Jake Burton Never Lost His Passion for Shredding Fresh Pow and Sharing the Stoke

A new documentary, Dear Rider, relates the inspiring evolution of a man, a sport and a global sensation.

jake burton
Burton Snowboards

Looking to revive your snowboarding thirst for the coming winter? Allow us to recommend Dear Rider, the moving new documentary about Jake Burton Carpenter, who passed away at age 65 in 2019. The film debuted Tuesday on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.

Directed by Fernando Villena and produced by Red Bull Media House, it tells the story of a dreamer who helped evolve a kid’s backyard toy into a worldwide phenomenon, a sport pursued by millions and enjoyed by even more in movies, the Olympics and the X-Games.

We got a chance to attend a screening last week and were pretty impressed. Aimed at a more general audience, Dear Rider tells a very personal story — and a surprisingly honest one.

Archival footage and photos, intercut with interviews of family members and friends plus shredding stars such as Terje Håkonsen, Kelly Clark, Jamie Anderson and Shaun White, unlock a portrait of a quirky iconoclast with a unique passion for life, business and of course, snowboarding.

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We loved the evocative snippets of “Dear Rider” letters Burton would write at the beginning of every catalog, read by Woody Harrelson. We also appreciated the way the film delved into some of the rockier elements of Burton’s rise, including his battles with Tom Sims and the early 2000s overexpansion that led many riders themselves to view the man as “the man.”

Perhaps the best part are some clips of Burton himself, which remind us all that before he built a mega brand and bravely battled cancer toward the end of his life, he was just one determined dude going up against the odds. Nowhere is this more evident than in a clip where he wryly describes going out on the road with 38 snowboards to sell to shops… and somehow coming back with 40.

We could think of no better time to resurface the following old photos and former staff writer Tanner Bowden's briefly related origin story of a brand that continues to lead the way in a sport and industry that did not even exist before Jake Burton Carpenter began believing in it...

A quaint New England barn in idyllic Londonderry, Vermont, is a key site in Burton company legend — and while it’s true that’s where Jake Burton Carpenter crafted his iconic early prototypes combining board and binding, the idea that laid the groundwork for the snowboarding revolution actually took root on Long Island golf courses.

Growing up on Long Island, Carpenter longed to surf but more often found himself on powder during family ski trips to Vermont. At age 14 he rode a Snurfer, a toy monoski with a rope handle, and was utterly hooked. Carpenter shredded local golf courses near his childhood home and hills near his school; he and his friends even souped-up boards with fins and makeshift bindings. Then there was college, and a Manhattan finance job. Only in 1977 did Carpenter resolve to truly send it, plunking his savings — and his passion — into Burton Boards. The rest is snowboarding history.

Today, with hundreds of employees, Burton holds half the market share of what has grown into a $500 million industry that spans the globe.

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