Jake Burton alive and bristling in “Dear Rider” documentary
People who know the sport – really know it – will tell you that the best snowboarding movies are the ones that never leave you too comfortable.
This might explain how âDear Rider: The Jake Burton Storyâ could very well fall into this category, even though no one fell from a helicopter or dived off a cliff to make this movie.
Instead, the best narration from the documentary about the snowboarding icon, who died in 2019 after relapsing from testicular cancer, comes from the nimble assemblage of decades of home movies and archival interviews in the media to paint a complete portrait of the man who saw sport in this indefinite slab of fiberglass and forever changed life on the mountain.
Some might argue that the wounds of Burton’s death are too recent to allow for a flawless account of a man whose life and influence on the sport he created are detailed in this 90-minute film, which makes its debut. debuts on HBO on November 9.
But in large part because Burton had prepared the film of his life long before his death and knew exactly where he was going with it, much of the fluff that could have accompanied such a project so soon after his death never makes the cut. Chopped off. Much of the harsh truth about what it took to build a snowboarding empire, and then abandon it too soon, is emerging.
The result is a film that is, without a doubt, a tribute to Burton. But it also serves as a history lesson in a hobby that became a sport in the late 1970s when Burton quit his job on Wall Street to produce snowboards in his garage in Vermont. It’s a lesson that doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable realities of his business: yes, he built it for fun, freedom, and rebellion that gives shit, but no billion dollar industry just grows on good vibes and brother hugs.
Some of the most enlightening moments revolve around the sport’s first superstar, Craig Kelly, and his role in the first major business-side rivalry between Burton and fellow snowboard maker Tom Sims.
It includes backbiting and lawsuits, while also addressing Burton’s life-threatening miscalculations when entering the sport. Most notable are the thorny issues surrounding the snowboarding patent that made Burton, both man and company, something of an outcast in the sport they created. The chapter ends with Kelly’s untimely death in an avalanche in 2003.
It’s informative, not always easy to watch. And while Sims, who died in 2012, certainly would have had a different take on many of these events, the fact that this unvarnished portrayal of the main subject is part of the film is a testament to what Burton, his wife, Donna, and his son. , George, were trying to do with this project.
“He was a very tough man, but the more we could honestly show what his demons were, what his struggles were and then show how he overcame them, that was always our goal,” said director Fernando Villena, who met Burton several times before being chosen for the project.
The documentary shows Burton growing up as a man as his snowboarding becomes both a sport and an industry. He accepts the Olympics and marvels that his invention has helped produce a champion like Shaun White, whose two covers of Rolling Stone magazine have essentially cemented the mainstream acceptance of the sport. These triumphs also lock in the reality that snowboarding will never return to the days of hand-dug half-pipes and using the legs of overturned park benches as makeshift starting gates.
Being okay with that allowed Burton and his company to overcome their rough beginnings and thrive into what they have become as the ’80s turned into the 2010s.
Lest anyone feel too comfortable, the last 25 minutes of this movie are mostly sad but partly uplifting. Dozens of family photos and movie clips follow Burton as he overcomes cancer, then crippling autoimmune disease, then another cancer battle that wins him off just as the snow begins to fall in late fall 2019.
âWe worked very consciously not to make it too sad because Jake was not a sad guy,â said his wife, Donna Carpenter. âBut he had a certain rawness that he might not have hadâ if the film had been completed while Burton was still alive.
For those new to the snowboard scene (two decades or less), the old clichÃ©s and movie clips of Burton – sometimes sneering, always bristling, never afraid to challenge posh ski suits in America and across the world. Europe – are a stark reminder of how much work it took to make room for himself and his fans to look baggy on the mountain.
Years passed and Burton Snowboards, still privately owned, branched out into a giant that many in the industry thought was too big. The film does not back down on this subject either.
An interview with Burton distributor Andres Erlandsen about the company’s largesse taps into the main undercurrent of this film – one particularly poignant when viewed through the lens of Burton’s recent death. .
âOne day I asked him, ‘Have you ever thought about selling Burton? “” Erlandsen said. ‘”