Off the Hook: The John Jackson Interview

Words: Gemma Freeman

Who is John Jackson? A master of snowboard style, maker of epic video parts, ex-comp kid, obsessed fisherman and super mellow Californian answer it somewhat. While many pros play trick monkey to keep the cheques coming in, John – based in Truckee, Tahoe – is low key and in it for real reasons: because he loves to ride.

Part of the hallowed Forum and Special Blend team since November 2007, John Anthony Jackson is best known for his big, ballsy and burly style that has seen him claim standout sections in this year’s Forum or Against ‘Em, and countless Standard movies, including the closing part in 2006’s Draw The Line and 2007’s Catch the Vapors.

But the 25 year old wasn’t always a backcountry booter bloke; growing up in a small town called Crowley Lake, twelve miles south of Mammoth, he started freeriding there before it had a park – but the pipe at nearby June (the best and only one around) quickly had him hooked.

Encouraged by older sister and snowboarder Nicole, he took home schooling so he could concentrate on riding pipe during the day, which nabbed him a place on the Mammoth Mountain Snowboarding Team. This took him onto the USASA circuit and US team, where he was later joined by younger brother Eric.

Though he made his name on the contest circuit, John is used to the rugged Sierra mountains, and filming and shooting photos in the backcountry is where he excels. Several sponsor changes later (John’s ridden for ThirtyTwo, etnies, Sims, Planet Earth, Grenade, Dragon, Technine, Drake, Grenade, Supernatural AD and Rossignol in the past!) he’s now where he wants to be: living down the road from Squaw, on a team he’s stoked about, taking an annual Alaska trip and riding with Travis Rice, Kevin Jones, Jake Blauvelt and Peter Line. Oh, and spending his summers focused on his second biggest love – fly fishing. Not bad for someone from the ‘legendary home of the monster trout.’

WL: You grew up near Mammoth – what made you move north to Tahoe?
JJ: I was in Mammoth for a long time. I love it there and it’s my home, but I wanted to be closer to the airport; now I’m a half hour drive plus there’s more to ride. The backcountry here is easier to access and I’m familiar with it – especially after filming with Standard. And there’s loads I’d like to hit that I haven’t yet. Typically the snow is good, but the past few years have been warm… That’s always an issue with Tahoe. Freddie [Kalbermatten] used to ride with us but was always like, ‘I hate Tahoe, Tahoe is hot pow.’

You used to ride more rails but seem to focus on backcountry these days. Why’s that?
My snowboarding originated before Mammoth even had a park; you’d build your own – find things to hit. It was always about mixing freestyle and freeriding. It was fun to ride and get creative with the terrain. Wind lips were the park back in the day.
I’ve always loved backcountry, doing my own thing, but when I got on the [contest circuit] I had to ride park every day. I still loved freeriding, but it took a while to learn. Like, when I first started filming with the Hatchetts [brothers Mike and Dave of Standard Films] I crashed their snowmobile a couple of times…
I know you’re a big fisherman; how does it compare to snowboarding?
It’s somewhere to go to forget about everything. Be alone and have a great time. There is a sense of freedom: being in the outdoors; wherever you want to be; whatever is going on. It’s like meditation I guess; the same with snowboarding – you’re always trying to improve, catch bigger fish or whatever. Honestly, I don’t even know why I fish. My dad was a catcher but I can’t explain it. It’s an addiction.

Were you an outdoorsy kid?
I always loved the outdoors as a boy. I wanted to run around, build forts, catch fish. Just push it to the limit. Our house was in a cool spot where there wasn’t too many houses around but we had Hilton Creek running through our backyard. I was always taking fish in and out so I was given a little spin rod to fish. When I got involved with fly fishing it was a whole new level and joy. Totally different. You could almost control exactly what fish you’d catch…

How did you start snowboarding?
I started skiing when I was 5. Then when I was 10, one of my buddies, Kyle, took a snowboard out and as soon as he was back he was like ‘it’s so fun!’ So, the next day, I rented a snowboard, went out with him and was hooked. I begged Mom and Dad for a snowboard, then finally for Christmas they bought my sister and I one to share, and so we’d trade off on weekends. That’s how it all started.

When did you realise this was what you wanted to do?
Honestly, I never thought I was good enough to be pro. I wanted to take snowboarding as far as I could but never for the money. It was something I did for the love of it.
I wasn’t concerned with sponsors or the newest kit. I was the ratty kid. I snowboarded to progress for myself. I’m not saying I take this all for granted, because I’m very grateful, but sponsors, and where I am right now, all just fell into place.

Is it hard to get noticed in the US? How competitive is it?
I didn’t call on anybody: I just snowboarded. I joined the US team, won some contests and then people see you, that’s all. My first hook up was thanks to Kurt Wastell; he was killing the pipe while filming in Mammoth and there I was, this little park rat kid, and he was like ‘Dude: you’re sick! Let me hook you up.’ So he hooked me up with Fresh Jive and that was my first gig. It was people like Kurt, already in the industry, who helped me. I kept on snowboarding – for no reason other than I loved it. When I got sponsored I flipped: I was like ‘Woah, no way! I can get free stuff? This is awesome!’

How did you get hooked up with Forum and Special Blend?
That was more technical; I have an agent who works for me, organising my money. I’m happy where I’m at right now: I fit. I feel comfortable, taken care of, I love the team, I love the company and that we’re making our own videos. I was never on a stable snowboard company before. I rode for Iridium 3 back in the day, but that died out pretty quickly. Then Supernatural in 2001, which also died quickly. It was so awesome too: we had such a good team, and it seemed like such a good thing, it was a shame. Then I went to Sims, and that faded out. That year I was filming for Paradox and I didn’t have a board sponsor, so I was trying out Lib Techs, Burton, Rossignol – whatever I could get my hands on; I went back to Sims which was a stupid decision as the same thing happened again, and then I went to Rossignol, which was cool but not perfect. But when the Forum offer came through I was like ‘Damn! Hell yeah!’ It was a long process but now I just want to snowboard as hard as I can, film and make them proud.

What’s the rest of the team like?
We all get along great; it’s like Comedy Central. There’s always jokes.

What was it like working on Forum or Against ‘Em?
It was so fun. But I was disappointed that I didn’t get the video part I wanted: now I was on the board company I wanted to be on, I wanted to blow up with this banger video part. I was hurt for much of the year, which was awful. Filming with all those guys was still fun though.

Not many of the original team remain on Forum: has the dynamic changed? Is it different?
I wasn’t part of the company when those big guys were, but like Joni said: people come and go. But, although the product or image hasn’t changed, it has altered what people think of the company. I can’t comment on how it was back then, but I can say that now we’re one big, goofy, happy family. Joni’s still there and Pete’s still there. I got to ride with Pete last season which was insane. He’s someone I looked up to from a young age, so getting to ride with him was crazy. I went to Japan with him and it was amazing: he’s the man. It was awesome – Pete’s the wisest sherpa. He took a break from snowboarding, and you didn’t see him for a while but then last year he slaughtered it. Early season he was pushing it so hard, I looked at Jake [Blauvelt] and asked, ‘Does Pete always ride like this? He’s killing it.’ Jake was like, ‘No.’ He hadn’t ridden for a couple of years and was super keen. That’s something I’m proud I was a part of: Pete getting back into it.

Where’s your favourite place to ride?
AK is up there. I’ve had good experiences in many different places – but terrible experiences in those same places. It’s more where the snow’s good – no matter where you’re at. I’ve had fun snowboarding in Japan, wonderful snow in Canada and in AK. But terrain wise, it’d be Paris in British Colombia – I got so excited there.

Have you ridden in Europe much before?
I love Europe: I’ve not done a lot of backcountry there – it’s always been for summer camps, but not for a long time. But I’d love to go to Europe; I hear they got good snow this year so I’d like to go over there. Maybe that’s where we’ll go? See you there!

Who are your favourite people to ride with?
I love riding with my little brother Eric. Jake Blauvelt. And Kazu [Kazuhiro ‘Kazu’ Kokubo] – he kills it; he’s an amazing athlete. I love to ride with and watch him. And Travis Rice is obvious – I got to ride with him quite a bit this summer in New Zealand actually.

You’ve got a solid, smooth style: did you develop that or did it come naturally?
That’s just how it always was; I used to think ‘my style’s wack – I’ve got to change.’
But that’s what makes a snowboarder: having your own style; your own individuality; that’s why people love or hate you. To change your style and create an identity that’s not you is artificial – like exaggerating an after bang, you know? It looks bad. I like someone who’s unique, that has something special. Gigi’s got a sick, sweet style. I can’t pin point anyone who rides the same way as Gigi – he’s unique.

Is creativity dying in snowboarding at all? People seem to always be copying and playing catch up…
I don’t know, but style is still totally important. It should come naturally – you should always try to be more creative than the person behind you. That’s not going to happen in the park. My style came from when I’d just freeride Mammoth, I learnt how to ride my board – from edge to edge. Everyone’s so infatuated with park that it’s become a bad influence on developing individuality. Especially with the ‘spin-to-win’ trend, style can go out of the window. Although, not with everybody – it’s getting better. Some people can do insane switch back 12s that look incredible – like Travis Rice or David Benedek. But then I totally admire people like Nicolas Müller, who can throw a beautiful backside 720 off a gnarly spine in Alaska. I almost have more respect for that: complete control. Nicolas has his own style too – I’d love to ride with him. He knows how to read terrain, how to ride his snowboard, and makes it an art.

Is being artistic important? Instead of ticking off a trick list?
Well, it depends. In contests you may want to copy who’s got the hottest trick for example. You need to do better to win. But in video parts, you need to be creative and be an artist; videos have been going for so long that they can get boring – you need to do something no one else has imagined to stand out. It is an art form for sure: it’s beautiful.

How do you try to progress your own riding? Do set out to achieve certain things each season?
Well, this winter I would like to go to Alaska. I want to build big kickers, hit huge stuff – but that all depends on if the snow is good. I’d also like to do more heli drops, backcountry, chutes in Alaska. I didn’t get one powder turn in my part last year as I was more trick-after-trick-after trick. I didn’t get the opportunity last season. I’d like to ride more natural features – blast off some spines. Natural quarters, something ridiculous.

What are your ambitions in snowboarding?
I want to do what I can for the sport… progress it so people keep loving snowboarding. I mean, they’ll love it no matter what – I love it! – but push it that bit more. Perhaps work with the industry more, keep creative. I want to leave my mark, which I’ve not done yet – do something so I’ll be remembered for something big. I don’t want to change things, but do something new and unexpected. I want people to be like, ‘do you remember that video part from back then? Yeah that guy used to kill it!’

Kinda like Travis Rice?
Travis raised the bar with That’s It, That’s All – he changed history right there. We were stunned; that film had so much impact. He is amazing, and definitely one of the snowboarders I look up to the most. He’s a good guy to be around and funny: he lights up any situation, is always positive, the life of the party, amping everyone up, pushing you and enjoying himself. It’s the same thing with snowboarding – he pulls these sick manoeuvres and his energy rubs off.

Did you push yourself more riding with him?
Totally. He makes me want to want to wax my snowboard; he rides so fast that I just couldn’t keep up. He’s one of the most powerful riders.

Your snowboard for Forum has a fishing theme; what’s the story behind that?
Forum had a board they wanted me to endorse, the Seeker, but I was to get involved in the graphics rather than specifications. This was when I’d just joined the team and it was super late in production. The designers knew that I liked fishing so they put this big brown trout on the top sheet. But it was super boring and I was like ‘oh dude – this sucks.’
The base was cool, and is like what you see today, but I wanted a board which was like a fly box. So I went to the Forum offices in Southern California and suggested putting rows of flies across the topsheet, to make a crazy pattern. I grabbed my fly box from the car, the designer scanned it, and voila – in four minutes – there it was. It’s special because it’s all flies that I’d tied myself or ripped due to catching fish. I can look at my board and remember: ‘that was a good fly.’

Do you have any favourite songs to ride too?
I never listen to music when I ride; I like to hear what’s going on around me, the outdoors, be super keen. I’ve tried it and it definitely amps you, but I like to talk to people. Especially in the backcountry; I could never ride with music there. I like to immerse myself in the experience. But I do listen to music when driving to a spot – Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, just nice vibes, pump it up with some reggae, happy tunes. Perfect.

Thanks John.
No problem.

Photo Credits:

Photo One: Oli Gagnon
Photo Two: Cole Barash
Photo Three: Ian Ruhter
Photo Four: Ian Ruhter
Photo Five: Ian Ruhter
Photo Six: Ian Ruhter


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