Jess Kimura’s Resilience, Showcased in Learning to Drown, Has Made Snowboarding Better

Darrah Reid-McLean writes about the impact not only of the film, but of Jess, herself.


words: Darrah Reid-McLean

Earlier this month, Jess Kimura had a big premiere week in Salt Lake City. Following up on the premiere ofThe Uninvited III, on Tuesday, November 16th, Jess’ documentary, Learning to Drown, premiered at Brewvies Cinema Pub.  

Fate placed the location of the premiere right next to a very sophisticated sex shop, so before anything started, Jess felt compelled to purchase the biggest dildo the shop had, in order to carry on her tradition of throwing dildos into crowds. (You’ll have to see the movie to understand this reference.)

Learning to Drown is an incredible movie.  It is centered around Jess tragically losing her partner, Mark Dickson, at the height of her professional snowboarding career. The movie follows her as she faces an intense fear of water, which she’s harbored since a young age, and tries to live out Mark’s dream of moving to Mexico to surf every day.  It’s hilarious at times; Jess’ sense of humor shines through as she recalls certain situations early in her career. 

The film also features an insane montage of Jess’ snowboard footage from over the years. Watching Jess’ compiled clips reminds me that she is still to this day, IMO, the best woman to ever film video parts. There’s a front 270 into a massive wall ride in Whistler that I could only ever dream of, a switch frontboard from ten years ago that I would still put into my part today, and too many more hammers to list. The bail section makes you wonder how she can possibly still snowboard today, but also gives insight into how hard she worked for all those shots. 

There are extremely sad, emotional, and unimaginable moments, but the movie ends on an inspiring and beautiful note. You can really feel the love and emotion, and happy memories when Jess talks about Mark. The old sled footage of him is impressive and the story of their first sled date is cute. Hearing about how he lived his life and his “balls to the wall” attitude made me want to adopt his approach to life and aspire to be more like Mark.

Jess experienced one of the worst things someone can possibly experience. Learning to Drown showcases her resilience and ability to face adversity–something she’s been doing her whole life. For me, and anyone else who’s ever doubted themselves, their worth, or their ability to carry on–Jess is an amazing example that you’re worth it and you should keep pushing forward. Knowing Jess for as long as I have, I know that she definitely never takes the easy way out. Many years ago I watched her crawl her way to the top of professional snowboarding. Now, she not only maintains her position, but helps other girls in snowboarding crawl there too, hoping to ensure that our paths are slightly more paved than hers was. She is the most determined person I know. In creating The Uninvited, she’s passed on her determination to many of us, myself included, and provided us with the opportunities we needed and deserved. 

Learning to Drown premiere
P: Melissa Riitano

Professional snowboarding can seem like a selfish pursuit. Jess mentions her feelings about this in the movie. But Jess is the least selfish person I know. She has spent a lot of time shoveling spots for me in the streets. She’s filmed me and hired others to film me with her own money. She’s taught me how to snowmobile (an enormous task). She’s helped me with writing emails. And she’s let me cry to her about boys and break ups. There are countless other ways that Jess goes out of her way to help me, and I’m definitely not the only one she does these things for.  Even the courage it took for her to share this story is a testament to how much she desires to help others. Her vulnerability and willingness to open up is commendable–and so important. Learning to Drown is a story for anyone who needs to hear that things can get better. I know Mark would be so proud of her for everything she is doing now.

The beautiful message at the end of the film is that you can find a gift from the worst possible thing ever. There’s light to be found among so much darkness. It’s a powerful reminder that I hope to hold on to, and great perspective to come back to during low times. I also really appreciate Jess’ honesty at the end of the movie when talking about expectations and being realistic about good days/bad days. “Just ride the wave,” she says. Something I always tell myself during my own struggles is that things will sometimes be really bad, but they always get better–then worse, then way better, and so on. Life ebbs and flows, and it’s refreshing to hear someone I admire speak about this so candidly.

Learning to Drown will be online January 14.  I really urge everyone to see it, if you haven’t already.

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