Over the last years Jess Kimura has catapulted herself into our consciousness with a string of killer movie parts, which display a level of dramatic style and poise most mortals can only dream of. Last winter, we checked in with the Canadian-born rail ninja for a chat
Interview by Sam Haddad
For readers that don’t know your backstory, when did you first get into snowboarding?
Well I’d skied since I was two or three but by the time I was 14 or so [check] I was getting really bored of it so I started snowboarding. I hated it at first as I sucked really bad, I couldn’t turn toe-side for like the whole first season that I rode and I hated it as I couldn’t keep up with any of my friends.
Why were you scared to turn?
No I just sucked. I couldn’t figure it out.
Were you a good skier?
I guess I never thought much about going off jumps or building stuff to hit though and then one day I was snowboarding, and I’d done gymnastics before, and I hucked a backflip and I got so stoked at that moment, on trying crazy things, that’s when I like fell in love in snowboarding.
How did the backflip come about?
We just rolled up to a jump that someone had built in the parking lot and they were like, “This jump is only for backflips go away,” and I was like, “I’ll do a backflip!”
Did you land it?
Hell no, I just tomahawked into the parking lot but I was just like, “Hell Yeah,” you know.
Were you still doing gymnastics then?
I think I started snowboarding and quit gymnastics at the same time, once I started really liking snowboarding I quit gymnastics totally.
Most girls that are really good at snowboarding are good at gymnastics aren’t they?
Oh yeah for sure, it shows you how to learn something that is crazy and hard to wrap your mind around, like certain flips in gymnastics, it shows you the method to work it out, how you should feel in the air.
So you were into the freestyle side of riding from the beginning?
Yeah I started doing comps like half pipe and started racing boarder cross more and more.
Did you enjoy that?
Yeah I did like the intensity of it but I didn’t like all the politics that goes all along with it, like working with an association, so once I started riding rails I quit that to film video parts.
You’ve had some killer movie parts, what attracts you to filming?
It just shows you what you can actually do and it’s there forever, it’s not just like a contest result where nobody knows the run that you did they just know if you podiumed or not.
It’s there forever that’s an interesting point. Is it important to you that a lot of people see your tricks?
Erm it’s more like I would just wait around for the girls’ videos to come out or I would buy any video that had a girls’ part in it when I was younger. It was so motivating and inspiring to me so it’s important to me that lots of girls see my parts, girls that need motivation or are looking for something like that.
Are you inspired by girl riders rather than looking at guys?
Yeah I think it’s really important as I don’t know about other girls but for me I can’t relate to, even today when I see a video part of a guy, I can’t relate to it, I’m like, “Oh sick,” but I can’t actually picture myself doing it until I see a girl do it and then it becomes possible in my mind.
What girls did you look up to when you were younger?
Janna Meyen and Tara Dakides at first and then later Cheryl Maas and Marie France Roy.
Have you seen Cheryl Maas’ ‘Open Air‘?
It’s rad. Cheryl’s like the best, she’s so good and she has the best style, I’m sure this whole series is going to be insane with stuff people have never seen before.
What are you like on filming days, how involved do you get in choosing obstacles?
I go out and find my own stuff and make lists of tricks I want to do on it. I do a lot of stuff wherever I am so if I’m at my parents’ house for Christmas I’ll be looking for stuff there or when we go on trips my eyes are just bulging out the window looking for stuff.
How long does it take you to get something right?
It depends if there’s a certain trick I want to do, say something really crazy, I’ll go practise it on something small and then I’ll take a picture of the spot and then I’ll go home and stare at it and picture what it’s going to be like and just prepare myself for it. It can be like two tries or like four days of trying all day everyday.
Do you get nervous when the filmer’s there?
I feel pressure the more times I don’t land something especially if it’s really cold out and I know they want to get out of there, I’ll kind of not get nervous but stressed out.
How do you cope with that?
I dunno I’ll like buy them coffee and give them my chair, stuff to make myself feel like… I mean I know it’s their job and everything but I don’t want people to hate filming with me because it takes me too long or whatever.
Is there more pressure on a girl than guy to bag tricks?
No there’s probably less pressure as people expect you to just suck.
When you are doing parts for all-girl movies like Peep Show and mostly guy movies like Defenders of the Awesome is it tempting to give best parts to guys’ movie?
Oh god yeah I always do that
Why because more people will see it?
No just because that’s the standards I want to set for myself to keep up. I know I’ll never really be able to keep up with the dudes but it makes me fight harder if I know my riding’s going to be up compared to all these guys in a video rather than just a girls’ video as it’s much easier to stand out as not a lot of girls know how to film a video part. It’s not just being good at snowboarding it’s like finding features, setting them up and riding them…
Can having good style be taught?
I think if people ever want to get better they should think about it. There’s obviously a lot of natural ability that goes into what your style ends up looking like but if you want to get better style and you have terrible style it’s not impossible, I’ve seen lots of people do it you just have to watch yourself snowboard a lot and see what you’re doing. Get your friends to video-tape you on your iPhone or whatever.
Will the ease of filming, as in with phones, mean girls’ video parts get better?
Yeah because girls will start paying a lot more attention to what they look like when they snowboard and that’s what turns heads, it’s not so much the tricks that they’re doing but what it looks like.
So your parents still live in Vernon where you grew up, what’s it like?
Yeah Vernon in Interior British Columbia, it’s pretty small.
Is it a snowboarder-friendly mountain, do people mind their cars being used as obstacles?
Well there’s a lot of good spots there and more and more crews are going there so I think certain people are probably getting pissed off with people using like the rail in their yard but as far as the mountain they’ve always had a park and pipe for us to ride.
Are you interested in slopestyle contests?
Yeah when the actual runs happen. If you could take a whole contest day and edit it down to the highlights I’ll look at it. I mean I want to do contests for sure one day but I don’t want to go in there with a run that doesn’t make people freak out.
I guess you’re not that happy about slopestyle being in the Olympics?
It doesn’t matter to me because I’m not going to do it. Maybe I will in future but probably not, the whole reason I snowboard is because people can’t tell me what to do.
Does anything massively scare you in snowboarding?
Stuff in the backcountry and not being sure about what’s under the snow like in powder.
Have you ridden much powder?
I haven’t been able to afford it these past couple of years, that’s why I’ve been riding rails so much, but I definitely love riding it. I like trying to look at it in a street sense, finding rocks and transitions and getting super-hyped on it.
What trick are you most proud of?
Probably the stuff in Think Tank last year when I went to Alaska, I got a backtail and switchtail on this really famous ledge and when they put the teaser out it was the first shot in the video and I just freaked out, I called my mum, I just about passed out it was crazy. I still get that feeling everyday, it was in super slow mo too so whenever I watch it, I’m like, “Holy shit.”
So can you make a living from filming now? I read that you used to do labouring to help pay the bills…
This year I didn’t have to for the first time, which was awesome, I feel like all this shit I put in is finally paying off.
So if you did contests it wouldn’t be because you needed to financially?
No it would just be to take down another aspect of snowboarding. I want to do everything and with the filming you just have to be… I don’t even know if it’s good enough or you have to be able to film a good enough part. If you are better than everyone or just look better style wise.
Jess is sponsored by Volcom, Capita, Monster, Nike, Union, Coal, Celtek and Electric