I Won't Punch You: Jess Kimura In Her Own Words
It takes strength of character and a sharp, creative mind to live a life beyond the boundaries of other people's expectations. And it's never easy. But for Jess Kimura, fitting in would be selling out. She has always defined herself in her own terms, making choices and taking action in ways true to herself alone. On her journey to the top of pro snowboarding, Jess didn't take the well-worn path of her peers. She blazed her own trail—taking detours, smoke breaks, and beatings on the way.
Not since the heydays of pioneering women Janna Meyen and Tara Dakides has a female pro charged so hard that everyone—guys and girls alike—shook their heads in mutual amazement. Jess brings that rare universal appeal. Guys like her go-for-broke approach and the emphasis on action. Girls see progression, possibilities, and fire in her eyes. Yet for as much as Jess has captivated fans of snowboarding, relatively little is known about this hardcore Canadian from Vernon, British Columbia. So far she's put out a pair of award-winning parts, taken lots of ambulance rides, and injected some serious juice into women's riding, but it still feels like we haven't seen the half. Nobody knows what to expect next from Jess Kimura, and that's precisely the reason she's become one of snowboarding's most compelling characters.
The conversation I had with her for this feature was long and rambling, jumping back and forth in time then twisting off on tangents. And again, this isn't the half of it. Jess has a lot to say, but rather than try to squeeze her passionate outpourings into the mold of a cute little Q&A, the format is raw. It's Jess Kimura in her own words. Try to follow along.
Here's how it all started:
I couldn't turn toeside my entire first year. Then one day—the turning point—we were riding out by the parking lot where some snowboarders had built a jump. We were like, "Can we try it?" And they were like, "No, this is our backflip jump, it's only for backflips." And I was like, "I can do a backflip," because I was heavy into gymnastics. I still couldn't turn toeside, so I just pointed it straight to the jump and hucked a backflip onto my head and cartwheeled into the parking lot…but the dudes were so shocked they shut up because I actually tried it. From that moment I was pumped.
Then it was on.
… I remember going into the park for the first time and the only girls I saw would go up to the jumps so slow, just crawl over the lip and land on the top. When I cleared the tabletop for the first time, after tucking it from the bottom of the halfpipe, it was the most insane feeling. Once I figured out that all it took was balls, it got more exciting—I was hooked. I never skied again.
… There was a crew of hardcore dudes on the mountain, and there was this one guy named Tulsa—he was the best rider at Silver Star, but he was kind of a super huge dick, like screaming at people all the time to get out of his way. Everyone was super scared of Tulsa, but for some reason he was cool to me. He started being like, "Hey you, try this instead next time…" He kinda took me under his wing, and it helped me get more confident.
… I liked the respect I got from the dudes when I was hucking tricks, or going big, or whatever. The respect was genuine, it wasn't like, "Oh, we like your tits, how's it going?" They were like, "Whoa, you just made him look like a pussy." That was my ammo—I felt like each time I did something like that, those were little victories for girls. There were a couple of girls that I saw, like Tara Dakides, Janna Meyen and Marie-France Roy in video parts, and I was like, "F—k yeah, that chick is standing up to the dudes," and even if girls' snowboarding is never going to surpass guys' snowboarding, the only thing we can do is get up and do our best to change that.
… As females, we're kind of told to be careful our whole lives.
… Right around the same time I started snowboarding, I remember doing all my projects in school about gender, stereotyping, and discrimination. I just thought it wasn't fair that we were all supposed to be this one way, and it's hard when you're growing up and all these messages are coming at you and you feel like it's totally wrong and you're selling yourself out.
… I feel this stuff holding me back all the time—being scared, overthinking stuff, or doubting myself—because generally, boys and girls are treated differently from birth. You see a little boy and you wrestle with him; a girl, you would never do that shit to. The message that's basically programmed into our heads from day one is that boys can do gnarly stuff and will grow up to do something great. Girls get to plan their wedding and be a housewife. Look at the toys that kids have, too. All the boys' toys are action heroes and superheroes, so that becomes the grown-up image of themselves. They see this empowered, powerful hero. Girls' toys are like, dress-up stuff, kitchen stuff, Barbie stuff. It's like, sweet, the grown up version of you is a housewife not a hero; it's not something spectacular. Up until the age when you can think for yourself, if those are the messages you get, then of course when you try stuff you're going to pull back and be apprehensive. Something inside you says, "This isn't really what I'm supposed to be doing." I was just naturally super pissed off about that.
… Meeting Dykeboy was rad because finally I found someone who felt the same way as me, and we were so stoked when we found a group of dudes down to shred with us who didn't treat us like girls. I was offended that everything had to be sexualized. I was offended that guys would look at me as just something to hook up with. So I was walking around pissed off, like, "How dare you put me down to just being that." But then all the other girls were going along with it. It really got to me, but I'm over all that stuff now; I grew up. I feel like my role can be to show girls something that gives them a bit more hope than their Barbie convertible.
But wait! There’s more! Click on to the next page to finish the interview!
Taking the bib off.
… I think it's important for girls to film video parts and not just do contests. Otherwise all they have to look forward to is standing on the podium. Even though girls may be doing insane, progressive, stylish tricks in their runs, no one sees that. It's just who came in first, second, and third. I feel like I'm not doing this just for myself, as much as for the hope of the next generation of girls. You can follow your own path and you don't have to conform to all that contest bullshit.
… I moved out on my own when I was 16 and got a job working at Wendy's, and then I had random housecleaning jobs. Shit kind of hit the fan that year. Supporting myself was really tough, and then at 17 and 18, I didn't ride very much because I was struggling a lot, just dealing with life bullshit. I was still trying to take some classes in high school and graduate, and work at the same time.
… When I was younger my mom always got the family pass, so I had a pass to ride, and if I really needed it, my parents would hook me up with money to go to a competition, but it wasn't like I could go very far. When I was 18, Dykeboy and I did a huge fundraiser so we could go to Quebec for Nationals. This guy at the local newspaper was super hyped on us, writing articles like, "These poor, athletic girls really want to go to Nationals." So we hit up the newspaper asking them to write an article for our fundraiser, and we had a lot of friends who were in bands, so we did a hot-dog sale at Safeway then put on a show at a bar in Vernon, and our friends all played for free. We were hustling, and we ended up making enough money to go to Quebec, staying in this pimp hotel. I think I got second in boardercross at Nationals that year and Dykeboy got fourth.
… When I started riding rails I realized I could win freestyle contests and do the same tricks as the guys. Then I realized there's street stuff that made it so I didn't have to buy a pass and I could just build my own setups and ride them—I loved that, and loved the feeling of working all day to get a trick on something, or being able to slide a whole rail that none of the dudes could do.
Waking up in Whistler.
… When I moved to Whistler I think everyone thought I was a total kook, but it didn't matter to me because in the end I wanted to move beyond that shit. My goal wasn't to look cool or to fit in with a crew—it was to snowboard in a way that fulfills this raging fire inside me.
… Everything is really cliquey, especially in a place like Whistler. I never wanted to fit in with the girls' crew. I wanted to take my own path. To me, riding with girls was only going to make me second guess myself, because every time I rode with them I felt like they were telling me, "Stop, don't do that, this is what could happen to you, you're going to get hurt, let's go home, this is sketchy, let's not do that." I didn't like that. I was there for the riding. And to this day I feel like so many people have a different picture of me than what I'm really like. I'm not like, "Let's smash bottles over our heads and go crazy." I'm not chucking myself because I'm stupid or whatever; it's because there's so much that I want to do. I have to at least try, and the focus unfortunately gets put on how much I fall, usually. But if people actually pay attention to my riding, watch my parts, I hope that they'll see stuff being done switch, or see something that's never been done by a girl before.
… There's been a bunch of times when I almost said, "F—k it" and gave up. My second year in Whistler, I was just like, "This is it, this is my last year" I was looking into courses and trying to save up money to go back to school. I told my parents, "I'm moving home, back to Vernon, I'm going to quit if this doesn't go anywhere this season." And it didn't go anywhere industry-wise, but where it did go somewhere was my riding, because of all the energy I was putting into it and just feeling so desperate, you know?
Straight to video.
… At the time of that first backflip I knew I wanted to be a pro snowboarder, because I was like, "This is easy. I can be good at this just by going faster and bigger," you know? We were filming constantly from the start. The first video I made was called The Cause and it was rad, but then I realized you're actually supposed to land the tricks you put in your part, and so it was just everything, all my dude friends hucking rodeos on to their faces and stuff…
The thing with video is it's put down in history, it's there, it's tangible. You can watch it again five years later, 20 years later. I remember watching MFR's video parts with tears in my eyes, just surging with inspiration and the feeling I got when I watched Tara do a switch back rodeo into pow. They were doing stuff that people never even though was possible for girls snowboarding. If it wasn't for those types of moments, I probably wouldn't be pushing so hard today. My goal is to give to girls what was given to me, and the best way I can do that is by filming video parts.
… My Think Thank video part dropping was so rad for me, but winning the awards and stuff—that was too much. I wasn't ready for that, and I almost got neurotic and paranoid about shit, like, "You're not as good as people think you are, and now you've got to follow through." I think that' s why when we were filming Defenders Of Awesome that I kept getting hurt, because I wasn't in the right headspace. Even though I was hurt the whole time and it's not the video part that I wanted to film, I guess I still made it happen.
The age problem.
… I'm not 26—I just turned 28. Basically, for me, it had come to a point where I was doing everything humanly possible to make it in snowboarding and it wasn't going anywhere. I'd hear from people that if you're starting your career later than 19 or 20 years old, your time is up. I felt like people would think my time was up and they wouldn't give me the chance, so I lied about my age. I knew what I wanted to do and what I was capable of, but I had so many setbacks for so many reasons. I just thought that if age is the one thing that's going to make someone not even look at my sponsor-me video, everything I've done on my snowboard so far has come to nothing.
I had my first profile in Snowboard Canada, and it was called the "Up-And-Comer" issue. When I saw that I was four or five years older than anyone else in that thing, I was like, "Oh my god, when I try to make it in the States, they'll be like, 'You're too old, you're done.'" I knew I wasn't, but then my next "Check Out" interview came. When they asked me how old I was, I told them I was two years younger than I really was. And once you say it once, you kind of have to keep going with it. In my mind it was going to be like, "Okay, sweet I get my one chance, my one year of paychecks, and I'm out." I never thought I was really going to make it, I never thought anybody was really going to give me a chance anyways, you know?
… Everything that I've done has been so raw and honest and so straightforward, and this shit with my age is the one thing that I've felt super shitty about. Like I didn't believe in myself enough to just be exactly who I was. It's been eating at me, so I just wanted to say it—set the record straight once and for all. At this point I'm not worried about losing opportunities based on how old I am; it comes down to what I do on my snowboard, and no one can contest that because it's on film. Everyone takes a different path, and I've never fit into the regular mold of anything.
… Now that I get paid to snowboard, I don't have to work construction, so I have time to put effort into all these different facets that I couldn't before because I couldn't afford it or take the time to do it. I'm basing everything in my life around looking for weaknesses in my riding and just being really honest with myself: "Okay, you're crazy, fearless, and determined but look at the bad parts—you're kind of out of control, you don't think about stuff before you do it, you're not strong enough to do some stuff that you're trying." I feel like if I can put that all together, maybe I can do stuff that I never really dreamed was possible. People have all these preconceived notions about me and what I'm like, and the kind of riding that I'm doing; they think I'm just some street rail kid, but I rode rails because it was free, you know? You don't need a pass for that, and now that I can afford a pass and I can afford a sled, let's see what the f—k's going to happen now.
… The only way that I can possibly contribute to the overall progression of snowboarding is doing tricks and making guys look at them and be like, "If that's what a girl can do, I gotta do better." Guys are always going to have to be better than girls; otherwise they feel like pussies. I can definitely contribute to pushing the level in girls' stuff, which pushes up the bottom level in men's snowboarding. And I think a lot of guys—regular dudes out there—feel like girls when they watch Travis Rice's stuff. But when they see someone who's at a total disadvantage—a girl like me—they can relate. And I hope that inspires people.
… If I am a crazy, loose maniac, it's because of all the heart and determination that's coming behind it, pushing me to try something that's maybe stupid, but if I do it, it's going be something good and hopefully push women's snowboarding. And I need to step back a bit, I'm an overthinker, I analyze every part of everything and I'm a lot nicer than people think I am. So many people have said to me, "I was so scared of you before I met you and you're actually nice." All the kids in Japan said that: "We were so scared to meet you, we thought you'd punch us," you know? I'm like, "Dude, I won't punch you. I'll carry your board up the hill for you and build you a jump." It's for the cause, man. It all comes back to that, and people can perceive me however they want, but ultimately I want my riding to do the talking.