Our current issue (No. 93) features an exclusive interview with two-time snowboarder of the year John Jackson in celebration of the many upcoming Northern California screenings of the groundbreaking film The Art of Flight, in which he is featured. The following questions were selected from our hour-long talk with one of the hottest snowboarders in the world. Space constraints didn’t allow for all of it to make it to the magazine. Read on to learn about an unnamed film project with Red Bull that Jackson dreamt up, what he is doing to rehab his injured knee, what he knows about Travis Rice’s upcoming contest called Supernatural, and his new “resort” home north of Truckee, Calif.
You and Travis Rice go way back, right? You used to compete in the same comps and stuff?
Yeah, I think I remember the first time I met Rice. We were both super young competing in the USSA regional or something, I think it was at Mammoth. [Laughs] We were both competing in the half-pipe contest.
That’s funny how all these years later and you guys are collaborating on probably the most highly anticipated action sports film ever.
It’s pretty crazy. I know man, it’s such a heartbreaker that I was hurt this year, but I’m just really stoked I went on that trip with them last year at least. And there’s a lot of opportunity in the future…
When did you hurt your knee?
My knee injury happened in December of 2010. I was going to film a good two-and-a-half months with them [Brain Farm] this season, the 2011 season. Then I hurt my knee doing something stupid just messing around. It’s always stupid things.
Were you even snowboarding or were you doing something else?
It was snowboarding, but it was messing around on a blizzard day in an icy park, just playing around. It was windy, couldn’t see well. I overshot this jump and landed flat. I land flat so often, you know, my knees have always been really strong. It was just the way I landed, so square on my board, I just felt it pop. It was so weird. It’s my right knee, so my back leg, the one taking most of the pressure…
That must have been pretty rough. You seem like a guy who knows how to keep his head up, though. How did you keep a positive outlook through all of that?
I kind of new something extreme was wrong. I was trying to be positive, like, “OK, it might be good, it might be good.” I gave it some time, I went down south, got an MRI and as soon as the doctor told me the news I went straight to the bar at like 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I had to get that out of the way, that was the one time I did that. Then I was like, “Alright, I’m getting better and it’s going to be all good. Shit happens.” And then you just got to look at it positive. It’s all about the rehab, and I’ve been working on it like a motherfucker, so I feel like my body is going to be stronger than it ever has been when it comes back.
How is your physical therapy going? What sort of exercises and routines do your therapists have you doing to strengthen your knee?
Man, I’ve been pretty militant with it. All kinds of stuff. I’ve been going to therapy for in between five to six hours a day like three to four times a week, sometimes five times a week. Not all of that is heavy workout, you know, I spend a lot of time stretching, a lot of time working the muscles out on the foam roller or with my therapist…
Los Angeles is where all your therapists and doctors are?
Yeah, I have therapists in Truckee as well. But I really like coming down here. I just went to Red Bull and worked with their trainers today for the first time, and they’ve got such a good program, like all technical, you know? They’re taking blood like every 12 minutes on the bike and figuring out your lactate and judging your heart rate and just figuring out what kind of machine, or, basically what kind of engine is under the hood of your body.
What a trip!
It’s so trippy. It’s nuts.
If I would guess any company would have a program like that, it would be Red Bull. They take good care of their athletes, huh?
They are out of control. I’m so stoked and fortunate to be a part of it. They just have every resource imaginable. They take care of their investments and look at it like it’s not just an investment, it’s good relationships.
It sounds like the knee strength is coming back. So come this January you’ll be ready to be filming again?
They say I’m still a little vulnerable at that point, because I didn’t get surgery until March 1. I was just really trying to do a lot of therapy in between, and I spent January in Jackson Hole hanging out with the crew. Most of January, you know, so I could chill with them. I wanted to jump my sled off some shit. I had to do something.
Do you have any cool trips or projects lined up for this coming year that you can talk about?
Yeah, I’m going to film with, you know, a “company” project. Then I wrote up this project for Red Bull, an idea I’ve had for a while, and I presented it to them. I’m pretty sure it just got the green light. So it’s kind of cool.
Oh, really? What can you tell me about it?
I want to make a really, really passionate project that kind of combines surf aspects and snowboard aspects and has a lot of different views of expertise on the sports. Basically what I’m trying to do is get some sort of bus or van or something, trick it all out, make it run off veggie, or propane or something clean. Then I want to drive from Alaska to Chile, or Argentina. Start in April, have a bunch of heli trips lined up and there will be key characters involved. Hopefully a surfer will be on for the long haul, but I’ve been talking to a lot of people who are going to come in and out. Rice, Ian Walsh the big wave surfer. It’s kind of cool, because it’s more of just this journey that’s going to show, you know…Fuck, I don’t know how much I should be talking about this…
It sounds like there is an amazing film in the works then?
Yeah, it’s going to start I think next April. Basically it’s really going to show what’s behind everything and the personalities of the people and how kids can relate. Not all kids can relate to a professional snowboarder, the tricks they do and whatnot. Snowboard videos these days, besides The Art of Flight, a lot of them are almost like snowboard porn, you know, just gnarly trick after gnarly trick. So for this I want to be, like, the surfers are going to be in the heli coming up on this peak going, “Holy shit, are we really going to land there?” You’ll see the excitement from a different point of view, you know? Same thing with like, I want to bring my brother [Eric Jackson, also a professional snowboarder] in on this trip. You’re going to have us going down to these huge waves and being like, “Should we paddle out? Lets do it!” and maybe getting worked, but having so much fun, you know?
That’s cool to put each other in a different element.
Yeah, it’s cool. I want to focus on a couple different things with it, like the science of the seasonal change, get kind of National Geographic on it. And I want to do a lot of giving back, too, helping people out along the way. Line up orphanages to go work with, or schools, and have tons of products to give away. We’ll ship stuff down for different points we stop and just stoke kids out, you know, get a following going. We’ve got a few pretty cool ideas of filming it, which could be interesting. It could be a fun project.
So that’s kind of your baby? Your brainchild, if you will? How long have you been thinking about this?
I love road trips, I love traveling and I love people. I love everything about it, I love to explore. I have so much passion for it. So I’ve been thinking about it for a good year. And I wrote up this whole story, just kind of ideas and they’re [Red Bull] backing it. So hopefully it goes through and it’s good. I mean I don’t have time to really get all the…I want to get hopefully the gnarliest shots I can get, because that’s really my baby is pushing my snowboarding. With limited time it’s hard, you know, that’s why these guys [Brain Farm] take two years to film their project. You’ve got to budget in bad weather and bad snow and it just doesn’t go as planned all the time. Either way, it’ll be a really good eye opener I think for a lot of different things. It will have a lot of emotion involved in it.
Sounds unique, like a cool change of pace.
Yeah, exactly, trying to do something totally unique. And then hopefully I’m going to have, you know, some snowboard porn to go in there too.
Switching gears a bit, someone from Red Bull Media House told us that Travis Rice is up at Baldface Lodge in Canada building for his Supernatural contest that will happen there this winter. What do you know about that?
Basically this is his idea of a contest, saying “fuck you” to building jumps and the idea of having a set path to go on. It’s all done in the backcountry. He picks out an epic face, and there will be a window of time when you wait for good snow, good weather, then you go shred natural terrain. That’s why it’s called Supernatural. And what he’s doing, though, he’s like building stuff right now. He’s drawn up a bunch of plans. They’re actually building structures out there on this mountain face, so that when it snows, it builds up, you know? It’s going to be nuts! It would blow your mind if you saw the drawings that he was working on!
Have you seen any of The Art of Flight besides the two trailers that are out? Or are you looking forward to seeing the full film as much as the rest of the world?
Nah, you’re seeing as much as I have. This is so fresh. And for me, because I was hurt all year, I almost like forgot I went to Alaska with all those guys. So I’m remembering that trip and definitely still wish I could have filmed with those guys this year, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.
Still looks like you got some good footage though, like for example that huge gap that Rice hit on the cover of Transworld Snowboarding’s 200th issue! And you got the inside poster foldout shot on that gap, too. That was during that trip, right?
Yeah, that was during that trip.
Tell me about that gap. Was that something you scoped out for a long time?
Yeah, we saw it from the heli. We were like, “There could be a jump over there,” and we kind of overlooked it. Then coming back we were like, “Oh, that actually could be something.” Then you know, we’d go down and check it. And toward the end of the trip, after we’d gotten quite a few big lines, we’d be like, “We need to find some jumps.” So there was two jumps right next to each other, actually. That was like the thing that I wanted to hit. And Trav wanted to hit this one next door that was like off this face into just a perfect flat gully, into the widest landing you could imagine. You could put like three jumps on it. There wasn’t any set way to go. But anyways, the guide didn’t want us to hit it, because there was a cornice above and if the slope ripped or it slid… and it was over a crevice as well.
Yeah, the crevice below you in the photo looks pretty huge.
Yeah both jumps were over crevices, but the other one had a cornice above it too, so if something slides and you’re building a jump, there’s nowhere to go. Everyone’s dead.
Talk about a nightmare, you’d have nowhere to go!
You’ll get pushed right into the crevice and then buried on top of it. And then you’re in there with the fossils.
So the guide was like, “No way!” to the gap with the obstacles overhead?
We kind of talked him into it. He was like, “We’ll go out and drop some charges on the cornice and see if anything slides.” They dropped the first charge, explosion, little piece falls off, nothing slides. Then they’re going to the next cornice and just the vibration and the sound from the heli and the wind as it approached dropped the cornice and the whole face slid down to the rocks and filled in the entire thing. Our guide was like, “I told you so. Hell no.” So we went and hit the other one and it was so rad. It definitely took a little mountain manipulation, shape shifting, getting the run-in dialed in.
How long does it usually take to get these huge gaps and jumps set up?
It depends on the feature. It can take days. This one wasn’t too bad. We actually cleared it up, fixed it up, built it and then it snowed and we had to re-do the whole thing. But it was such a good day when we hit that. We didn’t have much time to hit it, so we were kind of under pressure at the end of the day. We hit it in the afternoon, rode some great lines in the morning. That’s another point I forgot to bring up, which actually works in our favor, how the days sometimes clear up in the afternoon, because the sun is so high, it’ll bake snow on the points that get sun when it’s high noon. Those facing slopes will be just totally screwed, so you have to hit north-facing slopes, which only get sun in the evenings and first morning, otherwise everything is baked. So we’d have to strategize kind of what we were going to hit and only get the north-facing stuff.
So those shots were later in the day?
Yeah, that was evening. That was the last part of the day. And then Trav went up and did the back flip that was in first teaser.
That gap looks sick, though. I can see how it was on your hit-list.
Yeah, there are certain things that are really valuable…and you’re like, “Oh man, we got to take the time and hit this thing proper,” and sometimes you’ve got to just go for it and you don’t have all the time in the world. You’re always under the gun. It was awesome though. That was a good day hitting that thing. You’re going over just a straight black hole in the air.
Well and doing a double-inverted trick over the gap you get to see that black emptiness twice!
Tell me about this goal of yours to do a back flip on a snowmobile. Because there’s a crazy shot of you in The Art of Flight’s trailer where you are like upside down 30 feet in the air, bailing from a snowmobile…
I just love snowmobiling. I’m not like, “I’ve got to do this!” But yeah I was feeling confident in it. I had a blown knee, and I had to do something, so I Googled it a bunch of times and figured I had it. I still feel like I got it. I just need to make some adjustments.
So that shot in the trailer where you’re bailing, you’re hurt right there?
Yeah that was when I had a blown knee [laughs].
Was the landing soft?
It was pretty powder-y, but this was after those guys had sessioned the shit out of it. I’m not going to track up anything fresh. I don’t know. I went way, way too big. If I would’ve committed, the thing probably would have come around, but my sled landed dead flat.It was so weird being that high in the air without my snowboard on… just full-on freestyle walking. It was all like, you learn how to act on instinct. You just do it. I don’t know, it’s just programmed. I pushed my sled away, I was so high up and my sled was doing a back flip and obviously I wanted to watch out for my head, so I tucked into like a front flip off of it, then opened up and landed pretty good on my feet. It was pretty insane, yeah, but my sled was all good, I wanted to try it again. Everyone was like, “Please don’t.” Like our photographer, Danny Zapalac, who is so funny, that guy is awesome, I love that guy. He’s got a really good heart. He was like, “Dude, please don’t ever scare me like that again. Please.”
Wasn’t Curt [Morgan, director/producer] and everyone like, “Yeah, you got this!” and egging you on?
Well, Curt always wants to see something gnarly. I was planning on doing it. I Googled it for like three days before that, you know?
I read somewhere you make music? What sort of stuff are you into?
Yeah I love, love music, man. Music is the best high; it’s just so fun, man. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar. I got my brother into guitar, and he’s getting really good really quick. And I’ve been jamming the bongo a lot and the djembe. It’s fun. We travel around with all our stuff. We’re tapping into more banjos and mandolins and just getting a good mix. My two sisters play too, so having like a family band is awesome. We’re not that good or anything, but it’s just fun. I love making music.
Do you write your own songs and shit? Or just covers of stuff?
I do a lot of like just, mumbling, you know. I love to just freestyle it and just make up songs as I go. But I have been starting to write a couple things and eventually I will more. When you don’t have much time, anytime I can play I just want to jam, you know, and not be in the homework stage trying to learn something. But I should. I need to do that.
You just bought a house out in the cuts, right? What made you decide to purchase where you did? Where is it, like north of Truckee somewhere, right?
It feels like it’s in the cuts, but it’s really close to everything, so it’s the best of both worlds. It’s in Verdi, right outside Reno, between Truckee and Reno. Right on the border, you know, fuck Cali I’m getting in Nevada. I’m going to buy guns and shit…
So your address is technically Nevada?
It’s Nevada, all the way. I’d been looking at buying a place for a long time, and I just really wanted to get into Nevada and out of Cali. I’m right on the border, still got everything I love around me, all my friends. Right there on the Truckee river… Oh man, if you ever come that way you got to come to my house, and we’ll fish. There’s awesome fishing right there.
Sounds like a resort getaway!
It’s crazy. There’s a tennis court and b-ball hoop and I don’t even do that shit. I’ve been asked recently if I play tennis. It’s so weird. I’ll be in the airport, and I don’t know if it’s just because I wear crazy gear and have dreads or something, but people are like, “Do you play tennis?” and I’m like, “No, but I have a tennis court” [laughs].
Well congrats on the home purchase. When did you buy it?
Thanks, man. I’m so blessed. It’s like the perfect bill that just fell into my lap. I bought it at the beginning of this year, and I really haven’t spent much time there at all.
Do you have roommates? Are any of them in the same line of work as you?
Yeah I’ve got like three roommates. One of them is Daniel Ek, he rides for Forum too. He’s awesome, love that kid. He has a really good heart. For instance, there’s a bar downstairs in the house that was completely empty. I went down to get surgery and when I came home he had left to go back to Norway. I go downstairs and the bar is just completely dialed, like with 25 bottles! Danny Boy just styled it out. It was all like Red Bulls in the bottom, so styled, I just started laughing.
Most of the time roommates drink all your booze, not stock you up!
Yeah that’ll happen, too. Usually with the Coors Lights.
Catch John Jackson and Travis Rice in The Art of Flight along with other heavy-hitters like Mark Landvik, Nicolas Muller, Scotty Lago, Jeremy Jones and more! Visit Artofflightmovie.com for more details and to view the film’s two official trailers. Follow John Jackson on Twiiter @johnjamun.