With the 28th U.S. Open drawing to a close (not to mention what might have been the biggest year ever for snowboarding), we sat down with the man who started it all, Jake Burton, for a check-in on the current state of the sport.
ESPN: The first question for you, with such a gigantic year for snowboarding with the Olympics, how is this event different from others? In your mind, give me the progression of how the face of snowboarding might have changed.
Burton: This year, obviously, up until February was pretty much about the Olympics. I think everyone was grinding toward that -- the whole qualification process, developing uniforms, and everything was going a mile a minute in that direction. And then, once it was over -- you know it was great, it was an incredible experience, watching Shaun and Kelly and everybody ride like that, so incredible. But at the same time it's so cool that it's over and snowboarding is back in the hands of our own deal. I think it's great the season is ending here. Great weather, super fun atmosphere, and relaxed everybody is having fun and partying, but the level of competition is insane. It's world-class competition but in a snowboard environment, which is kind of what it should be all about.
How in your mind did this Olympics differ from the past few ones? Did more people see it than before? It seems like people were definitely more interested, more open to it.
You know the Olympics have been around a long time. There are some incredible events -- you know, hockey and a lot of other events. But when the snowboarding halfpipe is going on, people are saying "this is the Olympics." It's like the snowboarding Olympics. I mean the opening ceremonies; they had the guy who jumped into the stadium on a snowboard. It was pretty good for the sport. Canada has always been a country that kind of gets it, collectively. It seems snowboarding just seemed to leave a mark, more so than it ever has. And that was somewhat unique. And I think the level of riding that's going on, the level of risk associated with it has definitely gone up a notch. We saw that in a lot of sports, and it's sort of human nature. Athletes these days, you know you get speed and acrobatics involved; it's just insane what people are doing. Snowboarders are having fun, they're having the time of their lives, and riders are loving it. But at the same time, it's just more precision and more serious I think in terms of what they're doing than it ever has been.
It seems like this year, for better or worse, the story of the risk associated with snowboarding became the mainstream story.
You know, there have been horrific falls forever -- no matter what you're doing. I think what happened there (with Kevin) ... I mean he's such a popular kid, right. Everybody loves him, so it just rocked everybody. With every person he's ever touched in his life, he leaves an impression and you know, he's an incredibly popular kid, and not just on a personal level but somehow it radiates throughout his whole fan base across the world. And so that was just such a shocker. I think, everybody was like, "Oh my God, what's going on?" I talked to people who were there and they were like "That's the worst fall I've even seen and it was just so random ... " I think snowboarding inherently is a pretty damn safe sport, even compared to skiing, so I think that people got over that. So that's what comes from the Olympics, is this sort of rush to judgment and this overreaction. It's out of our world, so it's so nice to come back here at the end, just after everything.
Speaking of this year, I've been coming here since I was a little kid. This is a much different event than before. Obviously, you've been involved in every one of them. How do you view the transformation of this event that has taken place over quite a long period of time?
You know people ask me that, and it's so hard for me to even comment on the growth of snowboarding. I can look back, and what my expectations were when I started making boards. I didn't even think it'd be at resorts. I just thought it could be an alternative to spending the money to go skiing. So I never ceased to be amazed as to where the sport goes. It's the riders that are taking it there, and the fact that the sport is so fun. It's got so much going for it. It just, you know, I think the sport is really deserving of it. I have been there from the beginning, so every year I sort of see things that happen. I've had friends who have come to the Open after not being here for, like, three years or so and they're like, "What's going on?" So it's good, it's growing. You know, it's a good place for sponsors to be. It's a sport that really talks about you, having fun.
Where do you see this whole thing in, say, ten years from now?
You know I don't know. I think that right now we're in such a good spot because the riders, all the riders out there competing in it -- they clearly get the formula. It's not like this is a business where they can't wait to get their boards off. I mean they love shredding. They do it all day. If it was a powder day today and the event had been cancelled, everybody would still be out riding. And I think hopefully we just never lose that. That's all that matters to me. I'm not going to predict where the tricks are going, where the riding is going or where the money is going, but hopefully we'll all just keep going and not lose our soul.