“Screening the Cube” An Interview with Cooper Whittier

| December 4th, 2021 |

Interview by Jon Stark

Jon: Yo, what’s up Coop?

Cooper Whittier: I was getting my ducks in line. Trying to make an Instagram post. 

Haha, oh yeah?

Yup. That’s all I do now. Getting my ducks in a row. Damn ducks. 

Why was it so hard to get a hold of you the last few days? 

[Both laughing] My phone’s broken.

What was up with your phone? 

It’s been kind of—it hasn’t been broken for a while but it has been actin’ up for a minute and I’ve been goin’ no phone for a week at a time. 

I guess not having your phone has its perks, eh?

It feels so good. But then at the end of the week I get a big rush of, “Oh my god, I’m not posting anything on Instagram. People probably think I don’t care about the video that just came out. People probably think I’m just cocky or something.” 

Haha, but little do they know you just have a junker phone. A few days of chasing you down and I got you here. 

Yeah, you got me here. 

photo by Colt Morgan

What have you been doin’ since Dreamcastle came out? 

I’ve just been snowboarding. Which actually feels so nice. Kind of just been on that bum life. Snowboard, hangout with friends, go home, sleep, snowboard. Now I’m just kinda working, makin’ clothing. Doing that and doing some graphic design stuff.

What was the process like finishing the editing of Dreamcastle? What was the delay all about?

Haha, well the delay was this Bladee song. It got fully flagged for copyright. But, the situation prior to that was already a serious process, to say the least. It was a whole week and a half in Colton’s basement just buttoning up everything.The last four days were fuckin’ ridiculous, honestly. We’d be in there for insane hours. Then of course we go to post it and Colton and I—I think Mo was there—we were so juiced, we were watching it upload and then they’re like, “Ok, we’re gonna go get some food, do you want to come?” And I was like, “No, I’m just gonna watch it upload,” because I was kind of paranoid. I watch it fully upload—I’m there with my best friend from back home, Henry. He’s been waiting there for like eight hours at this point. It fully uploads and it’s doing the processing then it’s just like, “Banned in all countries.” And I almost started crying. Like are you fucking serious. I just knew it wasn’t gonna be an easy fix. It was like my favorite part of the video too, the part that got banned. 

It kind of added to the lore of the Dustbox a little bit. The video getting delayed produced like twenty-four hours of really funny memes. 

It definitely had its allure. And I do know that it is so on point with how we operate. It’s never that proper, something always gets messed up. It was on brand, as they say.

Likewise, over here at Torment. [Both laughing] 

A bunch of bozos.

Shit has one hundred thousand views already. 

Yeah man. 

What is up with Dustbox that contributes to that? I mean, last year’s success is clear but, you’re following it up—I know this is your third video, but it is always really hard to follow up success with success. A quarter million views last year and here you are well on your way. 

I don’t know, it honestly is that one, this YouTube channel has been there for a bit and has been racking up views for a while now. Like four plus years. I have no clue, I’m not going to try and act like I know how the algorithm works but, I do know that it trusts some channels, ya know? 

photo by Colt Morgan

How much does the culture mean to you when it comes to a snowboard brand?

Everything, I guess. Yeah, that is what represents the brand. That is the brand. Obviously they have their image, but it’s easy to create a fake image. So, I’d say whether it be a brand I am just admiring as a consumer, or brands that I am admiring as a rider, or even our own brand like at Dustbox—that is everything. That is what embodies it, aside from who wears it, or how they wear it. 

GNU was willing to provide more of an opportunity for you than they had in the past. You decided you would rather move to Public. Why? 

It just didn’t feel right. I just started to see myself looking at snowboarding differently. I started to care about—I don’t know. Like, oh am I getting enough support? Or, am I valued enough? I think that was a big wake up call. Why am I even looking at snowboarding like that? That’s not what this is about and if I don’t feel comfortable with what’s underneath my feet, whether it be a graphic, shape or how the board rides, that is enough for me to take a step back and be like, “I really need to start valuing what actually makes me happy.” It was just stressing me out so much. Like obviously trying to promote GNU and represent them well. But, at the same time it’s like, “Dude, I don’t even feel like this is me.” It just felt so fake. Not on their end, but on mine. I am really grateful for all that they did for me. Helping me get into the Snowboarder movie and supporting me from a young age. That was huge. I hope that it doesn’t come off like I’m ungrateful, arrogant, or ignorant to the fact that they did so much for me.

Nowadays there is a much slimmer opportunity to make a livable wage from snowboarding, did that have an affect on your decisions as well?

Oh yeah, totally. I think that was a big part of it. What is this thing that I am trying to hold on to? It’s not what it once was. I see a lot of people trying to pretend that it is what it was as far as pay wise. Obviously, some people play their cards really well and can make a really good living off of it. It’s just, I don’t really see the benefit of it. I would rather work all summer, and then just treat it as something that’s pure. I couldn’t imagine treating it economically. That doesn’t even seem realistic for me right now. Especially with the landscape of the industry. I didn’t know what I was holding onto, honestly. I think I started to look at older riders and people who are in the industry who are just so burnt on snowboarding. I felt myself going down that path. Like, yo what—at this time I’m nineteen years old. I need to be protecting myself from that at all costs, ya know? Like, this is fun. This is what I live for. If it’s gonna be my life, I’d like to enjoy it. (photo by Oli Gagnon)

 

I have a lot of respect for you to have that kind of foresight. It’s really incredible. What is it about Public that fits for you? Anything specific that has made this an easier choice for you? 

Oh totally. Just the fact that I get to call Joe and talk and get advice. Whether it be about the business that me and my friends are trying to grow or my “career.” It fills me with happiness. When I get off the phone with him I feel so inspired and it just feels real. It’s still run by snowboarders, who all care about snowboarding. I relate to Joe and he can relate to me. And Josh—he’s a genius when it comes to graphics. I guess that’s why I have respect for it. He puts his everything into his work and it shows. And they’re only doing it for the reason of uplifting snowboarding and that is powerful. 

photo by Oli Gagnon

I hear you weezing into the phone right now, how much of those screen printing chemicals have you been huffing these days?

Dude, I’ve been trying to be better about standing away from the plastic while it’s burning. Probably too much. It’s always too much. Even ten minutes in there and you’re like, “Oh god, I gotta get outta here.” It’s bad news, haha. I’ve been thinking about getting a mask or something. I think it’s time. 

When someone supports the Dustbox by purchasing merchandise, how are those resources used? How much of that goes to weed? 

Haha, none of it goes to anything like that. It goes to paying filmers, paying for Airbnb’s and paying expenses like van payments. I never thought it was gonna get to that point. Especially when we first started makin’ em. Like, “Oh, this would be cool. I don’t know what we’re gonna use the money for but we’re makin’ t-shirts.” And then it fully became something that is a big part of the Dustbox. 

photo by Oli Gagnon

So there’s a direct correlation between you guys doing a merch drop and getting everyone out there and filming?

Every single person that bought something over summer of 2020, their money got us to New York City on that first trip for Dreamcastle. We barely slept and just worked our asses off and used every penny of it. I’ve tried to stash away as much money with the gang this summer going into this winter. We have big ideas. 

There’s been a lot of talk about the Dustbox and why your relationships made it so successful. Would you say that was the number one reason for its success? Or, is there another factor at play?

Oh no no, that is one-hundred percent the case. If that wasn’t the case we’d all hate each other. Most of us would have moved back to the East Coast or quit snowboarding. The amount of time that we have spent together is insane. Even in the first year of filming with our first big video, dustbox presents… If we weren’t all really good friends, it’d be a nightmare, this would not function the way it does otherwise. Obviously it can get heated, like any group. No matter how much bullshit gets tossed in there, we always find a way to remind ourselves that we are just friends. If it weren’t for that we would be in shambles. 

Without friction we don’t have mountains. 

As far as the relationships that we have with people outside of the group that became good friends with early on, like yourself, and like many people in the Salt Lake community, those relationships gave us the ability to feel confident and give us the resources to do what we do now. It would not be anywhere if we were just good at snowboarding. (photo by Oli Gagnon)

What are you working on personally, in relation to your own growth as you move into your twenties away from your teenage years?

Well, I’m in school and I’m trying to do that. While doing this stuff with Dustbox, I am really trying to learn how to balance it. I’m trying to figure out what the hell I want to do, and how I want to do it. That’s about it. Go to school, try to learn as much as I can. Do something cool after snowboarding. Trying to keep moving forward while keeping the options open. 

Have you declared a major?

Yeah business. But inside business I have not declared what I wanna do. I was thinking about marketing because I have been around it and understand it. It’s a very easily applicable degree and I feel like you can do a lot with that. I’ve also been thinkin’ about the entrepreneurship route because it’s obviously something I hold dear to myself. I love starting stuff and trying to run it and I kind of got the bug for that. Even with Dustbox, as a group it’s like, “Oh, we wanna start this. We want to try and grow this, and uplift it and do cool stuff.” That was the most amazing journey that I have ever been on. If I could keep doing that kind of stuff for the rest of my life then I couldn’t be more happy.

What is something super obscure that you’re interested in right now? Just right off the top of your head. 

I feel like I’m always getting sucked into some weird shit. Whether it be like weather patterns or weird music shit. Not that this is obscure at all, but I’ve been obsessed with ambient music recently. That definitely is a little weird to some people. Just listening to these crazy crazy mixes. It’s like barely music but it’s so nice. I don’t know but I’ll send you something. All my stuff comes from YouTube. I’m always getting sucked into some random shit on YouTube. [Both Laughing] I haven’t been reading as much as I should be. That’s for sure. That’s the shit I should be getting sucked into. 

What keeps you up at night?

T-Shirt graphics, snowboard shit, if I’m doing good enough at keeping in contact with my loved ones, friendships, intimate or family. I stress out about that a lot. I get so tunnel vision on stuff that sometimes I’m not the best at keeping in touch with people… Ideas. I get crazy motivated at night like any person normally does. I’m trying to figure out a way to box whatever I’m feeling in art or whatever it may be. I get so stuck up on that shit. A lot of t-shirt graphics keep me up at night though. Screen printing, that is just so bad. I’ll go to bed just stressing about a screen that I’ve been stuck on for a couple days and wake up stressed out. [Both Laughing] Last week I was battling this screen for three or four days. There was just this one line in the screen that was getting over-exposed. I could not figure it out for the life of me. It was just bad. 

Take me back to the night at the Creeper to back tail, same way back lip, same way in New York. 

It was at a New York City college. The night started out with us realizing that we didn’t have the bungee and we had left it at a spot earlier that day. So we’re like trekking through the snow late at night trying to find this bungee. Somebody had taken it, of course. We’re like, “Ah, shit. I don’t know if this spot is gonna work.” That was the start of it. So we just decided to shovel pull into it instead. We pull up to the spot and there is no snow. I kind of already knew that it was gonna be a Tech Nine, Salt Lake City in June spot before. So we just started shovelin’. We could see the security guard from the spot. He was like in his room. He obviously wasn’t watching close enough.“We’re like we’re going to get kicked out immediately. But, we have to try.” But dude, we were just shovelling so much. And it wasn’t like the snow banks were close. It was an assembly line. It was like a bunch of little ants grabbing crumbs and bringing them back to their ant farm. Reid’s [Smith] homie didn’t have a shovel so he was filling up traffic cones with snow and bringing it over to the lip. It was just the most jerry-rigged spot ever. It should not have worked at all. And yeah, did the creeper to boardslide first, and it was definitely a little bit underwhelming. Cody was like, “I bet you won’t go backtail sameway.” Cody pushed me to try it and on the first attempt I fell off once into the driest stairs but I was fine. The second time it just happened. The boys believed in me.

clip filmed by Colton Morgan

How many tries in total?

In total on the spot probably six or seven tries. A stressful six or seven tries. Thinking we were going to get kicked out during every attempt.

Damn, didn’t know it was so few tries. What’s the worst flaw of our Dustbox article? 

There was one thing that got cut out right at the end where it was Brett talking about his mindset in the [name of video] video. It’s not my story to tell, by any means. That’s the only flaw. I just wish that little piece had gotten tossed in there. It honestly was pretty heartfelt and it would have been cool for people to hear. That’s the only thing I can think of. 

[Laughing] The article got finished the same way Dreamcastle got finished.

Oh yeah. Colton learning InDesign in two days. We’re just looking at him like, “I don’t know man, I don’t think that color would look good with that. [Both laughing] Honestly, Colton really bossed up with the design part of it. He definitely put a lot of that on his shoulders. But at the end of it we’re looking at each other thinking wow, we could probably make a magazine. 

photo by Jon Stark

Haha, be careful what you wish for!

I mean, you can find flaws in everything. The fact that that was pulled off is pretty incredible. Mo is the ultimate MVP for that. If he wasn’t driving the story it obviously wouldn’t have been as cool and it wouldn’t have encapsulated a little bit of it. People would have gotten a good idea about how we operate. But Mo really went above and beyond. 

Where does Dustbox go from here?

Zumiez, right? Isn’t that the next best thing? [Both Laughing] 

We can just end it on that.

But, just like try to stay happy, try to stay healthy and keep doin’ it. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh what do we do now?” But, it’s like dude nothin’, don’t do anything. We’re just gonna keep doing what we do. Maybe we keep getting bigger and maybe videos get more views and more people get into snowboarding. I think we all wanna do stuff once we’re in a position to do something for the community. That’s one thing we all feel pretty passionate about. I think about it a lot. Just because I feel like we’ve been kind of blessed to be put in this position. I’ve got tons of ideas, but just give back to snowboarding because snowboarding has given us so so much. 

https://thedustbox.club/clothing

An Interview with Hupp on Hindsight

| November 12th, 2021 |

Harrison, Hupp, Riley | Photo Mike Nauman

Ian Boll: What up Hupp. You on a skate trip? 

Yeah kinda. We’re in Los Osos. It’s just like a little skate trip with my buddy. Hitting some parks and soaking in the ocean. It’s been nice. 

Ian: Heard you ran into Scott [Blum] and Stefi [Luxton] and all those guys? 

Yeah. Just small world shit, ya know. Farmer like popped up on the ramp and was like, “Oh yeah, Scott and Stefi are here.” Scott skated over to the parking lot like thirty minutes later. Pretty crazy, but sick to see them. 

Ian: So how did it feel to wrap up this Salomon project? 

Yeah, I think with every project it feels good to finish something, ya know? It definitely turned out a lot different than I think we all anticipated it being. But I feel good about it. 

Emma | Photo by Hupp

Jon: How did this winter compare to past winters? 

It was definitely a lot different because it was a full team. And then I moved to Salt Lake for it, to try and be closer. The initial idea was to film everyone in Utah, but obviously it didn’t snow in Utah at all. So it ended up being a little different than we imagined. 

Ian Boll: Where did you all end up going? 

We went to Reno and Baker. Riley [Nickerson], Des [Melancon], Zak [Hale] and Pat [Fava] went to New York for a trip. What else…oh, we did Minnesota, and then we did end up filming some in the Brighton backcountry. 

Harrison | Photo Mike Nauman

Ian: What was the best and worst part of the past year? 

Maybe they’re the same answer, which is being so restricted with the current state of the world. It’s nice because it focuses you in on places if you get bogged down by these grandiose ideas. Like “ok, what can we do with what we have in front of us?” But then, it is also a little stifling because you’re stuck with what you have. You get fomo when you see another country get a bunch of snow and you’re like, “Yup, I can’t go there right now.”

Ian: What was the funniest moment that happened this year? 

Harrison is pretty funny. Watching him eat coconut strips in his bed in Baker. Oh, we ended up at an Airbnb with the guy like living in the house. He was lookin’ for friends. 

Ian: What was up with him? 

I think he was not doing it so much for monetary gain but friendship. Just interacting with other people, considering it is pretty cut off up there. [Both laughing] Definitely an interesting couple of days, like Emma [Crosby], Harrison [Gordon] and I trying to cook around this guy. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on. It was kind of a weird situation, but it was fun. 

Ian: That’s hilarious. Do you still get excited when you film a dope clip?  

Yeah, definitely. That’s the best feeling—like when everything’s working out. Sometimes you have to force it a little, but when you find a cool spot and everyone is excited—like a spot where everyone can snowboard and have fun, that’s the best. 

Ian: When did that happen this year? 

It was sick with Riley because he knows every spot everywhere. Especially in Minnesota and Reno. He could direct us to a place that would work for someone. That was really cool. Baker was sick because Harrison had been there before. It was cool goin’ around with [Pat] McCarthy because he obviously knows everything. That just worked out really well. I think Reno was really sick also because I’ve just always wanted to film there. 

Jon: What is your favorite clip that you filmed this year?

Probably Riley’s last clip because it happened pretty quickly. It was like the first trip, and it was just some fuckin’ heavy shit. You’re like, “Oh, ok. This is not just us riding around Brighton, this is really real.” It’s sick to see someone be like, “I wanna do this.” And then they do it. Oh, and actually Harrison did this cool line. He jumped into a rock and it was sick because I think maybe some people had boarded on it before, but the line was dope.

Ian: I like his style a lot. Watching him do anything is great. 

Yeah, he’s got it figured out. 

Ian: Rumor has it you sustained an injury this year. 

Yup. My knee just like locked up. I just think it’s been through a lot. I was living with Sam [Taxwood] actually, and we both tore our MCL’s and they healed, but then we had residual damage. He ended up getting meniscus surgery in the middle of the winter when mine was working just fine. Then all of a sudden it just seized up at Brighton and that was definitely pretty fuckin’ annoying. 

Jon: How long were you out for? 

I was out for like a month. It was a pretty quick recovery. Shane [Charlebois] picked up my slack. Appreciated that. 

Ian: Were there a lot of Hupp laughs this year?

There were definitely some laughs. It was a good crew. We pretty much hung out with Harrison, Emma, Zak [Hale], Riley and Des for most of the winter and just had good energy for the majority of the trip. 

Ian: What’s it like filming with Emma? She is so rad.

Yeah, Emma is the shit. She has a really good attitude, is down to learn, and has a good idea of things. She doesn’t force it. Certainly not her best winter, injury-wise. I know that when she has a fully healthy year it is gonna be some really sick shit. 

Jon: Do you still have your flip phone?

Uh, yep. I’m on it right now. 

Jon: [Both laugh] Probably why it sounds terrible. What do you think about the state of snowboarding videos right now? 

I think all things considered, it is pretty damn good. Think about this year, so many fuckin’ videos. It’s all working out. You’ve got Dustbox doin’ their thing, and then you’ve got Sims doin’ their thing, which is sick. Then you have Colton [Feldman] and those guys who are fuckin’ nailing it. It seems like companies are approving these budgets for cool things. 

Harrison | Photo Mike Nauman

Ian: You have brands putting up dollars to make short videos. Then there’s so many other individual crews too. I mean Dustbox is the most notable, but you have the Bruners, you have WOP, 18smooth18, Upper Management, Bookclub. There are more than ever right now. 

Snowboarding felt like it maybe slipped away from being accessible and kids are taking it back now. Dude, also Mount Mountain, Colt and all those guys, those dudes are fucking nailing it. They work so hard all summer like painting houses and then like rip around Canada. And they’re doing the fuckin’ craziest shit, like really down with all those guys. It’s cool, there’s like little pockets everywhere in the world and people are doing it. 

Ian: People supporting people. What was the first video you ever made?

I made some funny ones with my friends when I was really young, like 2002. We were in middle school and would make skateboard/snowboard videos. We didn’t know that there was a distinction between the two. Because Burtner, Geno, and Pika would make videos which were sick snowboard and skateboard videos in Alaska. It was always like that’s what you do because we all did everything.

Ian: You were living in Anchorage?

Yeah, that was in Anchorage. Luckily, I had a really good group of friends there that were really into doing stuff. Like still, I’m on a trip with a buddy who is my really good friend that has a part in my first video. It’s sick everyone’s still into doin’ that shit. Brewster’s still hiking stuff, Garrett’s still ripping around—they’re keeping it going in anchorage. It’s the shit. 

Jon: What is the best video part that has ever come out by an Alaskan rider? 

There’s probably like three, honestly. I can’t narrow it down to one. Kooley has insane video parts. The Burning Bridges part was really fucked up. Sick jumping and rails. And then this dude Mark Thompson, he was fuckin’ so sick and still is. He has a part in an old Think Thank video where he would be like, “Oh yeah, I want to do a double cork.” But he would really rip on rails. Then, Larson obviously filmed so many fucked up video parts. Those three, that’s like a Mount Rushmore of Alaskan snowboarding.

Jon: What do you think Larson’s best part is?

Probably the Dino video, that was good. But then that Right Brain Left Brain video was really sick too. I wish we would have filmed more jumps because he was a fucked up good. It was crazy just to watch him ride Alyeska. Like, “Oh, that’s how you ride this place.” I think he got some of that from following Gus. But that guy Mark, I think we all looked up to, he would just snowboard on everything. Yeah, sorry, I am sort of getting off topic. 

Ian: Nah off topic is good.

Oh, Gus [Engle] filmed some cool video parts too—and [Chris] Brewster. Also [Jon] Kooley would just like help us out when he came up to Alaska. He would buy us food and drive us around. Everyone was just cool about everything. Burtner obviously. You name it. 

Zak | Photo Mike Nauman

Jon: You recently moved to SF, right? What inspired that decision?  

I’ve been going to this house for like ten years and my buddy moved out into a van. The room is super cheap. It’s in Oakland so it’s maybe not as glamorous. I’ve always wanted to try it and the opportunity presented itself. It’s been nice to mix it up. We’ll see how long I’ll last. Times are uncertain. 

Ian: Everything is uncertain right now. Anything else you want to mention from this year? 

I appreciate everyone putting in effort, ya know? That makes my life easier. Not just easier, but it makes the whole process more fun. The fact that everyone was down to be around so much was sick. Emma was keen to get stuff going. Everyone played a good role. Kevin and Mike were so open to everything and being flexible. Very thankful for everyone being honest. Also Desiree for getting me the job. Haha. 

Ian: What are you up to for the rest of the day? 

Not much. Just hangin’ at a skatepark. Maybe go swim in the ocean, relax.

Ian: Jealous of that. Hope to catch you soon.

Emma Crosby’s Pride Memoir

June 25th, 2021

photo by Taylor Lundquist

As a kid growing up in Minnesota, I had no idea what it meant to be gay. I remember being in high school and the only gay person I knew was the coach of a younger soccer team. There were no gay references in the media or any representation around me, so I thought that to be gay, I had to look and act like her. She had short hair, a built figure, self-confidence, and an insouciant swagger—all things I didn’t have. At the end of my senior year, I was at my friend’s graduation party and noticed a female couple. They both had long hair, dressed like I did, and were far from every stereotype I thought you had to check. It was the first time I saw a gay couple. In one instance, that experience provided an alternative narrative for me. For the first time, I saw myself in another person in ways I had never allowed. 

That only grew in 2014. I decided to move to Salt Lake City to go to college and board. Snowboarding became an outlet to be creative and confident, which coincided with an empowering expression of my identity. I was surrounded by more diversity in my classes, on social media, and on the TV shows I was watching. It made me realize that there were other people like me out there. My friends in and out of snowboarding were essential in the process. They showed me that sexuality and figuring yourself out didn’t require labels, and I could be whoever the fuck I wanted to be. They paved the way with their bravery and created the most welcoming environment for my curiosity. Without them, I know my story would be different.

photo by Mike Nauman

“Snowboarding became an outlet to be creative and confident, which coincided with an empowering expression of my identity.”

Labeling has always been really hard for me, as I think it is extremely difficult to define sexuality. I know that labels help some people understand and connect, and that makes total sense. On the other hand, I don’t want to diminish this exciting experience of discovering yourself and sexuality without borders. I think for me, this is something I am still kind of figuring out, and I think that is okay too. In the past I’ve dated men, but I fell in love with a woman. I’ve often been asked: If I wasn’t in my current relationship, would I date a man or a woman? To me, this completely invalidates my current relationship and doesn’t seem fair to her. This is the relationship I’m in, the one I have chosen, so nothing else really matters.

When I was first asked to write something for this month’s Pride Week, I was a bit reluctant. I didn’t think there was anything I could say that wasn’t perfectly said in last year’s pieces, and to be completely honest I was nervous to be vulnerable. Putting yourself out there always comes with the risk of pain, and I never wanted to be hurt because of who I am. Times are changing, but constantly knowing that we are not fully accepted is what makes it hard. Then I thought a little bit more about how representation was so crucial for my own well-being in seeing myself in that couple at the graduation party. I realized that sharing wouldn’t be for myself, but for others. If even one person reads this and something resonates with them, that’s worth it. The more people to come out and talk about their experiences, the more stereotypes are broken down for what it is to be gay. When people see more representation of themselves, it fosters a greater affirmation of their identity. If you don’t see yourself, you will feel like you don’t belong. Representation matters, so let’s expand the circle of inclusivity.

Chelsea Waddell’s Pride Interview

June 21st, 2021

All photos by Jesse Dawson

Introduction by Jill Perkins; Interview by Tanner Pendleton

I met Chelsea back in 2013 at High Cascade Snowboard Camp where she worked as an office employee. Aside from managing phone calls, handling logistics, and assuring hundreds of parents their children would be safe and happy, Chelsea also made camp a magical place where everyone felt welcomed. With open arms and a warm heart, Chelsea was my first beacon in the snowboard world. I will never forget her carving time out of her days to share with me, a total stranger, insight into her life and love for snowboarding. Her strength and passion have given me the courage to take a chance on my own dreams, and I know for a fact others feel the same. She continues to show us that this world can be a beautiful place if we, as individuals, work hard and true for the things we believe in. 

Through her ability to buckle down, Chelsea has contributed in creating a more inclusive culture and industry as a whole. I’ve had the privilege to share in Chelsea’s ideas, conversations, and dreams while simultaneously watching her cross bridges that once seemed damn near impossible. For example, her tenacity and unbiased approach recently elevated her to the role of North American Athlete and Ambassador Marketing Manager at Burton. But more importantly, she consistently offers a perspective and a voice that is uniquely hers and inspiring to everyone. Throughout her ongoing journey, Chelsea constantly gives back to the snowboard community, which has now opened the doors for her to embark on her lifelong dream. 

With love, Jill


Tanner: Hey Chelsea what’s up?

Chelsea: Hi Tanner! I’m in Vail right now with the squad for summer camp at Woodward Copper.

Who is the squad, Burton crew?

Yeah, the Burton team, it’s tiring, but it’s good. 

Well, thank you for taking the time to do this. I know doing anything on a trip other than just surviving is a lot.

No, I really want to do it, so I’m hyped.

Okay let’s get into it. Where are you from and what got you into snowboarding?

I lived a little bit of everywhere growing up. My mom was in the military for 26 years, so I moved around a lot, but I’ve lived in Salt Lake City for a long time now. I learned to ski first, at Bogus Basin, when I was four, then I skied till I was eight. That’s when I saw snowboarders and wanted to try it. My mom took me to what was called Nordic Valley at the time, I think it’s called Wolf Creek now, and put me in a lesson, and I never skied again.

No way, eight years old. That’s crazy. How old are you now?

I’m 28 now—so 20 years of snowboarding.

Amazing. So maybe jumping ahead a bit, but when did you come out?

I came out to my mom when I was 22. She was the first person I told, and I came out as bisexual. I just felt like that was more digestible. I told her over the phone, because I was ready right then to say it, and I knew if I didn’t just do it right then and there, I might never. She took me to dinner the next day and she was actually the person that was like, “I don’t think you’re bisexual, I think you’re probably just gay.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” As far as friends go, I came out to a ton of people in my sphere at a snowboard premiere. I actually think it was Rendered Useless. I told everyone I could that night. 

That’s so awesome that you came out to your friends at a snowboard premiere. It seems like your queer life and your snowboard life have been intertwined since day one, which is rare.

Yeah. A lot of people think Utah is really conservative, and for the most part it is, but Salt Lake is this little oasis of pretty liberal people. It has a major university, and it’s a bigger city, so a lot of people who live there are from a lot of different places, and that includes the snowboard community. So, when I came out in snowboarding, I didn’t really know many out queer people in the industry. Honestly, I’m not sure if I knew of any, but for some reason I felt really comfortable coming out in snowboarding, which at the time was a very unique feeling. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure it’s that I felt comfortable coming out in snowboarding, as much as I just finally felt comfortable with myself. At that point I was just in a “take me or leave me” mindset. 

That’s so awesome, just making your rounds, telling everyone!

Mm-hmm. I was ready.

“As cheesy as it is to say, I really feel like the women in the industry before me walked so I could run, and I hope the women after me are sprinting.”

Since then how has your experience been being queer in the snowboard world?

I didn’t really know anybody else in the industry who was queer and out at the time, but since then, it has just gotten easier. Some of my really good friends who were friends with me even before I came out have started to come out too. Some of my very best friends. And now that it’s been five years since I came out, I feel comfortable in my skin, in and out of the snowboard world. 

What is your experience being a woman in the snowboard world?

It’s interesting. I feel like when I was younger, it was a lot harder. The confidence wasn’t quite there, but I did have some awesome women in the industry to look up to. I always looked up to Susie Floros, Annie Fast, Lesley Betts, Mary Walsh, and a lot of other people. So there was a bit of visibility there. Also, a lot of women work at Burton, and a lot of them are at high level positions, so I always saw that it could be a path for me, but it was, and still is, hard. What’s hard is people just assuming you can’t keep up on the hill or whatever, or even just generally. Sometimes feeling like there’s some positions out there that you can’t have just because you’re a woman and those positions traditionally were held by men.

You mentioned people like Susie Floros, who was a guiding light for you in the industry. As more women enter snowboarding, start killing it, and getting support, what does that visibility mean for the next generation?

I don’t think I would’ve believed that there was space for me in this industry without seeing other women do it first. After seeing them there was no doubt in my mind that it was possible. I think there are more and more women being incredibly influential–and not just influential in women’s snowboarding, but just in snowboarding in general. As cheesy as it is to say, I really feel like the women in the industry before me walked so I could run, and I hope the women after me are sprinting.

What is your experience being Black in the snowboard world?

This one is interesting. I do want to acknowledge that I am a light-skinned Black person, which comes with its own level of privilege, but as a Black person in snowboarding, there’s not a lot of people to look up to. I always remember watching Gabby Maiden in the Peep Show Films, and she was the only one who looked even kind of like me, but at the same time there’d be these little weird microaggressions. I’d be at Mount Hood and people would think I was Gabby. We don’t look anything alike. We both just happen to have similar colored skin and curly hair. So that’s weird, getting mistaken as people all the time. No one likes to feel like they don’t have their own identity. Especially, it being highlighted by the fact that we don’t look anything alike. It’s just like there’s so few women of color, or Black women in snowboarding, that we must all be the same person. It’s kind of like thinking all Asian people look the same. It’s just not true, it’s racist. Other than that, it’s just the lack of influence from people who look like you. It can just feel like a reminder that your people don’t belong here. 

That’s heartbreaking.

You just don’t see yourself represented in marketing or the media of snowboarding, so when I say seeing other women in snowboarding showed me there’s a place for me, there’s still this other layer where there aren’t Black women in it, so is there really a place for me?

I think being a Black queer woman, you are forging a new path, as far as being visible for future generations that haven’t existed in snowboarding, which is just so amazing.

I’m trying. I think all the time about the layers that make me me, and how it hasn’t been easy. I’ve worked really hard, and it turns out you can be a queer, Black woman, with a job in snowboarding. And not just any job, but the job you dream of. 

By the way, congrats on your new job, tell me about it!

Oh, thank you! I just started as the North American Athlete and Ambassador Marketing Manager at Burton.

Wow.

So, I’m like the North American team manager, and I work with all the ambassadors as well.

No way. That’s awesome.

It is, and I’m stoked. I’m honored. I never would’ve imagined a brand like Burton would hire a gay, Black woman to take on a role like this. Susie was the women’s team manager for a long time, which was amazing, but I’m also thrilled that things aren’t separated by gender like that anymore. I’m literally here right now with six boys from the team. So, in all the ways I thought you couldn’t be a woman, or Black, or gay and experience something like this, it was the hard work on my end, as well as time it took for the industry to open up a little bit, but now I’m here living my dream. 

That is amazing. Congratulations. Being a team manager, you really have the opportunity to build the future in snowboarding…

Exactly, and that’s part of the discussions I’ve had with the other people in team management, is bringing a new perspective and taking us into a new chapter with that perspective.

Now that we’ve discussed all these pieces of you and your experience in the industry, do you want to talk a bit about intersectionality?

Definitely. So I think intersectionality is super important to talk about because each piece of my identity as a gay Black woman matters, and they all intersect. Meaning, you can’t look at me and see those things as separate. You have to see all of them collectively at the same time. Intersectionality is where all the different things that define us intersect. Being gay and Black is not the same as being white and gay, being a gay woman is not the same as being a gay man. You walk through life in different ways, and have different experiences because of these things. So, right where they meet in the middle I feel is where I exist as the truest version of myself. I’m not saying anything would’ve been necessarily different or easier if one of those pieces changed—well, maybe I do wonder if things would’ve been easier if one of those pieces were changed from my identity. Like if I were a man and I was gay and  Black, or if I were a woman who was straight and was Black, I wonder if my journey would have been any easier. You never really know, but all those things do exist for me, and so right at the center is who I am and each piece matters. 

So, this idea of intersectionality originated with the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminist lesbians in the 1970s. Their solution was to destroy these systems of oppression, with the end goal of liberating all people. In your opinion, what systems are in place today within our snowboard bubble that we can destroy to make room for a better future? 

Well, the first thing we should destroy is the misconception that Black and Brown people are poor, because that’s not necessarily true. So, before diving into how we can make snowboarding more accessible and affordable, we need to understand that it is accessible and affordable to a lot of people, we’re just not welcoming them into our circle because they’re not seeing people like them in it. That’s the first thing for me. Not just assuming that Black and Brown people don’t have the money to spend on skiing and snowboarding, because there are plenty of wealthy Black and Brown people out there. And then, looking beyond that to anybody of any race, color, ethnicity who might not have the financial freedom to buy a $1500 season pass and take time off work to ski and snowboard. I mean, lift tickets are ridiculously overpriced. Maybe I just don’t know enough about that industry to understand why that is, but it’s wild to me that you can get a snowboard for $400, but it’s like $200 a day at some places. I would love to see more public parks and public areas used for small ski hills. I feel like a lot of people feel this way. I know there’s one in Denver (Ruby Hill). Or even Woodward Park City is a great example where it’s not free to ride there by any means, but they do monthly passes that are like $95. So, comparatively it’s super inexpensive and you can go as much as you want. Honestly, I don’t know if I could afford to snowboard if I didn’t work in snowboarding.

For sure, it’s ridiculous. I’m really excited for you to take on this new job. It seems like you’re not just there to do what’s been done, you’re there to do something new, which I think is really awesome.

Right. Again, this is the job I’ve dreamt of since I was 15, I’m not afraid to say that, so I’ve worked really hard for it, but I’m also thankful to be given the chance. And I think the consensus is that we need a new perspective, and I can bring one. I also hope to be a mentor for younger riders who are coming up who either identify in similar ways as me, as well as those who want to learn how to be a better ally. I want them to know that they have someone they can come to who offers a safe space for them to mess up and ask questions to get better. As long as they are willing to get better. 

For sure. I love the way that you said that, that ‘it’s a safe space to mess up and ask questions to get better.’ While we’re on that subject, do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who wants to be an ally? 

I think it’s really important to take the steps to educate yourself and try not to lean on your friends who identify in these different ways to teach you. Try to take some time to learn by yourself. But also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I think 99.9% of the time, if you’re genuinely asking, “Is this terminology okay to use?” or whatever, it’s better if you just ask instead of finding out later by  offending someone. I think 99% of the time, people understand that you genuinely want to learn and grow, but you have to learn from your mistakes. I would love to see more people in snowboarding, especially professional snowboarders, talking about these topics, even if they don’t identify as such. Let people know you’re an ally. Because there’s plenty of athletes who can come to me and ask me questions or confide in me, but it’s different confiding in your peers and knowing that they’re there for you, even if they don’t identify in that way or even fully understand. Snowboarders, be there for other snowboarders and just let them know you’re there for them.

“I would encourage riders that have been around for a long time…to remember that younger riders look up to you and we have the opportunity to change a generation, in the way they think, speak, and act.”

One other thing that I think is really important is just listening. 

Yes, listen to people. When someone tells you something, just believe them. You might not understand what a microaggression is and how just something small that someone says can be offensive to someone, but it’s really not up to you to decide what’s offensive or not. Be thankful for those who are willing to teach you, listen to what they have to say, and put it into practice.

For sure. That was so well put. Sometimes I pick up this vibe from the snowboard community that they’re walking on eggshells around myself and the queer community.

That’s the weird thing, if you’re walking on eggshells around someone, that’s probably because you’re afraid that you might say something that would offend them, right? It’s not expected for you to be perfect all the time, but to be willing to listen and learn. Usually, if someone is telling you that something you said is offensive but they’re still talking to you the next day, they’re probably just trying to help you out. But I’ve felt that way too, that I don’t want people to think that I can’t take a joke or that they can’t be honest around me, or they have to watch what they say. It’s not like I’ve never said the wrong thing before. But at the same time, if “watching what you say” simply means not saying things that are tearing people down and hurting feelings, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

For sure. It’s tricky because these microaggressions are so ingrained in our culture that with absolutely no malintent they might say something that’s offensive. And then it’s this awkward thing where you’re like, “I know you didn’t mean to, but that was harmful because….” Hence, the walking on eggshells. But it’s really no big deal, it’s just a simple heads up.

I mean, I’m not going to get mad about it unless I’ve had to tell you repetitively. People slip up, and I know it’s hard to change language. I’ve had to work to change some of my own language. I think when people keep it real with their friends about the things that they’re saying being wrong, that’s a way of showing love. It’s protecting you from saying it in front of someone who’s not going to show you the same level of love. And I think the thing is, I would encourage riders that have been around for a long time, just coming from a perspective of team management, to remember that younger riders look up to you and we have the opportunity to change a generation in the way they think, speak, and act. That said, I can tell them a lot of things about how to be better, but they’re not going to listen to me as much as they’re going to listen to their peers who come before them and say, “Hey, man. That’s not cool. That could be detrimental to your career to say something like that. It’s time to learn and change.”

I think you’re so on the money there. Telling someone they messed up is not an attack. It’s an act of love. You’re saying, “I do care about you, I want to maintain this relationship, and make it better.”

Exactly. And if I’m attacking you about it, you’ll know the difference. That’s all I’ll say. 

I love that [laughs]. So what’s your relationship to queer culture? Any queer icons that you look up to?

Oh, yes. I love queer culture in movies, music, sports. Again, I don’t have a ton in snowboarding, but Emma and Jill are two of my best friends, and I look up to them a lot. And we don’t really talk about it, but I think we’ve all helped each other along this journey. Outside of snowboarding, I’m a huge Leo Baker fan. I think they are just a sick skater, and super authentic and they’re really blazing a trail in action sports, and just in sports in general. I’m a huge soccer fan in general and there’s a lot of queer women in soccer, but Megan Rapinoe is really good at standing up for the queer community and speaking on behalf of the queer community, but she’s also really good at elevating voices of the Black community, which I think is a great example of using your platform and your privilege to hold other people up. In music, I have a ton, but I really love Brandi Carlile. She’s a gay mom, married to her wife with two daughters and making her way in country and Americana music, which is a place that queer people don’t really seem to belong. I guess I just like these outspoken trailblazers who move forward in their spaces without compromise.

“Before diving into how we can make snowboarding more accessible and affordable, we need to understand that it is accessible and affordable to a lot of people, we’re just not welcoming them into our circle because they’re not seeing people like them in it.”

That’s amazing. Since it’s Pride Month, what do you think brands could be doing to help beyond just rainbow washing their logo and having a one-off sale?

There’s a lot of ways to do it right. But in my opinion, what’s most important is letting queer people tell the story by passing the mic instead of trying to tell the story as a brand. I just want to hear from the queer people for a minute. And thinking internally, how are you elevating queer people in your business? Support them, educate the people working around them, give them opportunities to learn and grow, and the chance to reach higher level positions. All of this leads to more decisions being made by queer people, which leads to a new and diverse perspective. Feature queer people in marketing campaigns, add them to your snowboard team, and pay them to be featured in those things. Compensate them for their work. Hire them to design a board graphic or film your movie. Hire them and pay them, all year round. Not just during Pride Month.

There was this post going around that was essentially saying if all of these corporations and companies that were changing their logos to rainbows took a stance against these anti-trans bills that are happening, they might not pass. I don’t know if Burton is on that level, but maybe it is… What can companies do behind the scenes to make a difference?

I guess I don’t really know either. I think that is the thing with Burton, it’s big in snowboarding, like it’s a big global company, but it’s not Target by any means. But at the same time, many hands make the load lighter. You can never have too many companies supporting doing the right thing, even if they’re smaller. And it doesn’t always have to be this company’s going to donate a million dollars to this LGBTQ+ non-profit, but there’s a lot you can do with things like lobbying. Burton does a lot around lobbying with Protect Our Winters, a lot of other brands do as well, going to DC and talking about these things and fighting for legislation to make change. There’s no reason snowboard companies can’t do that for the LGBTQ+ community too.

What you said, “many hands make the load lighter,” is beautiful and so true. If every company, big or small, took a stand together we might see some real change…

Yeah. And also, the other thing is companies can sign queer folks and trans athletes and give them money and opportunity, but you don’t always have to talk about it. You’re allowed to just do it without making it a thing.

100%. What does the future of snowboarding look like to you? 

I definitely can’t imagine the future of snowboarding without more inclusion. I think that what’s interesting to me is that we all know it was built on anti-establishment. It was made for the outcasts and the misfits and somewhere along the way I think we got a little lost. It became more expensive and less accessible. And also, our world has changed, the skin tone of our world, and especially our country, has changed. It’s darkened, and it will continue to do so. And that right there is a call to action for brands too. The world is getting more and more mixed race over time, it’s just natural. That’s just the way the world works. So, I would like to see snowboarding reflect the diversity that this country has. In all the different ways people identify, because I think when you love something, you should want to share it. The world isn’t as Black and white as we like to try to think it is, and I think snowboarding’s the perfect place and industry to really embrace and express that. Yeah, I’m rambling, but I just want to see more people who look like me and more opportunities for people who look like me, and I would just like to see such a beautiful industry full of beautiful people embracing even more beautiful people who are different from them.

Amazing, anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?

I guess one more thing I just wanted to say to the people is, just hold your friends accountable. Don’t always leave it up to the woman or the person of color or the queer person to call them out. Call your friends out. We’ve heard that a million times, but really, please do, because it makes a difference. It sends a different message. I think if they’re your friends, they’ll listen to you. And it can be extra difficult to do it if you’re the minority yourself. I already feel really vulnerable in the world. Again, I’m super lucky and privileged, but there’s still a level of vulnerability in being different for anyone. And so stand up for people who are different. Hopefully they’ll understand and they’ll listen and we can all get better together.

Self Defense: Jed Anderson Opens up about OCD, Anxiety and Depression

January 26th, 2021

Trigger Warning: This interview contains a discussion about suicide & self-harm.

photo by Cole Barash

Interview by Tanner Pendleton 

I first met Jed in 2006, on a layover in Geneva, on our way to a catalog shoot. It was my very first assignment for Salomon, and my first time meeting everyone on the team. I was nervous, to say the least. To top it off, I had recently developed an unexplained fear of flying, for which I was prescribed a sedative. Jed, perhaps sensing my insecurities, quickly engaged me in conversation. I was relieved, and to my surprise, he made a comment about how flying made him anxious and asked if I wanted to sit next to him. I was shocked that he would reveal that to me, as I was so accustomed to burying such feelings deep inside. It was really cool, and I even felt comfortable telling Jed about my anxieties—something I had never done with a friend, let alone a near stranger I idolized. I’ve never expressed this to Jed, but in a matter of seconds, with one nonchalant comment, he broke down my insecurities and shame. I didn’t take the prescribed pills, and we shared our company for the remainder of the journey. Throughout my relationship with Jed, he has continued to impress me in similar ways. What follows is an interview about Jed’s struggles with mental health. It is, in my opinion, his greatest contribution to snowboarding, and perhaps the world—a bold claim for anyone familiar with his legacy. However, Jed’s courage in telling his story and willingness to express vulnerability, will undoubtedly change lives and help alter the discourse around mental health in our community. Thank you Jed for sharing. 


Can you briefly tell me your experience with mental health? What have you been dealing with personally?

Yeah, sure. I guess I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD in small ways, since I was pretty young. My first real experience having strong anxiety was based around storms. I had an intense fear of tornadoes, even though I had never seen a tornado in real life. I was maybe 10 at the time. I started to constantly check the weather to make sure there were no storms forecasted. I would check the weather over and over throughout my day. If I saw a dark cloud, I would have to check the weather again to relieve my anxiety. If I didn’t check, I couldn’t move on with my day. I literally couldn’t function until I knew I was “safe.” If there was a storm forecasted, that would usually mean staying home, and sometimes hiding. At the time I was just a little ass kid and I didn’t recognize it as an issue, or as any kind of abnormal behavior. My parents picked up on it, and took me to a therapist around that time, but I don’t think they diagnosed me with anything. Over time, I learned to manage those fears a bit better and the anxiety somewhat went away. I would have bouts of obsessions, but nothing really stuck. I didn’t deal with any sort of debilitating symptoms again until I was about 18.

How did your anxiety present itself this time around?

I don’t really want to talk about a specific “theme,” or what the context of my initial thoughts or fears were. Basically, around that age, I started having extremely intense, disturbing thoughts, and fears. They were completely morally off track. I guess you could call them ego-dystonic. These thoughts, images, words, and fears were on repeat, all day every day. No matter what I was doing, I was constantly plagued by terrifying thoughts and fears. This was accompanied by severe anxiety, which ended up fueling depression. Stopping the cycle in my head was impossible. I started constantly questioning the validity and truthfulness of my own thoughts. I didn’t know what OCD was. I didn’t know what anxiety was. I didn’t know what depression was. Every day I would wake up and the thoughts would start again. My heart rate would start going up, and I would be stuck again. The longer this cycle went on, the more messed up I felt. I began to really hate myself. 

At some point I attempted to do some “research.” I nervously searched online for how I was feeling, my fears, my thoughts. I usually didn’t find anything that gave me relief. The info I did find often ended up scaring me more. I used these negative search results as evidence of being a “fucked up person.” I started to nap a lot. I slept as much as I could. Sleep and napping were coping techniques I would use for years. Even when I would be napping, the anxiety often snuck into my dreams. 

At this time, had you confided in your parents? Or was it full-on isolation?

I didn’t tell anyone for quite some time. I was trying to manage it on my own and just kind of hoping I’d wake up and the anxiety would be gone. I remembered what it was like not to feel like this, so I was just thinking it would go as it came. My family could tell something was off, but I did my best to hide it. On Christmas Eve, when I was 19 or 20, my issues got to a point where I wasn’t functioning. I began to fully shut down. I was in my brother’s old room trying to sleep as much as I could. Crying, then passing out for a bit. I went downstairs and attempted to start dinner. I guess I just… wasn’t there. I couldn’t engage in conversation or really speak at all. I remember thinking “I can’t live like this. I can’t find relief. Every day feels like torture. I’m a horrible person. I don’t deserve to live.” At that point, it had been about two years of dealing with extreme anxiety and depression. I felt so far from myself. I hated the feeling of having zero control and zero relaxation. I just wanted to feel calm. I hadn’t felt relaxed or confident in a long time. I just kept going over and over in my head, thinking I could figure it out, thinking I would be able to fix everything. But I couldn’t do it. I was so overwhelmed. I was scared of what I was capable of. I didn’t want to hurt myself or do something impulsive, so I had my mom take me to the hospital. l tiptoed around what I was going through. I didn’t think anyone would understand how I was thinking or feeling. I didn’t know what it was I was going through, and I really didn’t know how to explain it. Speaking to the nurse was scary, and I wasn’t truthful—I couldn’t be truthful. I’d been hiding all these thoughts and feelings from everyone. Now I have to open up about it all to a stranger? A nurse on Christmas Eve? That seemed like the last thing that made sense. After my assessment, they told my parents I should see a specialist and start going to therapy. That was the start of a long road. 

photo by Antosh Cimozko

What was that process like?

I continued to try and manage my issues on my own for a while. At times, I felt like I had a grip on them, but they would creep back in, and then get worse. I didn’t even know what my issues were at first, so that made them impossible to manage correctly. I continued to not really tell my friends or family about what was going on with me and do my best to hide it. I knew I needed help, but finding a therapist was intimidating and expensive. I had no Idea what to look for. I didn’t know anyone who went to therapy. Even though 10 years isn’t that long ago, therapy still felt very taboo. I felt embarrassed. I started to reach out to therapists through the internet. It took some time to commit to seeing someone or find anyone I felt comfortable with. Therapy was very spotty. Trying to manage my disorders alongside a career and trying not to have anyone find out was pretty difficult. Once I was able to find someone to open up to, that was the first little step. To be diagnosed and feel a little less in the dark provided relief, but also made me feel broken. “Obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder.” I knew nothing about this stuff, and it scared me. 

How was all of this affecting your social life? Did you open up to any friends about what you were going through?

I didn’t talk to my friends about it. I felt really insecure. When I was with friends, I wasn’t able to fully focus on anything other than my anxiety. If I was skating, I would be ritualizing a lot of the time. If I was at a party, I would be working out little problems in my head. If I was chilling with friends, I wasn’t listening or fully engaging in conversations. I would be involved just enough to not look sus. If I felt like people were picking up on something, I’d crack a joke or whatever. I would often act in a really bubbly and impulsive way to steer attention away. Afterwards, I would wonder why I acted like that. I wasn’t being myself. I was just extremely frustrated and sad a lot of the time. I’ve always felt a little out of place socially. So having this “secret” was kind of a cherry on top of that. I would, and still do, have ups and downs. So I would have stints where I felt back to my old self and able to feel okay again. I would neglect my recovery during these times and hope my issues disappeared. The problem is that a lot of these disorders are not curable, but they are manageable. My lack of commitment to therapy meant I wasn’t equipped with the right tools to confront my issues when they came back.

I’m assuming you were snowboarding during this time—how did this affect your snowboard career? 

My issues were starting to interfere with my concentration and willingness to go on trips. It was difficult to let go and dive into anything. The idea of leaving my comfort zone and going on a trip made me really anxious. Jet lag, lack of sleep, eating unhealthy is kind of all a part of filming. All of these would usually worsen my symptoms. I didn’t want people to see my medication. If I needed to talk to my therapist, I’d have to somehow disappear from everyone and lie about it. It feels like living a double life; it feels isolating. I would rarely shut down to a point where I wouldn’t actually go. I just became more picky about which trips I would go on and try to make it count when I was on one. I did start to enjoy certain aspects of snowboarding more—if I was battling a trick, or able to really be in the moment, I could escape for a little bit, and replace my OCD anxiety and thoughts with the anxiety of trying a trick. This brief relief would make me want to snowboard, but more so film. I was able to forget a bit, be present, and have fun.

photo by Oli Gagnon

This may seem like an odd question, but were there any times your anxiety or anything you may have been dealing with at the time, actually pushed you to go above and beyond? Were there times where your disorder acted like a blessing rather than a curse? 

I think yes, at times. Within snowboarding it did because honestly—it sounds pretty funny—I’d be so frustrated emotionally, I would just commit to tricks out of anger. Like, “I don’t care if I get bodied right now” [laughs]. Also, achieving goals like getting a clip or filming a part, would give me fulfilment and something to be proud of. I guess it’s something to be confident about and feel self-worth. Filming a video part would give me a purpose and something to work on. Aside from snowboarding, I feel there are some positives. I didn’t know what anxiety really felt like before. I didn’t know what it was to be depressed. I think having these extreme symptoms has allowed me to connect with others on a deeper level and become less ignorant.

From an outsider’s perspective I would have never guessed. I remember during this time you were coming to New York a lot, putting out artwork, etc.

I was really trying to live with the mentality of, “If I didn’t feel this way, what would I do?” I had dreams before I had mental health complications. I wanted to stay true to them. I wanted to have a life. I was in a unique position. Being young, I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to go do cool shit. So I put a lot of pressure on myself. A lot of the time, these trips felt somewhat forced. I wasn’t really healthy enough to be in those environments. The intense emotions would really take away from any sort of authentic experience. I was exhausted, but I felt like it would be so dumb to not take advantage of this lifestyle. A lot of time on those trips was spent just trying to be stable and appear to be stable to others and working out issues in my head. I would often dwell on how much fun I could be having without this anxiety, if I could just feel how I used to, which of course made me more depressed. I would often think about how I would give up everything to not feel like this anymore. The constant anxiety gave me so much self-hatred. The inner comparison to others around me and my idea of their realities drove me into the ground. I would be in New York, doing whatever I wanted—eating great food, meeting cool people, living this dream dream trip. But I was more depressed than I had ever been. I was just frustrated and desperately wanted to feel at peace again. The disorder felt like it was stealing everything from me. Happiness felt really distant. 

In my eyes, you’ve always sort of been this icon of cool. And I think that’s really important because a lot of kids out there look at you and think the same thing. But you’re going through a lot of shit that nobody knows about. How does that idea sit with you? To be appearing one way on the outside, but feeling another way on the inside? 

[Laughs] Thanks, Tanner. I for sure understand that perspective. I know how my life looks from the outside, and how privileged my lifestyle is. I was scared for people to find out because I felt the response would be something along the lines of, “What do you have to be anxious about? What do you have to be depressed about?” I didn’t understand, and I don’t think a lot of people understand, that it isn’t our choice to have these disorders. It’s pretty cliché to say, but you never really know what the fuck anyone’s going through. You never know what someone is going through or what they could be struggling with. You don’t always know what’s going on when people get home. I know within snowboarding, some kids look up to me or whatever, and I’m sure when most people read this who know me, they might be surprised to hear I have these struggles. When it comes to depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse, etc., it’s not always obvious, and it’s not a certain type of person. 

photo by Cole Barash

In the last few years, we have sadly lost a few people in our community to suicide. Having been through so much yourself, I’m curious if you’d like to touch on that subject and speak to how it affects you personally? 

It seems like when we have these tragedies, there’s often this reaction of people saying, “They were so happy; I was with them yesterday, and they seemed fine.” A lot of times, like I mentioned before, it’s the last person you might think who is struggling the most. People do a lot of hard work to hide what they are going through. Life for some can become constant suffering with no signs of an ending. Symptoms can get worse, and I think everyone just wants inner peace. People want relief. Suicidal ideation is something I have struggled with throughout my recovery. It’s sad when it gets to a point where it seems like the only option to find calm is so extreme and permanent. Unfortunately, we’ve lost some people close to us in the last couple of years. I think suicide is an important topic that needs to be spoken about more often. For many, it’s unthinkable. But for some, it’s not just a fleeting thought. While these thoughts and emotions are very real, opening up about them and telling someone could be a first step in finding some relief. It’s an overwhelming first step to take, but it’s worth it.

I’ve been thinking back on the days we would film together. I’ve been trying to think of clues that might have helped me to see what was going on with you. I can recall at the dinner table you’d sort of just be in your own world drawing with your finger on the table. Or just in general, some days you were the life of the party and other days you would just put your headphones on in the morning and sit in the back of the van. 

Yeah. For sure. Both are definitely true. I have up and down days, like everyone. When I’m up, and my OCD and anxiety is quiet, it’s easier to be energetic and engaged. If I’m down or feeling really anxious, I tend to be quiet and stay to myself. Like I mentioned before, I didn’t really want anyone to know what I was feeling or bring anyone else down. Being on trips could be easier at times because I could focus on getting clips, not my anxiety. When the OCD quieted down, I could feel like myself again, for a bit.

Looking back on it, in your opinion, what can a friend do to help out somebody who might be in need?

One of the hardest parts of living with a disorder is this underlying notion that you’re not really supposed to talk about it. That mentality is kind of ingrained into all of us from a young age. I always felt the need to keep it a secret, that it’s this negative, weak part of me. I felt a lot of shame. It stole a lot from me. For that reason, it can be hard to know if someone is going through something. I think dissolving the weird stigma revolving around mental health and addiction is important. These topics becoming less reserved could hold a lot of power for change and safety. It seems people work hard to uphold a perfect, curated image. It’s hard to not beat yourself up when we basically only see the positives in everyone else’s lives. We are all extremely judgmental these days–myself included–but I don’t think that these issues should hold any fuel for embarrassment. We didn’t choose this. Why should we feel ashamed? As far as helping someone or creating more support within friendships, I think just knowing people have your back goes a long way. Having consistent communication and other forms of subtle support helps a lot. If you suspect someone might be struggling, it might mean opening up and showing vulnerability first about something in your life. I think everyone tends to have a pretty harsh barrier up, and it can be hard to let it down. It can be difficult to not shut those parts of yourself off, even with people you are closest with. It’s important we stay in touch, and if you have a weird feeling someone you know might be struggling, don’t hesitate to check in. 

Just being supportive of your friends, and being open with one another, so we can be proud of who we are and have self-compassion—that’s the most important thing.

photo by Gio Vacca

Yeah, there needs to be a big change, way beyond our snow and skate communities. The APA recently categorized traditional masculinity as a threat to society. This idea that you have to be the strong silent type is so unhealthy.

For sure. Bottling emotions up, pushing our issues further down, it only makes us angry and frustrated. It ends up leaving you further from anyone. I’m not saying everyone has to come out and share their personal struggles with the world. It can be a very subtle shift. We have to get to a point where it is okay to speak about our struggle, and to check in with others about theirs. I think these small changes could give people more confidence and help minimize extreme events. 

Tell me about this program you recently completed and how you got enrolled…

Yeah, I went to an intensive treatment program for OCD last summer. There’s only one of these facilities in Canada. I was lucky because it’s in Toronto, which is where I live. You have to have treatment-resistant OCD. Which basically means that traditional therapy, medication, or alternative methods have not provided you with a functional life. The program was five days a week, from 9am to 4pm. So, I was doing that from the beginning of June through the end of September in 2019. 

That’s a full-time job. What was the day-to-day like?

The experience was pretty wild. It had been a long time since I had a set schedule. I would either bike or take the subway. It was an hour there and an hour back. First, it would usually be some sort of a group class. It was mainly group therapy classes, with one-on-one therapy a couple times a week. At lunch there was a cafeteria with group tables—which at first made me pretty uncomfortable. It was the first time in so long I had to sit with a group of people I didn’t know. Making conversation with someone who I have nothing in common with felt awkward at first. It made me realize how much of a bubble I had created for myself. That being said, the food was bomb [laughs]. After lunch there would be a couple more classes, and I would bike home and go skate or whatever. Often, I would have homework, so I’d work on that and go to sleep pretty early. It felt good to have more of a structured day-to-day.

photo by Tom “T Bird” Monterosso

Speaking of structure, do you find that having a lot of time on your hands can have a negative affect?

If I’m not engaged in something, I can get wrapped up in my head and spiral. With snowboarding as a career, everything is pretty lenient. As long as you’re doing your shit, being productive, and have enough footage, there’s never a set time or whatever. I try to create responsibilities and work towards other goals when I’m not snowboarding. I am still working on being able to just relax and do nothing, because that’s important too.

How do you feel after completing the program?

I wouldn’t say that it cured me or anything. I am still in recovery and making progress. I’m still seeing a therapist regularly. The program definitely put me in a position where I was confronted with some issues I needed to be. I’m super lucky to have been able to attend. Seeing that there are so many different kinds of people dealing with a similar issue was pretty eye-opening. Almost everyone who was in that program had kept their OCD a secret even from those closest to them. Like me, they had never really opened up to anyone about it. It showed me how important consistency is and how important it is to stay on top of your recovery.

Without disclosing anything you don’t want to, is there an example of OCD or intrusive thoughts you’d like to share? I think it might help paint a picture for some readers who may not have experienced anything like this. Maybe the mother and her newborn would be a good example?

Oftentimes, people think of OCD as a fear of germs or organizing. I don’t want to take away from people who experience those themes or rituals. These are definitely types of OCD that exist and can be just as devastating. But there’s a laundry list of other OCD themes. My experience with OCD mainly revolves more around intrusive thoughts. Every single human has intrusive thoughts. I’m sure people have been driving their car and thought, “Oh, what if I swerve and hit this person?” Or you’re at the subway and you’re like, “I could just push this dude in front of the subway right now.” Most people have those brief thoughts and shake it off. For someone with OCD, it’s those little thoughts that can latch on and take over their whole lives. The example of a mother and their newborn is pretty classic. Basically, a mother gives birth, and they’re looking at this beautiful newborn. The mom has a thought: “What if I accidentally hurt my baby? That’s the initial thought, and it becomes all they can focus on. These thoughts about potentially having the ability to hurt this child don’t seem to go away. Now they might start to question if they secretly want to hurt the baby. What at first was just a thought, has become a realistic fear. The mom might start isolating themselves to avoid being around the baby in fear of what they could do or the debilitating anxiety that now causes. Instead of changing and feeding the baby, they might start to make others do it. Now, they won’t spend time with their child anymore. The mom doesn’t have a relationship with the baby because they won’t let themselves go near them. This evolves into depression because they have this newborn, but constant fear and anxiety that they are capable of doing something unthinkable to them. The graphic images and thoughts replay in their head and they become convinced they are evil. All their time is devoted to trying to figure out if they are going to hurt someone—searching for clues, physical feelings, signs, etc. It could progress further to where if they see any kid, they’re scared they are capable of hurting them. Now they won’t go to the mall, or anywhere they might be around kids. They might start avoiding TV shows or movies that have kids in them. They’re just in their house in a room locked, and people live like that. People live like that for years—forever sometimes, and it all spiderwebs from one little thought. Their whole lives are completely taken over. I feel like that’s a pretty good example of how things can escalate and how dark it can be. Another good example that everyone is familiar with is “step on a crack and break your back.” Ocd latches onto thoughts and behaviours like that and can take over your life.

photo by Antosh Cimozko

Going through all of this, how has it affected relationships with family, friends, sponsors?

It has affected and continues to affect most of my relationships. Having better skills now, it affects my relationships in a negative way less often. As far as relationships with friends, I’m hoping that opening up about this will be a positive. This is a huge part of myself that I’ve been keeping inside for so long. It is more a part of me than anything else really, and, in a way, I feel like I haven’t been able to fully be myself keeping it to myself.

With snowboarding, it affected my sponsorships in the past for sure. There were times where a sponsor would want me to go do a board test or something, and I wouldn’t really be stable enough to attend, so I wouldn’t go. I didn’t feel like I could be open with them about the real reasons, so I would make up excuses. I think that my perceived attitude at times put a bad taste in some of my sponsors’ mouths. I get it for sure, at the time it was the only way I knew how to deal with it. 

I mean, I think there are a lot of people out there who are feeling the exact same way. The fact that I just learned that you’re going through this stuff is so comforting because I can relate on so many levels. It’s really inspiring to me that you are able to talk about it.

Thank you. That means a lot, for real. These issues are fairly common. Conversations need to happen more often. I always think back to when I started feeling these things. If someone I looked up to, someone into the same shit I was into, or just a homie, had said anything about anxiety or depression it would have made my situation a little less overwhelming. I don’t want pity, and I’m not trying to be a hero through opening up. I’m not doing this interview so people can feel bad for me. I just want to be open and honest with my experience, and hopefully it can make someone else’s life a bit easier. Maybe someone can feel less alone inside their head. No one likes to feel vulnerable. With my story, I have had, and still have, a lot of fear about opening up. I always had this “fantasy” of beating OCD and anxiety before talking about it. Then, I could finally spill it all out and be like, “I went through this, but now I’m cured!” I don’t know if that “perfect moment” I’ve been waiting on is very realistic. I believe the more people who are in positions like myself who talk about their experiences, it can provide more power and safety to others going through something. It’s important to start to normalize. On top of that, I didn’t feel like it was right to be talking about my personal issues, especially in recent times. We have a lot of injustice and corruption within our world. The last thing I want to do is stray away from the importance of these issues by talking about myself. I don’t want to take up space or minimize any of that focus. 

What we can do in our community to make steps in a direction that’s more open and aware of mental health issues? And what can we do as a society on a bigger, more global picture?

Largely, we need resources in place that provide support. We need safer spaces and better resources—whether it be mental health, addiction, housing, etc. We need to have the correct measures to help those in a crisis. We need to be educated about mental health and addiction in school. Having no prior education made my initial symptoms even more foreign and maximized my recovery time. I think as a community it’s giving these areas the proper attention. We need to talk with each other regularly and openly. Awareness and conversation is key.

Back on the subject of OCD. I think the language we choose to use is also important. OCD is not an adjective. It is not preferring to have something a certain way or to keep your room in order. Sufferers need to engage in these time consuming rituals to function. People with OCD don’t have control over these choices and are dealing with a crippling illness. Misuse of these words takes away from that.. It’s not a funny quirk, or cool. I’m not out here saying I’m trying to cancel people for misusing these terms. I had no idea before I went through this myself. Just something to be aware of.

photo by JJ Westbury

Having spent so much time working on your disorders, seeking help, and learning about OCD, has it been more manageable this year going into filming? You are doing a project with Jake [Kuzyk], Kennedi [Deck], and Hayden [Rensch]. I am wondering how that has been going and if you have opened up to them? 

I’m happy to say that over the past couple years I have found more stability in general. Consistent therapy has helped. My family has been very supportive since I have opened up to them more. I still spiral and have bad weeks, but I am usually able to use these skills to pull out. I’m excited about this project we are working on! I haven’t got to film with Jake in a long time. We have been working on separate projects for so many years. I have been friends with Hayden for so long and I always like working with him. I have never filmed with Kennedi, but I am a big fan. We have only done one trip so far, but it went really well. I have opened up to Jake a bit, but I haven’t spoken to Hayden or Kennedi at all. The last trip we went on I had a therapy session in the morning. They asked me where I went and I just told them I had a therapy session. That’s the first time I had been open in a situation like that. 

Thanks so much for sharing, Jed. Any final thoughts?

If you are going through something—whatever thoughts you are having, whatever you’re dealing with—I have no fucking judgment towards you. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have judgement toward you. There are people who understand what you are going through. I get how scary it is to reach out to someone, and I understand how overwhelming it is. I understand how isolating it is to keep everything pushed down. Please reach out for help. Talk to a friend. Tak to your family. I get that our parents are from a generation where this stuff wasn’t really talked about. If it’s within your means, I recommend talking to a therapist. Therapy is less scary than it seems. Teletherapy is less weird than it seems. Don’t give up after one try. Stick with it. There are more resources becoming available all the time. Talk to your family. Talk to your friends. You will have good days again. Anyone who’s ever opened up to me about something personal, it’s so cool and admirable. It’s not a weakness at all. It’s awesome, and I hope we can all start to let our guard down a bit. Being open and honest with others should be celebrated the same as our other accomplishments. It’s taken me a good decade to come forward and speak about any of this. It’s been more challenging than any snowboard part, skateboard trick, or anything else I’ve worked hard on.


Resources:

Suicide hotline Canada: 833-456-4566

SMS: Text START to 741741

National sucicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

https://www.madeofmillions.com/get-help

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca

https://www.madeofmillions.com/articles/pure-o-an-exploration-into-a-lesser-known-form-of-ocd

www.betterhelp.com

www.talkspace.com

International OCD Foundation

For the Better: An Interview with Jess Kimura on The Uninvited II

January 14th, 2021

Interview by Jon Stark

Photo by Aaron Blatt

How are you doing?

I’m good. I am good. I feel like I’ve just been on a conveyor belt since we started editing the movie in May. So yeah, here we are. 

I mean, it’s over right? 

Yes. I mean, no it isn’t. I think I felt the most stress once it actually came out. Trying to make sure that the press requests were taken care of, or following through on making all the deliverables to different specifications and all that stuff so that we could maximize our reach. I wanted to make the most of the work we had done and get as many eyes on the girls as possible. It’s been a lot, being on Zoom meetings all day and trying to figure out a plan, while also trying to help the girls navigate the success of their parts, like negotiating contracts and dealing with sponsors, or pitching other things for their upcoming season. 

The Secret Agent?

Yeah, secret agent stuff. 

The job’s not really done once the video is complete; there’s a lot that goes into promoting isn’t there?

I was like, “I just have to make it to this release date, then it’s all over.” But when I got to that date, it all began. That’s when I really wasn’t sleeping, but it’s fine. That’s part of it, but if I do another one, I’m going to remember that—not to see the release date as my end date. I totally know how filmmakers must feel. You put that much energy into something, and you have nothing left once it comes out—that feeling of, “I should be doing more, but I just can’t. I just can’t; I’m empty, you know?” I’m also trying to plan my own season and go enjoy snowboarding for myself, but I feel guilty some days, like I should be at home answering emails instead.

Jess giving herself a refresher course on geology | photo by Ashley Rosemeyer

Yeah. It’s a lot of pressure on this single person’s shoulders, for sure. You kind of made it your personal obligation to represent the next generation of female snowboarders. 

Ha! I guess. It was very stressful. Some days, I was so stressed I thought I was going to throw up; I would feel physically sick over it all. The first [Uninvited film] was worse because it was all on my dime, like it was all from my savings. And when you see your money burning in front of you, that’s tough. Say you take someone on a trip, and they don’t care that much or don’t try. Or when people show up late to stuff, and you’re like, you guys, this is all we have. I just felt like some people didn’t understand the opportunity that it was and how much I was sacrificing for it. My mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing were basically crushed by the time I finished the premiere tour.

I can relate to taking it personally when riders wouldn’t do their part and all the pressure is on your shoulders.

It was really stressful—not because I care about the money a whole bunch, but when I was coming up, if someone would have done that for me, I know how much further I would have gone, with much less suffering. It’s like a parent seeing their kid throwing away their potential. Because you can see the future, you’re like, “Come on, I’m giving you a head start! You can do better than I did.”

Things felt a little bit better with number two?

Yeah, definitely. Before we dropped our teaser in the fall, I don’t think that anyone really understood what it was going to be. But I think the riders had seen what the first one did for the girls’ careers, so they took it more seriously. Once they see people “like them” succeed, it becomes a possibility they can see for themselves.

Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen it personally, if you take the right person and put them in the position to be successful, then you literally just sit back and watch history being made. 

Totally. I remember Ylfa [Rúnarsdóttir] being so stoked she had shots in the first one. She was freaking out about that, saying how good it felt to have clips in something and to be recognized. She took that and turned it into the part she filmed this year. And you can see the shift of energy. Watching her part now, it blows my mind to think that her talent could have gone unrecognized. Same with Miyon. I got a message from her once saying how she felt like quitting filming before The Uninvited, that she felt lonely and didn’t know her purpose. When you see her part in the sequel, her purpose is pretty damn clear.

Premiere night for the first Uninvited video in Whistler | photo by Rob Lemay

This is so exciting to see. I personally feel that women’s snowboarding is more exciting to watch than another dude doing the same trick.

Yeah. Because you’re watching the progression in real time. It’s basically like watching snowboarding in the nineties or when like street snowboarding first started being a thing. 

That’s so true. I’ve never thought of it like that—the idea that you have no idea what’s coming next because you’re watching it unfold as you’re watching the video. 

Like I’ve heard you say, “I had no idea, these girls were capable of this stuff”—there are so many chicks out there killing it that people have no idea about. And oftentimes, the girls don’t even realize how much they are capable of themselves, because they’ve never even been put in a position where they had the opportunity to find out. And they haven’t seen much proof that it’s possible for them. That’s why it’s important for them to be seen, to be included, and for people not to write them off because they aren’t at the same level as the guys. 

It’s like being a part of the renaissance era of female snowboarding.

With the first Uninvited, I definitely got some negative feedback. I didn’t take full control over the end product, and there were things I would have changed. But it was the best we could do with what we had, which was basically nothing. 

But because some aspects weren’t at the highest production level, I got some negative feedback. Even some of the riders were bummed because they wanted a longer part or didn’t like the lifestyle shots we used. And that hurt my feelings since I had poured so much into it. But feelings grow back. And I see now how that was part of the process in getting these new girls to where they are at right now—having something tangible to look at and see what their peers have done. Even if it wasn’t perfect. What could they do better? And what’s next? 

Snowboarders are pretty hypercritical of each other.

I love comparing girls’ snowboarding to boxing or MMA. The heavyweight division definitely can hit the hardest, so does that mean the other divisions aren’t worth watching? Pretty sure Connor McGregor wouldn’t agree. Just because the heavyweight guys are the biggest and strongest doesn’t mean they are the most exciting to watch.

I just remember people being like, “Oh, you want equality? Do all the equivalent tricks that the guys are doing, then we’ll give you equality.” I’ve heard that so many times. So if they’re going to discredit everything that we’re doing, because it’s not at their exact level, then we’re never going to get there. And that’s probably what they want anyways. But what’s happening underneath the surface is too big for anyone to stop. I really believe that. 

Jess taking on the world, one backcountry line at a time. Whistler, BC | photo by Brad Heppner

I can only imagine all the things you’ve heard and seen. But it’s about representation at the end of the day. That’s the most powerful. 

I think about how much Marie-France [Roy]’s video parts basically shaped my entire career because it showed me what was possible for myself. Even before then, seeing Tara Dakides and Janna Meyen. I would replay any shots they had over and over and over. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was the Burton catalog because they had a women’s section. They would have pictures of girls riding. I wasn’t looking at the product; I was looking at pictures of girls shredding, and I would seek that stuff out, desperately. But when Marie-France’s video parts came out, she was portrayed as an equal part of the team with the guys. She didn’t have a two-second cameo in the credits. Her name was on the DVD case! “Does that mean I could one day have my name on a DVD case?”

That was exactly the inspiration you needed right there. 

As a girl, coming up, if I watched guys video parts, it was like watching a different species. Like, I guess I wanted to do something like that, but I never thought I’d be able to. So to me, representation is more about seeing yourself represented, or seeing someone like you doing the thing that you are passionate about. When a baby watches the adults around them speaking words and walking on two feet, they eventually try to speak words and walk on two feet. A puppy doesn’t watch people walking on two feet and think, “Shit, I guess that’s where I should be headed too, and I’m gonna stop barking and start speaking.” Well, maybe… haha.

With the first Uninvited, those girls saw, “Oh, if I hustle, this is finally going to be worth something.” There have been so many girls that were so good, but they had no reason to keep doing it unless they’re absolutely insane because why would you? You’re blowing all your money, you are getting hurt, your parents are like WTF are you doing with your life? And there’s no payoff, just a bunch of internet trolls or bitter guys talking shit saying, “You girls are a joke, my little brother is better than all of you.” 

You are literally giving them that opportunity. 

I know there were girls who wanted to give up, saying, “I need to go back to school” or “I need to move on.” And me being like, “Yo, what are you doing this year? If you can’t hire a filmer, I’ll hire one for you.” That gave them confidence. So you never know what kind of influence you’re having on people around you. I mean, successful people rarely consider themselves successful, and you have no idea how those little things can stick with people. 

Yeah, of course. 

Believing in someone or giving someone a chance can be so important. I ended up editing the movie, and I’m not an editor. I was so insecure in my skills and ability to pull it off that I was almost going to bail on the whole project or push it to a two-year project. But I sent some stuff to you almost hoping that you were going to agree with me and be like, “Yeah, it’s not quite there yet, you shouldn’t put it out this year.”

And you, being an established and successful filmmaker, having your like approval or you giving me the time of day—because you don’t know how many people I sent links to that never even answered me, but you did—that gave me the confidence to start thinking, “Oh, maybe we got something here.”

Believing in someone is the first step to an creating opportunity | photo by Alexa McCarty

It’s full circle. You gave me the first free lift ticket I ever got. You paid for it at Mount Hood.

Haha, I did?

To go on-hill to film you. I never forgot that. I was hiking up the mountain with my camera bag to just film, to practice filming. And you bought me my first lift ticket, and you’re like, “You’re going to come film me.” I’m trying not to forget how I felt going into all this and to remember the people who helped me along the way. And so when you sent me these parts, it wasn’t like I was blowing hot air. We’re in an ecosystem in snowboarding. And when you put something negative out into the world, there’s an effect that kind of spreads. And if you can put good things into the world, then good things are gonna happen. There are people who complain and do nothing, and there are people who do something about it and try and spread positivity, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do, especially recently with Torment.

I agree, 100%. I feel real satisfaction from just giving stuff away—my time, my money, whatever. And maybe that comes from some sense of feeling like I don’t deserve what I’ve gotten, but I want to set an example. Not just through my snowboarding, but through everything. What could you do if you were just a ridiculously kind person? Like doing real selfless things when no one’s looking and when nobody knows about it.

Well, coming up, you’re fighting for a piece of the cake, trying to make a case for yourself. And then it’s almost like as you get older the switch flips and all of a sudden you get the same satisfaction from riding away from a trick as you do extending an opportunity to someone. 

Totally, totally. I always just wanted to do the shit that no one else would be willing to do. And at first, it was snowboarding—huck myself off this, hike this thing one more time, stay out later riding, or go out while everyone’s sleeping and build the spot. Now I go out while everyone’s sleeping and look for funding for the girls or go through their segment frame by frame, looking for small ways I can improve it, or write them motivational emails or write to their sponsors, you know? 

Yeah. And do you keep yourself going by posting memes?

Haha, the memes started during quarantine in the initial lockdown where we were all on our phones too much trying to figure out what was going on. There was so much negativity and fear that I needed to switch gears. I unfollowed a bunch of accounts that were stressing me out. If I needed facts I sure wasn’t going to find them on Instagram. I started following a bunch of cat accounts, certain dogs that I liked, memes, ridiculous stuff—whatever made me laugh. I started reposting stuff because I thought it would be funny if people were clicking through the stories and it’s like, “imminent death is upon us,” or, “don’t be one of the sheeple,” and then they get to mine and its goats screaming along to Taylor Swift songs, or dogs wearing sunglasses, or a frog with a raspberry on its head. It’s definitely gotten out of hand, in a good way. I’m positive nobody laughs harder at my stories than me.

Jess’ method to the madness | photo by Ashley Rosemeyer

What else makes you happy these days? 

My sauna is huge for me. It represents healing. Whereas, so much else in my life has been a painful experience. This one’s for me. I put a lot of work into building it, and it’s like a little cabin in my backyard. I like harvesting wood, splitting wood, looking for different wood, appreciating aspects of wood, you know, all the densities. You could say I have a passion for wood. 

And you get to sweat out the stress. One of the beautiful things about snowboarding is that if you do something different, everyone pays attention. Whether it’s good or bad, if you do something different, everyone notices.

When the first movie came out, it wasn’t embraced by the industry like the second one was. I don’t think people were at that place yet. They were still demanding that the girls and the production value be at the same level as the guys and didn’t care to hear why it wasn’t. But now, it’s almost trending, to be inclusive, to embrace diversity. But it’s something I’ve been working on for years. Way before The Uninvited was officially a thing. This recent shift that’s happening with social awareness and all of that, people are finally ready to accept that it’s okay to include others, maybe even necessary. So in a way, it’s like I invested early in Apple stock. And now it’s finally worth something. And same with you guys at Torment. Many people are pretending to care about this stuff right now because they think they need to come off as social justice warriors in order to benefit their career. But it’s not genuine. Those are the people that are trying to get in the market when it’s too late. All this time putting effort into something that people thought was useless, and now seeing folks scramble to catch up; it’s a bit vindicating. 

Yeah, you were always right.

Of course, we aren’t talking about actual profits here, because we all know ain’t nobody getting rich off snowboarding these days. But I felt like it was a similar situation with what you did with Torment Pride Week—everyone in snowboarding attached to that. But maybe five years ago those same people wouldn’t have been as supportive.

Jess investing early into the Bank of Powder. Revelstoke | photo by Nick Khattar

We knew our friends had something to say and weren’t able to be themselves in our community, which is the wackest shit ever. We had the platform to do it, so it was a no-brainer. 

Totally. That’s genuine. And that comes across. What you guys are doing feels like it’s adding meaning to something that has had no meaning to me for so long. I’ve checked out of snowboarding for a long time because I just felt like—especially after Mark died—there was this emptiness. And I needed to do something that mattered. I made The Uninvited, and yeah, it helped a lot of people, but it also helped me because it gave me some sense of purpose. We need meaning in our lives, and I’m glad I found it again in snowboarding because for a long time, I was like, “What’s this even for? I do a bunch of tricks and people look at me and say ‘yay.’” What is that? 

There aren’t many people in your position who have filmed video parts that turn around and give it back. It’s just a fact, and it’s kind of beautiful that you’ve found it again. We need better leaders in this, so we can make a difference. 

Well, if you don’t go through it, you have no idea what it feels like to be on the shitty end. There have been situations in my career where I’ve been treated really badly. And when people hear about that, they can’t believe it went down and that nobody said anything about it and nobody stood up for me. But if I hadn’t been treated like that, I wouldn’t have had such a deep understanding that basically scarred me into never wanting to do that to others. I mean, I worked construction for so many years; I had thick skin. But I was worried about what was coming for these girls. And hold up, before I go too far, I want to make sure I say that I know there are people with serious life-threatening issues and difficulties in the world. I’m focusing just on the snowboarding space here.

Have you ever had someone you looked up to in snowboarding come through for you?

When I first moved to Whistler, I was 23. I had lost my only board sponsor. I was going nowhere. I told myself I should quit, that this wasn’t going to happen. But I had filmed for this video my friend Troy made, and it was premiering in Whistler. I hit up Marie-France Roy on Snowboard.com—the MySpace for boarders back then. She was my absolute hero. I was like, “Hey Marie, my name is Jess, and I’m your biggest fan. I’m in this video. It’d be really cool if you came to the premiere. I’m going to leave a ticket for you at the front. Um, I hope to see you there.” I thought there was no way she’d show up. It’s like when Ricky Bobby always leaves a ticket for his dad, and he never shows up.

Amongst the comforts of the great outdoors | photo by Chris Parton

And… Did she show?

She fucking showed up, dude! She showed up, and then she came to the house party after and was one of the last people to leave. I could not believe that she was even being seen with me! She didn’t know me. She didn’t have any reason to be there. She was at the top of the game and could have been with someone way cooler. But that stuck with me forever. The fact that she made me feel worthy of her time. And I’ve felt the opposite during so much in my career—people making sure I knew that I was not worthy of their time, or that I didn’t deserve to be there. And that was burned into me, like, if you’re gonna make it big, you gotta be like this, you know, you gotta be like her. 

Yeah, it’s the importance of good role models. I mean, we are who we look up to. And if the person you look up to is a piece of shit, you might be one too.

And I’ve had to change who I looked up to sometimes. 

Yeah, they say never meet your heroes. I’ve felt that a couple of times where I’m like, “I shouldn’t have met that person or I shouldn’t have gone on that trip. That person could have just stayed as their four-minute video part from 11 years ago.”

Yeah. Just remained in ignorance and bliss.

There’s something to be said there too—that life is about a balance of all these things that we’ve discussed. 

Totally. When I was working on finishing The Uninvited II, people would ask me what I was up to. I just would say I had shit to do. Because when I told them I needed to work on the movie some more, they’d be like, “Still? I thought you were finished by now.” And I was like, “Yeah, but I wake up in the middle of the night and go back downstairs to go through piece by piece to see if there is anything I can improve.” I wanted these girls to look the best they can. I was so used to being shit on for stuff I couldn’t control, so I wanted to try and get ahead of that. But it’s also probably this toxic addiction to just destroying myself over what I’m passionate about. 

A moment of bliss on set of the Uninvited 2 | photo by Gill Montgomery

I said something to a friend who makes films too, “I can’t live with snowboard films and I can’t live without snowboard films.”

Sure, sure. The girls, they will confide in me, some really difficult things that happen throughout their season. And I want to be like, “Yo dude, that sucks. I can’t believe that happened to you,” but also tell them that it’s actually a gift. And they probably think I’m absolutely insane when I tell them this horrible thing that happened to them was actually a good thing. But everything bad that happens to us is a gift because it gives us a new way of looking at things. It shows us what things look like when they go badly so we can notice how much we already have that is actually going well. Maybe even a year later it still sucks. But the worst things that have happened to me in my life have been the biggest catalysts for my life changing for the better. Go back in time and tell me that, and I guarantee you I’ll punch you in the face, haha.

Vinny [Dan Vincent] used to say that life is all about perspective, in a Vinny way with like a Marb 100 dangling off his lip. And after everything we’ve said here, maybe the reality is that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of perspective. What’s next for you and The Uninvited?

I’m going to make the third and final one this winter. Complete the trilogy. The talent is at an all-time high, and I can’t wait to see what the girls can achieve with the boost of confidence this last film gave them. By then, hopefully the industry will have gotten the point and can pick up where I left off. As for me, I’ll be filming a few clips for The Uninvited, but my main focus riding-wise will be something I’m cooking up with The North Face. They were the biggest supporters of this last film and are the reason I’m able to make this next one happen. Then they back it up by investing in projects for their own women’s team. I’m not trying to suck up to anyone or anything; it’s just really nice to see a company put their money where their mouth is. It’s been really frustrating dealing with some of the girls’ sponsors, who are basically getting free marketing for their riders paid for from my savings, my sponsors, my travel budget. And all I’m asking is, “Support your rider here and there, help them with a hotel or plane ticket, or splitting a filmer’s travel expenses with me for just one trip. Or maybe just reply to the girls’ emails.” It’s like pulling teeth sometimes. Hopefully by the time this third film drops, they will be seeing more clearly. 

What have you learned from the past videos that will make this next one different from the others?

That if you give too much, you end up with the equivalent of spoiled kids. The girls need to want it for themselves, and natural talent or good style is only part of the equation. Some of them haven’t been starving for long enough to understand hunger or why they need to have it. I started out wanting to prevent them from having to go through the shitty things I had to deal with coming up. But it’s only now that I’m realizing what a valuable experience all those setbacks were. By being treated badly, I learned how I wanted to treat others. I learned that I’m not the only thing going on in this world, and I learned how to work hard, not just on the snow but off of it too. So it’s a balance. Helping them to find success but also letting them learn from their own mistakes instead of trying to jump in right away to fix everything.

Wether it be in front of the lens, or behind the camera, Jess will always be in our hearts | photo by Mike Yoshida

Jake Kuzyk’s Pride Interview

thumbnail and photo by Oli Gagnon

Introduction by Ian Boll; Interview by Jon Stark

June 30th, 2020

A guy like Jake should need no introduction. But this time is different. The name Jake Kuzyk now carries a new weight, something that makes me smile. For the first time, we get to meet the Jake who’s comfortable telling the world he is gay. And not just that he’s gay, but that he’s never been better because of it. That’s the part that should make you smile too. Jake has chosen to share with the world his most tightly kept secret. And that’s a terrifying thing—I don’t care what it is you’re hiding.

Timing is everything. Jake has wanted to speak up for a while, but just as anyone’s confidence wavers when confronted with a towering decision, Jake questioned how to do so, and in a meaningful way. When Tanner came out, he called his friends and family and unknowingly planted a seed with Jake that would lead him to make the most important admission of his life. It demonstrates the impact one instance of courage can have, in that moment toppling the archetypal idea of what a snowboarder should be. A wave of change has now been set unstoppably in motion to make our community open to all.

Jake’s story, like four others—Kennedi, Chad, Jill, and Tanner—closely shadow many more. The Monomyth, an idea developed by Joseph Campbell, is a synthesis of countless stories written throughout history with a universal theme. Grossly abbreviated, it breaks down like this: A protagonist is faced with a challenge and after first refusing, they are helped by a mentor to cross a threshold. They embark on a road of tribulation, usually assisted by allies, until facing their greatest trial yet. Upon completion they return with knowledge to use for a greater good. Jake’s journey is the epitome of these heroic stories. Through his deep introspection and articulation, this interview can ultimately act as a guide for many—and not just for closeted snowboarders, but for any individual afraid of change.


Jon: So why are we talking today?

Jake: Well, we’re talking because it’s Pride, and some of us are sharing our stories. I’m gay, and I’m talking about it.

The first time beyond maybe your inner circle of friends?

Yeah, I told a small group of family and friends over the last year or two. But for the public, and from a career perspective, this is the first time I’m talking about it.

Which came first, skateboarding and snowboarding, or knowing you were gay?

I mean, I’ve known I was gay forever, but when you’re really young, you don’t really know in the full sense. You understand that something’s different, but it’s tough to comprehend. I’ve been doing both those things every day since I was 10 years old. It wasn’t until years after starting to skate and snowboard that I fully realized this part of me was different.

Are you currently in a relationship?

Honestly, that’s a tough question to answer. I think so. Maybe? I have been seeing someone for a while now, and they’re really great. We live in the same neighbourhood. They like to snowboard, and they’re into a bunch of creative things. We have a lot in common. He’s the best! But are we in a relationship? I don’t know if I can answer that. Uh oh. 

photo by Dan Liedahl

Do you think this would have come out sooner if there was another professional snowboarder who was openly gay and male? 

It definitely would have set things in motion. It seemed so difficult to be openly gay and have this career, these friends, and all the interests that came along with that. I felt like if I started to show this part of myself—that becomes really scary because you just don’t know what’s gonna happen. When you’re alone thinking about this shit all the time, you develop really wild ideas of what it might look like and what could happen. My career has always moved in this positive forward direction. So I was afraid to risk damaging that. I didn’t want to sacrifice what I already had. That’s really foolish because I know now that obviously isn’t the case, and there is no sacrifice. It’s just better. Everything is just so much better. I feel much closer now to the people in my life, and I haven’t lost any friends along the way.

There isn’t a how-to guide to coming out is there?

No, none. We all have interests, and so you shape your world around them and you love it. It’s what drives you. So you go all in. That’s who you are, and it’s not a lie. That’s the real deal. Then this other part of yourself can feel so conflicted with the rest of your identity, especially at a young age, but it really doesn’t have to be. I wished I would have realized that sooner, and yeah, seeing someone else who looked like me, did the things I love to do, I would have taken a lot of comfort in that and been willing to move forward sooner, dating guys and just not being so afraid. For a long time, I just didn’t want to stand out in that way—being gay, different from everyone else. A part of me knew it would bring happiness, but there was no path. I hadn’t seen anything like it.

Yeah, just the fear of uncertainty.

Which is just ridiculous, dude, because now I’m 30 and have been dating for some years. When I think back, I cannot believe I felt that way. It’s distant. I’m so much happier now.

photo by Oli Gagnon

It’s like being a part of the queer community for the last couple of years put things in perspective in hindsight, like you said. 

I’ve realised some things. I can just be me. I’m definitely different than some people in the queer community that I hang out with, but that’s not a big deal. That’s the best part about it is we’re all different, and we’re all still friends, and it’s cool. You can be a big time snowboard nerd, and you can be gay. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. That’s something I never understood. I thought there was a line somewhere–this imaginary line.

Ian: Who’s been your support system throughout this process to come out?

Tanner Pendleton, without a doubt. I had no idea he was gay, so when he told me and I put down the phone, I cried in my room. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve known him for eight years. We live really similar lives and have such common interests. That really just blew the doors off for me. When I hung up the phone, I knew then that was it. Something shifted, and there was room for me. Tanner had broken this mold that held me back.

What were your thoughts during the time between Tanner telling you he was gay and when you eventually told Tanner yourself? How did that conversation go? 

When Tanner told me he was gay, I felt completely disarmed. I knew we would see each other in Montreal for Dillon’s memorial and that I needed to say something. It was late that night, and we were with a huge group of all his friends in the park. People from all over. It was really beautiful. Tanner and I had a short moment alone. I knew he was leaving early the next morning and that was my only chance. I just said it. “I’m gay.” I broke down. We moved to an empty part of the park and talked for hours. We could relate on so many levels right away. It was this huge release. 

photo by Oli Gagnon

Was there any notion during the filming of your Vans welcome clip or Landline that Tanner was an ally? 

No. Well… I shouldn’t say that. Tanner was often quite expressive about supporting the queer community in ways that I thought were really cool when I was closeted. I would hear him state his opinion strongly and not stand for people saying harmful shit. I noticed that and always respected him for it.

Cole Navin: All of this must have been a huge relief. What are you looking forward to most now that this is off your chest?

Selfishly, I’ll say what I’m looking forward to the most out of all this is not having to look over my shoulder, watch my words or wonder where I’m going to go on a date, who we might bump into. Always wondering if people are going to talk about sex or relationships and how I’m going to respond. That shit is so exhausting, and I’m so hyped to not do that anymore.

Jon: In Tanner’s interview, you asked if he felt like he needed to bury himself in his work to prove his self worth. Do you yourself relate to that as well?

I wanted to do the best job I could, and I wanted people to appreciate me for the work. That was it. I didn’t want them to know anything else because I didn’t have the answers myself. I was having fun when I was snowboarding, and I was having fun when I was filming. Having these projects with constant stimulation I could be more satisfied at the end of the day—even knowing I’m in the closet—because I’m producing things that get a positive response. It allowed me to feel some sort of validation towards my identity. That’s strange to admit, but I also think it’s very natural. We all crave that acceptance.

photo by Tanner Pendleton

Without time alone, personal time, it’s really hard to work on yourself.

I mean, I tried to ignore it. Just moving through life, distracting myself with things I loved and then going to bed. Then when you’re about to fall asleep, that’s when it sucks.

Were you concerned this could have a negative implication on your career as a professional snowboarder? 

Pretty much everyday. I was most concerned about spending time with people that knew me for years as one way, and I feared they wouldn’t accept me as gay. How will I be able to communicate with them, will they welcome me, and are they going to freak out if they have to be alone with me? Thinking I would lose opportunities to travel and maybe even my career was freaky. I was trying to balance what was more important. It’s like you’re a little kid. I love snowboarding; I love skateboarding. That’s what I want to do. But you also need connections; you need people; you need love.

You’re part of both the skate and snowboard communities, and especially after that Vans Loveletters piece came out last week, it just feels as if skateboarding’s years ahead of snowboarding when it comes to accepting the queer communitity.

Before Brian Anderson there was very little queer representation within skateboarding. I think that moment really helped people to understand and to see that those differences were okay. Before, there was such a narrow idea of what a person in skateboarding needed to look and be like. Now there’s just so much diversity, and the acceptance is widening because it’s cool. It’s cool to be totally fucking different than somebody else. No one wants to see the same person over and over. Where before, it seemed like there was this script to follow. Even in our own snowboard world there was a path to success with sponsors and videos, and you didn’t want to stray too far from that because then the opportunities might fail. So you stayed on track to try and satisfy company needs and the people around you. Now it’s a lot different. People are doing way more of whatever the fuck they want, and it looks good, and it doesn’t have to be one way.

photo by Jody Wachniak

Why hasn’t this topic been broached yet in snowboarding? 

2020 seems to be the time when at least five of us now have come together to talk about it. But you know there’s been gay people, queer people in snowboarding since it started. Being gay isn’t some new thing. We just talk about it now. Personally, I’d love to know who they were and what their lives were like, and I hope that they’re happy. I don’t know, man. It’s a trippy thought, but it’s real. 

Just statistically speaking, there have always been gay people in our community.

Exactly. Maybe some felt they had to give up on fulfilling a queer life because there’s a lot of that too, still. People can’t find self acceptance and that fucking sucks. How is that possible? It goes back to what I was saying. I dealt with that for many years. I wasn’t self accepting. I had so much internalized homophobia. It was never projected outwardly—I never hated other gay people—I just didn’t feel like that was me, so I couldn’t relate. I beat myself up for it. I’m so grateful to have found people like Tanner, and then through that, others like Kennedi, who have helped me to understand this piece of myself and communicate in this new way. What if I never found that? I could have been one of these people who stays in the closet forever. Never accepting it just staying unhappy. That’s horrible.

photo by Oli Gagnon

Ian: It’s scary to think about all the people who have felt unable to come out due to the fact that our industry has been so historically unwelcoming to the queer community. Did that have a big effect on your own timeline? Did you want to speak up earlier?

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a year now. I wanted it to be something that could benefit others, and I didn’t want it to feel like marketing. But I couldn’t really solve what that looked like. I was also really afraid. Everyday there is so much new stuff for me to learn about the queer community; this is still a new world for me. So to step out and tell everyone my story like I have all the answers is scary—I don’t have the answers. I don’t know anything, but I’m trying. And so it really took having this group, the five of us, to all be able to say something together. This makes sense for our world. The people who love snowboarding can come here, see these interviews and hopefully learn, whether they’re gay or straight. So I don’t know if I could have done this when I was 16, even if I wanted to. Or 22. I just don’t know. I can’t say for sure, because this is how I am, and this is who I am, and this is what’s happened. 

Jon: How did your upbringing affect your perspective on your own sexuality? 

I was raised Catholic. We went to church every Sunday. So it was just a lot of environmental influence flooding my mind, and thinking that I couldn’t be gay, or not even that I couldn’t. It was just, “I’m not gay.” Trying to solve the mystery of your past is a bit gnarly.

Yeah, being so affiliated with a religion, you’re feeling one way, and learning another thing. That’s a difficult knot. 

I grew up in the prairies with two older brothers. All our family friends were straight, white, perfect homes, all with kids, and happy marriages. That lack of diversity can make your world seem very small. Therefore, my own homosexuality didn’t fit. That’s not to say my parents did a bad job. They were the absolute best; they did everything they could for us. And they nailed it. To this day, so supportive. I told my Dad that I was gay two months before he passed away, and I never felt closer to him before in my life. In those two months, we saw each other a lot. He came here to Vancouver. I had just bought an apartment, and we did some renovations, He could see me for real, for the first time, parental guidance had sort of finally fallen away. And we were just friends. 

That’s really special. I didn’t know the timeline of you coming out with your dad passing away. It’s tragic that you lost your dad, but really special that you got to share this last piece of information with him.

It gives me peace. 

You lost somebody else just before that too. Dillon’s passing was a huge blow to our friend group and the snowboard community as a whole. How did his death affect you in regards to your journey to self-acceptance and eventually coming out?

When Dillon died so much was going on. I think for everyone, we were all just trying to understand what that meant. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kind of person he was. He held nothing back, ever, and he was so kind to people, so accepting. He knew how to have fun, and he knew what he loved. He loved his friends. I noticed and always admired that. Once he passed, I realized for myself, “It’s like he’s telling me I need to make changes.” Because what is the point of moving forward and still living this way? I’m protecting others more than I’m doing anything for myself. That was the cool thing about Dillon. He knew what he loved, and he wasn’t going to change that for other people. That was the biggest thing I learned from him. The day he passed away I knew. I’m gay. I’m telling people. 

photo by Oli Gagnon

I always referenced that last interview he did where he was talking about creating a space for different races, genders and sexualities to come together to party and listen to his music, and have the entire experience be about acceptance.

I saw that, man, and I just melted. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. He was speaking to everyone. But it felt like he was talking directly to me, because that was crazy. To then see him put it in print like that, I was just tripping.

Was the suppression affecting your relationships? 

I put up this front of strength, or I don’t know what it was. The constant self preservation is exhausting, and you don’t even understand the ways you’re doing it until you stop and reflect. Faking heteronormative behaviours, watching your words, hiding from conversation. Before, when I would leave the house, it felt like I was just treading water for 12 hours. And then I would get back in the door, and just take a huge breath. You can’t really connect with people when you’re not being honest to yourself.

I can imagine those emotions compound pretty quickly.

You try to be strong. You try to use these things to move forward, but at the same time the realization of them can hurt your ego too. It’s scary to tell everyone you’re a 30-year-old gay man for the first time, because they think you’re weak, or they think that you don’t know yourself, or that something’s wrong with you. Some things you can’t explain. Eventually you have to let go.

photo by Cole Navin

This time period must have been so emotionally draining for you, but it seems like you made it to a much better place?

A lot was going on. But dude, my life is pretty crazy. I’m a professional snowboarder; I have an apartment; I get to travel. There is so much social injustice and hardship I do not experience as a CIS white male. I’m very privileged.

Cole: To someone who is upset or confused reading this, what would you say to them—to the people who might not understand the significance of you choosing to tell your story?

Ask yourself what the problem is—what effect does this have on you personally? Why would you take a negative stance and for what reason? There is no point in trying to discredit someone else’s story, because you don’t know shit about it, and the only thing you can do is try to learn. And once you do, you just have to accept them, because their struggle is valid. And you don’t have to experience that. You have to re-adjust and rewire to realize, “Yes, we are different, but this is okay.” Maybe you don’t hate that person who looks different than you, but you don’t necessarily accept them either, and you don’t make space for them. You just keep living your life, promoting your ideals and your understanding of the world. And then these people just have to suffer in silence, because nothing has been created for them. The least you can do is just make a little room, because it’s not going to take anything away from you, it won’t. 

But hopefully this is the beginning, you know?

Every time I hear a new story from a queer person, especially with similar interests, it is so inspiring. You go from feeling uncertain and alone to thinking, “I’m gay, and this is fucking sick.” The more you say that, and the more you celebrate it for your own community, the better you feel, and you don’t care what other people think. Because the hardest part is trying not to care what other people think.

photo by Darrell Mathes

Ian: For someone who’s currently in the position you were facing, especially with the stigma around being a gay athlete, what advice do you have for them navigating it? 

It can be very difficult, but try to see the queer world around you. Don’t push it away even if it feels foreign to your identity, allow it space in your life, and allow it to come in slowly—whether that’s researching online, hearing people’s stories or making new friends. Trying to find some comfort is what’s going to shift things for you internally. Hopefully you can relate in some small ways, because the wall will fall so much lower every time you do. I was afraid to look outward and hear those stories. I was scared the more I learned about about gay culture, the more it would want to explode out of me and I didnt feel ready for that. 

It seems like we can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have someone to talk openly about this?

Once I had Tanner to connect with, it just changed everything rapidly. In a month, I felt like a different person living a different life. We talked on the phone nearly every day for over six months. He’d call me or I’d call him, and we would just bounce things back and forth. Trying to navigate all these new thoughts and feelings. We were really honest with each other. When you’re holding that inside, it just needs to come out. Everything felt like it was in fast forward. So maybe what I’ll say too, is try to find those allies who can support that journey and support that exploration of finding how you feel.

Jon: Yeah. Tanner was a real big piece of this puzzle in the story today.

Yeah. He’s the biggest piece, whether he likes to admit that or not. He’s like Mr. Humble, but he’s a huge part of this whole thing.

You thought your voice was alone, but now look at the reality of power in numbers.

Completely. It’s so cool! It gives me so much confidence knowing that we’re all doing it together because I don’t think I could have done this alone. So thankful for all these people, and I’m thankful for you guys. I haven’t slept in four days just thinking about doing this.

photo by Cole Navin

Agreed. The feeling is mutual. It’s just like the civil unrest is all of a sudden challenging me. First and foremost, I’m 34 years old, and it’s like, “When are you going to decide to grow up?” A part of snowboarding is this Peter Pan effect. Chalk this one up as one of the many reasons why this hasn’t been addressed yet. 

The selfish aspect of it is perpetuated. It’s rewarded throughout our careers, and it’s really hard to understand and get away from, because it’s a part of what you do. It’s how you are valuable to the companies you work for.

Yeah. It’s a strange relationship and taken out of context sometimes.

We have all made these mistakes, judged people. And maybe even acted on it. I’ve said homophobic things in my younger life. I’m not claiming to be free of that either. I’m not proud of that, but you can change. History doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person; it’s just that now you are learning the effect your actions can have. Some of us have the privilege to ignore these problems that society forces upon marginalized groups—to not see—because we are not always affected. Whether that’s sexuality, race, or whatever it may be. It’s so easy to just keep going and to not think about others, but now, some are starting to realize we need to learn and unlearn, and that’s important. That’s what’s going to change things for everybody.

Anything else you want to say?

To anyone who does read this interview and is questioning or feeling afraid—I don’t care who—you can reach out to me, online or in person. I want people to know they can ask me a question or two, or three, or four, or whatever, and I’ll do my best to try and help. So if there is anything they want to ask or say, I’m down 🙂

Chad Unger’s Pride Video Interview

photo by Brett Spurr

Intro by Spencer Schubert

June 27, 2020

The most defining feature about Chad isn’t that he’s deaf but that he has an intoxicating smile. It’s the first thing I remember about meeting him at some snowboard event years ago. I wanted to talk to him because I was a fan of his edits. He made these videos from Brighton without songs, because obviously he couldn’t hear them. We started chatting by typing questions on his phone and passing it back and forth. That conversation was very surface-level; we were face to face but might as well have been texting from miles away. That’s when I first realized I had never really thought about what it was like to be deaf. Our community in snowboarding seems so small, loving, and inclusive, but I couldn’t help think people viewed Chad as having a disability. People see Chad and want to talk, as if it’s something to do, rather than actually start a friendship—because how? He’s so different. 

Snowboarding culture feels like it’s 90 percent talking about snowboarding and 10 percent actual snowboarding. Understanding that, I feel like Chad is more of a snowboarder than most of the people I know. He doesn’t go to the resort to shoot the shit on the chairlift, or talk about what trick to try. He is there completely for the experience of snowboarding itself. I saw that as such a brave act, to immerse yourself into a scene based so heavily on verbal communication, because the snowboarding outweighed the possibility of feeling left out. 

It wasn’t until later when I developed a friendship with Chad that I realized so much I thought was wrong. Chad can’t hear, but he can read a room better than someone talking in it. So often we’ll get a big crew of snowboarders together, and waste time arguing opinions on some video or other bullshit, while Chad will go off and silently take an amazing photo. You can pull out your phone to film something, but he will capture it in a way you could never think of. His lack of hearing has heightened Chad’s visual acuity to a point that is almost supernatural. 

But just as I thought I understood Chad, my perspective of his involvement in the snowboard community changed again when he told me he was gay. Chad was openly out before, but it wasn’t well known, because few had dug deep enough to ask. Maybe that’s because his snowboard friends hadn’t taken the time to see the world as he does, to take a step back from the banter and bullshit to observe. Knowing that Chad is gay doesn’t change my thoughts on him in the slightest, but it does make me question myself and my peers. Would he have said something sooner if snowboarders were more open? Most pros project themselves as progressive on issues like the environment, but are we as progressive with sexuality? I haven’t asked him these questions, but I’ve been busy trying to learn curse words in sign. I don’t have to ask to know that Chad is fearless. Chad is a photographer, a filmer, he is deaf, he is gay, and he is a snowboarder, regardless of any constructs we have built. That, to me, takes way more courage than hopping on a rail or flying off a jump.

video by Tanner Pendleton
photo by Justin Meyer
photo by Cole Navin
Chad’s photo on the back cover of Issue TWO of Torment Mag

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