Interview: Ed Blomfield/Vernon Deck
Portraits: Vernon Deck
As I write this intro I'm conscious that many of today's readers won't know much, if anything, about Jamie Lynn. It's a decade since he was one of the most high profile riders on the planet, and even in his heyday Jamie was almost as much a myth as he was a real rider. Having burst onto the scene in his late teens, he quickly slipped back beneath the radar; contest appearances were few and far between, video parts became shorter and more sporadic, and he didn't worry much about interviews. Even photos of the man in magazines were a rare treat, as was proved by the difficulty I had in tracking down some classics for this article. "You're looking for shots of Jamie?" was one typical response from a photographer, "They're a bit like gold dust, and they're all on film. I'm not sure I've got time to trawl the archive."
And yet Jamie Lynn's influence on snowboarding has been massive. How so? Well, first of all, he was - is - an amazing rider. In the early 90s, your average 'freestyle' snowboarder had a narrow stance, a small bag of tricks and (let's be honest about this) a bit of a sketchy style. Think flappy 360s from guys like Jay Nelson, or grainy shots of dudes pulling stinky 2 ft methods in the pipe... in sunnies. Then this quiet kid from Seattle turns up and starts busting floaty, tweaked out frontside 3s, complex jibs over picnic benches, super tech cab 9s and the most beautiful method anyone has ever seen. Basically, he combined burliness, technique... and style. With his wide stance and stocky form through the air he was ahead of his time, the precursor to guys like JP Solberg and Danny Kass; he even ditched wearing gloves, claiming fingers are the key to style (this was at a time when most of us were riding around in humungous 'Fishpaw' mittens with gauntlets up to the elbow). I remember seeing a shot of him in an old issue of Snowboard UK when he was launching off some summer camp kicker in a white Elvis shirt. Liberated from heavy jackets, goggles and beanies, he just looked rad.
Early appearances in films like TB2 and The Garden cemented Jamie Lynn alongside names like Terje Haakonsen and Peter Line. In TB3 he pulled a pioneering cab 5 off a cliff, and his star was at its height. Then the weirdest thing happened. Instead of milking his profile, he seemed to voluntarily step out of the limelight at the top of his game. He began filming less and riding more for himself. He practiced guitar, painted... His amazing artwork, however, continued to adorn his pro model and give direction to the whole Lib Tech range. And his board sold as well as ever, better even. Unwittingly, Jamie had now become a kind of enigmatic legend, a professional snowboarder whose reputation and artistic influence alone transcended the need to compete in events or film a whole section each year. He was the ultimate soul rider, with the freestyle skills to back it up.
As a teenage snowboarder in the mid 90s, I was a massive Jamie Lynn fan. My first board was a 153 Jamie Lynn (the medium version with the black topsheet and the girl on the tail, not the wide one) and I dreamed of owning that 300 quid JL Sessions jacket with two stripes along the bottom. I even dyed my hair blonde at one point, which was the fashion amongst many pros at the time - Jamie included. I probably sound like a crazed stalker here, but I wasn't alone. Ian Sansom, a veteran of the UK scene, admits to being a huge Lynn fan himself, and today some of the biggest names in snowboarding still list Jamie Lynn when asked to name their influences. Put simply, the guy has cult status.
I guess when you boil it down - separate the fact from the legend - Jamie embodies everything that is rootsy and different about snowboarding. Not only did he pioneer moves and point the way in terms of style, but he helped define the sport during a crucial early period. Until he came along, snowboarders were largely distinguished from skiers by their punk-like attitude. Jamie took things a step further. Combining the fluid lines and spiritual attitude of a surfer with an artistic influence that came from skateboarding, he created for snowboarding its own aesthetic, and cemented its links to a wider boardsports culture.
This is why, despite him being unknown to many WL readers, I was keen to interview Jamie Lynn for Roots. After all, saluting the legends is what this section of the mag is all about. The problem was, Jamie wasn't too fussed about doing interviews in his competitive days, let alone now. For the past three years then I've been trying unsucessfully to contact him ("he doesn't really use email," explained the guy at Lib, "and we shouldn't hand out his phone number"). Then, early last summer, I got word that he was in France for an art event with Volcom. I contacted Vernon Deck, Volcom's staff photographer, and sent him the list of questions I'd been sitting on for 18 months. We'd struck gold.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Washington State and travelled from the south part of the state to the north when I was young. When I was 8 my parent started growing alfafel sprouts, so we kind of landed on this island called Vashon Island off Seattle, and that’s where I got a taste of what it’s like to be a hippy. Then we moved to Seattle in 1984 and I started riding BMX bikes, skateboarding… But where I grew up was really close to the snow, so in 6th and 7th grade – as soon as I could – we were up in the mountains snowboarding.
How was the scene at Mt Baker back then? It was always really receptive and open to snowboarding. There was never a time when they outlawed it, so that allowed us to go there and have freedom on all the terrain. And whereas we were fighting for ground on these other mountains in the area, which made it tough to go out and enjoy snowboarding, Mt Baker made it really easy. There were definitely other areas just an hour away where you’d get heckled from the chairlift – skiers would give you shit – and you’d have to fight for every inch of real estate.
What do you think of the current scene? Is there anything you dislike about it compared to how it was back in the day? Y’know, there was a point in time where I stopped looking at the scenes, and I focused on how it made me feel when I was doing it. When I got the chance to go up the mountain and ride, it was always a good time, so I really didn’t let what the kids were doing affect my ability to have fun doing what I loved to do. But it’s good to see kids getting more into riding the whole mountain – kids like Mark Landvik, Travis Rice. I have a lot of respect for Danny Kass. And Kevin Pierce is another kid who’s just a phenomenal rider. So it’s changing but it seems like it’s changing for the better, it’s coming back round to where they have the right mindset of why they’re getting into it.
Snowboarding’s such an expensive sport it’s hard for kids who don’t have a lot of money to get into it. And sometimes those kids have a little bit more personality, a little more character. They might be a bit more rootsy and grounded compared to other kids who’ve had a full sponsorship from Mom and Dad as soon as they could fix a snowboard to their feet.
What do you think when you see snowboarding on TV? Back in the States they have these American Express commercials with Shaun White. To see him considered on the same level as all these other athletes like Andre Agassi or whoever is the biggest change. It’s accepted now. But I don’t see that it’s a negative thing. None of that detracts from the fact that it’s so easy to put a board on your feet and have a good time. The acceptance means more funding for contests and the ability to grow the sport.
Where are you living now? I live in West Seattle, about ten minutes out of downtown. I’ve been there for three years now but I still have a place in Auburn, about 30 minutes south, with about 20 acres of land.
And do you have a family of your own? No. I was married and divorced – no kids that I know of! One beautiful, pregnant ex-wife but it’s not my kid. But hey, the future is wide open.
How many days do you still get to ride? Anywhere between 40 and 80 days on average. This year’s been better than the past few years, because my time’s been consumed with either moving back and forth to California with my ex wife or dealing with a divorce, and it’s been mentally and physically taxing. And now it seems like I’ve had a chance to flush all that stuff out and get onto good times again.
Where do you like to ride? Being so close to Mt Baker living in Seattle (it’s a two hour drive) Mt Baker’s definitely my favourite place to ride. Y’know there’s no place like home.
Who have you been riding with? I did a lot of riding with Billy Anderson, my team manager from Volcom. We had a chance to go out and do some really fun trips; we had a chance to go to Japan with Brian Iguchi which was really cool. Travelling so much with Brian when we were younger, to get a chance now at the stage in our lives that we are, and still enjoy snowboarding, it’s a special treat.
Do you still ride much park or are you always searching for powder? We went to Japan with two groms, Tyler Flannigan and Zack Stone, and they took us through the park. So there’s me and ‘Guch, two old men, trying to hit these rails and looking like statues, while these kids are popping 270s off their nose to frontside boardslides to 180 out, and doing it with such style. It kinda made me wish I was younger and more limber! But ‘Guch and I still threw down our methods and our frontside 3s… But these kids warmed up with like front 7s.
You could still school them in the powder though eh? Hmm, that stuff’s easy. Anyone can ride powder… But none can do it as well as Craig Kelly. He really was able to show a person how to draw a line down a mountain; he used natural fall-line in terrain to be able to produce as much speed as possible, and to make it look so easy.
Did he have a big influence on you? Yeah. Just growing up in Seattle he was always on the top level of his game; he was such a laid back individual who was into the mountains, into being strong and healthy and positive. When he went to college in Seattle he’d be up at the local pass, and he’d set up gates and train every night. So we’d go up after school and ride until 10.30 at night, and we’d see him up there – just at this local, shitty mountain – posting his own gates and just hiking and bashing gates, run after run. It was interesting to see just how committed he was, how much time he put into it.
How is your personal progression going? Are you still learning new tricks? I definitely haven’t gone out there and tried to pick up the latest tricks. I just figure that if I can ride the way I have done the past 15, 20 years, then I’ll be happy. I don’t necessarily have to get up on a stage and do it in a contest environment to get any satisfaction out of riding.
How’s your surfing going? I remember seeing you in Stomping Grounds a while back. I’ve surfed more this year than I have in the last three, which was only a handful of times. I love the ocean, I love getting a chance to get out there. It’s a cleansing experience. When you can actually get out into some surf and feel how your board’s working, feel how fast the wave’s pushing you... A lot of times though you go out and it’s so quick; it’s a shitty beach break and you’re up, you get two turns and it’s done. But throughout the years ,getting the chance to go to places like Fiji, Tavarua and Hawaii – where you can lock into some waves that have some power and some length to them – it really makes a difference.
What kind of car do you drive? Gas guzzler or eco car? Erm… I got a shit load of cars! I got a garage-full. I drive anything from a 1930 Model A pick-up, 1950 Chevy two-door Sedan, 1969 Camaro, 1970 Plymouth roadrunner, with the 440 six pack – that’s probably my favourite car.
So that’ll be gas guzzler and proud of it! Yeah! 6 barrels, carburator…
How often do you get out in the Plymouth? When the weather’s dry – it’s too scary to drive in the wet. And it rains about three months out of the year in Seattle, so usually in the summertime.
You’ve always had close links with Lib Tech, from working on pro models to their whole artistic direction. Have things changed much at Mervin since you started out? Did the Quiksilver buyout change things for instance? It did and it didn’t. There comes a point and a time when, if you’re in my position, you either start really caring about it – like getting in there and trying to make a difference - or you just kind of relax and allow yourself to take it however it comes, and let somebody else worry about it. Once I stopped worrying about it things got a lot easier! It’s definitely changed; it’s changed more into a corporate structure, a corporate environment, but they’ve kept in place the creative people that are still there making the boards and who are responsible for the marketing, and that’s what keeps the soul and the spirit of why they started the company in the first place. They’ve still been supportive of me, not being on a competitive level but still able to sell boards through whatever means that I can. It’s still a good relationship – I love the Quiksilver guys, they’ve put on some good trips. Like we put on a trip with all the Lib Tech crew and the Quiksilver crew and I got to ride with Todd Richards, Travis Rice and Danny Kass. And I rode with Tony Hawk and Chris Miller up there. And Jeff Hackman [the 70s surf legend] - I got to ride powder turns with Jeff Hackman! To have such a diverse crew from every discipline and such a calibre of talent is just an incredible experience, and without those guys and their energy I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that.
What’s your role with Lib now? I still have my pro model, and I do novelty trips more. Like they’ll put together a heli trip with a bunch of corporate heads who want to have one of their legend riders escort them around the mountain. And that’s an alright position to be in! It’s good to go out there and set ‘em down and take ‘em to school.
And what do you do with Volcom? I’ve been doing a lot with Volcom. It’s like what don’t I do with those guys? Anything from t-shirt art, to help with outerwear design. We just worked on the Volcomic project. I do instore POPs and custom murals for shops and retailers. They’ve been putting together these wonderful art shows, and my band Kandi Coded is just having an album released with Volcom Entertainment.
What’s the name of the album? Time Wasted is not Wasted Time. It’s available on the iTunes website so kids can download it now.
Do you have any career plans for the next few years? We’re touring more and have been doing a lot of fun events up and down the West coast, but I take each day as it comes. A wise man told me that if you lower your expectations, you’re never let down.
What do you think of the way snowboarding movies have progressed? To be honest I really haven’t seen a lot out there that’s above and beyond the level that I let go of. There’s still cab 9’s winning contests these days, and back in ’96 that’s what we were doing to place on the podium at the Innsbruck Air & Style. It’s just being done with a style and consistency that’s above and beyond, and they’re going that much bigger. These kids are starting so young that you get kids that are 15 who are doing all the stuff that we were doing when we were 20, and that’s the difference.
What about the way the movies are made? I think the Lines movie was a good project. And Justin Hoestynek always puts together good films. Mack Dawg… he has a certain crowd and a niche, Standard have a niche. All those guys have kinda settled into a niche where each one caters to a different market.
What’s the best movie you’ve been involved with? In my whole lifetime I would have to say A Lively Ride or The Garden, the two Volcom projects from the early 90s. It wasn’t so much a snowboard film as good friends getting together on trips where we were gonna have a good time regardless of what we were doing. And someone was just in the corner off in the woods filming us, y’know. We didn’t even know the cameras were there half the time. It was just camping in the woods, hiking to the best snowboarding terrain – just fun camping trips that ended up being times of our lives that I’ll never forget.
Would you say the recent Escramble film continues where The Garden left off? Definitely. What we were doing ten years ago with The Garden… well, we were 19, 20 years old and we had these kids Jeff and Billy Anderson from Mammoth tag along, they were 13 and 15. Now Billy’s 30 and he’s my team manager - and he treats me like I’m 15! The inspiration we gave to him when we were his age, he has the opportunity to give back to us by getting us involved with things like the Escramble project. Putting me and Terje and Bjorn [Leines] in a helicopter down in New Zealand and letting us just run wild and go wherever we wanted was a brilliant, brilliant opportunity, and I’m very thankful to him for that.
You’re almost as well known for your artwork as your snowboarding. Do you see it simply as a way to express yourself or do you think there’s a deeper connection between boardsports and art? I grew up with pictures of Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender and Chris Miller in the skate magazines, and really used them as role models for my own opportunity to get into snowboarding, and once I’d got into snowboarding, to get a pro model. And to use your pro model as a vehicle for self expression, not only in your artwork but in the way you rode it. Kinda following what those guys had done in skateboarding. A lot of influence came from them.
Is painting or music your primary passion? I love them both equally and I split my time for them equally as well. When I’m feeling creative I’ll go spray paint trains or pick up a canvas. Y’know, it’s just whenever I feel like it. And sometimes I’ll feel like playing music so that’s what happens. I couldn’t say one or the other was my favourite.
Which artists have you been influenced by? Erm… I couldn’t pull one out of a hat. I know Todd Batrud, who used to do art for Consolidated skateboards, and he’s definitely been an inspiration. (Thinks) It’s still the same artists really; it’s still Mark Gonzales, it’s still Neil Blender, it’s still the same guys as when I was 12 getting into skateboarding. I get a lot of enjoyment off seeing those guys’ artwork still.
Has your style of artwork developed much over the years? There’s a little bit of evolution in it. A lot of my pieces have been simplified. Over the last 10 to 15 years of painting I’ve tried to capture something with the least amount of brush strokes, or the least amount of colours, but still be a strong piece.
Do you sell a lot of your work? Could someone reading this get hold of an original painting for instance? In the past I haven’t really sold a lot of the pieces that I’ve done. But I would like to take all my board graphics from the last 10 to 15 years and make limited prints of them or something, and some of the more complicated pieces maybe. I’d like to put together a website so kids would have the opportunity to buy them. Not originals but prints of originals.
I’ve heard you’re a tattoo artist these days. What was the last tattoo you did? It was a full sleeve of one of my old board graphics for a friend of mine. I’d been working a lot with tattoo until a couple of months ago. I went to Denver with my equipment, and I came back but my guns didn’t. So I’m in the process of finding new machines.
Your name often comes up when other riders list their influences, which I guess comes down to that amazing style you’ve always had. Is there a key to good style? Is it something you worked on consciously or did it come naturally? I think to have a style that people look up to, it’s gotta come naturally. I think ‘natural’ and ‘style’ go hand in hand. You can’t really force style, that would be wack. You’ve gotta learn to flow naturally.
Do you think kids these days have less variation in their style? I don’t really trip out on it. As long as they’re having a good time doing it I don’t really care what they look like. They could have tight sparkly suits on and look like aliens but as long as they’re having fun then good on ‘em.
Which of the current crop of pros do you most admire? Danny Kass for his smoothness and his relaxed attitude; Shaun White for his professionalism and his professional drive, and just knowing the kid when he was 15 up at Mammoth; Kevin Pierce, Mark Landvik, Travis Rice. All those riders embody a certain style and approach that I admire.
With Terje breaking the world quarterpipe record recently, is it good to see the old dogs pushing the young guns? He’s definitely a talented individual, and as long as he keeps pushing himself to be happy with his own snowboarding – whether he’s riding powder with myself in New Zealand, or doing the highest jump at The Arctic Challenge– it’s good to see him still enjoy something he’s loved for so long. It’s inspiring.
Even during the mid 90s you seemed to be really influential without necessarily getting huge parts in every movie or wall-to-wall coverage in the magazines. It was almost like you had a legendary status. How did you achieve this? Were you riding more for yourself than sponsors, and did you find other people wanted to push you into doing stuff? I was doing it more for myself, just waiting for the right place and time when conditions were good and everything was coming together. I tried not to get forced into doing anything that I didn’t want to do. Usually that was when I got hurt or something bad would happen. So I was regulating things and maximising the potential when the time was right.
Did you take a conscious decision to step back from the scene, or did injuries play a part? Injuries were there, but it wasn’t something that was instrumental for me to step back. I just told myself that I didn’t want to be some old guy who was still out there doing it but couldn’t do it at the level that made me happy. There’s a huge difference between competitive riding and riding to please yourself. I could stop at the level I was and still totally enjoy the act of riding a snowboard. You can’t be afraid to throw in the towel.
What are your memories of the Covent Garden Big Air in London, 1995? That was a first of its kind in the UK back then so it was a pretty big deal for us – though the kicker was pretty small! I remember there being a lot of kids and it being an incredible forum for a contest, but just the jump being really small. It was definitely limiting to what kind of dazzling display of talent the riders could put together for the crowd.
What’s the most interesting snowboard trip you’ve ever been on? Erm… There was a trip to my local mountain in the back of a ‘68 El Camino. We had a half quart of wood in the back for weight, to provide traction over the back tyres. My older brother and his rocker friend were taking me up to the hill, so they put me in the back on the bed of the truck. It had slick tyres on it so it wasn’t gonna do too good on the ice. Anyway we snowboarded all day and I got back in the back of the truck, and as we were getting onto the freeway we hit ice and lost it into the embankment, and this whole quart of wood slid forward and squashed me up against the cab. So yeah, that was probably the most interesting trip!
And the scariest snowboarding incident you’ve had? Verbier, Switzerland in 96/97. I knocked myself out so silly, I ragdolled into a puddle of glacial water at the bottom of this hill and just lay there in the frozen water. And all these kids came over and crowded round looking at me, like I was a monkey in a cage. I was completely knocked out, I don’t remember anything until I was getting into the helicopter with these two Swiss pilots speaking French. All I remember is bombing through the Alps, through the clouds, and I was in this bobsleigh looking out the front window. They took me to this hospital and it was probably six or seven hours later and I still didn’t know where I was at, or what I was doing.
You’ve got one trick left before you hang up your boots for good – what do you pull? Y’know, if I could do a lien method 360 from the days of old, that would make me a happy man. And just a big kicked out method makes me so happy when I do it. I know it’s almost at the point where it’s so played that it’s silly, but I love it. It’s the easiest trick, but it’s the hardest to do right.
Speaking of which, you probably don’t know this but we singled you out last year in White Lines’ ‘Best Ever’ section for pulling the best ever method back in TB5 (off a windlip). So come on - what’s the secret to the perfect backside air?! Wow. Erm… it’s a combination of things. It’s the right jump, and it’s the way that you grab your board as you come off the lip; the way you push down on your nose with your front hand and kick up your back leg. There’s like a fulcrum pivot point to your body and the way you do these two things balances off that pivot point. I mean you can’t get all flapped out, you gotta have your balance really tight, a small package, and then once you grab it then you can kick it out and explode it; but if you do any of those steps not in the right order, you’ll fail.
There you have it. We’ve even got the secret for methods – bonus! Thanks Jamie. No problem.