Jake Burton Carpenter, the founder of Burton Snowboards, died Nov. 20 from complications from his battle with cancer. The 65-year-old was a pioneer in snowboarding and helped turn it into the popular sport it is today.
Carpenter — who went by Jake Burton in the outdoor industry — is an icon among snowboarders. “He’s like the cool dad of the sport,” Olympian Shaun White told the New York Times in 2015.
Carpenter grew up in Cedarhurst, New York, as a skier. But when he got his hands on something called the Snurfer, two skis stuck together in a way that resembled a water ski and named to combine “snow” and “surf,” something sparked in Carpenter. He was sold, but he wanted to make something better.
Carpenter started trying to build what would become widely recognized as a modern snowboard in a barn in Vermont. Success came slowly. He bartended at night to earn some money, but he was going deeper into debt paying for materials has he experimented to try to create a good ride.
He sold his first snowboards for $88. Though he only sold 300 boards his first year in business, he kept going, and his company, Burton Snowboards, which formed in 1977, began to grow, eventually adding apparel to their offerings.
Carpenter soon became a well-known champion of the sport, hosting snowboarding events and lobbying ski resorts to allow snowboarders to use their hills. His infectious passion for the sport helped it grow into a massive industry. The sport he’d gotten into in part because of the rebel status it lent him eventually gained professional races and riders and turned into an economic juggernaut.
Snowboarding debuted at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, and one of the local kids Burton had sponsored, Ross Powers, won a bronze medal at Nagano, then took the gold in Salt Lake in 2002.
Carpenter was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, and his treatment at the time was successful. Remission rates are generally high for this type of cancer, but with cancer, there are no guarantees. A few years ago, he faced a different health scare: Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare nerve disease that temporarily paralyzed him. Earlier this month he announced to his staff that he was fighting a recurrence of cancer, writing, “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.”
In lieu of donations, Burton’s family requested that donations be made to Chill, a program that offers underserved youth the opportunity to build resilience through “targeted lessons and challenging physical activities” such as snowboarding. Carpenter and his wife, Donna, founded the charity in 1995. He’s survived by Donna and three sons.
Burton Snowboards shared the sad news on Twitter, starting the hashtag #RideonJake:
It is with a heavy heart that we share that Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter passed away peacefully last night surrounded by loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer. He was the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we love. #RideonJake pic.twitter.com/8dChSsm54Y
— Burton Snowboards (@burtonsnowboard) November 21, 2019
Pro snowboarders and fans alike joined Carpenter’s family in mourning his passing. Copper Mountain Resort organized a memorial lap in Carpenter’s honor after the news of his passing became public. Woodward Copper senior manager Adam Kisiel honored Carpenter in a touching speech, and in part said, “…there’s a lot of us who may not even be snowboarding without Jake Burton.”