Before Five Towns native Jake Burton Carpenter revolutionized winter sports and extended his influence across the world, he grew up in Cedarhurst and Lawrence, and was known to his friends as a comedian.
“I can tell you he was funny, he was a jokester,” said Lucinda Mellen, who graduated with Carpenter from Lawrence Country Day school in 1968, and said she knew Carpenter for 61 years. (The school merged with the Woodmere Academy in 1990 to become Lawrence Woodmere Academy.) “He was very successful in his job, but he never changed. He was very, very humble.”
The man born on April 29, 1954, and considered the godfather of snowboarding died in Burlington, Vermont, of cancer, on Nov. 20. He was 65.
Carpenter had his own competitive skiing career ended by a car accident shortly after he enrolled in the University of Colorado. He moved to Vermont after he graduated from New York University.
He modified a Snufer, a child’s toy snowboard in 1977, and in the span of a few years his creation had taken the slopes by storm. His company, Burton Snowboards, made the snowboards that nearly every snowboarder wanted to use.
Mellen remembers the high-spirited boy who could persuade people to do silly things such as convincing a friend to dress up in his sister’s ballet costume and took his family, wife Donna and three sons, George, Taylor and Timi on a yearlong trip around the world.
In 2015, Burton spent several weeks paralyzed due to Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare nerve disease that kept him immobile while breathing machines and feeding tubes kept him alive. He was unable to open his eyes, but he would write, which is how he kept his still active mind busy.
He created the snowboard uniforms for Team USA and sponsored many Olympic athletes, including Chloe Kim who captured the gold medal at 17 in the women’s halfpipe at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Kim was sponsored by Burton since she was 11.
Shaun White, the gold medal-winning men’s halfpiper told the New York Times in 2015, “He’s like the cool dad of the sport.”
Burton expressed his enthusiasm for Team USA snowboarders wearing his company’s uniforms shortly before the 2018 Olympics. “The sport of snowboarding is neither nationalistic nor team-oriented in nature,” he said in a news release. “However … If the global expectations are that U.S. snowboarders represent their country in a uniform, then Burton wants to design and manufacture it.”
His innovation in and dedication to the sport of snowboarding has turned him into one of the most important figures in winter action sports. It is difficult to imagine snowboarding, or the entire Winter Olympics as they are today without Burton’s influence. In 2012, he was inducted into the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame.
“He was still involved in the community,” said Mellen, recalling a pre-school reunion after 50 years that included Carpenter and 21 others. “All of us are not devastated but saddened. He was a very good guy.”