Tuesday, June 22, 2021

GLOSS Podcast: The artistry of snowboarding with Pika Burtner

All photos courtesy of Pika. by Halie McGee

This interview is an abridged version of Crude Conversations EP 90 The artistry of snowboarding with Pika Burtner. It’s part of an ongoing series between Crude and Blower Media called GLOSS, or the Gorgeous Ladies of Snowboarding and Skiing. In this episode, I talk with Christina Burtner, better known as Pika, a long-time artist, photographer and graphic designer in the snowboard industry. Listen to the podcast here:

Christina Burtner, better known as Pika, grew up watching and studying snowboard videos with the technical eye of an auteur. At 14, she started renting snowboard videos from Fairhaven Bike and Ski in Bellingham, Washington. She would always rewind the videos and return them on time. Fairhaven eventually offered her a job, which is where she worked until she went to college. At 18, she got a photography job at the University of Washington. It came with all the traditional benefits, including a steady paycheck, a 401k and healthcare. Because of that job, Pika—alongside her husband Jesse Burtner and Sean Genovese—was able to help create and fund Think Thank, a snowboard video production company. Think Thank would go on to create a category of snowboarding that focused on riding urban environments rather than backcountry ones. Pika describes Think Thank as an ongoing piece of art.

In 2014, Pika and Jesse had their son Ollie. At that moment, Pika says that she went from working on Think Thank to being a mother. It was a transition that caught her by surprise. So, in response, she began pursuing things she’s always been interested in. She says that as you get older, you feel like there’s less room for error, but that it’s also important to not be afraid to fail.

Cody Liska: Where are you right now?

Pika Burtner: Oh my god. I’m in Shelton, Washington, which is like an old logging town, kind of by the Hood Canal. Close to the Olympic National Forest. It’s very secluded. I mean, it’s like being in Anchorage, [Alaska] in 2012, when everyone was dressing like it was still 1995. It’s like that—like Ed Hardy, Anarchy sunglasses, JNCO jeans, chain wallets. It’s like going into a time machine. You know what I’m talking about?

CL: Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Have you seen any Doc Martens? 

PB: Oh, so many. I think those are back in though, like in the mainstream. At least with moms that are trying to recapture their youth.

CL: So, you’re out there and you’re teaching?

PB: No, I’m here to just paint. I got this artist residency that I applied for and you get to stay in this cool cottage in the middle of the forest. And, I mean, it’s beautiful. It looks out over the water and they provide a space for women artists to write or draw or paint or make music. It’s really cool. Actually, it’s really rare; kind of special. So, I’m just making art for a week in Shelton, Washington while Jesse slaves with single parenthood by himself [laughs].

CL: It sounds amazing. I feel like you’re outside [right now]. I can hear the birds.

PB: I’m outside. It’s like 75 degrees. It’s amazing. And this is the one place that had a little bit of internet. It’s close to the router or something. I don’t know. Because the cottage is sort of like an offshoot from this main house that the internet comes from. It’s really funny. These people, like, make custom guns. It’s a really interesting juxtaposition of this custom, gun-making, mom and pop place and then right across the little country gravel driveway is this little spiritual, female oasis for creativity.

CL:  So, in our conversations leading up to this interview, I asked if you had anything specific you’d like to talk about and you mentioned how you were really into watching snowboard videos before you met your husband, Jesse. Why did you want to talk about that?

PB: You know, sometimes I just think it’s kind of a funny, special thing. Jesse and I were young kids and we had so much in common. So imagine this: it was less than a month after my 18th birthday, Jesse was 19 and we’re in Bellingham—and I’d been working at this bike and snowboard shop and I was so Bellingham, you know? I had khaki cargo pants and a fleece vest and Timberland hiking boots. He’s a skater guy and I just looked like a crunchy, granola Bellingham girl. And I had never gone to a kegger party before. And I had an older brother who was very protective of me in high school, so I could kind of go to them once in a while, but [my brother would] never let me drink. And I just got into a fight with my buddy and just wanted to mope around, but they dragged me to this party, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m at my first real kegger.”

So, I get a red cup and drink out of a keg and I got a little drunk, actually. Jesse never drank, he still hardly drinks. So, of course, I was like the dumb, drunk girl. But then we started talking about stuff. ”What kind of music do you like,” you know? We were talking already about, “Oh, what movies do you like?” And I was like, “I just saw this movie Bottle Rocket by this guy named Wes Anderson.” Back then there were not too many people who knew about Wes Anderson. And I really liked this guy named Hal Hartley, and then Jesse was talking about Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. And I was talking about how I just watched The Rope and how there’s like only two cuts in the whole movie—you can’t even see them because they’re edited so seamlessly. And then we started to talk about snowboarding and I was telling him how I got a job [at a snowboard shop] because I watched so many snowboard videos. He was like, “Oh my God, I make snowboard videos.” It was funny how much we had in common from the very beginning. We pretty much hung out every single day after that. We just liked to talk about stuff and go on adventures. It was fun. 

CL: Do you feel like it’s been difficult, or maybe it hasn’t been difficult, to have a career in snowboarding viewed as independent of Jesse’s career and snowboarding?

PB: Oh, for sure. I mean, I guess that is one reason why I do like to say I was into snowboard movies before I met Jesse. I was who I was before I met Jesse. And I think in most relationships you want to have independence from your spouse, right? You want to get there on your own merits. And if you know us, you know we’re pretty different. We have different skills. He’s much more big picture thinking and he’s a visionary, really. And I really get stuck in the weeds. Like, I have blinders. I get into the technicalities of things. I’m a designer, I like to push pixels. So we’re kind of a team, really. So, I like to think that I bring my own dynamite to the…

CL: Explosion?

PB: To the explosion, yeah. We like to make things and he does it his way and I do it my way and we just work well together. But, you know, we can’t even talk about this without mentioning Geno—Sean Genovese. It was really like Jesse and Sean and I that started Thank Thank in a lot of ways.

by Halie McGee

CL: I read that the Think Thank logo was the first logo that you ever designed.

PB: I did and I don’t want to take all the credit because, you know, Woody [Engle]—Gus [Engle’s] brother—he kind of did the first version of it. He drew the Think Thank [font], but it had an upside down “i” and stuff. But then I kind of reworked it and then made the brain thought bubble part of it. Yeah, that was the first logo I really ever made. I’m pretty proud of that, actually. None of us knew what we were doing. We were all just making it up.

CL: And what’s going on with Think Thank now?

PB: Well, Scott [Stevens] and Jesse worked really hard on Suzy Greenberg. And that was kind of a triumph. I did the cover of that movie—it was like a Green Day inspired cover. It took three years to film and that was… I don’t know how people do that honestly. It kind of destroyed us.

CL:  In what way?

PB: Well, we had a newborn baby and Jesse had a full-time job. Because, you know, he’s the Marketing Director for Mervin now. And then Scott was hurt and he was trying to recover, but also trying to film and then getting hurt. Like destroyed in that kind of way. So, I think everyone’s kind of recovering from it still. But I think Think Thank will always be there. I mean, remember Ted [Borland] did Falling Leaf? He took over Think Think for a while and used it as a platform for his baby. And then he became the filmer for Snowboarder and did all the Snowboarder movies. So, [Think Thank] is like this bastion for people who want to use it if they have a message to convey.

CL: Has that transition been hard, to let go of or even relinquish some control over the direction of something you’ve put so much time and energy into?

PB: In fact, I think that’s the beauty of Think Thank, you know? Sean Lucey took it over basically completely for like the last three movies. And it was so welcomed. You know, that’s what you have to do with something as organic and vibrant and alive as snowboarding. You know, where you want new, fun, crazy stuff happening? You know? You can’t just be like the old 40-year-old person trying to be a kid. We’re not kids anymore, Cody [laughs].

CL: I believe you [laughs].

PB: Well, you might be. How old are you?

CL: 33

PB: You’re gonna be perpetually, like, youthful. I think of you still as a 9-year-old. 

CL: Well, I wish that I had my head of hair still from when I was 9 years old. That would be beautiful.

PB: Oh, did you lose your hair?

CL: It’s on its way out, yea [laughs].

PB: Well, women… we just scoff because men are just worried about losing their hair. Boy, if you only knew what women have to go through. Just, like, so many body changes. It’s scary.

CL: I feel like I want to say something to that, but I just don’t know what it is. I should have a response at the ready [laughs].

PB: [Laughs] One thing that was remarkable to me was, I had a hell of a time finding maternity snow pants. So for all the women who are trying to fight for equal pay and rights and stuff, let’s just say we also need to fight for letting women still be able to snowboard—when they’re safely able to snowboard—while they’re pregnant. Maybe that’s why they don’t want to encourage pregnant women to snowboard. I never thought of it that way [laughs]. But Airblaster hooked me up with some high-waisted, elastic pants and they were great. They’re dude pants, but they were awesome. So, thanks Max Tokunaga for letting me keep snowboarding while pregnant.

CL:  How many women would you say are involved in the snowboard industry on the creative or production level?

PB: Oh, well, guess what? Big, huge, ginormous shout out to the Lib Tech Art Director—who’s been my, like, handler over these many, many years. Her name is Annette Veihelmann. She’s been their director for like 20 years. Did you know that? The Art Director for Lib Tech is like a total badass lady. And she’s awesome and she’s very talented and she just quietly does the art direction for the freakin’ sickest art snowboard brand on the planet. And of course, Barrett Christy. She’s like a total legend, badass, awesome, amazing and capable. Also a very humble, modest person. 

CL: In a best case scenario, what happens to women in snowboarding when they’re supported in the same way as their male counterparts?

PB: It just makes complete sense to me. The sport grows and gets more interesting and new ideas come in and more people are included. And if you’re thinking about a business, your market grows. I mean, I think of [companies] like Burton. Maria Thomsen is a pro rider for them with a kid. I mean, they had a whole marketing campaign about, you know, appealing to older women that still maybe want to keep snowboarding or going through their midlife crisis—they want to try something new and want to do something that makes them feel young again. I don’t know. I mean, I do know because that’s what I’m going through. But yeah, it just makes sense to me. There are so many things happening in our culture right now that are opening up people’s minds. Like, you have talented people that are passionate about something and they have a message they want to convey and are going to be a spokesperson for your brand. Why wouldn’t you want to pay them for doing a good job? 

Honestly, I feel like men are very threatened. Especially white men. There’s kind of an old boys club that runs a lot of the upper positions and, my God, the ceiling is crashing down on a lot of dudes that have just always been in that place at the top for so long, you know? So, it’s really going to take those men to be like ambassadors for that change to happen. It has to happen from that direction, and then share the space with women in those top level jobs making the decisions. That’s really the only way. 

CL: I feel like exclusivity is never the answer.

PB: Right? There you go.

CL: What would you tell girls or women listening to this, who might be interested in getting into the snowboard industry?

PB: I would say, if you love it, do it regardless. But if you have something interesting, like a message or something you stand for or a style that you just really want to share or you want to use it as a platform to express yourself, then I think you can’t really go wrong. 

CL: Well, Pika, that does it for my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

PB: You know, Jesse was always kind of in charge of who rode for the Think Thank videos and it was very organic. He really wanted the people who had a message, that were interesting and were trying to push the envelope in some way. And Jess Kimura and Desiree Melancon—holy shit I can’t think of two more incredible women who are just such pioneers and completely fearless. I mean, they do have fears but they could overcome their fears and then just go for broke. And I never even thought of them as women in the videos. They were just a part of the crew in every way. I mean, how special is that? You know, it was pretty much the best ever. 

Over the years, my life has been touched by women in ways that are kind of indefinable but special. I feel lucky. Yeah, very grateful. A lot of very awesome women. Of course, nowadays there are so many awesome women snowboarders—Nirvana [Ortanez] and Naima [Antolin], Jill Perkins. The list goes on and on and on. I’ve always been a fan of Dangy [Danyale Patterson]. She’s wild and crazy. I’m of course not mentioning like a million other people, but you know who they are.

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