Hands Not Thumbs /// 004 /// Jake Terry

Posted by Tom Dear on

Jake, you were a pro snowboarder at 13, now you’ve turned full time photographer / videographer. There's loads I want to talk to you about, but I think it'd be cool to get into snowboarding first.

How did you become a snow sports athlete given that you started in the UK?

To be honest, the ski / board scene in the UK is really quite big. We've got quite a few snow domes and a lot of dry slopes, so the ski community is actually quite a lot larger than you might think.

In terms of turning pro, that too was actually not super weird for a UK lad either! It was more of just a natural progression, however it was quite weird how I got into snowboarding...

Before being a pro boarder, I was a sponsored skier from age 4 to 8. One day I was messing around in my local Snowdome in Milton Keynes, they have these nets which keep you from crashing into the wall, one day I fell down a hole and one of the carabiners that held the nets up went through my shin, ending in me having 14 stitches!

I couldn't ski because the ski boot pressed against my shin, so my dad found some snowboard boots which finished just underneath the stitch line, so I just thought I’d try snowboarding instead!

What a silver lining that turned out to be! After you turned pro, was there a particular goal you set out to achieve in snowboarding? Or was it more of an enjoy what you do, take each day as it comes kind of attitude?

It was definitely a take every day as it comes kind of attitude, never really an ‘end goal’ as such. Just go snowboarding, have fun with my friends and progress myself!

So whilst being an extreme sportsman seems like the coolest job on that planet, I'm sure it comes with its own challenges. What was the most common thing people may overlook or underestimated when it came to being a pro boarder?

I think the one major thing that's massively overlooked is mental health. You're doing your dream job, you get paid to do what you love daily, you get to travel the world with your friends and see these amazing places. It's definitely the dream scenario for a lot of people, but I don't think people understand the mental strain you're constantly under.

When I signed with Billabong, it was a dream come true but then also, there was this realization that snowboarding is now my job, I have to do this now.
When you’re part of a team, you've got pressure from coaches, from sponsors etc. There's so many things that start to pile down on you that people don't really see.

I remember I had a few contests where I was just bawling my eyes out because I'd done a bad run. I just thought I'd let everyone down, whether it be parents, my sponsors, people who supported me financially etc. I think that's something that's really overlooked - the amount of pressure you're under. It's sometimes too much for some people.

It’s definitely something that I wish more people would understand. They see you as doing this exciting job, so how can you be stressed or upset? Yeah, I'm doing my dream job…but I'm also doing A job, like I still got to make money!

And then there's the added pressure of injury. For example, I injured my knee and when I got fit enough to get back to snowboarding, I had all these doubts: Will I be the same technically? Will I still be able to do the same things? Will I still be as good? Will I still have the same confidence? There's so many factors.

I don't think many people understand unless they've been in the same situation or they know someone in the same situation. One of my close friends is a competitive race skier and she's had several years of just brutal injuries. She's really struggling with coming back because there is just so much pressure on her to succeed and win races. I’m sure, she’ll be great when she’s fit again, it  just takes some time to get back into it. So yeah, I definitely think the mental side and injury is something that's massively overlooked by everyone that’s not within the sport world.

Is there anything you put in place yourself to overcome those challenges yourself?

I went to therapy for about six months. I was just going through a real struggle, I had a bad injury, I had a really awful season of contests, my mental health was at an all time low, even suicidal thoughts at some stages, I just wasn’t doing great. I was so worried about sponsors dropping me. I've had it before, I've had sponsors drop me because I didn't do well enough that season. So therapy really helped me understand that it's okay to make mistakes, I'm going to fuck up. It's just going to happen and you got to accept it, but it's just obviously, how you handle that is how things will dictate the future.

It’s really commendable I think for you as a teenager at the time to have the foresight to seek out external help like that.

Yeah that was a big shift in my life which I felt I needed to make. When I was competing in the Freeride Series, I was competing alongside a female snowboarder who was also British, she unfortunately committed suicide the day before her 18th birthday. When I found out about this I was heart broken, someone I knew quite well, and who I competed alongside with for the best part of 3 years and shared some really great memories on the mountain with. She took her life due to too much pressure, financial strain, and other issues happening in her life.

That was a huge reason why I started going to therapy and started to learn how to better my mental health, not only for myself but for those around me, being under so much pressure as a young athlete. It’s so tough, especially when you're a teenager, you've got so many other things in your life going on, you've got friends and family relationships, school, plus you're still trying to have a semi-normal a teenage life, whilst trying to pursue this job that is incredibly difficult. 

I’d say that any professional athlete out there has not had like a ‘normal’ upbringing, in any sense. They've dedicated their entire life to that one pursuit, and if it starts crumbling away, there's just so many factors you just can't control.

So when I started seeing a therapist, I felt I needed to do so because I genuinely was worried for my mental state. I was going into contests just terrified! Not even terrified of the actual event, more like how I’m mentally going to feel if it doesn't go well. When you're going into a contest with that mental state already, you've lost before it’s even started.

With free riding contests, you only get one shot. It's one line, you don't get a practice. You look at the face in the morning, and you’re one run is all that matters.  I remember getting to the top of the face on some events and I was just shaking. I felt I had so much pressure on me. I remember after FJT World Championships in Andorra, I finished the run, stood in front of the live camera trying to hold back tears. I had fallen twice in 1 run which basically meant I had scored 0. I felt embarrassed, like I've let everyone down. I worked so hard to get to that contest, and after that I felt like I didn’t belong there. That was the last contest I did.

In many ways, though, it's sort of propelled you on to the next stage of your life though. Has photography always been a passion or interest?

From a young age, I've always been interested in photography, I used to pour over ski magazines and took a lot of inspiration from there. Then when I got to a certain stage in my snowboarding career, I started working more and more with photographers. You start seeing how they work, and I guess I just started taking it all in, just learning from them. For example, to get a front cover shot on a magazine is such a huge effort, it’s such a big process and seeing how it was set up and curated was really interesting to me.

When I first moved to France, I started doing these live vlogs of my travels, travelling to freeride events etc and uploading them to YouTube. I didn't like the naturally selected thumbnails YouTube gave you for the videos, so I started to take photographs to use instead. That’s when I really started to enjoy the process. Then, my knee injury put me out for quite a while, so picking up a camera I found was a great way to still enjoy time in the mountains, still get to do what I love. It felt like the transition into photography was very natural, even when I was a professional snowboarder, I was taking photos, making videos etc, so it just felt very normal to transition over and try and make it a good new career.

I guess having the skill set of being able to handle yourself on the mountain as well is only gonna propel you in the outdoor industry. I’m sure certain clients would be looking to pick you over someone who I guess might not necessarily be able to handle themselves on a big mountain face?

Yeah, I now use snowboarding as a mode of transportation to get to places where I can get good shots because as you said, there's not really that many people who can ski down a face in the middle of winter, and know what they're doing snowboarding and photography wise. So I think that's definitely where like I've got a bit of a niche.

For me, when I'm working in the mountains, I feel very comfortable, I feel very safe. And I think that's the only way you can make a shoot work, is if you're in your element. And being in the mountains is definitely like my element. It's where I call home. I feel very at peace in the mountains, I feel like I'm in a lot of control of what's going on around me.

So with that being said, what is it that gives you the juice to get out the door to get the shots?

I'm just inspired by so many people, like when I’m home I spend a lot of time on Instagram, which I know isn't a good thing but I'm spoiled by so many creatives who create awesome content in the mountains. I just feel like I'm constantly inspired by people. Scrolling through my feed in the morning when I'm on my way to go ride, it just gets me fired up! I see dope shots, and seeing other people having fun in the mountains just gets me really hyped!

When I'm shooting my friends, we’re always trying new ideas, new angles etc. It's a very collaborative process. So for me, it's just being around people who are inspired to make good content. That’s the inspiration for me, and gets me really motivated to shoot.

Is there a good community of creatives around you? I'm sure the circles in the photography /snowboarding world, are quite tight?

Locally there isn’t a huge amount of creatives, so we don't really have  a community as such.

But I'm always working really closely with the athletes I shoot and they're constantly working with other photographers, so we kind of just all bounce off each other, whether it's photographers, skiers, designers, we're just sort of all trying our best to create stuff that we love. But it's definitely something in the in the works to try and get a bit of a community going on so we can all sort of help each other out and stuff like that.

On  your website’s about you section, you mention that “the journey to becoming a freelance photographer hasn't been an easy one”. What has been the biggest challenge in that regard? And how have you overcome it?

Um, I think the two biggest challenges were patience and money. In the grand scheme of things, I know I haven’t been in the game for a considerably long period of time, however for me, it feels like it's been a really long process. About two years ago, I decided that photography is going to be my career, and after a year, I was like, damn, this isn’t really working out!

I didn't have any paid shoots, I wasn't doing any client work. I think I was comparing it too hard with my snowboarding career, which took off rapidly. When I transitioned from skiing to snowboarding, my ski sponsors decided to carry over and give me gear straight away. So from snowboarding, I was already sponsored from day 1, and I was becoming successful within a few months.

So with photography, I was thinking this isn't going anywhere, and it wasn't until I started talking to other photographers hearing how long it took them, some saying it took them around 5 years before they got a paid job. I didn’t know if I was ready to wait that long! So after two years, I was really gritting my teeth and at the beginning of the first lockdown, I was definitely sort of questioning whether I could do this as in the career path, whether I could actually make money out of photography, and whether I could actually do client work and work with dream brands.

Over the past six months or so, everything has kicked off, I've worked with some really great clients that I’m so happy to have in my portfolio!

So that's something I definitely wasn't really prepared for, just how long it would take. But in the grand scheme of things, two years wasn’t a super long time!

Okay, well, reflecting on where you've come from then, and particularly now, as we're moving fast through 2022. Is there anything you're aiming to achieve this year?

I just want to become a better photographer, to be honest. Become a better person, better creative. I'm going into this year with some amazing projects in the line up alongside one of my best friends, working on some big level campaigns and some personal projects for the soul.

In terms of achieving stuff. I have a list on my phone of clients I’d love to work with, whether it be companies or athletes, I just want to create amazing images that make people feel inspired or motivated to go into the outdoors, and show off how great our planet is!

Want to see more of Jakes work? Head to his website https://jaketerryphoto.com/

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