words: Cody Liska
"I pour concrete."
That’s what Kevin Jones will tell you he does for a living if you ask him. He won’t tell you he’s won nine X Games medals or that he received Snowboarder Magazine’s Rider of the Year three years in a row. He won’t tell you he was there when snowboarding went from a delinquent sport to something he barely recognizes anymore. He won’t even tell you he’s a snowboarder.
“The first year I won Rider of the Year, I had a conversation with Tara [Dakides] and I was like, ‘how do you win? How do you get snowboarder of the year? And who even wants to be that?’ I never wanted to be it,” he says.
Kevin was the first reluctant super-pro in snowboarding. Not reluctant to enjoy the fruits of his labor–he did plenty of that–but of what snowboarding became as a result of the barriers he broke. He’s responsible, in part, for the rise of the snowboard agent. His affiliation with Steve Astephen–once the team manager of Lamar, now one of the most sought-after agents in action sports–eventually resulted in non-endemic companies becoming permanent fixtures in snowboarding.
“Next thing you know, there’s an X-Games commercial on and your face is on that thing and you can’t stop it because now you’re in the system. I hate it,” Kevin says. “I hate what it’s done to my life. I hate what it’s done to the people around me. I hate that the industry has created an aquarium for people to get famous.”
There were too many politics at the top. “Britney Spears’ shit,” he says. That’s what scares vets like Kevin. That more people know what a halfpipe is than they do what a spine is. That you can go to a special school where they teach you how to become a pro snowboarder (“It’s like listening to a top 40 radio station and then trying to act like you know what jazz music is all about,” he says.) Kevin makes a point of adding that there’s nothing wrong with halfpipe or slopestyle. It’s just that neither of them measures up to the soul of snowboarding because they’re manmade. And therein lies the crux of our entire conversation: that corporations are draining the lifeblood of snowboarding, leaving something that looks enough like snowboarding to be masqueraded as such, but it lacks the essence of what made those formative years so revolutionary. Now, that thing–that clone of snowboarding–is the only version this generation of snowboarders will ever know. That’s what keeps Kevin up at night.
“If you’re going to put anything in this article, all I want to say is I’m sorry about being snowboarding’s first super-pro,” Kevin says. “Because that makes my butt itch. That hurts me. I don’t ever want to be seen like that. You dedicate your life to something and then one day you wake up and somebody tells you you’re Britney Spears. And you’re like, ‘shit, you mean somebody was controlling me the whole time?’”
"He had power of attorney, he could sign my name… He had everything. He had my whole life."
Let’s talk about your snowboarding career. What were some of the highlights?
Going to Alaska, riding powder and doing whatever it took to make those trips happen. Snowboarding’s not cheap. It’s not a poor man’s sport and I was a poor man. So, I had to jump through a lot of hoops to make those dream trips happen. I would definitely say that being able to go ride powder and have other people pay for it was and still is my best accomplishment in my career.
Being Rider of the Year three years in a row was pretty cool because it was decided by my peers. It wasn’t like [it was judged by] some lame X Games judge who doesn’t even know which way you’re riding or what trick you’re doing. It always meant a lot more to me knowing my peers were judging me.
What were some of the low points?
Injuries, psychological and physical, and completely burning out–not necessarily on the snowboarding part of it, but burned out on dealing with industry retards and the constant barrage of never knowing where I was going to be for the next week and not being able to go home. I didn’t take a vacation until I was 35 because my vacation was going home. And I couldn’t really complain to people about it because they’d be like, “oh, you’re so spoiled. You’re such a prima donna dickhead.” And it wasn’t like that. It was like, “dude, I just really want to go home and hang out. I haven’t seen my family in forever. I haven’t been home for Christmas in fifteen years.” You have a yearly schedule and you look at it and you’re just like, “dude, I can’t keep that pace. There’s no way.”
I think right now, in the professional realm of snowboarding, everything circles back around to the agent. As a snowboarder, you can only do so much, physically and mentally, until you need another person–an agent–who can help fight for you, talk shit for you and make deals for you in order for you to experience longevity in the industry.
When I was coming up, there weren’t agents. And there wasn’t Red Bull money and there wasn’t Levi money and there wasn’t adidas money. You know what I mean? When I started [snowboarding], if you got free boards and you got free clothing and maybe you got your rent paid, you were like a super-pro. By the end of my career, if you weren’t making $500,000 and owned two or three homes, you were just whatever. So, over the course of fifteen years, we went from being dirtbags, living in our cars and clipping tickets to superheroes at the ESPN Awards, sitting next to Metallica, getting kissed by Daryl Hannah, and accepting an award.
"It started from him basically paying for my bills."
"I’m not a business guy. I’m just a dirtbag snowboard kid."
When did this transition happen in snowboarding?
Right around 2000. I just needed somebody to pay my bills. I was off traveling all the time and you couldn’t really pay with a credit card over the phone. Or, if you were in a different country, you had phone cards. It was just too complicated and I was getting all these late fees on everything. So, I asked Steve Astephen if he would pay my bills, [him] being the team manager of Lamar [at the time]. And a light bulb kind of went off in our heads and we said, “what if other snowboarders need a little bit of help with this stuff?” We kind of kicked around the idea of starting an agency, The Familie. And it started from him basically paying for my bills. Before that, there wasn’t really a need for agents in snowboarding because nobody was making that much money. I mean, there was probably a select few. I’m sure Craig [Kelly] was making a bunch and I’m sure Terje, with his contests, was making a bunch, Noah [Salasnek] was probably doing pretty well, but there was probably only five or six guys who were making enough money to warrant giving [an agent] money to handle their affairs.
What can you tell me about The Familie?
It was started by Steve Astephen in his garage in Oceanside, California. He was my team manager at Lamar Snowboards. [In the beginning], he just made sure everything was in the mail on time, for the sole reason that I wouldn’t have to pay late fees. And then all of a sudden a couple contracts came up and I said, “hey, Steve, I’m out of town, could you go handle this for me?” I said, “I’m not good at talking to these people. They’re business people. I’m not a business guy. I’m just a dirtbag snowboard kid.” So, he was like, “let me handle this for you.”
We didn’t watch Jerry Maguire and go, “[snowboarding] needs to be like football!” It was just kind of out of necessity. And that evolved into bigger contracts and then it actually turned into [Steve] being able to make a career out of it. It became a way for big companies to become involved [in snowboarding]. These big companies, they didn’t know how to get in touch with snowboarders. All they knew was that everywhere they looked, there was snowboarding. How’s Butterfinger going to contact this little, hardcore group of snowboarders because they want to use them in a commercial? Now there was this agency, The Familie, they could go to and it was a way for these companies to connect with snowboarders.
What was your role at The Familie?
Well, in the beginning it was just committing to [Steve]. My support gave him credibility within an industry that didn’t even know it needed agents yet. [In return], he gave me a little bit of ownership [of the company] because there wasn’t anything established yet. He didn’t have a storefront. He was running it out of his garage with a fax machine and a computer.
"I didn’t just lose an agent, I lost a really good friend."
How’s your relationship with Steve now?
We don’t talk. I’m trying not to stereotype as much as possible, but it’s next to impossible when you’re talking about lawyers and agents. They’re basically the same thing. They need a host. So, the minute another host comes by that’s bigger and better and can make them more money, they’re going to start putting their attention to that person. And the next thing you know, you’re left in the dirt and there are no more deals coming in. And he was one of my best friends. I was the best man at his wedding. He didn’t even show up to mine. It’s that classic example of “don’t do business with your friends.” So, I didn’t just lose an agent, I lost a really good friend.
[Steve] eventually sold [The Familie] and the deal that went down was sketchy. And we had an agreement that I was a part owner. So, when all that went down, he had [control] of my whole life–he held all of my contracts, he paid my bills, he had power of attorney, he could sign my name… He had everything. He had my whole life. So, after he sold the company, it was like, “oh, Kevin, you don’t have ownership.” I was just written out of the deal. And it wasn’t just me. There was another rider. I won’t say his name, but he got written out of the deal too.
"We’re turning it into something that’s not attractive anymore because we’re turning it into the thing that we hated in the beginning."
Once someone is introduced to success, they can become blinded by it. Do you think that’s what happened?
I think you’re absolutely right. I think that I was off in La La Land doing my thing, fame and money isn’t good for anybody. And [Steve] was off in his La La Land doing the same thing, being successful and making a bunch of money. You get a bunch of egos together and they’re going to collide. When all I want to do is shred and all he wants to do is make money, you’re both going to take the path of least resistance. And I was giving him resistance, so of course he’s going to go his way and I’m going to go mine. But it’s not the Kevin and Steve Astephen show, a lot of agents only give [their athletes] two or three years of their time and then they’re off to the next. Agents have forked tongues. They tell you all these great things like, “you’re the best thing to hit snowboarding since baseless bindings!” Everybody likes to hear great things about themselves, especially if you’re some insecure kid like I was. And then next thing you know, you’re in your mid-30s and you don’t know how to do anything else but snowboard.
When things are working out, people tend to have a false sense of security and the illusion that this will last forever. But once it’s done, it happens so fast and abrupt that it’s almost hard to believe that it’s done. How did your professional snowboarding career come to an end?
Well, it was kind of a perfect storm for me. That whole thing happened with The Familie, I went through a super gnarly divorce and the Recession all hit at pretty much the same time. I didn’t quit snowboarding at all, I just didn’t film it. I didn’t go around people who filmed snowboarding and I didn’t go around people who were going to want me to film snowboarding. I just wanted to go live my life for a couple years, you know?
Were you prepared for that?
No, not really. I knew that some day my body was going to not allow me to snowboard at a certain level anymore. And I was okay with that. What I wasn’t ready for was the emotional part of snowboarding being over or taking a step back or being too attached to the people involved or too attached to the sport and then watching it go through changes that I don’t necessarily agree with. [Changes] that I was partly responsible for–that every kid needs an agent now. [Snowboarding] used to be this rebel thing that we did. Contests were stupid when I was growing up. Snowboarding wasn’t “cool” back then. Skiers would spit on us from the chairlift. We listened to punk rock and smoked weed on the chairlift and flipped off the establishment. In my opinion, it was better. Now, it’s exactly the opposite of what was attractive about snowboarding all along. We’re turning it into something that’s not attractive anymore because we’re turning it into the thing that we hated in the beginning. Don’t we see that?
"In my career, I was used to people kissing my ass since I was 18 to my mid-30s."
How much do you think an agent is responsible for the end of a snowboarder’s career?
That’s a good question. I had a team manager ask me, “what do you think, you’re just going to be a pro snowboarder forever?” And I was like, “yea.” At the time, I was like 32. I was like, “exit plan? I haven’t even had the video part I want yet. I have a tick-list in Valdez alone that’s hundreds of peaks long. What do you mean I’m done? I’m not done. I still have tricks I want to do.”
You still had plans.
That’s what I’m saying. You have to be careful who you listen to. You get enough of that negative energy around you and you might start believing it. In my career, I was used to people kissing my ass since I was 18 to my mid-30s. Then all of a sudden real life happened and I wasn’t really prepared for it. Child actors and musicians go through it. It’s no different [for snowboarders].
I relate those things all the time–child actors and snowboarders. It’s hard for snowboarders to realize that they exist in the same way because they live in such an insular world. All we have to do is look outside of our own little bubble to see what fame, money and attention does to a person. Look at people like Macaulay Culkin and Lindsay Lohan.
I’ve never had anything compare to [fame]. That was the best drug there was in my time. It’s a weird paradox because it’s about what you want and what you need, but it’s not good for you. There’s nothing about it that’s healthy. You might be able to stay in a nicer hotel, you might be able to get laid more, but anything that is considered growth or any sort of quality that is going to help you in life, I can’t think of one thing it does for you. That’s why rock stars go crazy. Because they want something real, something tangible. You can’t have everything given to you. It’s fun for a few years, but at some point you realize it’s not reality.
"That’s the magic of snowboarding, there is no retiring."
If you could go back, would you change anything?
I would just take some of the pressure off myself. That’s all I would do. There were so many times where I had so many trips and awesome experiences that I didn’t fully enjoy because I was too fixated on a shot or a line or making somebody else happy. Making a sponsor happy. Why I was doing that? I have no idea. Some illusion that if I did that I would make my career last longer and I could go on more trips. It’s just an endless cycle. And at some point, that cycle ends and you look in the mirror and go, “wow, I’m just chasing my tail over and over again.”
I wish I could go back and tell myself, “you know, man, it’s just snowboarding.” But it’s not just snowboarding. There’s a lot more to it. It’s a religion; it’s a cult; it’s a way of life. It’s not something that an agent tells you how to perform or a sponsor tells you how to dress and it’s not over when they say it’s over. “They have nothing to do with it, really. It’s about you, dumbass.” That’s what I wish I could have told myself.
It kind of sounds like you’re signing off.
If you’re in this thing for real, there is no signing off. That’s the magic of snowboarding, there is no retiring. Either it’s in your blood or it’s not. There is no in between. It’s like the Grateful Dead–you either do it for your whole life or not at all. That’s how I see it. There is no end game. You don’t retire from snowboarding.
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