The Eric Jackson Interview | The One That Got Away

From Whitelines Issue 106 - January 2013

For years this burly, beardy Californian seemed to fly in the shadow of his big brother, but as his 2012 Video Part of the Year confirmed, E-Jack’s time has come.

It goes without saying that it’s as hard as it’s ever been for anyone to reach snowboarding’s higher echelons. There may be more fully-fledged pros able to make a living from the sport these days, but it’s still only a select few that will be talked about years down the line. Think of your Romain Di Marchi’s, your JP Walkers, your Travis Rice’s. Then think about the countless others who will bag a few decent video parts before eventually drifting away…

Up until last year, we’d always viewed Eric ‘E-Jack’ Jackson as one of those; a solid, stylish rider but ultimately a nearly man – the guy that put in good work every year without ever graduating to ender-worthy status (older brother John, meanwhile, has been sitting comfortably up there for a few years now).

Were it not for his gigantic beard, which transforms into ‘the powdered doughnut’ after a few face shots, he’d be virtually indistinguishable from lots of others like him. And there seemed no reason to suspect that this might change any time soon. But, to coin a phrase, we didn’t know Jack.

Eric’s not long in the door from a five-day fishing trip when we catch up with him. Along with his similarly fish-daft brother, he’d headed deep into the woods in search of rainbow trout. Joining them was Jake Blauvelt, fellow pow-hound but relative newcomer to this other great Jackson past-time.  “It was so sick”, he remembers. “We just went all over. Jake and I had been talking about this trip for a long time, and it worked out. I know these rivers up in northern California, so we went up there and it was awesome. We ended up going to this crazy river that I’d never been to; it’s super hard to access. We ended up getting lost down there for way too long!”

Planning a trip with friends; going looking for spots; breaking new, untested ground – remind you of anything? We wonder if he recognises any common strands between his two passions – especially given that, when John J spoke to Whitelines in 2009 (Issue 83), he was adamant that it’s a different world, one he loves equally but separately. So how does the younger Jackson feel?“It’s two completely different things, besides the fact you’re outdoors” he replies.

“Although, you know how you have to read a mountain? You take the knowledge that you have and you apply that to what your brain’s telling you when you’re looking at a face. Well, it’s the exact same thing when you’re fishing, as far as reading the water goes. The way it’s flowing, you have to take that into account. So in that sense it’s similar, but I wouldn’t say I like fishing because I like snowboarding or vice versa. I just do – and it’s awesome!”

Jackin' it - all in on some mental invert in Alaska. Photo: Scott Serfas.

It probably has more to do with hailing from Crowley Lake, California. A trout fisherman’s Mecca that’s just a short drive from Mammoth Mountain, it’d be strange if he wasn’t into those things. As far as picking up snowboarding goes, Eric was like any younger brother – keen to try whatever John was doing. Both took their cue from elsewhere in the family: “Our cousin did it first. He had an old movie, the first snowboard movie I ever saw; The Hard, the Hungry and the Homeless [a Mack Dawg release from 1992]. I remember seeing that, with these crazy guys jibbing jogs that were on fire, and I was like ‘woah, that’s snowboarding?’ At the time I was little, and a skier. It felt like I wasn’t even allowed to be watching that at all! Like it was off limits, these badass snowboarders…. After seeing that, I traded my skis in for an old Sims and never looked back”.

Snowboarding soon became a big part of the Jackson family life, and even mum is now an avid rider (“She’ll get up earlier than us to go ride the pow. She’s a charger!”). Both John and Eric would eventually make it on to the U.S. team and the Standard Films roster, logging quality parts in movies like Lost In Transition and Catch The Vapours. John, being four years older, was the first to hit it big as a superstar of the Forum team. Ever since then, Eric’s career has usually been viewed in relative terms to his older sibling’s; and that’s one hell of a shadow to be growing up in. Forever perceived as the Jermaine to his Michael – surely that must have been annoying? Apparently not: “My brother’s a huge influence on my life, and I love him. It’s all good. I’m doing my own thing, and able to walk my own path, which is really cool, and that’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t be in each other’s shadow at all, we should just be together. And that’s exactly how it is. To answer your question, no, I don’t get fed up with it!” They continue to work and ride together regularly, and the results are usually pretty special. Take Brothers On The Run, a long-running web series that documented their epic road trip from Alaska to Chile. “That was the funnest trip ever,” says E-Jack, crediting John with the idea. “It was once-in-a-lifetime, and we did it right”. While sibling success in snowboarding isn’t all that rare (see sidebar), the Jacksons might be the finest example around today. So, what’s their secret? Are they just on a constant mission to outdo each other? Like most brothers, that’s true to a certain extent: “We get competitive, for sure. The other day we had a bet on who could catch the first steelhead on the river.” What about with the riding? “We’ll just take each other on at fun little games, that kind of thing. You can’t really get competitive in the backcountry. You can push each other, but out there it’s not a contest, and it shouldn’t be.”

Any thoughts that he’s still catching up to big bro were put to the sword at this year’s Transworld Riders Poll Awards. As well as picking up a nomination for Rider of the Year, Eric scooped the prestigious Video Part of the Year prize. His fellow pros had sized up his ender in People Films’ Good Look against efforts from the likes of Bode Merrill and Travis Rice, and he’d come out on top.

His reaction to the announcement was priceless; genuine shock and gratitude from a guy who clearly doesn’t rate himself as high as his peers do – but should.

So how did it feel to have Terje Haakonsen open the envelope and read out his name? “It was a total honour, I never thought I‘d win that award! I went to the ceremony just kind of out of respect, because I’d been nominated. To walk away with an award, I was blown away, I did not expect it – I’d never won any award before that!”

It’s the first of many, we’re guessing, and a fitting payoff after some seriously hard graft. Prior to that season, things hadn’t been so rosy for Eric. There’d been highs and lows (see his part in Standard’s 2009 release Black Winter for examples of both; and he missed out on its follow-up, The Storming, altogether), and generally things weren’t going to plan. After a couple of years of bad luck, he found himself at a make-or-break point in his career.

Says the man himself: “I was in an interesting place; I didn’t really know where I was going. I’d been injured the last couple years, I’d been getting pressure from sponsors, pay cuts…” This, we’re guessing, is what he was referring to in an acceptance speech that mentioned “a lot of times when a lot of people didn’t believe in me”.

When a guy as talented and amiable as E-Jack isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from his backers, it’s a sobering reminder that business is still business. All that would inevitably take its toll, as he recalls: “Your mind kind of plays tricks on you a little bit, you start to question things. I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t kept me awake at night, but I just make a conscious effort to not let it. I just tried to put all the politics and all the bullshit out of my head and just concentrate on snowboarding. That’s what I did, I just set myself some goals and it was really successful.”

‘Successful’ is an understatement. What followed was an annus mirabilis that lifted Eric out of his funk and launched him up to snowboarding’s highest tier. Once the world had seen his part, one thing was certain: E-Jack was back. He sheds a little light on what made that season so different: “One thing was that I read a book on mental strength [Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack]. I actually contacted the author, and was put in contact with some other people, and then it was just this ripple effect. I ended up working with this guy in southern California. I wouldn’t read too much into that, but it was definitely another piece of the puzzle. I also had a strong body, had a trainer, and my mind was in a very good place.  It was a bunch of things that all came to a point, and that was the result. It’s something special when that happens, and it’s really cool.”

We’ve long been used to the notion of pro snowboarders employing personal trainers, nutritionists, sports psychologists and the like, but so far it’s the guys who want to win things that have been doing it. Aforementioned video award props aside, ‘winning’ doesn’t tend to feature too heavily in Eric’s favoured aspect of snowboarding – at least not in the traditional sense.

At first it’s a little strange to hear that a seemingly mellow backcountry rider has chosen to adopt these ‘elite athlete’ training methods. He explains that it’s just a sign of the times, not so much recommended as neccessary: “I think it’s still more contest kids that do it, for sure, but people are realising that snowboarding is getting gnarlier and gnarlier. It’s not a joke. If you want to be at the top level you’ve got to be in the right shape and you’ve got to be strong, you know? People are starting to realise it more and more. You see a lot more guys going down the gym with trainers now.”

He stresses that, just as with the mental side of things, it’s important not to get too focused on that aspect and to always remember what comes first. There is, as he says, “no secret” to success: “It just comes down to riding. You can go in the gym all you want, but your real strength comes from riding. At the end of the day it’s just snowboarding. Sometimes you land, sometimes you don’t.”

You can go in the gym all you want, but your real strength comes from riding.

Jack the lad 'avin it large. Arlberg, Austria. Photo: Andy Wright.

Whatever it is about him that makes new companies want his services, it looks like they’ll have to find someone else in future; he’s done with brand-hopping for good. “I’d like to end my career with Adidas. I’d stay with them forever, as long as I can snowboard. I’ve finally found what I was looking for. As ‘corporate’ as they are, it’s such a core team, and I feel really good about the people who they have running things. I think that was Nike’s goal at the start, to be this core group of snowboarders. But things changed a lot. Adidas could be that, though. They don’t follow anybody; they just do their own thing. They make great products and I’m stoked to be a part of it.”

It says a lot for Adidas that a guy with his experience has so much confidence in them. So what are the team’s plans so far, if any? Will they be following Nike’s lead and concentrating on online videos, or will they go down the traditional full-length movie route? “We are going to do an Adidas team trip this winter, but there’s no movie in the works. I’m sure it’ll get brought up in the future though. The team is really sick and it could be something so rad, you know?”

So we might be waiting a bit longer for Adidas to get working on a big project, but that suits E-Jack fine for now. He’s got plenty on for this winter already. He’ll no doubt be considered for the second incarnation of the Red Bull Supernatural event, where he’ll get the chance to improve on his 13th place finish from 2012 (“I was honestly really nervous about that. I didn’t feel like I rode very well at all, but it was definitely one of the coolest things in snowboarding that I’ve ever been a part of. The atmosphere was really special. I hope I get to come back next year!”). Off the table is a return to the People crew, as he chooses instead to focus on that man Blauvelt’s ambitious two-year //Naturally// project. “I’m definitely going to shoot with Jake as much as possible. I’m lucky enough to be on the list of riders that get to be a part of that. When I ride with Jake I ride differently to how I would by myself. I’m excited to just improve my snowboarding, improve my pow turns, so I’m going to try and focus as much energy as I can on that.” He’s also got a side gig representing Ion Cameras alongside Eero Ettala and Scotty Lago. Enough, then, to keep him busy right through ‘til next year’s fishing season. He’s well-placed to have his best winter yet, and will probably be in with a shout of scooping that Rider of the Year gong at the second time of asking. However, as far as E-Jack is concerned, it’ll just be a case of taking each day as it comes. “This year I feel like I don’t have that much pressure on me. I don’t necessarily feel that I have to do the gnarliest trick, I feel like I could just go out and ride this year. If the opportunity presents itself to do a double-cork or whatever, then yeah, but for the most part I just want to ride, focus on filming, get some shots in magazines… It’s all fun man! I’m just going to snowboard as much as I can and see what the deal is.”

There is one safe bet, though, and it’s that the ‘powdered doughnut’ will be back. “I was away for five days, and now the beard’s looking pretty good. I’m pretty sure this is it started for the winter! I was itching it today, but I’ve just got to get past that stage then it’s smooth sailing from there. I figure you can look like a bum when you’re young, and then you can get cleaned up when you’re older. So I’m just letting ‘er rip!”

With all that he’s got going on, who’d have time to shave anyway? Whether he’s landing trout or landing doubles, he’s giving it everything and taking nothing for granted. He’s been lucky with his upbringing, surrounded by mountains and with an inspirational older brother to stoke the fire, but that’s not why he’s got to where he is. Nobody’s worked harder for it, and nobody deserves it more. He can claim that it’s separate to his career, but E-Jack sums up everything about his career so far with one last reflection on fishing: “The main thing is the hunt for the fish. You put so much work into catching them that when you finally get one, it’s so satisfying. When you get a fish on the line your heart’s racing. If you don’t get to hold it in your hand the cycle isn’t complete. On this trip I hooked five adult steelheads and didn’t land one of them. I left feeling so unsatisfied, but that’s the beauty of it. There’s always more, there’s always something new to learn.”

There it is. If you can be patient, handle setbacks, keep learning and keep working, amazing things can happen. Maybe all of us should be hitting the river.

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