Faces: James Cassimus

As one of snowboarding’s original picture makers, Cassimus has played a key role in bringing our message to the masses.
By Jennifer Sherowski

Imagine that you’ve never heard of snowboarding. One day as you sit there idly flipping through a skate mag or maybe your dad’s ski mag, you see a photo of some inspired hooligan slashing a white wave on a strange wooden board. Snow is flying toward the camera, and the rider has a look of utter exultation on his face. You look out the window at your bleak winter surroundings, and then catch a glimpse of your skateboard tossed in a corner, dusty with disuse. In that definitive instant, your life changes forever.
Such is the power of imagery to insight a movement. If you ask a lot of O.G. shredders, the above scenario is exactly how they first learned about snowboarding. And many of those early riding images were captured by a young skate photographer from Southern California named James Cassimus. After getting hired on as Skateboarder Magazine’s first staff photographer upon high school graduation in 1976, Cassimus signed on full time as the photo editor of Powder, Skateboarder’s sister ski publication. He then followed his new passion for riding by convincing the company, Surfer Publications, to start its own snowboard title, Snowboarder.
“The first time I went out was in 1981 with Jake (Burton) up beyond Mountain High (California) in Wrightwood, because the ski areas wouldn’t allow us on the lifts,” recalls Cassimus. “That was the first time I photographed snowboarding or actually rode a snowboard-these were the old Burtons with the rope on the front. Right then I saw the potential to be able to surf in the snow, and I got really interested in riding and getting it in the mag. I pushed it as hard as I could in Powder and snowboard companies began to advertise, but there was resistance from skiers and still most of the ski resorts didn’t allow us. Eventually it was like, why should snowboarding support an industry that’s wholeheartedly against it?”
Cassimus eventually left Snowboarder and went on to work at TransWorld SNOWboarding, along with Warp and Snowboard Life, all the while shooting seminal ads and documenting snowboarding’s growth and early emergence with a dogged devotion. “Every year back then, the sport would change in leaps and bounds, and the photos really showed the progression of the sport and equipment. It definitely continues to change and that’s probably why I still enjoy it so much,” he says.
When you think about it, Mr. Cassimus has led a charmed life of sorts. He’s managed to be in the right place at the right time with camera in hand and a talented eye for picture making. Although you might not realize it (he was and is a low-profile person), Cassimus photographed an emerging skate scene (he’s even credited with having witnessed the first ollie), along with documenting surfing and explosive 80s musical acts along the lines of the Beastie Boys. All this is in addition to his work as a snowboard pamphleteer of sorts helping hundreds of shredders-to-be find a new reason to live.
“I still have the same stoke if not more than when I took my first run with Jake 25 years ago. I live for the pow days or nights-my new stoke-and I’ve been known to be one of the first people in the Mount Baldy parking lot on a big snow day. I’m an old-school rider who’s into steep turns and deeps. You won’t find me in the park unless I have a camera in my hand. It’s all about having fun no matter if you’re riding powder, carving, or just making turns. You don’t have to have all the latest equipment or be the coolest guy on the mountain or in the park.”