Interview: Jake Koia

“I thought everything about snowboarding was badass…the lingo, the attitude, the clothing. The outerwear was awesome; everything was huge and really baggy.” – Jake Koia

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There seems to be a distinguishable attitude that comes hand in hand with having grown up in the mountainous regions of New Zealand. It must have something to do with the high altitudes, that naturally cause the landscape to inspire enthusiastic adventure seekers of all kinds.

Jake Koia, our subject of this particular story, hails from a once quaint whistle-stop of the New Zealand foothills, Arrowtown. Not so quaint anymore, Arrowtown has long since progressed from the gold rush days due to the gold starting to dwindle in 1865, and is now a growing tourist destination with all eyes set on the snow-capped horizon.

Jake obviously wasn’t one of the gold miners, however, in his time he has more than realised the natural phenomenon surrounding him and has managed to develop a life around it. Now, at the age of 27, Jake resides in Melbourne (a stone throw from the Aussie Alps and his hometown) and travels the globe as professional, riding the world’s finest.

Firstly, Mr Koia, what essentials are a must for your trunk?

Way too much. When I’m in Canada: a snowmobile, snowboards, shovels, radios, iPod and speakers, first aid kit, snow saw, probe/transceiver, oil, tools, lunch, coffee, fireball whisky for the really cold days, and the list goes on.

What year did you start snowboarding?

I think ‘94 or ‘95.

Didn’t your brother get you into it? Tell us a bit about it.

Not really. Like most younger brothers I would try copy my big brother, but I think some family friends got us both started. I should ask my family exactly how I got into it because I really can’t remember and I get asked that question a lot. I always just kinda wing it, ha.The truth is I can’t really remember what made me first pick up a snowboard.

What was your snowboarding grom-hood like?

I thought everything about snowboarding was badass…the lingo, the attitude, the clothing. The outerwear was awesome; everything was huge and really baggy. You know the pants with kneepads that just got cool again last year? I had some of those, but I was so small my Mum had to take them up to the bottom of the kneepad. I rode a Burton Air rental that I was allowed to use free from my first sponsor, B.O.A. (an old shop in Queenstown), until I got a 128cm Aboard that was the first kids twin tip board made…well that’s what I was told. 

You’ve recently relocated from Arrowtown, NZ to the cafe filled side streets of Melbourne. What inspired the move?

I was living in Vancouver on and off with my girlfriend and we got over it. There’s better money in Australia for her so she moved from Vancouver to Melbourne to set up a place while I was finishing up filming in Canada. The thing I really like about it is being so close to family back in New Zealand. Plus I’m close to mountains both here and there, but when I want to be away from everything snowboard-related, Melbourne is perfect. It’s going to take a while to get completely set up here but I’m committed and I want to make it my home.

Pretty lucky that you’re able to hop the boarder like that… unlike our poor Mexican counterparts hovering around the boarder gates of Tijuana. What other parts of the world has your passport and snowboarding taken you?

Yeah exactly, it’s pretty easy for us to make the move here. I’ve been to some cool places for sure. Places like Japan, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, China, and a bunch of places in the U.S and Canada. Lately though, I haven’t traveled much because I’m mainly filming and I don’t seem to travel much from Canada just because it’s usually so good. Last season, for example, I posted up in a hotel room with Robbie Walker and a bunch of the other ‘PEOPLE’ crew for three months in Pemberton, B.C. That’s something that I look forward to never doing again. I want to start traveling again, try and ride more resorts around the world, go to a new place every few weeks.

Tell us, when was the first time you went ashore for snowboarding? What went down?

I was 15 or 16 when a sponsor took me for my first overseas snowboard trip, which was really nice of them. I paid for it of course, but it was cool for them to take me around and look after me because I don’t think there was anyone else I knew my age that could have done a trip like that. We went to Nesiko, Japan and Big Bear, California.

Just how key is getting yourself and your skills in front of an international crowd in order to make it in the industry? Got any advice for aspiring riders?

It just depends what you want out of it. If your goal is to make a living from contest snowboarding, then it does seem to just come down to talent, and if you have the drive you can make it. If you’re trying to make a living being in snowboard films and magazines, then you need skills always. But a lot of it comes down to personality, who you know and who likes you. You need to get along with riders, team managers, film makers, photographers, and kiss some ass along the way…something I’ve always sucked at.

When you first stuck your head out, how did you find the NZ snowboarding scene compared to a scene like the US or Canada?

When I first started going to Canada, and even still at 27, I get star-struck. Coming from little New Zealand we tend to put Canadian and American snowboarders on a pedestal, probably because we watched them while we were growing up. For such a long time they did everything before us and we were behind in many ways. But now everyone is coming to New Zealand for contests and training and catalog shoots, it’s awesome. I feel like we’ve caught up.

What’s the latest trend in the snowboarding career choice; are riders taking more of a shying to comp riding or free riding?

I’m not really sure, but I think a lot of people and snowboard companies are more interested in contest snowboarding right now.

What’s your opinion on the free ride verse comp ride debate? In this day and age, is there much conflict between the two, like in a sport such as surfing?

I don’t think there’s any conflict. They’re both awesome and I think everyone has a ton of respect for each of them. I do what I do because I enjoy it more these days. However, if I was 16 again I’m sure I’d be doing a lot more contests and probably making a lot more money.

With more riders filing in for their shot at the snowcapped dream, are older generations under any type of pressure to keep things fresh and set the trends?

I imagine some people may feel that pressure and maybe I should too, but I don’t. I don’t see a ton of people coming up from the Southern Hemisphere, making any similar moves to Robbie Walker, Ryan Tiene , Will Jackways , Clint Allan.

Yes, it’s going to happen eventually and don’t get me wrong, there are definitely talented riders here, but you need drive to go with that talent. I’m just not seeing anything on that level needed for the type of snowboarding we do.

Is snowboarding like that for you personally; do you try set the bar or do you just do your own thing?

I think I’ve done my own thing? I’ve had different influences for sure, but this was my career choice and the way I went about getting what I wanted out of snowboarding was up to me. I had to work hard and I appreciate being able to snowboard for a living.

Talking about your own thing, what’s your personal snowboarding area of expertise?

I just like riding good snow, cliffs, lines, pillows, wedges. When I’m in New Zealand and Australia I get my park fix, but I like to ride more natural terrain because it feels so good when something goes well or even if you blow it in the air, it still feels awesome. It can be really hard and scary. I have so much to learn still.

Please give us your top five tricks?

It changes so often, but right now I would have to say:

1. A backside 180. So damn hard in the backcountry, it took me about three different jump sessions this past season to get one that has any kind of chance at making the movie.

2. A frontside 360 indy.

3. A method.

4. A cab 720.

5. A backside 540 stale fish. Stale fish is my favorite grab right now.

Earlier this year (2012) you were featured in the latest People Films flick. Tell us a bit about that?

It was really cool to have that opportunity. They have made some classics and you know they’re going to make you look as good as possible. I’ve been riding a bunch with Australian snowboarder, Robbie Walker, over the years and, after spending a season filming for GIVIN’s ‘ONE’ together, we decided it worked well so we linked up again for the ‘PEOPLE’ movie this year. We had a ton of fun, but it was a hard season overall. There were way too many down days spent hanging around, waiting out weather in a small hotel room. It drove us all a little crazy.

What other projects have you worked on?

In 2007 I filmed for Wildcats ‘Still Bastards’ which was my first international video part. In 2008 I did Standard Films ‘Aesthetica’, but I only ended up with a bonus part in that. In 2010, I filmed for Sandbox’s ‘Now You Know’ and was happy with how that part turned out. Last year it was GIVIN’s ‘One’ and, the latest is the PEOPLE video, but I don’t know what it’s going to be called yet.

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Click here to visit the official website of Jake Koia.

Photography by Jussi Grznar.

Browse the Trunk Junk collection; maybe even pick one out for yourself.

© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016

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