Snowboarding: Burton's life based around the board

Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton still rides more than 100 days a year on mountains around the...
Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton still rides more than 100 days a year on mountains around the world. Photo by Matthew Haggart.
Jake Burton's influence on the sport of snowboarding is unrivalled. A pioneer of the sport who helped found a global industry, he visited Wanaka last weekend for the New Zealand Open and spoke to Matthew Haggart.

Jake Burton Carpenter had a burning desire to emulate the achievements of professional athletes when he was growing up.

The one-time wannabe skier lucked out before he even got the chance to try for his college ski team at Boulder, Colorado, when he managed to break his collarbone three times before winter.

"Sport always appealed to me as a kid. I just wanted to live it. I was so envious of people who became professional athletes."

The fledgling entrepreneur turned his attention to the "snurfer" - a sled toy, similar in size to a skateboard without edges or bindings, which he used to ride as a teenager on snow-covered hills and golf courses.

"I knew there was a sport there and that is what gave me the incentive to go for it. The snurfer was so much fun and something we used on the sledding hills around town.

"We started to go hiking further up in the hills and looking for powder and I looked to grow it from there."

He took a job out of college training thoroughbred racehorses in Vermont, and started working out of a barn making various snowboard prototypes, which he and his buddies would ride in the powder-coated back hills.

Burton has always acknowledged he didn't invent snowboarding, but no-one has done more than he to establish and popularise the sport.

Instead of becoming a professional sportsman, he has helped create an industry which in turn provides a professional livelihood for the many riders from around the world who are invited to join the Burton stable.

"I'm super-happy I managed to find a sport that I could base my life around, and [am] really lucky things worked out that way," he says.

The company that bears his name is the largest in the lucrative snowboarding industry and also drives the six-stop world tour known as the Burton Global Open Series.

Last week, he visited Wanaka for the first leg of the series, the New Zealand Open, at Snow Park.

The occasion doubled as his first day of riding in an international season which includes events around the world and lasts more than 100 days.

"Yeah, today was my first day. I start counting in the [US] summer . . . I think I did 117 last year, and 125 the year before," he said.

The 54-year-old travels regularly with his family, usually chasing the winter, but as surfing is his other love, he also gets his fair share of summer action.

Three years ago, Burton handed over the day-to-day running of his multimillion-dollar company and went on an extended international holiday with his wife, Donna, and their three sons.

They spent six weeks based in Christchurch, visiting South Island mountain resorts, riding the back-country powder, and also surfing the coastal breaks.

He returns regularly to New Zealand to test new products in the northern hemisphere off-season and check out the local snowboarding market.

He is also involved with marketing the Burton brand, including presenting prizes to the half-pipe winners at last Saturday's Open, and intends to visit the Stash - a newly opened terrain riding park at the Remarkables.

"I've got the best job in the world and I wouldn't change it for anything," he says in a deep East Coast drawl.

The advances in snowboarding have left Burton unsure where the sport will go.

He had "no idea" the sport would even reach the heights it has, such as when it achieved Winter Olympic status in 2002.

"It's so rewarding to see what riders can do now. They are so capable that it is hard to project where it will go next.

"I remember when two 540 [degree] spins in a row in the pipe was a huge deal and now they are doing back-to-back 1080s as a minimum.

"Hopefully style will continue to play a big role and it just won't be about the gymnastics and number of rotations."

"Riding in the back-country is different. It's fun to scare yourself and overcome it. I'm a big fan of that and pushing yourself to progress.

"Overcoming fear is part of the whole experience of the sport."


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