Top Image: Brandon Huttenlocher.
It may be the long blonde hair, or maybe the moustache, or the way his upper body flows through a turn, but Jay Hergert’s friends call him “the ghost of Tom Sims.”
Or maybe it’s just because he likes to ride vintage boards.
But Jay’s known for trying new things, experimenting, finding a path beyond the obvious. He finds solace in the humility of nature and views life and snowboarding differently than others, locating opportunity in things that most would overlook. Whether he’s charging the park on a mid-90s Gnu Vertigo, stomping out a deep boot pack for a few turns or tweaking a roast beef, one theme in Jay’s life consistently shines through: optimism. Simplicity goes a long way.
Watching Jay snowboard, one sees Malibu surf style meeting John Cardiel’s high-speed bowl skating and a bit of Damian Sanders swagger. Now riding for Slash Snow, Airblaster, Union Binding Company, Wend Waxworks, Outdoor Technology, Dank Donuts and Stance Socks, his unique approach has brought some love recently from the snowboard industry.
The 24-year-old snow surfer of Issaquah, WA is an environmentalist at heart, constantly raising concerns about nature and pollution. He’s been cutting down on his use of electricity, straying away from the coddled lifestyle of chairlift riding and spending more time touring in the backcountry. Reducing his carbon footprint, cleaning up the environment and spiritually connecting with the world around him are the highs that Jay pursues. Living in a cabin near Alpental sans Internet and with little electricity, he and his roommates keep their place heated with firewood. Despite sporadic lost calls and garbled words due to the poor cell phone service around their mountain-home, he was able to connect and give some insight on his life thus far.
Item: Jay Hegert Interview
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frequency TSJ: How did you get involved with snowboarding?
Jay: My dad grew up in Auburn, WA skiing Crystal [Mountain]. When I was two-years-old he would take me up to Alpental. In fourth grade I switched to snowboarding because I had surfed a few times, and I was a skateboarder, so I felt drawn to it. It took a season or two for me to convince my dad to let me switch over. Then snowboarding completely took over.
You have a really unique, laidback-while-still-charging kind of style. How did it come to be?
A lot of learning comes from the visual experience of watching films with riders like Rüf, Müller and Cardiel. As you continue to learn from visual experience, you can start to learn much more from physical experience. I’ve spent a lot of time riding my snowboard, constantly practicing the most basic and overlooked fundamentals, from every 180 variation to learning switch methods. These days I see so many kids throwing themselves into it, sending off jumps and rails right from the get go. I’d like to see a future in snowboarding where kids are stoked to do every 180, and a switch slash is appreciated as much as a regular one, and they care more about having fun than what someone is wearing.
Tell me a bit about riding powder boards in the park.
I grew up in an era of snowboarding that came after people were using long, stiff camber boards for everything. I got my hands on one, and was curious what it would be like to ride it. I tried riding one with soft boots, but I would advise against doing that unless there’s powder, because it’s easy to break your ankles. The first summer I rode a Sims at Windell’s I landed on a wallride and the straps flexed and I double-ejected. I slammed dude, from the wallride straight to my chest on the ground with no board. I never knew you could double eject from a snowboard until that. The more my friends and I got into riding old boards, the more we’d started finding and trading them on ebay and at old shops. Now I’ve got a couple of vintage K2’s and a 162 GNU Vertigo from some point in the ‘90s, which I think is my favorite powder board. I’ve also got three Sims and a Black Snow, the first one they made with the metal edges. I’ve been having fun trying to ride as many weird boards as I can. The bigger the board, the bigger your slash!
How important do you think style is these days?
Style is a message from our spirit, and I think that those who aspire to make it look good are the ones who keep the love of snowboarding alive. Some may be similar, but each is unique in its own creative way. In the contest scene I think it’s been lost for a while, and still kind of is. It seems to be more about spinning and flipping as fast as you can while grabbing the middle of your board. But there are still a lot of riders in contests that have unique style and are still making it important in snowboarding. Kazu [Kokubo] flipping off the X Games judges was awesome, and Sage [Kotsenburg] doing double-grabs is sick. It’s pretty neat to see him pushing style onto those who have no idea what it is, let alone what snowboarding is.
How do you feel about surf style applied in snowboarding?
I enjoy seeing this worldwide revolution of surf-style-riding, as it is the origin of the passion we call snowboarding. We’re finding our way back to our roots. Not that we’d lost it, but a large portion of snowboarding had taken a different path. Now even mine has been redirected.
I’m known for having a laid back or loose style, one that some might call surf-style, but personally I feel I’m still working up to that. When I think of snow surfing I think of guys like Taro Tamai, Alex Yoder and Forrest Burki. As I learn more about snowpack and backcountry riding I hope to one day achieve the level of surf-style that I look up to.
This style typically comes out in the powder, but I’d say it shows in your park riding as well. For instance, that vibe shines through in your “Just Plain Kruising” part.
It’s funny how one day you’re messing around cruisin’ and excessively dragging your hands while your friend Kyle [Schafer of Jupiter People] is filming, and then suddenly it’s online and people are stoked to watch you ride a snowboard. I had no idea that a video of me screwing around, not focusing on landing heavy tricks would have this effect on people. I dig that more riders are hand-dragging rails, and people like Denis Bonus [Leontyev] are pushing the progression of how it’s done. But you probably won’t be seeing me ride like that again. I’ve been branching out to enjoy the simplicity of carving and splitboarding.
The freedom of the mountains, the silence found in the wilderness, taking the path less traveled. There’s a peace and beauty found out in nature you can’t replicate. These playgrounds of ours are meant to be fun, but can just as easily take your life. When I was younger I didn’t really know much about the big-mountain terrain, and was being stupid to never have learned about it. I just went out into the backcountry without proper knowledge because I was young and dumb. I learned my lesson from a few shifty experiences and am thankful to be alive. I now know how important it is to respect the mountains, and to know what I’m getting myself into each day.
Where did you get the nickname “Ghost of Tom Sims?”
I’ve been known to ride vintage boards and binders here and there, but during the spring of 2013 I came back to Govy [Government Camp, OR] for another summer at Mt. Hood and I found a Sims Blade ATV 162 for $20 at a Goodwill. I was riding it all summer, so I guess “The Ghost of Tom Sims” became my nickname because of that. That, and maybe because of my moustache and long blonde hair.
As of late you’ve been living pretty off the grid?
This last year at Mt. Hood I lived out of the National Forest from April ‘til August. At the moment I’m living in a house without Internet and we heat the place with firewood. It’s pretty awesome. It’s a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
These days more than ever I’ve been trying to surround myself with nature, going out for hikes everyday, even if it’s short. I really like being grounded and connected to nature. Nature is really talking to us, in a way. When you’re out in the mountains, it ain’t always silent. Nature is always moving and changing, and she’s always saying something.
Snowboarding has made me realize I need to pay attention to the little things I do on a daily basis and how they could affect the environment. Doing my part to help preserve the environment, recycle and never litter, is not only my responsibility as a snowboarder but as a human being. It could be the difference between the next generation living with or without snow.