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10 Jan

Jenny Jones

by Sam Bleakley

Jenny Jones surfing at The Wave in Bristol

Bristol-born superstar Jenny Jones is a massive role model in British action sports as world champion snowboarder, adventurer, presenter, passionate surfer and one of our ambassadors at The Wave.

Jenny has been a trailblazer as the first British snowboarder to win an Olympic medal in a snow event, taking Bronze in the slopestyle in 2014 at Sochi. She had already won the X Games USA Gold Medal in consecutive seasons (2009-10), the X Games Europe Gold in 2010 and a Silver in a round of the FIS Snowboard World Cup in New Zealand, all in slopestyle. This has placed her among the UK’s elite athletes, and she is now a regular presenter and commentator for the BBC on Ski Sunday and the Winter Olympics. Based in Braunton, North Devon, Jenny jumps between mountain and coastal projects to snowboard and surf, and has been a positive force at The Wave since day one. We caught up with her to find out more.   

What was so special about growing up in the Bristol area? 

I loved it. I was born and bred there and went to the Ridings High School in Winterbourne. I had a very active childhood. Our parents got me and my brothers into lots of different sports. We'd go and try things, and some would stick and some wouldn't. I look back now and think it is so good that they did that with us, and spent that much time bothering to send us to all the different clubs.

I was going to athletics and gymnastics and one of my brothers was into archery and the other was into Taekwondo. I had an amazing dad. He worked equally on everything with my mum. I wasn't affected by doing things with boys, so I didn’t feel barriers about participation as a girl because my family raised us all that way. Everyone can do everything.    

We were exposed to lots of different sports and I think that was one of the pluses of growing up in Bristol. And going to the dry slope was really something that inspired me more than anything. We're not from an overly wealthy family at all, but there was a free, weekly session that they were offering in snowboarding. I didn't learn much in that time, but just being exposed to that was so important. It changed my life and was the first stepping stone to becoming a professional snowboarder for my career. We would also go on family holidays in the summer to Woolacombe where my brothers got into surfing. I was bodyboarding for a while, and then I got into surfing more as an adult. 

So how did you feel when The Wave was being built in your home city? 

At first, I genuinely just didn't believe that it was going to happen. And then I remember having a meeting with Nick Hounsfield and hearing about its possibilities. When he asked me to come to the council meetings and stand up to talk about why I thought this would be good, that's when I knew this was really happening. That was quite nerve-wracking, but I went there and emphasised the key comparison - the fact that I was exposed to a dry slope, and then went on to snowboard professionally.

Surfers can learn and progress in inland provision. In fact, the surf conditions at The Wave may be better than at your local break on many occasions. Surfing has become a lifelong passion of mine although snowboarding has been my career. The possibilities of having access to surfing and the water in this way, at The Wave, is tremendous. 

So what lured you into surfing? 

In the beginning, I would borrow my brother’s board, but my snowboarding took the main focus really. Yet I always loved that experience in the summer of getting rides down to the beach with people packed into the car and boards strapped on the roof. It didn’t matter if the waves were going to be any good, it was that whole adventure I loved.

But my bug for surfing happened when I was about 21, 22 and had a really bad injury to my ACL. I had it reconstructed and I was not allowed to snowboard for nine months. When I got to four or five months, I persuaded the physio to let me go surfing. So, I booked flights to Sri Lanka and took a seven-hours tuktuk ride from Colombo to Aragum Bay. It wasn’t until the way back I worked out I could get there by train! But that is where I got my first proper green waves and really fell in love with it. 

Which other surfers do you enjoy watching? 

I love watching Stephanie Gilmore. So stylish. Magical almost. The documentary Stephanie In The Water - that's brilliant. It’s her movement. All great surfers have good body movement, fitting the curl, arcing on a tight cutback, but she has such fluidity. She really does fit the wave, not fighting against it even in radical turns. You watch - she’s always moving her feet a lot, something that less accomplished shortboarders don’t do.  

What are the parallels between surfing and snowboarding?  

Most surfers when they snowboard will find it easier in the powder because riding powder feels more like surfing. Also, the control, balance and spatial awareness are similar. And how to make the board move and how to use edges as you drive up and down a half pipe can cross over with skateboarding and surfing when you try to generate speed.  

As surfers, what are they key things we can we learn from snowboarding? 

In snowboarding, you have to be able to change edges from an early stage, and you quickly learn about upper body rotation and your head and shoulder movements applying to changes in edges between the toes and heels. But in surfing the upper and lower body rotate so much more. In snowboarding they stay more as a unit. So, in surfing you have to learn to separate your upper and lower body more. And you rotate so much more over the back foot when doing a turn. Whereas snowboarding is more about engaging the edges. Using your tail in surfing is really how you perfect things, whereas on a snowboard you tend to use the whole length of the board and do a lot of steering from the front or centre, unless you’re in powder and you use your back foot.  

Snowboarding can really help with spatial awareness, anticipation and rotation, and using the inside rails when you are trimming. Something we’ve always done a lot more in snowboarding, from the early days, is video coaching. I would say don't be afraid to film yourself surfing because that can be transformative. It’s fun to fit a camera to the board, but no good if you don’t learn anything from it and it just becomes like a photo album. 

Through your snowboard success you have inspired thousands of women to access the sport. Do you try to encourage more women to get into surfing? 

I don't actively run women-specific workshops, but I don’t underestimate how that could help more women get into surfing. For me though, I just get out there and do it. This is what I learned from my family support when I was at school and trying a whole host of sports. Just do it! If boys and girls do sport together at an early age maybe we would have less discrimination later.  

I am always acknowledging other female surfers and trying to celebrate what they are doing, at whatever level. It’s amazing how good a ‘whoop whoop’ and holler in a crowded line up can be. I think that genuinely changes the atmosphere in the water. Communication and support is so important.  

How do you feel about most sessions at The Wave usually having more men than women surfing?  

I can see how that could be intimidating for people starting out at The Wave, but we all know that the waves are shared democratically, no one will drop in, so that feeling of having your allocated wave means this is your time and our space, and that’s great. 

What do you like to bring to the atmosphere in the lineup at The Wave? 

Good communication. Doing a bit of talking just positively tunes the whole atmosphere. And I love to share tips if I can. Bits of advice from previous experience are so useful for everyone. Because of the nature of the session being a close group, you get to see so many other rides and if you share tips and feedback the progress can be really quick. And because the next wave that's coming is allocated, it really does create a unique experience, without hassling or dropping in.

And if you fall, that’s ok, you’ll get another ride. Wipeouts are all part of the learning curve and a consequence of trying something new, taking some risks. Of course, you’re not necessarily learning about ocean positioning, but you can go and learn that in the ocean. 

What do you enjoy most about being at The Wave?  

I think it’s that concentrated experience and consistent ride where you're not having to worry about the hustle. It means you can really hone in on your surfing. And you can do that lap after lap. 

What are your plans coming up? 

We’ve got the Winter Olympics coming up in Beijing, China, so I’ll be doing some work with the BBC for that. And we also have the Ski Sunday season we film this winter. I also run various workshops on snowboarding and mindset with my sport psychologist. Then I do a ‘backcountry’ week so that's perfect for those who love surfing the powder.

I have also done some workshops at The Wave with Joel Grey, on the intermediate wave, with video coaching, and they have been fantastic. It’s such a great arena for learning and experimentation for all grades and ages. We’ll definitely be doing more of those in the futre, so watch this space.