Roots: Jeff Brushie
Words: Ed Blomfield
Since this issue also features an article on the US Open, we could think of no better candidate for this month’s Roots interview than Jeff Brushie.
Jeff was brought up in New England and is a legend of the East Coast scene. In the early 90s he joined the Burton team alongside such names as Craig Kelly and Terje Haakonsen, and helped to kickstart freestyle riding as we know it today. Taking his cue from the fluid lines and technical tricks of skateboarding, he applied this style to his pipe riding – culminating in an overall World Cup title in 1991. More than this, though, Brushie made a name for himself as one of the first snowboarding rock stars, regularly whipping up the crowd at contests and generally living the rider’s dream. His cult status was cemented with one of the most popular Burton pro models of all time, which featured consistently cool graphics like the striped topsheet of the Cruzin’ 153 – surely the first retro graphic in the sport’s history? Indeed the Brushie pro model has, in one incarnation or another, graced the feet of many a future star – including the UK’s own legends Steve Bailey and Danny Wheeler – and its popularity saw him make a shock big money move from Burton to Ride in the late 90s, who were keen to cash in for themselves.
Since retiring from professional snowboarding Jeff has pretty much fallen off the industry radar screens. However, keen to introduce this legend to a new generation of readers and generally satisfy our curiosity, we caught up with him at his new home in San Diego, California to find out what he’s been up to.
What has changed the most in snowboarding since the days when you were pro? The pipes are about 15 feet bigger and perfect. And kids go 20 feet out of the pipe now compared to the 10 feet we were pulling back in the day. That’s a pretty big change. Why did it take so long to figure out how to make pipes?! It sucks… I wish I’d had these pipes!
Do you keep in touch with your fellow pros from back in the day? And do you ever go riding with any of them? Sure, a few here and there, but not too many of them. Mostly just my good friends that I grew up snowboarding with.
How did the move to Ride come about? You’d been with Burton a long time, were you sorry to leave? Yeah I really didn’t want to leave Burton, but the offer from Ride was too good to pass up and Burton didn’t want to match it. Oh well… now that I’m retired I ride Burton gear again, they make the best shit!
I heard a rumour you’re an estate agent now? How did you go from being a pro snowboarder to selling houses? No, I’m not a real estate agent. You should ask Andy Hetzel that question - he’s an agent up the road from me! I did do a lot of real estate investing, and built some houses to sell. The last five years were really good…. but the real estate market is really weird now. I might be looking for something new.
So what do you do for a living? Like I say, recently I've been building homes and selling them. I find a good town that is growing, I purchase a piece of land, find a builder to build a nice looking house on it for me, then I sell it and make some money. I've been doing this for the past five or six years, but now the market’s getting pretty bad I might need to find a job. Maybe I'll start my own company or business, who knows? I just go with the flow.
Describe your average day. Wake up, six shots of espresso on ice. Check e-mail, feed dogs, eat, shit, chill, ride bike to the beach, chill, dinner, e-mail, online poker till like 2am, sleep.
Do you surf a lot? Are you any good? I surf now and then - not a whole lot. I wouldn't say that I'm good or anything. It’s just something to do for fun. When I first moved to San Diego I surfed a lot, but I got burn -out over the years. Most of the spots where I live are pretty crowded, and I'm over the crowds.
What’s your fondest memory of your snowboarding days? Trips to Japan were the most fun, hands down! That place is pretty cool. Umm… I remember riding some pretty sick powder in Las Lenas Argentina and in Chile.
What’s the gnarliest or most impressive thing you’ve ever seen anyone do on a snowboard - not counting videos? Oh shit, I’ve seen so much shit, it’s impossible to try and think of the gnarliest.
Do you think kids these days realize how dangerous snowboarding can be, chucking themselves off cliffs and so on in pursuit of that cover shot? And would you say it’s less creative and more balls-out than it used to be? When you’re 17 years old you don’t care about the danger. You want to look cool and score chicks! You think you can do anything, haha! These days snowboarding is still mostly all of the same tricks with a few extra rotations tossed in, but more balls-out for sure!
What are your memories of Craig Kelly, and knowing him better than most, how do you feel about his tragic death? Craig was a great guy. It sucks that he passed away the way he did because he was always so careful with that type of stuff. Sure you can say that he died doing what he loved, but still… Craig had a lot more surfing and snowboarding to do! He was good dude, really mellow, life was a big adventure to him. He loved messing with us younger guys back in the day. I remember driving somewhere with the Burton team. We were in a big passenger van. I was in the back seat sleeping - I was out cold, sleeping with my mouth open. I woke up choking to find Craig pouring Gatorade down my throat. It was pretty Funny.
Are you stoked that you were doing crails way back in the day for a laugh, and now because of the way snowboarding’s gone you have to have one in your pipe run or you’re not cool? Backside crails right? Yeah it’s pretty cool that kids still like that trick. You got to admit, it’s a pretty dope looking trick if you do it right!
Did you ever want to do a Nancy Kerrigan style attack on Terje's knees? Not at all, Terje and I were good friends. We roomed together at a lot at contests. We use to hang out all the time, get food, drink booze… good times.
Which was your favourite pro model? Either my Burton Cruzer model or my Burton Craps Table model.
What was the Fish graphic all about? The Fish Board was my very first pro model and the idea behind that board was that I was from Vermont. Vermont has a lot of hunting and fishing - and there are lots of rednecks - so I decided to do the fish!
Do you still have every one of your pro decks in a wrapper? Yes I think so… can’t remember where I put them though! But I always tried to keep one or two of each board.
You ever get pissed off with baseless bindings and think, 'Why the fuck does my fuckin’ pro model have to have them?’ Yep!
Have you ever been to Britain? Hmm… I can’t remember? I think I went through there once when I was in Europe snowboarding. I think it was raining!
Sounds about right. Are you embarrassed of the snowboarding fashions now? Those stupid long tees are ridiculous! I like most of the new outerwear, but I’m not too into this new 1980’s tight pants rocker shit. But hey, styles always need to change I guess. And ye, the long tees are pretty fuckin gay.
Do you miss it, snowboarding? Yes and no. I rode for many years and did what I wanted with snowboarding at the time. It’s time for the next chapter - time to do some different things, y’know.
Do you find yourself only riding 'perfect' days because you've done so much riding in your lifetime? Yep! How’d you know that?
How close do you follow the current scene, and which pros do you admire these days? I judge a few big contests every winter – the X-Games and a few others - so I’m still up on everything. My favorite rider is probably Travis Rice. The kid can ride any kind of terrain very well!
Do you like Shaun White? Yeah, Shaun is a good kid. I remember helping him learn tricks up in Mt. Hood in the early 90’s. Now look at him! I’m stoked for him and all his success.
What was the best thing you ever did on a snowboard? Probably getting first overall out of all the World Cup halfpipe’s in 1991 and earning a World Champion Halfpipe title.
Can you still cut it in the pipe? Sure, but I just do big straight airs now. There’s no need for spinning if you don’t compete anymore, haha!