WHERE YOU AT, JON KOOLEY?
When you rearrange the letters in Jon Kooley’s name they spell, “Ok, looney J!” Seems slightly fitting, doesn't it?
Jody Wachniak is a snowboarder through and through. He first showed up in shred movies as a street boarder and has graduated to a backcountry sender with effortless style. Jody also embraces the value of community and giving back, whether it’s his hometown rail jam, his podcast, or his photos. There’s a lot to this guy from the Canadian prairies, and I was lucky enough to sit down with him and find out a little more.
By Rob Lemay
What brands help you out these days?
Skullcandy is still going? I feel like I haven’t seen anything from them in a while. Is there an old sponsor that you don’t have anymore that you wish you still had?
Yeah, dude. They’re still giving me headphones. Aaron Biittner is the team manager. As far as an old brand I still wish I rode for, I don’t know. I really liked Mission Six, and Grenade Gloves. I mean love Howl and I love Billabong, but those were the two faves that I used to ride for.
And Ashbury now?
Yeah, stoked! I ran into Joe Sexton last year at the trade show and he kinda swung it by me. I was really hyped to stop wearing goggles from some company that never cared about me. Plus there’s a big need for brands like Ashbury that have a clue. I’m really happy to be a part of it.
I notice you’ve been shooting a lot of actual film photos. What got you into it, and what camera do you have?
My uncle used to shoot photography back in the ’70s and ’80s. A few Christmases ago, my dad told him that I was getting into film photography and he wasn’t shooting much anymore, so he gave me his entire film collection of about 10 different cameras. I’m mainly shooting on this old Nikon FE2. I really don’t know what I’m doing but I love it and it’s really exciting when you get your roll back. You never get a full roll perfect, so I’m learning constantly. I would say 60 percent of my roll turns out really good, and then the other 40 percent is pretty much absolute garbage.
It’s really fun and I like the process; you know, buying the film, shooting it and then getting the film back. I also like having the hard copies and I think that had something to do with my parents having a lot of photo albums lying around the house growing up that I used to scroll through. I liked how the photos would be all blurry and not perfectly focused and you would see cool clothing that your uncle was wearing and old cars in the background. For some reason having a hard copy of the photo has always meant something to me. It’s like getting something printed in a magazine; it just means more to me than having shit on your iTunes library or whatever. I have a lot of photo albums now, they mean a lot to me.
Do you use just the light meter in the camera?
Yeah, and I just shoot on auto most of the time. Oli Gagnon, the snowboard photographer, gave me a good pointer. He told me to shoot outside when the light’s good. It’s the most basic tip in the world, but as far as shooting film, if you’re outside and it’s decently bright every photo turns out. When you’re shooting inside or it’s remotely dark, I don’t know those photos are pretty hard to nail. I’ve never shot inside with a flash yet, but I probably will because I’m nerding out on it right now.
You just got back from Baldface? How was that? It’s an industry avalanche course put on by Pat Moore right?
Yeah. Pat Moore, I think about six years ago he kinda realized that backcountry snowboarders like myself, don’t really have all the tools or knowledge they should have going into the backcountry and that having a better understanding of avalanches is super important for not only yourself but the whole crew. Originally the course started out with the basics, and now it also has a first-aid course. It was a really intense avalanche and first-aid course and the takeaway was absolutely insane. I think it was the most information I’ve ever retained in my brain and the most information I’ve ever learned in that amount of time. If you’re looking to get out into the mountains, take an avalanche course and get yourself dialed in. Because everyone’s going out with a shovel, probe, and beacon, but those are only good tools if you know how to use them.
It’s scarier the more you know and the real situations you can get yourself in.
Yeah, I mean eventually someone could end up under the snow and seconds and minutes mean the difference from life and death. It’s important that you know how to use those tools to the best of their abilities.
Who was out there taking the course with you?
It was like 80 percent professional snowboarders, with some media people like Gabe Langlois, and a few team managers. It’s like going to school again, but you’re actually learning. Everyone takes it seriously. I feel bad that it took me this long to even take this course. I have a Level 1 that I took about six years ago but the refresher was much needed and I think that everyone should go at least once a year with their crew for a refresher. I love riding powder and I love being out in the mountains more and more as I get older. I just have an appreciation for going into the mountains with a small group of friends. It’s the most humbling, peaceful, epic, awesome shit ever. But there’s a certain amount of responsibility that comes with that enjoyment. The biggest take away was to never get too comfortable out there. I’m very grateful for that experience and I have a lot of respect for Pat putting this event on. Such a G.
Is Kevin Sansalone guiding out there still?
Yeah, he is! I haven’t really had a good hang out with him since the old Sandbox days, it was really rad to have him there. Kevin’s another guy who’s given a lot back to snowboarding, I almost didn’t see it when I was a kid but now looking back? Damn. He literally used to organize every trip that all us kids would go on. From the rides to-and-from, gas, tools, the media … I was just some keener kid. I’m grateful that Kev put me in those old movies. I didn’t really have any sponsors and well, living with Geeves probably helped too [laughs].
You put on a rail jam every year back home in Winnipeg. I want to know what your motivation was to start putting an event on like that, how long you’ve been doing it, and what the whole event is about.
I grew up riding at Spring Hill Winter Park with all my close friends like Jake Kuzyk, Jesse Walker, Andrew Geeves, Kevin Griffin, Derek Molinski, to name a few. Basically growing up there, there were no events, minus the one-time Forum Youngblood came through, but other than that there wasn’t much. I always thought that it would be cool to give back. Eventually, when I realized that I was in a position to give back, I thought why not? I remember what it’s like to be a kid and you break your board and can’t afford to buy another one. It’s really nice to give back to the local community ’cause a lot of those kids don’t have much. It really stemmed from my first year doing it. This kid who was 12 years old came up to me, he looked me in the eyes and he was like, “I’m a foster kid. I’ve been in and out of different homes my whole life and I’ve never owned anything new. Thank you so much.” It was the most epic thing ever. I was like, wow, I’m going to keep doing this. It makes me feel good. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing it for that reason. I should just be doing it because it’s important. Either way, it’s my little way to give back to my community. The kids deserve it too, they rip.
I think that’s huge. Well, speaking of giving back, I think putting anything back into snowboarding is giving back in a way, and you’ve been doing a podcast now for the last year or so. What got you started?
Yeah. I was doing the podcast with the Manboys for a while. At one point I realized that I just liked talking and I wanted to do my own thing. So I started a podcast cast called AIR TIME. And I mean for no other reason than I’m a snowboard nerd and I like to talk about this shit. I think it’s something I want to make really dope to give back to snowboarding because of how much I really fucking love snowboarding. It’s the best thing in the world. I think there are a lot of people that deserve to tell their stories too. There are so many people behind the scenes that have helped shape this awesome thing that we all love. I think it’s cool to give the underdogs a voice.
I agree. Photos and magazines are fundamental but only tell a fraction of our history, there’s so much more behind the scenes. There’s so much room for more outlets to tell more stories.
Exactly. It’s like Eric [Traulsen] that does the FNRad podcasts. He’s interviewed Devun[Walsh] and Mikey[Renz], and at the beginning, I was like, “Oh maybe I shouldn’t interview those guys.” But then I thought “Why not?” We’re going to talk about different stuff and no one’s going to be sick of hearing Devun Walsh stories.” There’s always more to tell.
That makes me think about some people [older grumpy snowboarders] can think there’s nothing new to do anymore that hasn’t been done. I like to think that everyone has his or her own story to tell. Even if somebody’s doing a trick that’s already been done, it’s telling a new story and it can even pay homage to that person that did it before.
Well, that’s the thing. Similar art is done over and over. That’s what snowboarding is, or that’s what photography is, or whatever, it’s art. You just bite people’s shit that you used to like and then eventually it just becomes your own thing. In the beginning, people can kind of see through it and think you just wanna look like Devun Walsh, or you’re shooting photos like Andy Wright, but then over time you just do you. That’s the tightest shit ever. I mean look at [David] Brocklebank. He’s influenced by boarders like Nate Bozung, Sean Kearns, and the Wildcats, and eventually, all of those influences became his own artistic style. That’s the most authentic shit ever. I want to do a switchback tail like E-man [Anderson], or I would love to shoot a cover like Crispin [Cannon], and they influence me, but unless I put the work in, it’s not going to translate into anything.
Exactly. So who do you want to bite this season, or who is influencing the most these days?
Dude. Straight up. There are some people I want to bite for sure. Danimals. Arthur Longo. Darrell Mathis, I love his photography. There are so many people that I want to bite right now. Even the Baker 4 movie that just came out, how that was all put together is so good. I had Mikkel Bang on my podcast last and he said that going into every year he loves to switch it up. And that’s what keeps it exciting and fresh, and is how he wants to keep doing it. Variety is the spice of life. That’s my shit right now more than ever. I’m so inspired to go out there and film stuff and shoot stuff and record stuff. Just by the new shit that I’m inspired by and it’s crazy. I feel like for the first time ever I’m so content with saying that and I think that this is going to be the best shit I ever do. I hope so anyway. I mean at the end of the day it’s like this unachievable goal that you just want to fucking do everything right. But I don’t know, it almost seems like a waste of time to worry about it too much ’cause you’re never going to perfectly fulfill all that shit. You’ve got to just embrace it all and just try to have as much fun as possible.
Totally. It’s always fun to shoot the shit with you, Jody. Thank you.
Yeah, dude. You too, Rob. We’re the same, dude. We’re both like two snowboard nerds who just love it and we’re both inspired by, I would say similar shit. And I mean that’s probably why you wanted to sit in my truck in the Subway parking lot to do this interview. Thanks for having me on, Rob.