The sport we know as snowboarding today simply wouldn’t exist without Carpenter’s vision. The Boston Globe lauded Jake as “the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses” and turned the sport into big business and an Olympic favorite. Jake Burton’s cause of death was testicular cancer.
John Lacy, Burton’s co-chief executive officer, wrote in an email, according to Yahoo: “It is with a very heavy heart that I share the news that Jake passed away peacefully last night surrounded by his family and loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer. He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much.”
Carpenter is a member of the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame, which says in a bio of him: “Perhaps no Vermonter has had a greater impact on the development of a sport over the last 30-plus years than Jake Burton Carpenter, who started Burton Snowboards in Londonderry in 1977, building most of Burton’s first snowboards by hand.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jake Burton Carpenter Founded the Snowboarding Company Out of a Vermont Barn
On its about us page, Burton Snowboards tells the story of the company’s founding. “Jake Burton Carpenter founded Burton Snowboards out of his Vermont barn back in 1977, and has dedicated his life to snowboarding ever since,” it reads.
“Burton served a pivotal role in growing snowboarding from a backyard hobby to a world-class sport by creating groundbreaking products, supporting the world’s best riders, and pushing more resorts to allow snowboarding.”
According to Vermont Guides, Burton didn’t claim he invented snowboarding, saying, “The idea had been around since the ’20s or ’30s.”
That site explains that he was born Jake Burton Carpenter in Cedarhurst, New York. He was the youngest of four children and considered himself a “wanna-be sportsman,” the site reported.
He graduated from high school in 1972 and once tried to make the University of Colorado’s ski team but he broke his collar bone and left school, returning to Virginia and New York to “groom and exercise thoroughbred racehorses.”
He told the site: “Ultimately, I realized that the thoroughbred racehorse business is not something for somebody who loves animals.” By 1977, he had turn to snowboarding.
The website noted: “Jake has overcome a lot recently. Read all about his rise to recovery in a recent feature from the New York Times.”
2. Carpenter Was Paralyzed for Several Weeks With a Rare Disorder
The New York Times feature touted on Burton Snowboards’ website says that, in 2015, “Carpenter was paralyzed for several weeks earlier this year with a rare disorder called Miller Fisher syndrome.”
He required feed tubing and breathing machines and could only move his hands, the newspaper reported then. He spent his time scribbling notes, according to the feature story.
“Life is not about having a pulse,” Carpenter said at the time to The Times. “It’s about having friends and experiences and living. When all that ceases to exist, it’s not life anymore. And I did not see light at the end of the tunnel.”
3. Carpenter Was Married to Wife Donna Carpenter & Is Considered a ‘Godfather of Snowboarding’
Carpenter was married for more than 30 years to wife Donna Carpenter. She was involved with the snowboarding company. Donna told VTSkiandRide, “My name is Jake and I build snowboards. That was his pick-up line. ‘Jaake,’ the way actor Jeff Bridges in the film, ‘The Big Lebowski,’ says ‘I’m the Duude.’
She added: “So, I’m this cool girl from New York City and wanted nothing to do with him.” He countered, “No way, you picked me up.” At the time, she was 18 and he was 28. They went on to have three kids, and she’s the CEO of Burton. The site reported that the couple “live in a relatively modest farmhouse in Moscow, Vt., albeit a farmhouse with a basement you can skateboard in. They ride 100 days a year.” That was in 2017.
The New York Times described Jake Burton Carpenter as “sort of a godfather of snowboarding and the youth movement toward action sports.”
According to the Boston Globe, when he quit a job in New York in 1977, Burton’s mission was to create a more sophisticated snowboard than the basic one available then, which was called a “Snurfer,” and had only existed for 12 years. It’s now an Olympic draw, of course.
In 2010, NYU Alumni wrote on its Facebook page, “Did you know that Jake Burton, aka the father of snowboarding and sponsor of gold medalist Shaun White, is an NYU alumnus? The entrepreneur earned his BA in economics in 1977 and built his first Burton snowboard the same year. The prototype was a modified version of a Snurfer, a plastic ski sledding toy he received as a Christmas gift when he was 14. Burton Snowboards now holds 40% of the world’s snowboard market.”
Vermont Guides reports that snurfing was a “precursor to snowboarding,” and Burton was hooked when he tried it as a teen, telling the site, “From that time on, I felt like it could be a sport, but it wasn’t a sport for the company that was manufacturing it. They were selling it like it was the Hula Hoop or something.”
4. Carpenter Once Said He Had a Vision That Snowboarding Was ‘More Than Just a Sledding Thing’
As with all pioneers, Carpenter could see the future potential in something others wrote off.
“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said, according to The Association Press. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”
According to the Hall of Fame bio, Burton “was part of the first snowboard competition in 1981 and he championed the sport by campaigning to have ski areas open their lifts and trails to snowboarders. Burton Carpenter helped organize the first U.S. Open Snowboarding Championship in 1982 at the Suicide Six ski area. The popular event would be held in Vermont for the next 30 years.”
5. Jake Burton, Who Was Diagnosed With Testicular Cancer, Died in Vermont
According to the Boston Globe, Jake died in Burling, Vermont. Earlier in the month, he had informed his staff that his cancer had returned.
“You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back,” Jake wrote, according to The Boston Globe, which reported that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011.