It all happened so fast. Not just his fantastic career as a snowboarding luminary that seemed to pass in an instant, and his founding of the most recognizable company in the sport. But Jake Burton Carpenter’s illness that took his incredible life last night seemed to take all of us by surprise.
Last week, he announced that his testicular cancer he’d fought in 2011 had returned, sending out a brave company email to rally his employees. “You will not believe this,” he wrote, “but my cancer has come back. It’s the same tumor as the first time around. We just never got rid of it all. A bit of it hung out in my lymph nodes and got back into business.”
But it was the last bit of the note that was so damn prophetic and heart wrenching: “As much as I dread what is facing me, it’s easier to deal with when you know that you have a family that will carry on. I feel the same way about my company, my friends and our sport. I will be back, but regardless, everything is in good hands, which is an amazing feeling when entering this zone of uncertainty.”
The Inertia obtained the following email from Burton confirming his passing:
“It is with a very heavy heart that we share that Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter passed away peacefully last night surrounded by his family and loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer,” wrote Burton Co-CEO John Lacy. “He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much. Ride on Jake.”
The snowboarding, and greater action sports industry, immediately reacted. “My first four snowboards had the word ‘Burton’ on them,” Jeremy Jones told us.
“When I heard the news I thought back to the beginning and finding that snowboard in the basement of a hardware store in Vermont,” he said. “It was an important, full-life shift because Jake worked so hard to place that board in that shop. It was 1982, so they weren’t in ski shops.”
Jones also talked about how grateful the snowboarding community should be for Jake’s work in getting the fledgling sport accepted. “Jake’s work on getting resorts to open up for snowboarding was another pivotal moment in my life.”
Carpenter and Jones had formed a special bond in recent years.
“A couple of weeks ago, he sent me a sweater from Japan, with the big POW (Protect Our Winters) letters across the chest with a handwritten note about how proud he was of the work we were doing,” Jones said. Jake’s wife Donna serves on the POW board. “He ended with, ‘Love, Jake.’ He was just an incredibly special human and I was so grateful I got to hang out with him. It’s surreal to think of what he did for snowboarding and how much of an impact he had and how nice of human being he was.”
That viewpoint was shared across social media:
“Shell shocked at the news of Jake Burton Carpenter’s passing,” wrote Sal Masekela on Twitter. “This one is tough. He lived the entirety of this thing called life and wasted none of the days. He gave us so much. May he Rest In Peace and Power.”
Who actually invented snowboarding seems an ongoing historical debate but there’s little doubt Jake Burton Carpenter helped create the modern pursuit. In 1977, he relocated from New York City to Vermont to form Burton Snowboards and competed in the sport’s earliest competitions. He helped organize the first US Open Snowboarding Championship in 1982. And, of course, in 1998 it entered the Olympic realm.
Put simply, snowboarding wouldn’t be what it is without Jake Burton Carpenter. Rest in peace.