How do you measure a person’s impact, especially when that impact has tangibly affected the world in large ways?
In the case of Jake Burton Carpenter, perhaps it is measured in the millions of people all over the globe who snowboard every winter. Or it could be in his company’s deep collection of benchmarks of snowboard development over the past four-plus decades: the pro models, the shapes, the graphics, the advancements in technology—not to mention the catalog of outerwear, boots, bindings, and accessories created under the Burton moniker. Maybe it is the team riders supported, the movies made, the hundreds of people who have joined the company behind the scenes to combine snowboarding and their professional aspirations. And then there’s the US Open, the Global Open Series, the Abominable Snow Jam, Tokyo Rail Days, and so many events that not only brought the best snowboarders in the world together in rider-driven competition, but also showed spectators possibility, fun, excitement, and progression—all in ample amounts. That snowboarding is in the Olympics, on television, allowed at (nearly) all ski resorts, and a household term understood colloquially—while retaining an ethos that is at its best when fast, loose and challenging the status quo—is so much due to the dreams of Jake in the late seventies as he built Burton by hand, shaping snowboards in Southern Vermont.
So, forty-four years after the founding of Burton Snowboards, when it comes to the impact that Jake has had on the world, there is a myriad of concrete things that we can see. But all of the things that he accomplished, that he catalyzed, and that he helped to flourish are tied together by a common thread, a bond between individuals who search out snow-covered trails whenever the temperature drops. Truly, of all of Jake’s contributions that helped to shape what snowboarding is today, perhaps the most vital is the community that formed around that shared love of standing sideways. We wouldn’t be anywhere without that.
On Thursday, November 4th, as fall air cooled the New York City streets, snowboarders of all stripes stepped into the Metrograph Theater in the Lower East Side to watch the world premiere of Dear Rider, a feature-length documentary that chronicles how Jake Burton Carpenter took a favorite childhood pastime and transformed it into the cultural phenomenon that snowboarding is today.
Under normal circumstances, autumn movie premieres are an opportunity to reunite with friends and get excited for the season. But this gathering, almost two years since the start of a global pandemic that isolated everyone and shifted the way we usually get to enjoy winter (and just about everything else), was even more of a homecoming for everyone in attendance. The importance of these types of get-togethers was reinforced as everyone met in the lobby before making their way to the seats. We were far from the mountains, but we had made it home; the community was back together—reunited by Jake.
Introducing the movie, Jake’s eldest son George acknowledged that while the evening was an emotional one, his dad would want everyone to have a good time. And everyone did. The film, directed by Fernando Villena, and made by Burton Snowboards, Red Bull Media House, and HBO, combines rich archival footage—clips from Jake’s childhood; when he met his wife Donna; the early days of Burton; and video of Jake and Donna raising their three sons, George, Taylor, and Timi, while working together to run their company—introduce the man who started snowboarding. A man whose relentless drive is matched only by his pursuit of good turns and good times with the people he cares about. Alongside video from the early days of the sport itself, from riders running gates at Stratton to the 2020 US Open at Vail, with homage paid to pioneers along the way including Craig Kelly, Terje Haakonsen, Kelly Clark, and Shaun White, the portrait of Jake’s life is, of course, wholly interwoven with the evolution of snowboarding. Throughout the film, words from family, friends, collaborators, and professional riders continually reinforce the importance of community not only to Jake, but to snowboarding as a whole. As Jake wrote himself, narrated by Woody Harrelson in Dear Rider, “This is a common bond that unites us all.”
After the movie ended, the crowd filtered into the street, heavy without Jake’s presence, but grateful for what he had given to everyone. We were all there because of Jake. In his quest to make snowboarding a sport, he had created a family.
Of course, everyone heeded George’s words and sent it to celebrate at Mr. Purple. A$AP Ferg jumped on stage. The assembled crew cheers’d and caught up. On a rooftop patio on a chilly November night, we were happy to be there. Glad to be a part of this herd.
Huge thanks to the Carpenter family, Burton, Red Bull, and HBO for creating Dear Rider and sharing it with all of us.
You can watch Dear Rider on HBO Max starting on November 9th.