RUSTY OCKENDEN | “I HAVE A CAMERA”
With the heavy financial strain put on professional photographers, the Manboys have become their own media house, they were early adopters of...
Words By William Fraser
When you rearrange the letters in Jon Kooley’s name they spell, “Ok, looney J!” Seems slightly fitting, doesn’t it? I mean, Jon Kooley: tight pants, board punching, Love/Hate. Jon Kooley: designer, pit bull owner, bearded man. Jon Kooley: motorbike lover, and, lover of all things dangerous. What I’m doing here is trying to give you enough adjectives to think that Jon Kooley is, in fact, “looney.” I’m also really trying to justify spending two and half hours rearranging the letters in Jon Kooley’s name to make that anagram. But maybe just read the article and assess the looneyness of J Kooley yourself.
Many people may not know this, but Jon Kooley spent the early years of his life in Germany. He lived there until he was 12, after which he moved to the small town of Fairbanks, Alaska – population: 31, 644. “It was cold,” he says, “and a big change from Germany.”
After two years in Fairbanks, Kooley began getting in a little bit of trouble. Nothing was specified, but his parents made the decision to send him to a Christian school for Grade 9, to smartin him up. It worked. “It was probably the best thing they did,” he says.
At the Christian school, everyone snowboarded. So, Kooley started too. He bought his first snowboard, a 158 Burton Air, using a $1,500 government handout called the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF). What is the APF? In one long breath, the APF is a social wealth fund paid out to the citizens of Alaska each year using money earned from an investment portfolio that the government set up in 1976 from oil revenue. It’s fascinating stuff, you should consider looking it up, reader.
After buying his first board, Kooley took to it. Actually, after buying his first snowboard and then trading it to a friend for a smaller one, he took to it. A 158 was just too big for his lanky 6 ft, 140lb frame.
During that same Grade 9 winter, Kooley’s principal struck a deal with him, saying that Kooley could skip the homeroom class he had with his principal and use it to snowboard if he was on honour roll. So that’s what Kooley did. He got on honour roll and began snowboarding for two hours a day, during lunch and homeroom. Then, on weekends, he’d head to the local hill, located on the town military base.
“I was obsessed, completely obsessed,” he says. After graduating high school, Kooley tried college for a semester, but his obsession drove him from Alaska to Utah. Things started picking up at this point. After a season in Utah, he got on flow with a couple companies, and two years later, at the age of 21, Kooley started riding for K2 and Sessions. During that summer, while coaching at High Cascade, he was asked to film for Shakedown, with Mack Dawg. A dream come true. After this offer came, more came. His sponsors, K2 and Sessions, started paying him monthly: $1,000 from K2 and $500 from Sessions. Although sessions didn’t last long because, as Kooley recalls, “[Mikey Leblanc] called me after High Cascade and was like, you wanna ride for Holden?”
At this point, Holden wasn’t really a company, but Kooley didn’t care. It was an offer from Mikey Leblanc. That year, “I got one pair of pants for Shakedown,” Kooley says, “but there was no outerwear yet really… my first pay cheque was an iPod.”
After filming for Shakedown, Mikey approached Kooley again and asked him to film for what has become one of the most memorable videos in snowboard history, Love/Hate—which, at the time, was criticized for having too much cig smoking and street snowboarding. It was different. Kooley recalls that “the environment filming for that movie was awesome. Everyone was just trying to progress, and everyone was feeding off each other. Filming for those guys [was] two of the best seasons I ever had.”
After Love/Hate, Kooley went on to film Burning Bridges, We’re People Too, Down With People, Nice Try, Bon Voyage, Shoot the Moon, and Hyped. He had a career of video projects. Projects that – if you’re older than 26 – you’ll likely remember. Projects that – if you’re younger than 26 – you should watch.
With those parts came a career of sponsorship from companies like K2, Nitro, L1, Holden, Ashbury, Sessions, Level Gloves, IRIS Goggles, Lifetime Collective, and a top-selling pro model for Santa Cruz. The base of it featured the Cookie Monster taking a bite out of the Santa Cruz logo. “I got a big royalties cheque with that one,” Kooley says.
Eventually, however, like most boarders, his body was slowly catching up with him. At 32, Kooley had battled multiple snowboard injuries and a nagging compressed disk in his back. “My doctor said I had the spine of a 70-year-old man,” Kooley explains. And he was feeling it. He wasn’t as stoked on his last couple of video parts and felt his injuries were slowing him down, so when the offer to be L1’s creative director came, he had to take it.
Yeah, from snowboarder to creative director of L1, just like that. Kooley explains that he had been drawing designs for L1 for years, and that one year he went to a meeting to drop off his drawings to the designer, but was told they were not working there anymore. Interested in Kooley’s work, L1 asked him how long he had been doing this, and then offered him a job on the spot—Creative Director. Kooley recalls them saying, “We’ll keep giving you the same salary we’re giving you for Nitro and L1, but you’ll have to quit snowboarding. So I was like, uhhh, let me think about it. I went home and went back the next day and said sure.”
L1 gave its creative director position to a guy who dabbled in design work. “I had no fuckin’ idea what I was doing. None,” Kooley says.
But, just like that, Kooley was done. He snowboarded and worked at L1 for the rest of that season and then hung up his boots. In hindsight, “The decision wasn’t all that difficult to make,” Kooley explains. His knee was messed up, his back was messed up, he felt like he couldn’t keep up health wise. “I was in constant pain for the last two years. The scary thing about quitting snowboarding was that I took a job that, one, I didn’t know how to do, and two, I didn’t even know if I liked.”
Eight years later, Kooley was still there full-time. He just left two years ago, after getting an offer to go out to California to design for Fox. But even then he hasn’t fully left L1. “I can’t give up L1, I love it,” he says. “It’s my last connection to the snowboard world.” So, Kooley works full time for Fox during the day and does freelance work for L1 on evenings and weekends. By the sounds of it, he still designs most of the line. He explains that it feels a little like snowboarding to him; “with snowboarding you have your video part come out, and that’s the summary of your season. With design work, the line comes out and that’s the summary of my year’s work.”
Apart from work, Kooley lives with his girlfriend in Orange County, he’s a seven-minute drive from work, he has two dogs, one pit bull mutt and one pit bull rescue. He also has a couple project motorbikes in the works and still goes snowboarding a couple times a year, and “it is so fun now.” All-and-all, it sounds like Looney J is ok.