and the general public all while directing this crazy train he’s been riding for the past 30 plus years. And by crazy train I mean all of snowboarding. Because other than his brand and its subdivisions, Jake has always been carrying snowboarding as a whole on his shoulders.

Of course, thinking about Jake Burton today makes me sad, but I feel reassured to know that even during the last year of his life, he spent more time on the slopes than I did over the past 10 years. Thank you Jake for everything you did for snowboarding and for bringing hype to millions of kids’ lives. I’m stoked to say I once was that kid.

Rest in pow!

- Phil Grisé