The enduring pro still shredding as hard as the rest.
HUCK meets up with enduring pro JP Walker who is still shredding as hard as the rest.
“I’ve got a buddy in Utah. I’ve known him for ten years. He’s sixty-eight now and he’s a Vietnam vet,” says JP Walker in his stoked-out drawl. “He’s my massage therapist. He works on me and Jeremy [Jones] and puts us back together. He’s got so many survival skills and he’s one of the smartest and toughest guys I’ve ever met. Some people call him Mr Miyagi because he’s the full-on wiseman.”
The man in question crops up in conversation alongside a selection of old-school snowboarders when this legendary pro recounts his heroes. It’s a dark January evening at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, an indoor snow slope in a small commuter town just north of London, and Walker has just rolled in alongside his fellow ThirtyTwo team members on a European demo tour.
But check the qualities of the aforementioned masseuse: ‘survival skills’, ‘tough’ and ‘veteran’. As a thirty-five-year-old pro still travelling the world and filming video parts alongside riders nearly half his age, it’s easy to see why JP Walker identifies with such an enduring character. Walker may be old in snowboarding terms, but he’s no has-been. In recent years, he’s broken new ground in Step Child’s 2009 film This Video Sucks by putting down a whole part riding switch, filmed increasingly jib-heavy parts for People Films‘ Cheers and Good Look, and is currently filming his own web series, Jibberish, with ThirtyTwo teammate Simon Chamberlain. Yet, despite his ability to stay relevant, the many lines across his chiselled face serve as a reminder that he began snowboarding in another era “a long time ago”.
The Salt Lake City local turned pro back in 1996 when he was selected to be a part of The Forum 8 – the original Forum team created by Peter Line, featuring such riders as Devun Walsh, jibber Jeremy Jones and Bjorn Leines. Having learned to snowboard as a teenager jibbing on a plywood box in his friends snowy backyard, Walker’s skate-influenced style of riding saw him fit in perfectly with Line’s vision. With prominent filmmaker Mack Dawg having a financial interest in Forum at the time, the Forum team took starring roles in his films with Walker killing both rails and backcountry kickers in such films as Decade, The Resistance and True Life, and cementing himself as an icon of turn-of-the-century snowboarding.
“There was a lot of good shit happening. It was sort of a golden age,” he says fondly of this time. “There was a lot of stuff happening that won’t happen again like the rebirth of handrails. Video parts were becoming way more calculated and we were super focused on getting NBDs and hammers.”
Indeed, the one-up-man-ship of getting NBDs (Never Been Dones) and hammers (stomping big, technical tricks) for an audience seems to have driven Walker’s career. “NBD. It’s important,” he laughs, amused by his own seriousness. “I have a hard time getting psyched to do something if I know someone has done something similar. I think of different stuff and how it’s going to look in my part and stacked up against everyone else’s footage. I’ve always wanted my stuff to be unique since day one. The first video part I filmed, all the tricks I did were off the list for next year. I’ve been skateboarding long before I was snowboarding so I always had that mentality. It’s not something I had to learn, I’ve always known.”
One of his most notable NBDs is something that has gone on to change the face of competitive snowboarding: a double cork into powder landed back in 2002 and captured in Mack Dawg’s Shakedown. This was four years before David Benedek wowed crowds at the Air & Style Munich with his and made it a staple in every comp kid’s arsenal. For someone who likes to do things first, you’d expect Walker to crave the recognition, yet he seems surprisingly laidback about the whole thing.
“Some people recognise it, but I don’t know if everyone does or even cares. That might be a big deal to someone that I did a double cork first, but other guys might not care at all. They may be like, ‘So what? He’s thirty-five. I’m twenty-five, so fuck that!’” he says with a laugh. “I’ve never really strived to be influential, but I’d like to think [I was]… I hope so.”
Maybe it’s the relaxation that age brings or the simple satisfaction of his achievements, but Walker genuinely appears to be comfortable with his place in snowboarding. The Forum 8 may have all but disbanded years ago – with Walker himself leaving Forum in 2007 after a corporate takeover from Burton – and many of his peers from ‘the golden age’ have hung up their boots but, for Walker, there’s still a great deal of passion in his voice as he talks at length about the current state of the sport. He laments that kids nowadays are most interested in which energy drink sponsors you (“I tell them I don’t have one and they look at me like I’m crazy!”) and that the constant demand for footage in the digital age has eroded the value of video parts (“I feel in a way everything has turned into quantity over quality”), but he still manages to put a positive spin on the situation, noting that he’s “got so many skills” from the changing times including filming, editing and the art of self-promotion. Walker, it seems, has the game sussed.
“You’ve got to be way more of a professional now. Back then, you could just be a good snowboarder,” he remarks as he gathers up his snowboard and boots ready for the jam session. “But now you got to have an image that people like, your name has to sell product, you’ve got to be good with kids, run a blog […] there’s a lot companies ask of you. And you’ve still got to drop that video part. I’m still stoked, though – I love it. I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t.”