Back In The Day

Back In The Day


Words / Jesse Burtner

Photo / Mike Yoshida,  Jason Borgstede, Courtesy of Scott Liska


Remember when you were in 5th grade how old a 6th grader seemed?  An 8th grader might as well have been a full-grown adult. High schoolers were extraterrestrials and anything past high school? Well, that was just a myth. But then, as you got older and spent more time on this planet, more exposure to stuff, people stuff. Time itself, and especially age, seemed to matter less and less. Age stopped being a label and little by little everything sort of evened out by the merits of its content. At least that’s how it’s been going for me. And so far, from what I can tell, time has an interesting way of stretching, slowing and accelerating with your experiences in life. Your body and brain’s chemistry (i.e. hormones) plays an especially potent roll in the stretching of time, placing actual physical importance on every moment in your life and a hyper real, wild, Technicolor vibrancy on the truly amazing ones stretching those moments down to super slow motion. Like on your new iPhone (someone please show me how that works).


I think we all have a time where our thirst for knowledge and experience, plus our hormones, plus our need to create a lasting personal identity all collide to create a time of great importance in our lives – a hit zone where you go from supposedly knowing and doing nothing to supposedly knowing and doing everything. This hit zone starts and ends somewhere around the ages of 16 to 26 and is often referred to as “back in the day.”  You see, “back in the day” is the best for everyone, everywhere, always. From the first human to the last. Because, literally, colors were brighter, loves were lovelier, pain was more painful, and the days did go on forever. The music you found “back in the day” is still your favorite. The movies that defined you “back in the day” are probably still your favorites as well (even if you won’t admit it). And you’re probably still talking like you did then too. 


We were all etched deeply by these formative years. Everyone’s crew was the sickest, everyone’s scene was the craziest, and everyone’s “back in the day” stories are unbeatable. Because those were the times that truly mattered – the ever so precious ego building years. The last times you could even pretend to be the center of the universe. So, assuming all this, that everyone’s “back in the day” was the craziest time of their lives, take heed to what I’m about to say. When I talk about “back in the day,” I’m talking about Anchorage, Alaska, 1995 to 2008, roughly. I’m talking about the rise, eventual Empire, and fall of the greatest board sports shop the world (yeah that’s right) has ever seen. I’m talking about Boarderline and everything that that name encompassed. And let me assure you, our crew was THE sickest, our scene was THE craziest, and our stories ARE unbelievable. 


"In For Life" Premiere. // Jesse Burtner, Pika Burtner, Robi Gonz, RJ Ferro, Jason Borgstede

"In For Life" Premiere. // Jesse Burtner, Pika Burtner, Robi Gonz, RJ Ferro, Jason Borgstede


For the most part, the time period I’m talking about could be surmised as the “Tape” era, as in, VHS tape to 8mm to HI-8 to Digi-tape. So, I’m going to remember it as I lived it, on tape, with glitches and hand marks and the stress of wearing out “the heads” while you’re hunched over the tiny screen on the knuckle of Horseshoe or sitting in Polaris K-12 during an independent study twisting the “jog shuttle” hoping to find the cab 3 shifty you did at Arctic Valley. “Did Joe even record it…dude, please tell me he recorded it…” 


Dig through the DC shoe box, finding various unmarked and marked tapes of all kinds. Find a VCR or old camera (then the damn cords, I really don’t miss analog) or one of those big tapes that a little tape went inside, a marsupial VHS. Now put it in and “rewind to end” (copyright Codeman) cross your fingers and hit play. 


My first day at Hilltop I took a lesson from Air Tim McDaniels. He was the dude who got pulled by a Husky on his snowboard through the Fur Rendezvous parade.  He had a shop. He sold mostly used Barfoot boards and framed “art.” I got a hot pink Barfoot headband from him, the one I wore in my L.T.S. photo, License To Shred. The License allowed a snowboarder to ride Alyeska. Maybe you know about that, maybe you don’t, but that really happened – not that long ago you had to pass a test to ride. Air Tim was also one of the guys that administered the test, and thankfully he was cool. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ridden Alyeska that year at all, because I fell, right when it gets steep for those 25-feet under the lift at Hilltop.  


Fast-forward one year, over the cross-country running meet, and the SNL skit you tried to reenact. 


My first real day skateboarding was at Hanshew, before anyone skated the ledges, only the blocks. I went with my friend Arand who got me in to skating. By chance, local legends Thomas Noonan and Erik Ellington were there.  They filmed me doing a stationary Ollie Dog Piss. That was my only trick (need to bust that thing out again). They wanted me to name it on camera, come up with my own name. They were making fun of me, but I didn’t know or I didn’t care. It was day one. I knew about being a poser, it worried me. I knew I had to skate my way in and it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew kids cut fake Ollie holes into their Vision Street Wear mid tops, but that wasn’t going to be me. Thomas did a back three off the 2nd block when the cops kicked us out. Thomas and Erik were full on Virtual Reality shit heads – super good, super arrogant, zero fucks given. After the kick out, Arand and I skated down the street to 7-11 or Little Caesars.


Fast forward five years over the art film you made at Fairhaven College, over the first stormy days learning to ride Mt. Baker before returning home for summer.


I’m still at Hanshew. 12-year-old Adrian Williams and I are filming there. He back 50s the entire long ledge going out from the second doors grinding past a moose munching grass a few yards away, back 180 out. We’re working on the first JB Deuce movie, “Polar Bears, Dog Sleds, and Igloos.”  Even at 12 Adrian was the best skater Anchorage had seen in a while, and every day that we filmed for that movie, he got exponentially better. We had recently found out the ledges at Hanshew grinded, really well. It was an Anchorage skate scene game changer. That and Micah Hollinger (that’s a whole article in and of itself). There was a Space Race of sorts between the Anchorage super powers, Micah Hollinger and A-Dron Williams. Trick for trick, part for part, who could get better, who could get further. Was there a level that an Alaskan skater couldn’t get to? Not to them. With fearless vision and creativity, they broke through. 


Rewind four years over the movie you made in the independent study, over the trips to Nationals, Utah, Mt. Hood and the U.S. Open.  Wait, there’s the cab three shifty. Oh shit, it’s glitched.


I’m at a trampoline snowboard contest at Boarderline on Arctic. The Mistral team is there, which is a big deal because Boarderline is making a big deal out of it. The tramp contest is a big deal for the same reason. I’m spazzing out hard, spinning 900s on the tramp. The dude that wins looks like he’s straight out of “Upping the Ante.” He’s the best by a long shot. It’s Jason Borgstede. 



Fast-forward 10 years.


Jason and I are at the Fourth Avenue theater. It’s sold out. We’re premiering our sixth JB Deuce / Boarderline movie, “In For Life.” Jorge Comelli probably just did something down the courthouse steps before showtime (does he speak English yet?) Doesn’t matter, he rips.  The entire place is freaking out. It’s like a new prom for snowboarders, skateboarders, freaks, geeks, slednecks, stoners, half-gangsters and petty criminals alike. I notice in the credits we wrote “Kepping it ghetto” instead of “Keeping it ghetto,” the kind of mistake that would be the hallmark of my audiovisual career, in a good way. 



Rewind 7 years past the heydays of Boarderline, Boarderline camp, Boarderline videos. Past the blank checks Scott Liska wrote us to make the movies he knew would create something special in Alaska. Now “stop,” then rewind to go even faster past the bounced checks, the wild times, the car chases, the gang status, the Royal Fork parking lot, the ceiling tiles full of Matanuska Thunder Fuck and the poor decisions and foolish words that can mar anything great. Omelets, eggs, bridges, water, you know.  


It’s 1994. I’m in Valdez. King of the Hill. Offspring is on stage in the middle of the gymnasium. One side is under age. That’s where we are. On the other side, every pro snowboarder we’ve ever looked up to (except Terje, Craig, Roan, Damian etc., but there were a bunch!).  Offspring lead dude, pre fame, beckons us up on stage and before you know we’re thrown into an Andy Hetzel, Shaun Palmer, Jay Liska mosh pit of epic proportions. It’s perfect teenage Americana; somewhere in LA, John Hughes shuddered and had no idea why. Later that night Pennywise borrows our ice bucket to shit in for some escalating hotel battle that went to electroshock torture via lamp filaments and ended with a fresh blanket of fire extinguisher snow blanketing the hallways. And it really was Christmas morning for us as we jumped out of the window to avoid any awkward lobby checkout situation.  


Fast-forward eleven years. Past Steezin’ For No Reason, past Andre’s 200 foot frontside nine and into the Think Thank era, past Thunk, past Nice Gordon!, the world’s first look at Gus Engle – a hot mess that would soon change snowboarding.


I’m standing outside the new Boarderline on International between the climbing gym and The Bush Company. Me, Jon Kooley and Sean Genovese are judging a rail contest in the parking lot, a full on scaffolding jib jam of earlier Downtown Throwdown proportions with hundreds of stoked spectators. Sunny Forshee dominates, gap out switch back 270. I think gap out switch back 360 to 5050 as well.  I’m thinking, “Is there anything in this life we can’t achieve? No there isn’t. Are we going to make mistakes? Yes. Are we going to have failures?  Yes. Are we going to get some stuff right? Yes, hopefully. Does any of this matter? Yes…it’s all that matters.” Sunny is so stoked. 


Stop. Pull the tape out, put it back in the shoebox and into the basement. That’s all you have now, but it’s more than enough.


There are more great times ahead, hopefully the best. New Technicolor mega-mo moments (the birth of my son Ollie comes to mind). But “back in the day” is gone. So enjoy your “back in the day.” Make the most of it, clichéd as that sounds, do it. (Side note: all clichés are true, they just don’t mean anything until you are living them.) No matter what, you will look back on that time period and think, “Damn, I can’t believe we did that.” Or “Damn I can’t believe I didn’t do more.” Or anywhere in the middle of those sentiments. No matter what, that time period is going to burn bright forever and it could be white hot (Note to self: “White Hot” potential name for snowboard action film. Chris Brewster plays lead). That energy that you possess inside of you, that mixture of angst, stubborn know-it-all-ness, fearlessness, curiosity and bold-faced optimism might be enough to help create something truly special for a lot of people and especially for yourself. Something you can sit back, in a comfortable chair, exhale and think, “Man, that was the shit.” And that, my friends, is what I have from all of my efforts in my “white hot zone” (Brewster is a down and out oil rig worker who loses a bet and has to dust his snowboard boots off to compete in the big comp or the tribal mafia will kill his malamutes… this thing writes itself). That’s what Alaska gave me; That’s what Boarderline gave me; That’s what Scott Liska gave me; That’s what Jason gave me; That’s what Micah gave me; That’s what every single human that made up that community gave me. And it’s priceless. Priceless. 


Parking garage. 4 a.m. Cadillac limo bumping Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. Eight groms pile out while Scott yells some legendary one liner akin to Brad Pitt in the movie “Troy.”  “You know what lies on the other side of that hill? Immortality. Take it, it’s yours!” We drop in, security is on us. Base, hair dye, power slides, freedom.

Man, back in the day, that was the shit.


"Back In The Day" appears in the latest issue of Crude Magazine. Issue 04 / Legacy focuses on the Golden Age of the Alaska snow and skate scene and the boardshop that made it all possible. For more on Issue 04, click HERE.