Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 88, January 2010
Interview: Ed Blomfield
Fact: Britain's most successful snowboarder is a woman.
Jenny Jones has won more international contests, bagged more big name sponsors and earned far more money than any of her male peers on the UK scene. She also commands the kind of respect on the world stage that, for British riders especially, is hard to earn. Not that Jenny would ever boast about these achievements; she’s more likely to play her own abilities down and cite a trick she wishes she could do like somebody else. Which is probably why everyone back home still loves her as much as they did when, as a freshfaced seasonaire, she rolled up to the British Championships in 1999 and won the Big Air with a massive laid out backflip. To use that ultimate cliché, Jenny Jones has ‘kept it real’. Could there be a nicer, more effervescent character to fly the flag than this talented surfer girl from Bristol?
Last winter, Jenny’s impressive career was capped with a gold medal in the slopestyle event at the Winter X-Games in Aspen. She was the first British rider of any sex to podium at such a massive event, and truth be told there are few local riders who look likely to follow in her footsteps any time soon. We could think of no better time to conduct an interview with this golden girl of UK snowboarding.
OK, let’s start at the beginning. I met you on your first ever season back in ’98, in Tignes. you’d hardly done any riding before that right?
Yeah, I’d tried snowboarding on a dryslope. I couldn't do it very well but thought it was really fun, so I went away for a week with college. Th en my brother suggested I go away for a season before I went to uni and I found a job in a little place called Chalet Chardons.
Before long you were Doing those amazing laid out backflips -
(laughs) Yeah, gymnast style!
- and my claim to fame is that you asked me for tips cos you coulDn’t get the grab!
Really? I don’t remember that. (laughs)
Hey, i taught you everything you know! anyway, then of course you went off to the brits and wowed everybody with the same backflip. for all us seasonaires back in Tignes it was a bit like, ‘that’s our girl!’
Aah, that’s so cool. You know in some ways I wish I’d done another season in Tignes so I could’ve enjoyed the seasonaire vibe a bit more. because that was the moment that changed everything for you wasn't it? after that you were fully embraced by ‘the industry’. Yeah, and without even realizing it at the time.
You don’t do the backies any more do you? Why not?
Well I heard on the grapevine that people were saying, ‘Yeah she can do backflips but that’s all she can do. She can’t actually snowboard.’ And half of me was like, ‘Yeah, they’re right – I can’t actually snowboard that well.’ When I look back now I think, ‘Who fuckin’ cares?’ but at the time…
… you were a bit hurt by it?
Yeah I was. I was 18 and you’re a bit vulnerable to what people think. I wasn’t in the scene and I didn’t know anyone. But then I also thought, ‘Well actually it would be pretty rad to do some other tricks,’ so I focused on learning spinning. I said to myself, ‘Right: You can’t keep doing backflips just to win a comp.’ I challenged myself and to be more rounded, so I stopped doing the backflip. But I stopped doing it for too long. I forgot how to do them! What an idiot!
When did you realize that?
I was stood at the top of the jump at Board-X in London. And I was stoked because I’d just landed a backside 360. I mean I was soooo stoked. And then [Adam] Gendle starts chanting, ‘Back… flip! Back… flip!’ Oh my god! Th ere was no pleasing these people! And that’s when I thought, ‘Fuck you guys, I’m doing what I wanna do now. I’m gonna ride how I wanna ride’ But then I also thought, ‘Shit, I can’t actually do a backflip any more.’ I have tried since in the powder, but I’m not confident enough to do them off a big kicker.
Maybe this year will see the return of the backie?
You know what, I will try!
Good. And I’ll be there at the Brits chanting, ‘Back… flip! Back... flip!’
(laughs) It makes me laugh now. But you know that is probably my only regret – not keeping up with the backflips.
Stu Brass recalls that back in the day you didn’t really know anything about the pro riders or the whole scene. You were like, “Terje, who’s that?" Is that right? Were you just an open book when you came into the sport?
I think that’s fair. I never really read the magazines much, I just liked going snowboarding, you know? I never went in thinking I knew what I wanted to do. It was honestly just that I enjoyed doing it.
On a similar note, you’ve never been massively worried about the technology side of snowboard equipment have you? Do you give a shit about that stuff?
(laughs) I give a shit when it doesn’t work. Like on the board test, I know when I don’t like a board, but I don’t necessarily know why. And I did notice when my Salomon changed from – is it cap construction? – to, er….
(tentative) Erm…? Yeah, that’s right, sandwich. I noticed the difference with that. I wasn’t that keen on it to begin with but then I got into it. And I’ll tell you what I’ve really noticed the difference with – the base. I’ve been at a contest where the conditions were slow and the only girls who could get enough speed to clear the jump were on Salomon boards. I’m not just saying that cos I ride for them; the speed of the base has honestly made the difference between me making the semi finals or not.
Do you think other people worry about the specs of their equipment too much? Should readers stress about their gear?
Noooooo, don’t stress too much. Sometimes I think people need to stand back and ‘OK, is this the snowboard, or is it my riding technique?’ Don’t be too quick to judge a board, try to adapt yourself.
Who does influence you then, if anyone?
I’ve definitely learned a lot from Lesley McKenna, about how the industry works, and travelling and so on. She’s a very switched on girl and gives good advice. But if you’re talking about riders, then I think it’s more people who you go riding with on a day-to-day basis. They might do something and you think, ‘Fuck, they just tried that! That was pretty ballsy. I’m gonna try something too.’
You’re definitely not shy of asking someone in the park for a tip. You don’t seem like the sort of person who obsessively rewinds a DVD to learn a trick.
Actually I do do that, but only recently because someone suggested it. And I’ve found it really useful. I actually went and bought the Jumping with Jussi trick tips DVD (laughs). It’s so sick! Do you know when he was fi lming that he only fell over four times in the whole thing?
He’s almost too good. It comes too easily for him!
Yeah that’s true. Sometimes people don’t know why they can do something, they just can. And you can’t beat having someone teach you a trick in the flesh. Like I love it if someone will do a demonstration for me. I love that. I’ll be like, ‘OK I can see it now, I can see it…’ And I’ll usually ask them what it feels like.
That’s interesting, because i have a friend who went on the community camp in 2 alpes, and he said you were by far the best coach – better than any of the guys –
- Ya- oo!
Yeah, and I was wondering if your own approach to learning makes you more sympathetic to other people who want to try stuff?
Yeah, but I also just find it interesting working out how I’m going to get a trick across to this person - because each person is quite individual with how they learn. With one person, you could show it to them visually and they could just do it; someone else, no chance. They have to know how it’s supposed to feel. That’s cool your friend said that though – what did he learn?
Laid out backflips.
You’re always full of encouragement for people and help your fans out with tips on facebook – is Internet networking an stuff important part of being a pro snowboarder now?
Ah man, I don’t wanna sound like a cheese-monger! I guess maybe? I just think it’s so cool that they’re into it. I like doing it, I like interacting with people and helping them progress.
OK, so the obvious subject. The X-games…
Talk us through your winning run.
OK, so I’d got myself into the finals, and I thought, ‘Wicked.’ Because you know, you don’t relax, but it’s a nice goal to achieve. And then I was like, ‘Right. I wanna get a medal now.’ I honestly didn’t care what colour it was. Everything had all changed that day because it had snowed and the course was so slow. Th e day before I had totally different tricks. I’m not making excuses but it fucking dumped. [hang on Jenn – you’re not making excuses for what? Th e fact you changed your run? you won!! - ed] Th at morning all the ski girls crashed, ate shit, ended up in hospital pretty much, because they couldn’t clear the jumps. By the time it came to us it was just fast enough. When I rode the course I realized I needed to change all my tricks because I wouldn’t have the speed to go into things switch. I was limited to what I could do. I did my second run and I was in second place, and a few people were saying to me, ‘You should be in fi rst with that.’ I thought, ‘Fair enough, but that isn’t actually the case. I am in second. So forget all that, you need to go up and do something better.’ I was the last girl to go, and it was the last run, so I was stood at the top like, ‘Oh fuck!’ I’d done what I’d set out to achieve but at the same time I knew I’d be stupid not to try something to potentially win. I mean I’d be stupid not to, right? Th e only thing I could do was try a 720, because like I say it was too slow to go switch. Halfway up the hill I’d stopped the ski-doo and run over to scrape the run-in of the jump, because I knew the track I was taking hadn’t really been run in. So that was it, I thought I might as well try it.
You sound incredibly clear-headed about it all. Not listening to everyone and knowing exactly what you needed to do.
Well if I’d come second, I could at least have turned round and said I did everything I could to maybe win. You wouldn’t wanna be turning round with excuses - ‘But the jump wasn’t fast enough’ and this that and the other.
When you watch the slow motion replay of you landing the 720 on that last jump you’re sooo close to catching your edge!
Ooooooh my god I know! I was like, ‘Shit, hold on!’ And you know, I would have loved it if I was grabbing my snowboard. But fuck it, I wasn’t.
Haha! How did you celebrate?
(laughs). Well when I saw the scoreboard I jumped up and down like a 10 year old - with my mittens hanging off my arms. I look back at that now and I think, ‘Oh my god, you are so gay!’ Then I went out for dinner with Billabong, drank champagne, and I kept saying ‘I can’t believe it. I’ve actually done it! Me! I’ve done it,’ and people were like, ‘Alright, stop saying it.’ And I phoned my mum and dad and all my friends. That was rad, phoning everyone… I get all goose bumps [thinking about it]. I love it. And then I went out and got leathered, and - I’d better not tell my parents - I ended up hitching home at 7am. (laughs)
Have you had any weird offers since? Like adverts, question of sport, stuff like that?
No, cos it’s not that big in England is it? It’s not that well known. I went on Radio 2 with Chris Evans. And I did a few interviews for the newspapers, but that was it really.
Would you follow in jonno verity’s footsteps and do a L'Oreal advert?
(laughs) I suppose you have to wonder what they’d offer you. You know Louis Vito went on the American version of Strictly Come Dancing? I was like, ‘Oooh, would I ever do that?’
And would you?
Do you know what, if they asked me I might give it a go, yeah. Wouldn’t it be hilarious? But they only really have big name athletes, so I’m sure it wouldn’t come about.
What will it take to get another UK rider on the X-games podium? Can you see it happening with any of the guys?
I think there are a lot of talented guys – and girls – in Britain but they’ve just gotta realize their potential. Don’t settle for that trick, or that result. Maybe some of them look at it and it is quite overwhelming – that gap. Th ey maybe podium or do well at the Brits and think, ‘Wicked. Now what’s next aft er that?’ and it’s quite a jump. People might say they can do a trick, but can they lay it down when they have to, and can they do three tricks in a row? Th at’s quite different I think. You’d have to put a lot more in and sacrifice that litt le bit more to get to the next stage, and it’s a bit of a gamble isn’t it? You might put all that effort in and still not get what you want. But you’ve got to put it in fi rst haven’t you? Or you’re never gonna know.
What’s the secret to a successful snowboarding career?
Well the only route I can talk about is the one I’ve taken. But I definitely think you should just do a bit of everything. And get good sponsors that are clear on what you want to do, and what they want from you. Look at how else can they support you, not just with money but by helping you get into a film project, or sending you on a trip, or getting you to a competition in another country.
You've starred in a few women’s films, like the chunky knit movies and more recently stance, but these projects are few and far between. Do you think competition is a more realistic route for girls who want to make money out of snowboarding?
Yeah it kinda is – or it has been for me at least. Annie Boulanger has come out with a sick part in the Absinthe film this year, and she hasn’t competed for about fi ve years, so there is an area there – but it’s maybe not as big as the contest route.
Did you enjoy doing the stance movie?
(Th inks long and hard) I really enjoyed going out and building jumps with Lisa and Hana Beaman. I loved that challenge. But there were other aspects of the film I wasn't that stoked on. I wouldn’t call it my ultimate film part, but for three weeks fi lming I was pretty happy with it.
Do you miss starring in the UK lock-Down movies?
Oh I miss it so much! I loved it. I hope they’ll do another one some day.
Do you realise that the boob scene has gone down in legend? [in terminal ferocity, the crew attempt to persuade jenny, clutching her chest, to go topless for the honour of landing the opening section]. You must have worn out the DVD players of male snowboarders up and down the country.
(laughs) I hope that’s just because it’s funny though, isn’t it?
It is funny. But the big question is, did Johno Verity [who was filming the skit] get to see them?
No, no no! No-one got to see my boobs. But it was on the mountain which was quite funny.
On a semi-serious note, is it fair to call you something of a snowboarding sex symbol?
No. I don’t buy into that at all. I mean I don’t think I’m a dog, but I honestly think I’m kinda middle of the way. When they take photos they’ll do their best to make you look better than you are.
The girls do look good in the ads don’t they? Is it maybe an unfair aspect of the women’s scene that looks plays more of a part than for guys?
Well, girls wanna look good in their ads too. They wanna look nice. I know I do. It’s like when you put your Facebook picture up, girls are gonna want to choose the one where they look the nicest, right? Th at’s just life.
Fair enough, but it seems like for the guys, how you look isn’t relevant at all. Whereas for the girls, being good looking is an advantage.
(Thinks carefully) That observation is correct. I do think it can be tough. There are some girls who could be a bit more marketed and supported if all that mattered was your riding ability. And if you look at a lot of sports it’s like that. Look at tennis, and how Anna Kournikova earns more money than a girl who is equally as good as her or maybe even better than her. But if you are really good, I think it will shine through.
So is the industry sexist?
Well… it is. It is. But if you’re a good rider, and you get good shots, a snowboard magazine will publish them regardless of whether it’s a guy or a girl, right? If anything it’s probably easier for a girl to get noticed in that respect, because the mags are getting sent a lot more shots of guys. So I don’t think it’s sexist in that side of things. I think that the way companies market the girls, they’ll play on the more attractive ones, and that can be seen as a bit sexist. But then, when these brands do their market research. Do women want to see other good looking women in the clothing, or do they want to see action shots? I don’t know. I do know that when it comes to competing, a contest is a contest, and looks aren’t involved. I think my riding speaks for itself.
What’s the most money you’ve won in a weekend?
(Surprised laugh) The X-Games. $30,000 – minus the tax.
What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve bought with your winnings?
I’ve gone crazy buying drinks for people, but I’ve not been that outrageous buying stuff . I should try that, shouldn’t I? I did fly to Las Vegas for one night for the Snowboarder Magazine Poll Riders Awards. I didn’t wanna be there alone so I phoned up my mate Jo in Denver and said, ‘Right, you’ve got four hours to get this flight. I’ll pay for it, you just have to get your ass here.’ We had a rad time!
What’s the deal with prize money then? Do they just give you cash? Cos you can’t pay a giant plastic cheque into the bank can you?!
No no, they give you a cheque. You do get cash from some of the contests I’ve won – they give you a big wad of cash. I remember having to get that back from Japan. You’re not allowed to travel with more than ten grand, and I won the Japan open. I had it all on my bags and on me, which was quite frightening, so I gave some to a photographer friend to look after. So I got myself into the States, and then I did quite well in another contest and won more money again, so when I came over for the Brits I gave some to Stu Brass to hang onto.
Ah. Stu told me this. He said he’d hide it in his pants and you said, ‘that’s where I keep mine – in my knickers drawer!’
(laughs) Oh I’ve got some at home, yeah. I’m gonna have to move it now! It must be a nightmare sorting your taxes! Oh man this makes it sound like I’m rolling in it! It really doesn’t happen that often, it was just that one time after Japan, and the X-games.
Yeah yeah. What happens when you win a car?
I’ve never ever won a car. They’re always given to overall winners, and I don’t do overalls. Kjersti Bauss won three cars in one year. I think they arrange to get them to you from a local dealer or something. Last year my Volkswagon ’95 failed its MOT, so I now don’t have a car. It would be a lovely thing if I could win one.
How much longer do you think you’ll be riding professionally?
Who knows? I’d hate to put a date on it. I’m quite aware that I’m not going to last another 10 years, but I might as well keep going while I can and see where it all goes. I’d definitely like to get into teaching at some point; maybe not beginners but on the freestyle side. And I’d like to learn more about the whole psychology side of it all.
Did you ever think about going for the Olympics?
When I used to do gymnastics the Olympics was that end goal. And a while back I did sit down and think, ‘Do I want that?’ I went away and I rode the halfpipe solidly for a week or two, and I just thought, ‘Do I really wanna do this?’ I still don’t really know. I would love to go to the Olympics, but I just don’t get as much of a buzz out of the pipe as big jumps. Is it worth all that training and practice if it’s not what you’re really into? I’m still not sure.
Do the international guys you ride with still express surprise that you come from a country with no real mountains?
Yeah they do. Also Americans don’t know much about England, so they’ll kinda go, ‘Oh, which mountains is that you ride then…?’ – kinda hesitating - and you have to jump in and rescue them. Or sometimes they’ll say, ‘So is it summertime over there?’
What do you miss from Britain when you’re on the road?
The humour. I miss the banter. I’ll make jokes sometimes and they just won’t get it. I also miss the tea bags.
Thanks Jenny. Any shout-outs?
My sponsors - Salomon, Billabong, Oakley, Nixon, Les Ettes, Dalikfodda, Giro. My folks, my mates and my boyfriend.
East enders or corrie?
Neither. I’ve never actually watched a full episode of East Enders.
Frontside or backside?
Clooney or Pitt?
Tyler or Scott?
Marmite or marmalade?
PG or Tetleys?
Baggy or tight?
Baggy, to disguise my impact shorts.
Portishead or Massive Attack?
Banksy or Brunel?