Interview by Eric Blehm
Vol. 8, Number 4 (January, 1995)
After five years of quiet dominance, Janna Meyen finally steps up to the mic.
Seemingly allergic to the spotlight, seventeen-year-old Janna Meyen has avoided the long-lensed tentacles of the media like a cat does a pool. A hunt through five years of back issue snowboarding magazines yields only a half-dozen photos of her. Considering Janna’s competitive accomplishments and the unanimous respect she’s earned in the informed snowboarding community, that sparsity of coverage is way out of whack.
In 1991 she competed in the girls’ seventeen-and-under division of the USASA Nationals and took first overall-she was thirteen. That same season, she went on to win the halfpipe event at the U.S. Open in the women’s pro division, but declined the prize money to maintain her amateur status.
After her Open victory, Janna has quietly earned the reputation as the most progressive female freestyler in the world-the one who rides most like, well… a guy. In the park, her casual mature style and technically advanced trickery keeps most of the boys sitting in the snow questioning their manliness. Janna rode flawlessly in the Butterfinger Pro Snowboard Tour last season, winning every boardercross, slopestyle, and halfpipe event she entered despite the watchful eyes of the ESPN/Prime Ticket cameras.
Although such success has a tendency to inflate the head, Janna remains a quiet, camera-shy girl from Big Bear nobody knows too much about. We thought it was about time to find out more, so with the promise of free lunch and an unlimited supply of Choco Tacos, we convinced Janna to step up to the mic and tell us what we’ve been missing.
So what’s this thing with cameras? Why do you hate ’em so much?
Since I was little, I never liked to be in front of the camera. On picture day at school I used to always get in the back of the line. Cameras, video cameras, and all that kind of stuff- I hate ’em. School speeches and stuff were kinda the same. I just wouldn’t show up.
We had a hell of a time finding photos of you. How have you managed to avoid all the snowboarding paparazzi?
I’m gonna try and work more with photographers now, but I used to just avoid them. When photographers would call and try to get me to go shoot, I’d try to sound like I wasn’t too excited about it. Sometimes they’d get the hint, but then I got stuck answering the phone. If they left a message for me, I just wouldn’t return their calls. I guess I don’t like people looking at me, I’d rather just go out and ride. Plus, I hate getting put on the spot.
Kinda like right now?
Yeah, kinda-a little bit. Like on stage when you win a contest, I hate that. I don’t like being up there in front of all those people.
But at the same time you like to compete, right?
Yeah, but once I get up there, I’m more nervous than before my turn during the competitions.
So what’s your favorite trick you learned last season?
Hmmm. I don’t really have any favorite tricks; I just like to do a lot of variations.
What’s the hardest trick you wired?
Probably a fakie frontside 540 with different variations, usually grabbing Indy or mute. I’ve never really been that good at spinning off straight jumps. Spinning in the pipe is easy with a vert lip. I learned 720s in the pipe, but it doesn’t really count ‘cause it’s so much easier. It doesn’t even feel like a 720, it feels more like a 360. I just like to be consistent.
How did you first get into competing?
I raced Big Wheels one time when I was six at a BMX track in Las Vegas, where I lived before Big Bear. They made me race on this stupid little course and said I wasn’t old enough to race bikes, but I didn’t like the Big Wheels. So the next weekend I raced bikes in the boys’ division and it was fun.
Where there any girls your age to race against?
There weren’t any kids at all, let alone girls, so I was usually in a boys’ category that was a little older, too. Like seven- and eight-year-old boys.
How long did you race BMX?
From age six until I was about ten or eleven, and then my parents just got sick of driving me everywhere and said no more of that. So I started playing hockey on a guys’ team.
Didn’t you get in a fight when you were playing?
How did you know about that?
We have our ways. What about that scrap?
Well… this kid on the other team hit me, so I hit him back. Then the ref started trying to break it up, and it pretty much turned into a brawl-there were like four or five of us going off. We finally stopped and for no reason the ref just grabbed my ponytail hanging out of my helmet and started dragging me across the ice. I kept asking him, “What’s your problem?” trying to get him to stop. I’m all, “You’re hurting me.” And then he wouldn’t stop, so I twisted loose and started going off on him and punching him and everything, and he was grabbing his stomach.
Yep, it was super funny.
How old were you?
Probably about fourteen, yeah, that was about the same time I started snowboarding. Before I moved to Big Bear I lived in Torrance, which is kinda in the Los Angeles area on the coast. I started playing hockey there, and then kept playing for a couple years while I lived up in Big Bear. But hockey practice and everything was in Arrowhead, so it was a long haul to play all the time, especially in winter with practice four days a week, so I quit that and started snowboarding because it was close and fun.
Are you planning on staying in Big Bear or traveling?
Actually, I’m gonna move to Tahoe with Jason Toth and some friends for the winter.
Do you think your riding style will change much with a bigger mountain?
I kinda hope so. I’d actually like to become a better freerider on the natural stuff instead of the man-made parks and all that. I went to Baker this past winter, and I had a lot of fun, but I couldn’t ride any of the stuff, ‘cause I was so used to all these smooth perfect jumps and transitions for landings, so I’d be more stoked if I could ride all that stuff and maybe just go even bigger-you can’t go that big at the parks.
I have some friends who live in Incline, and we visited them four or five times this winter, and they said it was a really bad winter for them. But their bad winter was so much better than our winter in Bear. I just want to ride powder, like this season I rode powder maybe two or three times, and it wasn’t at home. Tahoe isn’t too far either, I can still fly back home for the weekend once in a while. I can’t handle not riding powder anymore.
Which area are you gonna get a pass at?
Probably Sugarbowl, I guess it’s pretty small considering the size of the other resorts up there. But compared to Bear it’s huge, and it’s got so much terrain all packed into this cool, tight mountain. It’s still kinda small, but it will help me get used to going bigger. Like I said, you just can’t go that big at the parks.
You land flat.
Exactly, you miss the landings. So I want to learn how to ride bigger natural stuff. Steeper and faster-everything faster.
Who sponsors you?
Morrow, Volcom, Arnet, Twist, and Airwalk. They’re all great, but it would be nice to only have a few sponsors. So many people just collect sponsors.
Tell me about your school.
I was in eighth grade in the middle school up there in Bear, and I was fourteen and really started getting into snowboarding and traveling a lot when I rode for Sims, and I was just missing too much school. They were saying “If you keep missing so much school, you’re not gonna get a diploma even from middle school.” But then they told me about this independent-study thing at a continuation school. I got in and went like four hours a day. And then I kept snowboarding more and had to go on to a different program, so by my third year in high school, I was on full independent study where I just went to school one day every two weeks to turn in my work. I did it all on my own. It worked really good, because I not only got to ride more, but I did my work at my own pace-so I got to finish school a year early.
Really, most people would kick back and lag.
I just worked ahead. I had straight As before eighth grade. Now, I’m done. I’m seventeen and I’ve got my diploma, so this year I can do whatever I want.
Well if you could get me to ask you any question, what would it be?
I don’t care, ask anything. Just don’t ask all the usual cheesy interview questions.
Okay, deal. Well, how about a few cheesy ones-if I warn you first?
With Taco Bell moving into the Big Bear scene, do you think they’ll take much business away from McDonald’s and Burger King?
Oh yeah. All those other places are gonna go out of business. Yep, Taco Bell is the place.
Do you usually dine in or hit the drive-thru?
Eat in like two or three times a day ‘til nine o’clock, when the dining room closes, and then we’ll hit it later with the drive-thru.
So during the season, Taco Bell is pretty much a staple part of your diet?
Yeah, for sure. Every time you go to Taco bell in Big Bear, you see everybody there. If you’re looking for anybody, just hang out for one meal and you’ll either see him or find out where he is. Or Kmart, those are like the two places in Bear, beside on the snow. Yep, I guess Taco Bell is my favorite food, next to Choco Tacos (ice cream-filled tacos).
Yeah. They’re good.
Uh-huh, except when there’re Choco Taco droughts.
Well, Circle K and 7-Eleven are the only two places that carry Choco Tacos, and up in Bear both stores get their deliveries on the same day. They always seem to run out of them on the same day until they’re delivered again the next week-so you usually have two or three days with no Choco Tacos on the whole mountain. You have this drought, and you’re just craving ’em, and you can’t get ’em unless you drive an hour down the mountain. It sucks.
You seem pretty fired up about Choco Tacos.
Yeah, and they don’t even get a lot of them. They’ll get a shipment in and it’s only like fifteen, so I visit the store two different days and they’re gone.
How many do you average in a day?
Hmmm. Two or three. [Boyfriend Jason Toth laughs. “More than that.”] Not lately. Okay, sometimes I’ll have four a day.
So with that many visits to Taco Bell and that many Choco Tacos when do you have time to ride? Wait scratch that. Cheesy question number two. What is an average day in the life of Janna Meyen?
I don’t wake up ‘til about 10:30, and then I get out of the house about noon, on the mountain by about 1:00, and then ride until like 4:30.
With Taco Bell before and after?
Exactly, and during the summer there’s nothing to do. I like to skate, and there are like two curbs in the whole town to skate and one ramp that sucks. So there’s nowhere to skate at all. You have to be creative to have fun. We’ll go to Kmart and stick shopping carts in front of cars and get going like 40 or 50 mph and then slam on the brakes. The cart takes off and hits a curb, it’ll do like three or four flips and then land and sometimes keep going. Or at the fat end of the parking lot, there’s this huge brick wall, like twenty feet tall, and we slam the cart into the wall and the whole thing just blows up. So basically it’s pretty boring.
Are you sure you want us to print that? Kmart might find out.
They already know.
So you don’t mind if this stuff gets printed?
Nah, go ahead.
Okay… any other good stuff?
Yeah, you take those huge Rubbermaid 50-gallon trashcans from the side of the road, then go to a house and fill it up with a hose. It takes like five or six people to pick it up and carry it, sometimes we’ll use a skateboard. Then you go up to someone’s doorstep and lean it up against the door. It’s like three in the morning, and your pounding on the door, then all the lights turn on and you take off running. The people open the door, and by the time it starts falling they’re all sleepy and trying to catch it, and there’s no way they’re gonna catch 50 gallons of water… [Jason in the background: “Nope.”] … and the water flash floods the house. So if you see some kids pushing a trash can around on a skateboard in the middle of the night-you know what’s going on. But usually the police are involved and you get chased. That’s a good one.
What about the summer camps? Don’t you like to ride at the camps?
There is no riding, there’s like nothing. All these kids see all these pictures in the magazines of Brushie going so big in the pipe with all this rad park stuff in the background, and they drive clear across the country to get there, and then the camps ask, “Are you a camper?” And if you’re not a camper, you can’t ride. Even if you are a camper, there’s not too much, just a long skinny run with stuff on it. It’s not like riding during the winter. It’s fun to go up there and see everybody, just don’t expect too much. The first year I went there, I paid for a camp. It was great just snowboarding during the summer, and the skate ramps were fun, too. I guess if you’re just learning, its still fun. Just make sure you’re part of a camp. Don’t just show up, or they’ll be lame and not let you ride on their stuff.
A lot of people think of So Cal as just a big jib park fest. How do you handle the scene?
I try to just keep riding, especially when it’s busy and the mountain’s packed. I can’t stand stopping, ‘cause there’re so many people just watching each other. I don’t know, I just try and ride fast, and if there’re people waiting for a jump, I just go right in front of them.
Yeah. They freak out, but I mean, jeez, I don’t want to wait in line, so I just ride right by and keep going. Some people don’t like it, but I’m not gonna wait all day to hit one hit. I just try and ride the mountain or the park, not sit on it.
Another cheesy predictable question: what would your ultimate day of riding consist of?
I don’t know. It would be cool if you had your own private helicopter and you could ride Baker for like two hours and then cruise down and ride Tahoe for two hours and then cruise down again and ride Summit for like … a half hour. Maybe some powder, some man-made hardpack, a fat posse of your friends, a pack of helicopters like the ones following O.J. on that freeway.
What about contests?
I don’t know, contests are fun as far as seeing everybody who’s there and riding a good pipe occasionally, but usually they’re not too good.
So is the pipe your favorite event?
No. Boardercross is the best. I don’t really like the pipe that much, actually, I don’t even ride pipe very often, but most people I’ve talked to consider me a pipe rider, and I’m like, “Okay, whatever.” Last season I rode maybe five days in the pipe at Summit, I didn’t even take runs-mostly one-hitters. Mainly I’m just into the regular runs, and I’m not into hiking, either. That’s a big reason why I don’t ride pipe. If there was a tow rope or something, maybe I’d ride it more, but when I get to the bottom and you gotta look back up that thing and think about hiking it … I hate hiking.
‘Cause they’re the funnest. Just because everyone is going down at the same time and it’s super funny. I can’t stop laughing most of the way down ‘cause you can hear everyone on the course, especially Cara Beth [Burnside]. That chick goes off-mouth flapping, throwing punches-just goes off, and I can’t stop laughing. She’s usually not far in front of me or to the side or in back of me, and I can hear her all the way down. She’s the coolest person, but she’s so competitive.
She’s serious when she’s yelling?
She’s super-serious. She gets so competitive it’s funny. Like this one boardercross at Kirkwood, the very first corner was heelside for me, and I’m coming around it, and I feel someone just jab me in the back-like four or five good punches in my back. I turned around, and Michelle Taggart was right behind me. I was like, “No way was that Michelle,” just laughing. It was Carabeth. But she’s like my best friend, she rips.
Who else rips on the female side of things?
I think Circe Wallace is by far better than anyone else. Like freeriding, pipe, boardercross, whatever as far as an all-around rider, Circe is the best by far. Nobody else even compares.
What about guys?
There’s so many. They’re just so good, especially like Jamie Lynn and Terje. They’re on their own level. I think, because they push it so hard. They do tricks that aren’t even a part snowboarding’s vocabulary yet, because they’re the only ones who do them.
Who pushes you?
Jason [Toth]. If I didn’t ride with Jason every day, I wouldn’t be nearly as good. He’s the one who pushes me. He was such a kook when he started, he couldn’t even turn his board- he had like a 28-inch stance. So I got him down to like a twenty-inch stance and a better board, and he picked it up real quick, like within a month. After that he just passed all the other locals up. And then he started teaching me stuff.
You’re not into the super-wide duck stance?
No, I’ve been riding different stances on all of the boards I’ve been getting. Lately I’ve been riding a nineteen-inch stance with zero on the back and like ten on the front. But sometimes I’ll switch it and go like twenty and a half and ride maybe three degrees forward on the back and maybe fifteen forward on the front-that’s probably my racing stance. Actually it’s whatever I feel like riding that day. When I get a board, I throw it down and go, “hmmm,” and just step on it somewhere and trace my feet on there and go ride. I’m always riding different stances. I probably rode 30 different stances with different variations last season.
What do your parents think about you moving up to Tahoe?
My mom and dad have been really supportive in whatever I’ve been into-BMX, snowboarding, soccer, whatever. They’ve driven me cross-country to get me where I need to be. They never tried to get me into the usual girl things, they just let me do what I wanted to do. We used to own a liquor store in Big Bear for a long time, and they would always have pictures of people snowboarding all over the store, and all of my friends who were ever in the magazine. Like if Neal [Drake] was in a magazine, they’d rip it out and post it on the wall.
Didn’t some kid hang up a payphone when you were talking to your mom at Hood a few years back?
Oh man, who told you this one?
Ummm … a little Bird?
Well, I was just on a payphone at Hood during the summer about four years ago. How did you hear about this, anyway? I was thirteen, talking long distance, and all of a sudden this kooky kid walks by and hangs the phone up, for a joke, while I was in the middle of a conversation with my mom. Then he started laughing thinking he was funny. I just laid him out-punched him. He went down pretty hard and I grabbed an ice cream cone that he was still holding in one hand and shoved it in his face.
Sorry, but let’s end this thing with the cheesiest of predictable questions.
Do you see snowboarding as a part of your long-term future?
Well, as long as I’m having fun. I’ll always snowboard, but as far as working later in life goes, hmmm … I don’t even want to think about that. I’m only seventeen.