In the HBO documentary Dear Rider: The Jake Burton Story, director Fernando Villena tells the origin story of the late Jake Burton Carpenter, snowboarding pioneer and founder of the popular snowboard and apparel brand Burton.
“It’s a classic entrepreneur story. It goes back to those guys — that American entrepreneur spirit in the 70s where people actually made stuff,” Villena said in a new episode of the Factual America podcast. Villena got to meet not long before Burton’s death in 2019, and the documentary also hears from pro snowboarders who knew Burton Carpenter including Olympians Shaun White and Mark McMorris.
You can watch the episode above, or listen to it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or right here:
“What was interesting about Jake is that at 12 years old, he fell in love — well, before then he fell in love with the ocean; he fell in love with this idea of surfing. But he lived in Long Island and he would vacation in the winters in Vermont. And he was introduced to the snurfer, which is this little toy,” Villena explained. “This piece of wood with a rope on it. And as soon as he got on it, his mind just exploded, and he was like, Oh my god, I can actually surf on snow. And that became his obsession — that along with making a lot of money, right? So, he tried his hand at Wall Street. Wasn’t working out. And then, he figured he needed a get-rich-quick scheme. And he was like, That toy from when I was a kid. That thing — that’s a sport. That can be a sport. I think that’s the key to me, to me getting wealthy. So, that’s what he did. He started up this company and he made a bunch of prototypes, took him about a year, made 100 prototypes, and finally came out with his first snowboard. Then, as the story goes, it was very rough going from there.”
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When Burton Carpenter began his company, Burton, it was 1977, and “there was no internet,” Villena said.
“There weren’t any chat groups or anything like that, right? So, he’s in the Northeast, and he’s trying to make this toy into a real sport,” he added. “In Vermont, the snow is hard and icy and wet. Colorado, it’s soft and beautiful and fluffy and super deep, right? So, he’s trying to develop snowboards in this rougher environment.”
In the 1980s, Burton Carpenter was able to get the sport of snowboarding into resorts, which was no easy task.
“They had a ton of pushback. Skiers just weren’t having it… They weren’t into sharing their mountain with snowboarders. But he persisted. And he was resilient,” Villena said.
Dear Rider: The Jake Burton Story is now streaming on HBO. Here are the timestamps from the Factual America interview with Villena:
00:00 – The trailer for Dear Rider.
03:19 – Jake Burton Carpenter’s entrepreneurial journey.
06:11 – What made him so successful at turning snowboarding into a sport.
10:09 – Jake’s passion for sport and his talent for marketing.
13:00 – The target market for Jake’s snowboards.
14:20 – How he influenced the creation of the film.
16:56 – The snowboarding community and the value Jake put on human connection.
19:50 – How Jake communicated with others despite having Miller Fisher syndrome.
22:03 – How the project started and how Fernando ended up directing the film.
26:57 – How Covid affected the production of this film.
29:30 – What it was like making a snowboarding film without being a snowboarder.
31:50 – The title Dear Rider and why they used Woody Harrelson as the narrator.
36:24 – What it’s like working with Red Bull.
39:00 – How Fernando transitioned from editing to directing.
40:12 – The next project Fernando is working on.
Factual America examines America through the lens of documentary filmmaking. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A still from Dear Rider: The Jake Burton Story, courtesy of HBO and Factual America.