Take 5 with pro snowboarder JP Walker
JP Walker would love to see 1993’s “The Hard, the Hungry and the Homeless” finally brought into the digital age.
For more than two decades, the 38-year-old Salt Lake City native has been one of the most influential figures in pro snowboarding, despite the fact that very few people on a chairlift recognize his name. Unlike ESPN-approved superstars — Shaun White, Mark McMorris and even Travis Rice — Walker built his reputation on street rails, not in the X Games halfpipe. He came onto the scene long before Instagram and GoPros, when filming required expensive equipment and only the best of the best earned video segments. Urban riding hardly existed.
And, that’s where “The Hard, the Hungry and the Homeless” comes in. It was one of the earliest videos from Mack Dawg Productions (a now-defunct film outfit) and one of the first Walker saw as a young grom. It left a lasting impression: jaw-dropping backcountry kickers, massive natural quarter-pipes and a handful of jib sessions, with pros grinding everything from picnic tables to sketchy handrails at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
But, those early-’90s films are difficult to track down, even for a pro like Walker. Every once in a while, he talks with Mack Dawg about transferring the older videos to DVD, and, one day, it might happen. Until then, he enjoys the relaxing routine of an old-school pro. He still films every so often, adding more heft to a resume that boasts nearly 20 video parts, and then fills his downtime with surfing, skating and the occasional trip to summer snowboard camps like Woodward Copper.
Shortly after a recent stint at Woodward with a crew of pros, the SDN sports desk caught up with him to chat about the day-to-day schedule of a guest coach, the urban playground from his teen years and how he almost accidentally invented the double underflip.
Summit Daily News: It’s the middle of July, and you just finished up with a camp at Woodward. After almost 20 years as a pro, are you sick of the endless winter thing yet?
JP Walker: I mean, I’m not sick of it. I just do it a little different these days. Before, I would work at Camp of Champions (in Canada), then go to Mt. Hood, just trying to get to as many places as possible in the summer. Now, I just do a few camps here and there, every few weeks. I started to get a little burnt out on the endless winter thing, I guess, so I just found something that worked for me. If I can head to the mountain with the right crew, the right time, it keeps you stoked. And, I like doing a lot of the other camp things these days. You aren’t just focused on snowboarding.
SDN: What was your favorite off-snow activity at Woodward?
JPW: I mean, we did the foam pits and the go-karts and all of that. Then we also went to Copper and did the tourist thing there, playing mini-golf and then a round on the course. The balls just cruise on that thing because the ground is so hard. It’s crazy — everyone was clubbing down like two clubs because they kept rolling and rolling.
SDN: Talk about your time at Woodward. When you’re a guest pro, what does a typical day at camp look like?
JPW: It’s pretty mellow, actually. I hit the jump line a lot this session. Summertime snowboarding is always reserved for rails and jibbing, but I’ve been doing that for so long I wanted to focus on the jumps. I wouldn’t even have my boots on until that first group of kids laps through, then I’d just follow them. It can just be so cool because so many kids who come there; it’s their one snowboard trip for the year. For me, they aren’t the best conditions ever, but they’re just hyped to be on the snow, coming from Florida and North Carolina and Georgia.
(As pros), we obviously travel a lot and go to a lot of places, but we don’t always go somewhere that kids can hang with us or see us ride. If you’re in the backcountry or taking a rail trip on the East Coast, you’re kind of secluded. But, when you do this, they can actually hang out with you. It’s good for a pro — you don’t lose touch with these kids who only know you from video parts. It’s just cool to be there, for sure.
SDN: Confession time: After watching you and Jeremy Jones in “True Life” and the Nixon Jib Fest videos, I couldn’t look at high school staircases the same. They were all suddenly playgrounds. What first drew you to urban riding?
JPW: For me, I skateboarded before I snowboarded. There’s the connection that way, but the main thing is that when I was growing up and getting into snowboarding, there were no parks whatsoever. Guys were already sliding down handrails here and there, like hitting the those steep rails at A-Basin, and, when I saw those guys doing it, I wanted to follow on stuff in my backyard. I didn’t have money to go to the resort, but I could go down the street from my friend’s house and learn on a street rail, back when I was growing up in Salt Lake City. People still film at that little rail garden down there. It’s like they built it for snowboarding — the inclines are perfect for speed, everything is lined up. I rode it because it was almost the only thing we had, and it was free, you know?
SDN: You were also the first to land a double underflip off a kicker. When did you start feeling the urge to branch out and push progression in the backcountry?
JPW: I always had a general “I want to push snowboarding, period” kind of mentality. But, the urban stuff was easy, or not exactly easy, but easy to progress. You could do anything you thought of — just dream it up and try it. But with jumps, you can only spin so many directions and go so many ways.
I almost accidentally threw one of the double underflips when I was trying to learn double-cork 900s. I twisted just a little bit different; it almost worked. You can do that — just twist a bit this way, and suddenly it’s something new — but, it still took a lot of thought, a lot of practice, just getting out there to see what actually works. I was pretty heavy on rails at that point because I thought there was so much room to progress it, but I never stopped hitting jumps and powder. It’s always important for me to be a good snowboarder — period — not just a rail guy or a jump guy or a pipe guy or a powder guy or whatever.
SDN: But these days, almost everyone is throwing double corks. Some call it progression — I just get dizzy. Where would you like to see snowboarding go, and what kind of riders get you stoked on the future?
JPW: It’s still the same type of thing for me. I just like well-rounded snowboarders. Because so many people can do these tricks now — they have perfect parks and perfect jumps and stuff like that foam pit — it’s just really cool to see a guy who reads the terrain different, maybe someone who goes up the handrail instead of down it, or the guy who twists that different way off a jump.
But, it’s not just today. Even when I was younger, there were so many guys riding just like the next guy. It’s easy to see people at the top of the game and want to imitate everything they do, I think. You see guys going off park jumps in Colorado, and it doesn’t look much different than what someone is throwing in Tahoe, in the same contest, just a different month. But, when you’re filming, you have to think, “How can I make this different? How can I make this more than the same old?”
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