The 2014-15 winter season marks the twentieth consecutive year that Lib Technologies have included a Jamie Lynn pro-model in their snowboard range. In a sport of short careers and declining signature boards, that’s quite an achievement. Hell, even Terje doesn’t have a pro-model anymore. Jamie’s stick is one of those cult following types – as our article on board collectors in WL114 revealed. Shreds in the know will repeatedly choose his iconic Lib (also known as the ‘Phoenix’) over anything else.
Part of this appeal stems from the graphics, which for two decades have formed a kind of ongoing portfolio for Jamie’s bright, swirling artwork featuring his trademark themes: cats, guitars, waves and women. And it is the art – seen also in ad campaigns for his other long-term sponsors Volcom and Vans – that goes some way to explaining how this humble 40-something has acquired a legendary status within snowboarding that borders on the mythic. It’s not that his painting is particularly groundbreaking – it’s more decorative than shark-pickling – but the fact he was the first snowboarder to follow in the footsteps of skaters like Mark Gonzales and combine athletic ability with a sense of the aesthetic. As he told us in his last interview back in WL76:
“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 [path into] snowboarding… and to use your pro-model as a vehicle for self expression, not only in your artwork but the way you rode it.”
In doing so, Jamie Lynn helped take snowboarding away from skiing and closer to skateboarding during those crucial 90s years, and ensure its current position in the cannon of ‘cool’ action sports.
The curious thing about Jamie’s fame, however, is that the less he pursues it, the more it grows. Even at the height of his riding career, interviews and video parts were a rarity. The man himself preferred the remote slopes of Mt Baker to contests whenever possible, and stuck loyally by his adopted family at nearby Mervin Manufacturing (still a small company at the time) when, surely, there were more lucrative deals on the table. This only served to fuel the sense of mystique. The story goes that on a trip to Japan, girls were literally trying to climb in through his hotel window – it was Beatlemania on snow.
Today, he is still a notoriously hard man to get hold of. “Lately I’ve been really enjoying not having anything planned,” he explains in a slow, deep drawl, “but keeping my wings spread, so when the wind blows I just sail with it. It’s brought me from opportunity to opportunity.”
We have finally caught up with him. After a motorcycle ride from San Francisco to Seattle, he’s on a train north to Vancouver, from where he will begin another trip to remote coastal British Columbia. Years of open-minded, vagabond-style travel have given him a keen appreciation for the sort of adventure that can arise on a moment’s notice.
“Back in the day, a lot of times it was just me, a board bag and a passport. I maybe had a phone number that I’d call – before cell phones – for whoever the contact was when I got to some far off land. Half the time they barely spoke English. Nineteen years old, not having much travel experience and being thrust out into the world, you know, sink or swim. That kinda cut my teeth on travelling [and] I still approach it the same.”
It’s a template many snowboarders will be familiar with – the career couch surfer. Jamie was not the first to adopt it by any means, but he still lives it authentically: “Meet some random, stay at some crazy loft, sleep on some dog mat in the corner of their house, play music and paint on their walls or something like that. I’d take that any day over four star hotel accommodations just for the experience.”
Our conversation bounces seamlessly like this between riding, art and music. For Lynn, they’re all strands of the same bohemian lifestyle. Beginning his pro career some 23 years back, he has had a front row seat for the evolution of snowboarding, from the grungy plaid-shirted 90s to the Monster logo’d helmets of today. And as a rider who stayed true to his ideals while the money poured in, his words are as respected as ever. “The reason we all got into snowboarding early on is the pure stoke,” he says, “and the feeling it gave you doing something new and different. Shunning all the corporate shit that held us down. There is a difference in the population of the community these days. It was a lot tighter and a lot smaller back then, so wherever you went you saw a lot of the same people doing the same things. Now there are so many talented riders coming from all over, you’re meeting new people every time you hit the road.” Yet for all that the scene has grown, Jamie sees no essential difference in the 2014 world of snowboarding. “Breaking it down, we are just kids trying to maximize as much fun out of life as possible. That knows no date, time or generation. It’s a universal search for stoke that you can share whether you’re 20 or 40. It’s a simple approach. That’s the common ground I feel between a lot of the kids I meet.”
But what of the modern ‘contest jocks’? Are they really cut from the same cloth as those free spirits who defined the sport – guys like Mike Ranquet or Shaun Palmer? “This new generation of ‘professional athletes’ is down to accept big money from companies and people who’ve had nothing to do with our community, our industry and our family all these years,” he concedes. “Just jumping into bed with them is something I never saw eye to eye with. Yet younger kids see nothing wrong with that. Seeing that now and where it’s taken the sport, whether positive or negative, when it comes to the soul it’s given nothing much back at all.”
Not that Jamie appears jaded by the path professional snowboarding has taken. Far from it. When asked to pinpoint the most rewarding aspect of his own career, he does not hesitate to single out that most common of snowboarding themes: friendship. “To be able to grow up with [sponsors] that supported me as a family, rather than a work relationship. [Or] the kids that I met and rode with in the early 90s before meeting their own six-year-old kid in 2014. Knowing they’re still doing it, still into riding… It’s been special to retain those relationships.” And he’s equally quick to count his blessings. “What I’ve taken from [snowboarding] is to respect the opportunity – everything that I’ve been gifted with – and not take it for granted.”
Chief amongst the friends that Jamie holds dear are the guys at Mervin. Based in the forests of his native Pacific Northwest, this close team of tattooed board builders was a natural second home. “I’ve been with them since Mike Olson was making boards out of his garage,” he recalls. “There was something to the dynamic of having those guys in my backyard if I wanted to go help design stuff. I got on-the-job training credit for going up and doing top sheet graphics at Lib when I was in high school. I liked that kind of relationship, like a tight-knit family. It wasn’t just some phone call or email from a company where you’re just a number and name. There was something to Lib that was more appealing than the other option. In hindsight it was the smartest decision I ever made in my snowboard career.” Rather than simply slapping a picture on the boards, Jamie’s artwork actually informed their construction during the early years. “We started making graphic topsheets out of skate deck topsheets,” he explains. “Olson figured out how to bond them together. It was born out of the desire to print what I was painting onto the boards as graphics. We spearheaded that out of necessity.”
Even as Jamie took a step back around the turn of the millennium and a new generation of riders took snowboarding on to the next level, the iconic artwork remained – permeating and influencing the scene. ““I need that different outlet to bring me away from what I’m immersed in. It helps give appreciation and perspective on other passions. Art for me is a creative outlet which I approach in the same way that I do any of the other passions I have. Once I get into that space I’m lost in what’s right in front of me. I use that meditation to give my head space to think.”
With snowboarding on the backburner, music became another creative challenge that Jamie undertook with his former band Kandi Koded. Though quiet and unassuming off stage, for six years he could be found ripping heavy chords as the rhythm guitarist on tour. “There’s an energy you’re giving in a live performance, and when the crowd is giving that energy back to you it’s something that I’ve never experienced before in anything else,” he enthuses. “When you have shows like that it’s magical. A live show could be the death of you or it could be the most uplifting positive experience you’ve ever had.” Kandi Koded was a band of solid musicians with serious ambitions in the music world, and Jamie’s face on stage was a picture of concentration. Ironically, he had found a reprieve from the ‘rock star’ lifestyle of the snowboard pro behind a guitar – but as the band progressed, he found himself dragged back towards an even more hectic version of that lifestyle. “I was conflicted,” he admits. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime to play with musicians of that caliber, and that experience is something I will never forget… [but] it’s a heavy drug and alcohol environment. It wears on you more than snowboarding ever wore on me.” It was time to muster a new gig.
“I was hanging with [former snowboard pro] Wes Makepiece, he’s such and incredible musician,” explains Jamie. “We started travelling and snowboarding together – like the days of old when we would just travel around with guitars and jam wherever we could. Playing with Wes – just two guitars, no drummer – has been a more rewarding musical experience.” Wes and Jamie’s shows are a down-to-earth and frequently impromptu occasion. “There’s nothing like the back of a U-Haul in the Stevens Pass parking lot. You know, thirty people packed in a 14-foot box truck raging. You get that many people jumping up and down in the back of a U-Haul it makes it pretty interesting to play music.” It seems that Jamie has finally found a way to blend his two passions, though he points out that “Snowboarding and music are different. Music always poses a challenge.”
All this talk of snowboarders-turned-musicians naturally leads us to the subject of Shaun White, who since the disappointment of Sochi has been spending more time with his own band Bad Things. But while the parallels are there, Jamie suggests that “there is a lot of polarity in Shaun’s approach from mine.” For one thing, Jamie sought refuge in music where White is branching out into event promotion and appears to still enjoy the limelight. Nevertheless, he can sympathise with a fellow rider who’s experienced something like burnout. ““You hit that level in snowboarding, where you’ve taken it to new levels and achieved everything you can,” he says. “Obviously Shaun won’t pull something like Craig Kelly – drop everything and hit the backcountry to actually love snowboarding and go ride powder – so, what next? Rock and roll.”
Though he’s changed tack with the wind numerous times over the past decade, Jamie Lynn’s own course appears to have brought him back to snowboarding. Reappearing alongside Terje and Bryan Iguchi in Volcom videos like this year’s Mr Plant, he is now firmly established as a legend – an impressive feat in an industry that still tends to fetishize youth. How is he still revered while other great riders are forgotten? Well, the continued support of his sponsors and those ongoing graphics are one part of the story. But perhaps it is Jamie’s quiet approach that has really been key. Keep your audience wanting more, as they say. By refusing to hog the limelight and giving out just enough evidence of his riding ability and counter-cultural ideals, the snowboard scene first fell in love with Jamie Lynn; now, as the years roll by, he is still a magnet for our ideas of what ‘style’ and ‘soul’ are all about. In short, we see what we want to see.
Jamie himself doesn’t dwell on why things panned out as they did (“if you hold onto the past you miss out on the present”) but when pushed to explain his continued position within snowboarding, he is typically humble. “I lowered my expectations of what I thought people wanted to see. I realized how fortunate I was to have an opportunity to ride through the peak of my career, having a great time and influence in positive ways. If I can still do some of those things that used to make me feel so good back in the day, then that’s a success. I realized that I had a part in building the foundation of snowboarding for the next generation to progress from – that to me was something very fulfilling. To know I was a part of that time and that place. That is what stays. Everything above and beyond that is just gravy, just icing on the cake. Now, to still have the chance to go out and do that with my peers and the younger kids these days…. I’m truly blessed.”