As humans, we often have a tendency to lump people into particular categories dependent on a single defining characteristic. If you love to fish, you’re a fisherman. If you love to snowboard, you’re a snowboarder. But what if you love more than one thing? Surely your character and personality aren’t constructed solely by one determining force.
This is a question that has been at the forefront of Eric Jackson’s mind over the last few seasons. As a professional snowboarder, his career–like many others–has had its fair share of ups and downs. His performance in Travis Rice’s Fourth Phase was widely regarded as noteworthy and exceptional, yet the film’s release also coincided with him losing three of his long-time sponsors. The following year, he filmed for the X Games Real Snow competition and landed himself in third yet once again struggled to reap the benefits often thought to accompany such a victory. For Eric, this series of events did not act as a deterrent, but rather a motivator–forcing him to look inwards while constructing a path forward.
Where he landed was at the crossroads of his two greatest passions, snowboarding and fly fishing, in a land he has long called his favorite place on earth, Northern British Columbia. It was here, deep in the woods of a place Eric has known well for over a decade, that the concept of alignment was realized. Fishing no longer acted as only a pastime, and snowboarder no longer had to be his singular descriptor. By focusing on the two together, fly fishing soon became a method to recharge and find a balance to the inherently dangerous factors associated with his backcountry snowboarding. This is Eric Jackson’s Alignment, and this is how nearly two decades into his career that he’s found his best self yet.
What was the idea behind your new film, Alignment?
This is a film that I have wanted to make for a long time. I always fish, and I always snowboard, but I have never really committed a whole winter to fishing and snowboarding. Combining the two birthed this idea of alignment because I feel like I am at my best when my two favorite passions come together. One of the cool things for me about this concept of alignment with fishing and snowboarding is that snowboarding is intense a lot of the time--at times you are a little nervous, scared sometimes hitting a big jump or dropping into a big line--and then fishing is the exact opposite of that, it's very chill and peaceful.
I think that they balance each other out. That's the real beauty of it. We would be snowboarding this year and the snow would go to shit, and instead of stressing out about it, we would just go fishing. I don't have to panic to Europe because there was some storm hitting Saas Fee or anything. We're going to chill and fish, and then it will get good again. We had a really good rhythm.
How did you pick the crew for the film?
Curtis used to live in Mammoth, and we were best friends growing up. We would always compete in all of the USASA contests and go to nationals together. We have known each other for a really long time and have very similar interests in life--we really like to fish and we really like to snowboard. I also really wanted to keep it small and tight, and my brother likes to fish, obviously, he is also an incredible snowboarder. So I really wanted him and Curtis to be a part of it. At first, Curtis was down to do a trip, and then after he got up to Northern British Columbia he wanted to stay. He's an incredible snowboarder, an incredible fisherman, and he loves sledding. He would go break trail, and we probably broke into a handful of zones that we wouldn't have gotten to if it weren't for Curtis. Not only that, but Curtis is just so funny, he's got this awesome dry sense of humor that is super sarcastic and he just brings so much to the crew.
I'm not a big fisherman, but I have heard that there is a lot of localism involved in fly fishing--kind of similar to a backcountry zone. Did you guys run into any issues with locals throughout the season?
Oh boy, there are definitely a few select individuals up here that were not very happy that we were making a film in their area. With that being said, we were so respectful, we're not blowing out any spots, we're not saying any names of rivers. And honestly, there were only two people that were really upset. Everyone else was so stoked we were here. We met this snowmobile club, and they were so stoked. They would watch us hit jumps, shuttle us around, and help with breaking trail. Then we also met a bunch of local fishermen, and we would go fishing with them. You get back what you put out, and we really tried to tread lightly and respect everyone here.
What were some of the instances like where things didn't turn out so well?
Oh man, we got some really angry Instagram messages. I ran into this guy on the river--and he can remain nameless. He saw me on the river and just tore me up. I told him that I respect that he wants to keep this place so hush-hush and that we weren't making a fishing movie but more of a snowboard movie with some fishing in it. And honestly, if you see what river we're fishing in–and you know what it is–then you already know. We did some pretty crazy missions, man. Packed all of our sleds up with camping gear, chainsaws, banjos–we did a mega snowmobile mission way out to a remote river on a logging road. We camped out there, and it was snowing on us every day.
You mentioned banjos, how does music fit into your life and the idea of alignment?
I love music. I play music almost every day, and I even think there is a little tune in the movie. But music is just another way to really shut it down and let your brain go into limp mode.
What was it about the last couple of seasons that made you feel like you needed to make an effort to find alignment?
Honestly, the last three seasons I haven't really known what I was doing. Last year, I had nobody to film with until the middle of February, and then I finally got on the Man Boys crew. The year before that I did X Games Real Snow, but I had no money. I had no travel budget. I also lost a couple of sponsors three years ago. It's been hard figuring out something to do with my winter, and I really just wanted to do my own thing.
I have never had my own filmer before–where we can go do whatever we want. I love fishing and I love snowboarding, and I love Northern British Columbia. The more I thought about it, I realized that fishing and snowboarding balance me out so much, and it made me wonder what would happen if I came into this perfect alignment between the two. How would I be there? Would I be landing tricks? And dude, this winter was insane. Sometimes things just click, and this winter, for the most part, things clicked. Not only with snowboarding but fishing as well. We were really fortunate.
You mentioned losing sponsors and having a lack of direction. Simms has since gotten involved with this project, and they are arguably one of the biggest brands in fly fishing–guides work their whole lives for an opportunity to be an ambassador for them–what has that experience been like?
Man, it's pretty crazy. Doors are just opening for me in the fly fishing industry right now. Simms approached me, and they have every fly fishing guide they could ever want. They have fly fishing marketing dialed. But what they need is a younger, next generation ambassador to reach a different demographic. They want to reach snowboarders. That is one of the coolest things that happened. At first, I was just stoked to get free fishing gear, and then they came on board with this film as the presenting sponsor. We are actually doing a lot more together in the future. That said, I have never looked at fly fishing as a job or as a way to make money. But to be able to do some badass short trips and make some little films is really cool.
It's also really cool to incorporate other parts of your life in this film. Personally, I find content to be vastly more interesting and relatable when it shows the different layers of a person, in your case, fly fishing, snowboarding, and music.
Totally, man. I am actually driving to the middle of BC tonight, and I am doing a shoot with Fish BC–a government organization that is promoting fishing in BC. They were super stoked on the film and wanted to do something else. I am going to meet them and do a shoot with them for the next four days. Not only them, but 10 Barrel is really on board as well, and, I mean, beer and fishing go great together. Curtis and I did a little thing on the Deschutes River called "Smoke on the Water" for them. Little stuff like this is what I want to do. I just want to see what doors open, and see where they lead.
Tell me a bit about the code of ethics when it comes to fly fishing, from what I have heard, that is a pretty big part of the community.
Totally, and we always try to be the most ethical. Your fish never comes out of the water. If you get a chance to take a photo of it, sweet. If not, whatever. We always take the hook out right away, and if the fish wants to kick out, we let it kick out.
Well, and it's not so much about the photo as the experience.
Yeah, and that's another thing. For me, this balance of fishing and snowboarding, this alignment between the two, is not about the act of catching the fish. That is a secondary bonus. It's all about being in the river–being in that peaceful environment–and if you get a fish, that's incredible. The majority of the time when you are steelhead fishing, especially in the winter, you're not catching any fish. We went weeks and weeks without catching fish. If it was about catching fish, I wouldn't fish with a fly rod, I would fish with a gear rod and salmon eggs or something.
Just like snowboarding isn't solely about landing the trick.
Sounds like you had quite the winter.
It was my favorite winter of all time. But it was also pretty hard. We didn't know the zones, and it’s not like you are in Whistler and there is a groomed trail right to everything. You need to break your own trail, and we were just looking at random logging roads and just going up and exploring random areas. There were two high-pressure systems where the snow was really good, and we basically spent them exploring and didn't even get any shots.
Do you plan to go back now that you have more information?
Oh, for sure. We definitely would have had a bit more in the way of shots if I had all of this knowledge in January. But with that being said, I am psyched on all of the footage we ended up getting. We hit a lot of jumps. That was the terrain that was presenting itself. We were always planning on going to Alaska, but that didn't happen, unfortunately. It was just shitty snow. So then towards the end of the season, I really shifted my focus–I didn't want to hit another jump. So we found some lines that were pretty sick, but you had to hike them. We were working really hard.
You just had to make it happen yourself.
Absolutely, this film was made on a super minimal budget. I am actually pretty deep out of my own pocket. But this is my passion project; this is the first one I did everything on. I hired the people, raised all of the money, directed it, produced it, and helped edit it. It's been a major learning experience and very humbling because it was so much more work than I expected. That being said, I am having a great time and set myself up for the next one.