Perspectives: Zak Hale
I first met Zak Hale over a decade ago. He was the "it" kid at Bear Mountain, and for good reason. The first time I saw him ride, I knew that he was a special kind of rider. He had a natural fluidity and style that isn't learned, but is instead natural, as if one is born with it. Since then, Zak has grown into his own, filming segments with VG, putting out psycho street spot parts like his Real Snow and crewed up with the Lick The Cat boys for internet-breaking edits like Shorts & Shades. But there's more to Zak Hale than what you see on your computer monitor. He's a thoughtful, smart and savvy kid on top of being a very talented snowboarder. He's got a good head on his shoulders and when he speaks, he broadcasts a succinct and concise message. Basically, he's got an interesting take on things, and that's why we thought it was a good idea to have a little sit-down with him to find out what's been going on. Read on to see what Zak has to say about growing up in Big Bear, recently losing one of his longtime sponsors, and what the future has in store for him, both as a snowboarder and as a man. This is Zak Hale's Perspective.
T: You've been in the snowboarding spotlight for a really long time. In many ways, you've kind of been raised by snowboarding because you've been in the scene for so long. Would you agree?
Z: 100%. I mean, I grew up in the Mecca of park riding and when Bear would have the Nixon Jibfest and they were doing the Wide Open events and all that kind of stuff. As a young kid, I was watching the pros come through Bear and I always knew that's what I wanted to do. It was crazy being a part of that. I look back on it now as I'm older and I'm so fortunate to have been able to grow up during the time of when Bear Mountain was the epicenter of snowboarding.
T: How do you see the difference in how some of your friends grew up who weren't in the snowboard scene versus how you grew up?
A lot of my friends growing up were going to school, going to dances and proms, but snowboarding made me grow up really fast. I mean, I've been around people twice my age my whole life. That's just how I was raised. I saw the good part of being a pro snowboarder and I saw the bad part of being a pro snowboarder and I chose the route of which way I wanted to go. I look at it now and I'm glad that I chose the "keep my head on my shoulders" route, because you look at some riders who were partying and doing whatever they wanted ten years ago and they're not really around right now, so I'm glad that I chose my role models wisely. I guess that's what I'm trying to say.
T: Absolutely. When do you feel you got out of that "child star" stage in snowboarding and grew into your yourself?
Z: My mom and dad got divorced when I was around 13 and my dad left, and my dad was definitely the person driving my snowboarding. So after he left, I kind of had to do it on my own. My mom was always supportive, but I was dealing with contracts, dealing with sponsors, dealing with my own thing. By the time I could drive I was handling all my own stuff with snowboarding. And around that time I was trying to not be the little kid in Big Bear. I wanted to progress and move past that.
T: You could say that the silver lining in the cloud though is that while your dad may have left, that kind of forced you to evolve a few years faster than you would have.
Z: For sure. It let me pick my own route in snowboarding. When my dad was around, it was like contest, contest, contest, contest. When he left, I had the freedom to be able to
do what I wanted. I'm a competitive person, but I don't like the competitive nature of only focusing on contests, and that let me grow into filming with Justin and Joe for the Sunday In The Park edits and that made me realize, "Okay this is actually what I like to do because it lets me do my own thing." It let me have the freedom to explore what I wanted to do instead of just having that voice in the back of your head being like, "You need to win, you need to win, you need to win." You know? It was more like I get to do my own thing. It's like when a kid is in high school and he lives with his parents and then goes to college and has that first year of being on his own and really getting to explore who he is.
My mom let me do my own thing. She would go to a couple contests and watch, but she was never at the mountain everyday like at the bottom of the chairlift like, "Did you learn a switch back 5 today?" I never had that. I just was able to snowboard and pick and choose my path of where I wanted to go and who my role models were and weren't.
T: So you've had some sponsor changes as of late, correct?
Z: Yeah, I mean the whole Burton thing is over, and that happened in May.
T: So how do you see life after Burton?
Z: I mean, I've been on Burton since I was 15 or 16 now and when all you know is Burton, it's everything—I grew up filming with Burton, I grew up with this little yellow brick road paved for me as a snowboarder. I feel so lucky to be have had that and for everyone at Burton who made that opportunity for me, because, I don't want to say they built me as a snowboarder, but they definitely kind of laid the foundation for me to grow my career, and I'm so thankful for that.
It's crazy because since it's happened, so many people have been like, "How bitter are you?" I hate that question because I'm not bitter, why would I be bitter? Burton gave me a lifestyle for 10 years to be able to do what I love and kind of made me who I am today and they gave me freedom that not a lot of people get to enjoy in their lifetime. I would've loved to have gotten a Terje career out of it, but it is what it is. There are people [at brands] who are looking at a piece of paper and you're not always going to come out on top. It's part of life. I think people need to realize that stuff happens in real life to people everyday and what makes you grow as a person are those tough times in your life. Those experiences are what make you evolve.
It's definitely been a reality check for me the last couple of months, but it's good because I almost needed that. I've had this security for ten years almost. It's made me realize that Burton didn't necessarily make me who I am. Like, I'm Zak Hale, I built my brand. People with sponsorships look at it like that sponsor is them, but really, you are a brand and that sponsor is your employee. So when that employee is gone, you need to find another employee to help your brand. I don't want to pull the classic "get dropped by a sponsor, hate on everything, be bitter at life and never snowboard again." Snowboarding is my entire life. It's built me into the person I am and it's made all the friends that I have. That's where I'm at. It's almost a motivation thing. You need to restart and it's a fresh, new beginning.
T: Well, what does the future hold for Mr. Zak Hale in the years to come?
Z: That's such a hard question. Obviously I'm going to keep snowboarding and keep doing my thing, but I want to progress myself. I snowboard for myself and no one else. I like to keep moving and learning new things. I'm always a snowboarder and I always will be a snowboarder and just because one thing happens in my career as a snowboarder, it isn't going to change my whole lifestyle. This has been my whole life and I'm going to keep on doing that for as long as I can until my body won't let me anymore. The whole Burton thing has made me realize that I love snowboarding for snowboarding. I'm not just doing it to
get paid. I am always going to snowboard because I really do love snowboarding. If I didn't, I would be like, "You know what? Screw it. I'm going to go to school and move past it." But I don't want to do that. I want to keep snowboarding.