For years, people approached Jake asking to write books or make a documentary about his life.
But it wasn’t until June of 2018 that he felt the time was right to focus on a documentary. He was finally healthy again after his near-fatal Miller Fisher illness. He didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day workings of the company. He was energized by creating products for his new Mine77 line. And he was ready to really open up about the most painful and joyful moments of his life. So in the fall of 2018, he said yes to a pitch from Red Bull Media House, and trusted them to produce the film, find a top-notch director, and ultimately, land the documentary on HBO.
It was a very small crew working with Jake while he was alive. Ben Bryan and Clark Fyans from Red Bull earned Jake’s trust to produce the film. Mike Cox, Jake’s sons George and Timi, and I were with Jake at documentary meetings. Starting in early 2019, Jake met different film directors, he created timelines of important moments in the history of snowboarding and his own life. He made lists of music he wanted in the film, people he wanted interviewed, and anecdotes he wanted shared. He had a friend digitize over 100 hours of personal family movies. He created text groups called ‘Worst New Sport’ (his original title idea for the film) so he could easily message the small crew working on the documentary. He locked in dates and approved locations for the documentary shoot.
Even though we had just kicked off the project, Jake had really been working on it his entire life. He saved everything – his expired driver’s licenses, old season passes, hundreds of beta tapes and reels from the early days of snowboarding, dozens of work journals, and thousands of photos - not to mention one sample of every product, catalog, and ad Burton ever produced since 1977.
In early November of 2019, just as we were about to start shooting for the film, Jake got a cold that wouldn’t go away. His cold turned out to be recurring testicular cancer that had come back with a vengeance. The storyline changed. Instead of following Jake around the world to snowboard, the documentary crew would follow him through yet another life-threatening bought of illness and his ultimate recovery. Jake would be home from the hospital in early December and do his first interview then. That was the plan. Then, just days after his first chemo treatment, his body shut down and he died suddenly.
In those blurry, grief-filled days after Jake died, it was Donna, Jake’s wife and current owner of Burton, who asked George, Jake’s oldest son, to stand in for his dad on the film project. And it was Donna who told Ben Bryan at Jake’s funeral that Jake would want us to keep pushing forward with the documentary – with or without him.
Even though Jake was gone and would never record an interview for his own documentary, the film’s director, Fernando Villena, was determined to have Jake tell his own life story. We would have to find Jake’s voice in past press interviews, family movies and company archives. Just two months after Jake’s death, we had a revised creative treatment, storyline and shoot plan. We conducted nearly 60 interviews in late February and early March of 2020 at the Burton US Open with pro riders and Jake’s friends. Then, COVID-19 shut the world down.
If you know Jake or his story at all, you know he never gave up. When the pandemic locked us all in our homes for months, we channeled Jake’s resilience and found ways to move forward with the film – without in-person interviews, without shoots, without travel. During the first months of lockdown, George and Burton archivist Todd Kohlman packed and shipped dozens of boxes of old film reels, photographs and BETA tapes to the film team in California. Mike Cox, Jake’s right-hand man, poured through hundreds of videos and photos from Jake’s personal phone and sent them to the documentary crew. The team used the months of COVID isolation to watch thousands of hours of archival footage and past press interviews with Jake. All along, it felt like Jake was there with us, sending us signals or showing up in dreams while we were slowly piecing together his life story.
On a repeat loop in our heads were Jake’s words and wishes for the documentary:
“I want to be proud to share this documentary with my friends and family.”
“I don’t want anyone looking at their watch and wishing this thing was over.”
“Offending the core is a no, no.”
“You only get one shot to share your life story, so we need to do this right.”
Now, nearly three and a half years after that first documentary meeting with Jake in his office at Burton headquarters, Dear Rider is a wrap. Jake won’t be at the screenings. He won’t get to sign autographs, hug friends and family or do press interviews. But all of us who poured our hearts into finishing his story for him hope he’d be happy with how it turned out.
Thanks Jake for sharing your story with the world.