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.
How was the transition from being in film crews like Forum and Absinthe to being the leader of a film crew producing your own Fuel TV show (Blauvelt's Backcountry), and now the Naturally webisodes?
It's a little more pressure than working on a regular video, but I feel like, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. To be successful in life, you gotta take risks, right? Maybe it's more work, but it's also more rewarding. I've always wanted to be that misty, Tom Penny-style rider, but at the same time I was just turning out video parts each year. I reached a point where I felt like I wasn't doing anything new. Maybe I was doing some new tricks, but to work toward the same final product year after year--a video part--I was kinda bored with it. That's why I took on the TV show, I wanted to do something new. I figured I'd learn a lot in the process whether it worked out or not. I had also just signed two three-year contracts, and I was in a good position to do it. It was a good way to get myself out there, too. It was funny when I went back to Vermont. In the past when I went home, people would be like, "Are you still snowboarding--still doing that?" And then with the show, people were like, "Dude, I see you on TV all the time!" Which is cool. And I basically did the exact same thing with my riding, I just got the footage out there a different way.
In a relatively short time, you've climbed to the pinnacle as a pro rider. A US Open title, Forum team, pro model gear, video parts, a TV show, and so on. Where do you find the focus and confidence to make all these things happen?
I've always believed you shouldn't be afraid to change it up and keep learning new things instead of getting stagnant or too comfortable. That's kind of my philosophy of life: keep learning. I think back to how it felt when I first learned how to snowboard--how exciting it was, I was so amped. I don't know if it releases endorphins in your brain or what, but it just takes over. It fully took over.
And I'm lucky I learned from great people, too. Back on the East Coast, I had the best coaches: Bud Keene and Jenner Richard really showed me how to ride my board, how to turn. Being able to watch Kyle Clancy, Colin Langlois, Zach Leach, Jeff Kramer--those were the guys I looked up to. I was fortunate to learn solid fundamentals as a kid. That meant learning how to ride the pipe well and learning how to compete in slopestyle. I came up through all that--it was really all I knew. I got to the point where I was doing well in contests, but then I was watching video parts from Devun, Terje, and Müller, and being like, "I want to do that!"
Experiencing the backcountry for the first time opened up a whole new world. I was lucky to be part of a good film crew with the Forum guys, and with them I learned the ways of the backcountry--how to ride and film out there. Then I hit a point where I felt like I knew what I was doing and was ready for a new challenge--something different again.
But it's all just snowboarding isn't it, what do you get out of shaking it up?
Well, when you're riding new places and different types of terrain you do things you wouldn't normally do. You have to adapt, and that's a form of learning. Why would you just keep going back to the same spots and building the same old cheese wedge? When you get out of your comfort zone and onto some new face, you're learning about the mountains, you're gaining new skills.
At this point how do you see yourself evolving as a rider?
There's always room for improvement in all areas and there's also bigger, heavier terrain to be ridden. I'm not one to charge those huge lines yet, but it feels like that would be the next step. The terrain in BC is amazing, but it's definitely smaller than the stuff guys like Jeremy Jones and Xavier are doing up in Alaska. The next step for me is to get up there and start all over again with another big learning curve. I feel like I've got some time to figure it out and if I can keep myself in one piece, that's definitely where I'll be going.
You recovered pretty fast from a minor back injury, how's the body holding up, anyway?
With yoga and taking care of my body, I felt so good this year, even compared to when I was like 18 and 19, when you're supposed to be like a noodle. Back then I was so stiff, so tight all the time. I remember being so stiff from snowmobiling that I didn't even want to ride. This winter was totally different. Being disciplined about taking care of my body and getting into yoga has really helped. I get off the sled or out of the heli and I feel good, I have energy.
Yeah. I mean, I'm just learning it, but it's a new stimulant for me and it's super cool. Obviously, it makes you feel limber and builds up core strength, but it's also mental. It seems like in sports--action sports in particular--the mental side of things gets ignored. We just work on the physical. But with yoga, you focus on breathing and controlled movements. Every day since hurting my back, I do 45 minutes to an hour of yoga before riding and get super limber. But you know, you're really concentrating on breathing, so it's meditation. When I finish I feel centered and mellow and my whole body feels good. Do that every day before riding and your mind, body, and board feel like one. And actually all of this stemmed from my injury. It showed me that even getting hurt could teach you something. I'm stealing this quote from somebody, but it's like, you can either let an injury take something from you, or you can take something away from your injury. Turn it into a positive.
When you were 18, if I had said that you should get into yoga, what would your reaction have been?
Dude, I know. But the funny thing is, my mom and girlfriend always said it. They're not really even into yoga, but they're both just super wise like that. I dabbled with it a few times when I was younger--clueless and with the worst form--but with injuries and getting a little older and wiser, you realize that you need your body to keep up with your brain. But it's not like my mindset is train, train, train, or something. Party all night and then go shred--that's the snowboard mentality, and I love that, too. But I rely on my body to do the things I love, and I look at guys like Terje or Nicolas, even Kelly Slater, and those guys are so on it--so strong.
Yeah, the yoga seems to be working for Terje.
Seriously. That guy is my role model. No doubt about it, he's a hero to me and seeing how he does it, riding with such power and style for so long, it's inspiring.
You've kinda surrounded yourself with legendary riders: Haakon, Nicolas, Fredi, Gigi--these are all great guys to learn from and steal secrets from.
Definitely. When these guys strap in, you pretty much just shut up and observe. Lots of riders don't know how to drain everything out and focus--all these guys know how to do it and that's exactly how snowboarding is supposed to be done. Everyone puts their own personality and style into the riding, but these guys all have that same mental focus. There's definitely lots to be learned from more experienced riders.
When you step back and look at snowboarding as a whole, is there stuff that bugs you?
It's all good, you know? But I guess there's one thing that bugs me--and it's just kids being kids--but when you're in line at some resorts, it's like a fashion show: "What's he wearing, what's he riding? He doesn't have next year's shit, he can't be that good..." Just kinda vibing. That's part of why I like Mt. Baker so much. When I first came up here four or five years ago, I was like, "This is sick!" Sick mountain, such sick terrain, and that dude over there is on a 175 Winterstick in his Carhartts, and he's f--king shredding. And he's so happy, he doesn't give a f--k. I don't fault kids for getting all caught up in what gear they're rocking, or what board they're riding--that's just high school stuff. When I first started coming up in contests, I remember being told that I needed an image. Like, 'You gotta have an image to make it in snowboarding.' Really? I do? I have a snowboard. I thought you just had to snowboard good and people would be stoked. Isn't it all about the riding?