Words: Joel Muzzey
If he wanted to, Jake Blauvelt could very easily be working with a mathematician and gymnastics coach to determine the feasibility of snowboarding’s next earth-shattering flip trick. But he’s not. In fact, this 24-year-old Vermont native hasn’t hit a jump on video in two years. And yet somehow he’s maintained his place as one of the most skilled, respected, and progressive riders in the world. But how? The answer is style.
Instead of dropping his shoulder for one more flip or risking his neck to tack on the next 180, Jake is riding to the beat of a different drum. His program revolves around fresh lines, natural hits, and no building jumps—you have to admit, there’s a certain purity to it. While you’re at it, admit this too: absolutely everything that is awesome and exhilarating and magical about snowboarding can be found in the simple, natural arc of a nicely carved pow turn. Jake knows this. And considering the fact that 99.99 percent of us will never do the next big trick in snowboarding, it’s kind of surprising that the good, old pow turn isn’t more popular these days. Luckily we’ve got Jake doing his part.
What’s your take on this race for the next big, never-before-done trick? Are you thinking about that quad-cork?
You know, I’m not a hater on the triple-corks and that stuff. That’s the direction some people wanna take their snowboarding and there’s no right or wrong in that. But for me, snowboarding is about style and creativity. Doing triples or the soon-to-be quad-cork, it’s so hard to have any style with tricks like that. Other people have said it—it’s starting to look like figure skating—and what are we even gonna call these tricks? Like, quad-cork quintuplet spin or whatever? It’s easy for people to grasp because it’s just another flip or another spin and it’s easy to judge—but you can also progress snowboarding by turning your board, just riding. Finding new terrain and different stuff to ride is progression—it’s just harder to judge.
With the media and lots of riders all focused on the next big stunt, are we missing the bigger picture?
Yeah, I think so. With everyone just focusing on straight-lining into a huge jump, we’re missing the raw emotion that goes into snowboarding. For me riding is emotion. Watch someone like Terje—you see it, so much emotion goes into his riding. He’s so aggressive. He says a lot just by the way he turns his board. When we’re focused on the next big trick, style and creativity and emotion get lost. And to me, that’s what snowboarding is.
But you’ve done plenty of double-corks in movies, do you draw a line somewhere at how much flipping and spinning is too much?
Double-corks are cool but that’s kinda where I draw the line because after that, you’re really hucking. I never really have a trick list or a shot count, like, “Oh, shit, I need a double-cork for my part.” It’s more like, if the right hit comes about and it happens, then cool. I don’t really see myself doing a triple, but you never know—I’m not saying I won’t try one. For the last two years I haven’t had a jump in my video parts, I’ve just been riding the mountains. I’ve actually been looking for spots to do a natty double-cork but just haven’t found the right hit.
No jumps in a video part in two years?
Yeah, but I never went out with the plan like, “I’m not gonna hit any jumps this year,” that’s just how it unfolded. I like snowboarding more than I like building jumps, and I think there’s a lot of room for progression on natural terrain. It’s looking at the whole mountain like a skatepark instead of hunting for one certain feature or a steep landing where you can build a jump. You go up, get your airtime, then stop…but there’s a whole mountain to use! You can enter your line with a slash then do your main trick and then exit with an ollie or butter or another slash. Or you can link double hits, pretty much anything you want to do. Like I said, it’s about emotion—I’m pouring myself into the riding. Maybe not risking my neck every second, but just riding the whole mountain. Luckily my sponsors support that and it seems like people are into it, so that’s cool.
There aren’t many pros who don’t have to hit jumps and get to do whatever they want, go wherever they want. How did you pull it off?
I think I can answer this…a few years ago, when I filmed for That and the Foursquare video North South East West, I was starting to dabble with riding natural terrain, but I was still hitting lots of jumps and following the pack, and I hadn’t really made a name for myself yet. But then the season I spent filming for Forum Or Against ’Em was a real pivotal year. I was 21, I was like, I’m old enough now—I’m a man—I can do this shit. I felt like I really had to prove it to my sponsors and myself that I could do it: just ride natural terrain. I decided to do it and didn’t look back. That year I put out a good part that I was proud to show, which helped me make a name for myself for riding natural terrain and it gave me confidence. It’s about believing in yourself, like, “I know how to ride a snowboard, just go out there and f—kin’ have fun and ride well, like you know how to.” That’s my mentality every time I go out and snowboard.
But right now snowboarding is more competitive than ever. Not just tricks, contests, and videos, but sponsorship, exposure, and marketing. It’s a battle. And you get to just go slash powder?
Yeah, I guess. I’m focusing on my own riding and not worrying what everyone else is doing. It’s so easy now for everyone to see what everyone else is doing, that it’s easy to get caught up in it. But you’ve gotta focus on yourself—in snowboarding and everything else you do. And if what I’m doing goes against the grain in pro snowboarding, it’s not because I had some plan. Riding natural terrain, just riding the mountains, has always been the backbone of snowboarding. But maybe at some point it got lost. But now people say to me, like, “It’s so cool to see you do this new thing.” New thing? It’s more like back to basics.
That sounds awesome but stepping outside the box isn’t easy. Isn’t it hard work to take your own path?
It is work, but snowboarding never feels like work, really. My mom always reminds, “You’ve worked so hard at this.” And I’m like, I have? Some mornings I wake up and it feels like I’ve been working hard, but for the most part it’s too fun to call it work. I was talking to my agent Greg about my schedule a while back, like, “Man, I’m going to be traveling and riding a lot this summer. When is the break?” And he goes, “Hey, it’s better than a desk job, right?” I shut up at that moment. I get to travel the world and ride powder, I should be nothing but thankful.
So do you just live in your own little world or do you pay attention to what else is going on in snowboarding?
I love snowboarding too much not to pay attention. All the street riding right now is super sick. That kid Ethan Deiss, guys like LNP, Eero Ettala—these guys are so f—king sick. I can’t even imagine doing that stuff. That type of riding isn’t really my thing, but that’s what’s so cool about snowboarding. It’s not like baseball, football, and soccer, where the game can only be played one way. Do it how you want. Just one-foot the whole time—who cares?
More riders are doing solo projects or hiring their own filmers—the Helgason brothers, Torstein, Rice, you. It’s more of a DIY approach to documentation. What do you think of this shift in media for riders?
It’s cool. Man, it’s rider driven and rider-driven content is real. In the long run, that’s really gonna help snowboarding and keep it true. Having snowboarders make snowboard movies and products is super important. When it gets too corporate, it becomes all about the money. That’s not good. We need passionate people—snowboarders—making decisions within snowboarding. Basically, as a rider right now, you’ve gotta watch out for yourself, and as long as you can get your sponsors to support your game plan, you’re stoked. The alternative is waiting around for someone to tell you what to do.
Trusting your instincts and following your heart in snowboarding seems to come really natural for you. Most kids—most adults—struggle to see things so clearly.
It can definitely be confusing, but if you’re having fun and doing what you want, that’s all that matters. If you only ride the park and you love it, cool. If you’re a male ballerina—whatever—if what you’re doing stokes you out, keep at it. F—k what everyone else is doing, find your passion. You don’t have to play by the rules. You don’t just have to go to school, then college, get a nine-to-five, have a kid…if that’s what stokes you out, fine, but you can live life your own way.