Industry Profile: Action Sports Blogger Jon Burns
08 Jul, 2008
Shay: So tell us about yourself?
Jon: I’m not a unique snowflake. I know that much. In reality my background is similiar to my peers. At a very early age I found outlets for expression in skating, snowboarding, and bikes which took me down a path more combustible and creative than anything else.
Fast forward about 15+ years and we’d be smack in the middle of the dot.com/dot bomb era. I managed to launch several media properties for AOL: Freestyle, RED, and LAT34. Eventually, the realization came around that If I truly wanted to express myself I would have to go solo and remove myself from well funded corporate backers. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with corporate America at all but when you have a vision of what you want to say beholden to somebody makes for a few too many compromising situations.
With that I launched SouthoftheNorth.com. South of the North is fun and I don’t take it too seriously. At the end of the day I am one voice, one opinion that looks to fit into a culture rather than be a dominant voice.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Jon: This is a two part answer:
Snowboard: Burton Free 6
Skateboard: Powell & Peralta Lance Mountain Future Primitive. I still have it.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Snowboard: GNU Riders Choice MTX 161.5 with Bent Metal Binders.
Skateboard: Some deck between 8.25-8.5 The older you are the bigger your deck gets I guess.
Shay: What was your first job?
Jon: Delivering newspapers every morning. Try doing that in the snow belt of Upstate New York. Certainly makes you appreciate sitting behind a computer. First Action Sportsy job was selling snowboards at Alpine Ski Shop in Virginia which was and remains an awesome shop to work for. Thanks for the job Chris.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Jon: At this point I am so busy…any day of snowboarding is great. From the smallest hill to the highest mountain I just love to get out and ride. I grew up on the East Coast so powder days were never our thing. I think just being on the snow or pushing around in our makeshift skateparks was key.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Jon: This will sound cheesy but my biggest influence is easily my Dad. He’s 65 and still charging as road cyclist and long distance speed skater. These goes go out on frozen ponds in Canada, Minnesota or some misbegotten tundra like environment to skate 25 and 50 kilometer races. It’s pretty fuckin’ gnarly. Seeing him still charge (and he’s 30 years older) just keeps me focused on doing what I love and eventually it will all come together.
Also, some of the guys I used to skate with. Skating roundwall really helped learn how to work every ounce out of a mountain and look at it in a different way.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Jon: Since 1990-1991…17 or 18 years. I’ve lost count.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Jon: In a good year 25+ But, that’s the East Coast and working full time mind you. This past year was about 10 days but work, a new son and hanging out with my daughter took up a lot of my time. I need to move back West eventually where the riding is really solid. Time to dust off the resume I suppose.
Shay: What is your blog?
Jon: SouthoftheNorth.com, Trust your gut and take chances daily.
Shay: How did you come up with the blog title?
Jon: I heard somebody once describe my hometown of Binghampton, New York as: “…it’s the South of the North.” It stuck with me forever and I always laughed at it. Mostly because it’s true. There’s way too much country-fried rednecky behavior up there but it’s all awesome. A great part of the country.
“Trust your gut and take chances daily” came after I left LAT34. In leaving a nice stable job with a wife and newborn at the time it was a very scary situation. All I could do was listen to my gut that it was time to go. It worked out for the best, actually really well for me. Multiple people associated with them were not so lucky but that’s the dot.com side of things I guess.
Shay: Is blogging a full time job or do you have another job that pays the bills?
Jon: Oh no, I have a full time gig. But, let me know if there’s a draft for bloggers. I figure I can go as high as late second round. For real though working in digital media is the full time gig and it’s goodtimes.
Shay: What made you decide to start a blog?
Jon: I had a client who was telling me how hard it was to blog daily about anything…I thought…”well I’ll show you how easy it is.” Soon enough I was having fun. Thus blogging regularly since then.
Shay: What’s been the best thing that’s come out from starting your blog?
Jon: Believe it or not, I’ve had the unique opportunity to rekindle friendships, make new friends and get plugged back in the world of skate and snowboarding without having to be anybodies lackey. It’s been a liberating experience on a few levels.
Shay: Social Media is expanding rapidly; Do you think blogs will continue to become a valuable source of information?
Jon: The concept of an unfiltered audience opinion will continue to exist but the platform will change over time. The format of blogs I believe will grow smaller and more direct. What’s great about this period of time is that Niche audience blogs are blowing up with people who are passionate about the things they love ie; skate, snow. I say the more the merrier.
Shay: You recently did a blog post on skate shops, what do you see as necessary change for those shops to survive in our economy?
Jon: If brick and mortar are going to compete with the internet they need to get back to customer service and incentivise the customer in some level. It doesn’t have to come from price cuts. Instead of treating the customer as a well of money treat them as if you are welcoming them to the experience of snowboarding or skating. Get them excited. If they leave with out buying anything you gave them a great retail experience. They’ll talk about that more than your prices.
Retailers and the industry as a whole in order to survive needs to release the reigns on what they perceive as control. Skating, snowboarding, surfing, etc. are bigger than your shop or company. You are ambassadors for the lifestyle and in these declining economic times you better welcome new participants to our way of life. So what if a kid in Nebraska wants to look like a surfer. If he identifies with the way of life, welcome him in. If he never surfs a day in his life, drops in or catches first chair…good for you…more waves, pow turns and less people skating.
Shops could use better support and training from brands as well. Gone are the days where a once a year clinic is enough. An example I don’t understand why the big brands don’t leak images to shops vs. spoiler sites and message boards. Shop sites could crush with that traffic and convert to sales if managed correctly. Burton, Rome, Lib…I’m talking to you guys. Seriously.
Shay: Your blog covers skateboarding and snowboarding extensively…why those sports?
Jon: I’m following the first rule of writing: write what you know.
Shay: What are your thoughts on the sports in terms of getting them to grow or getting more kids interested in them?
Jon: It’s all about accessibility. Lets be honest, snowboarding is a rich mans sport. Just getting on the hill cheap is about $100 and that’s if you bum gear from your friends.
With skating, it’s access of a different kind: Kids need good, safe, legal places to skate. There’s a pretty interesting initiative on this front being announced around the X Games.
So take those two answers…it’s about getting people to experience skating and snowboarding. Once they are there…we got them for life. If they run away…we don’t want them anyway.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Jon: Wake up, drink some coffee, start writing, rinse, lather, repeat, work in a skate, bike ride, a few meetings and you have my day. Not too glamorous, right?
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from blogging?
Jon: Getting a “pull that posting” note down from Lib Tech. Having my buddy Chris call me up randomly and say…”good blog today. Nice job.” Breaking the Nike Snowboard boot images and seeing it pop up on NikeSB.org a few minutes later…then came the web traffic.
Shay: What has blogging done for you (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Jon: I have a regular blog with Fuel.tv now. It’s good fun working with their team. Testing gear is always fun because I tend to beat the crap out of shoes, decks, boots, binders and boards.
Shay: What experience did you have or attributes before getting the job?
Jon: The B.A. in English helped as did eight years in programming content for the web at AOL. But, the biggest help is that I actually skate and snowboard. It’s that simple. That and I have an opinion over what is and is not good for skating/snowboarding.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Jon: Travel is always the best. Getting to meet people face to face vs just over email exchanges.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Jon: Trying to keep up with the flow of information can be harsh. So much happens day to day I end up missing some details here and there.
Shay: Since you started working in the snowboard industry, what’s been the biggest change?
Jon: The web has gone from being a communication novelty to the preferred method of communicating, shopping and consuming content. If you had told me 12 years ago while I was selling O-sin snowboards that people would be watching videos on the web vs buying them in shops, I would have laughed at you.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Jon: ASR, SIA, X Games…all are fairly busy but each in their own way. Any trip to California becomes a scheduling debacle trying to catch up with so many people.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Jon: Experience all the way. Education helps but if you have the discipline you can learn that on your own. I’ll go with Yoda on this one: “Do or Do Not”
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to start an action sports blog?
Jon: Spend a week or two writing before you flip the switch to “on.” This will help you find your voice and make sure you know where you stand on certain topics. After all, if you don’t stand for something…you’ll fall for anything.
Most important: you have to write every day. It’ll make you sharp like a tack and quick like a bunny.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Jon: Check out SouthoftheNorth.com on a regular basis. Go skate and ride every chance you get, y’hear?