Despite some early missteps, Jake
Burton’s snowboarding company
became a household name. But a
mysterious disease almost took
him o; the slopes for good.
—AS TOLD TO LIZ WELCH
When I started Burton Snowboards, it was a get-rich-quick
scheme. I thought, “If I can make
50 snowboards a day, I can make
$100,000 a year.” I hired two relatives and a friend—classic mistakes. I sold only 300 boards that
first year. I had to lay everybody o;
and go back to square one. Eventually, I was like, “Fuck it. I don’t care
about the money. I just want to
have been right about my vision.”
When I started living just for the
sport, everything fell into place.
I got hit by a skier once, which
broke my leg. Then I hit a tree
and broke my leg again. In February 2015, I got my knee replaced.
I had the surgery, and then took a
run three weeks later. I needed to
prove to myself I could do it.
A few days later, I started seeing
double. The next day, I felt flulike
symptoms and went to the hospi-
tal for an MRI. The neurologist
thought it might be a stroke. After
more tests with a di;erent set of
doctors, they said, “If it’s what we
think it is, tomorrow you won’t be
able to swallow, the next day you
won’t be able to open your eyes,
and the next day you won’t be
able to breathe.”
I didn’t believe it. But they had
me try to blow these stupid little
Ping-Pong balls up a tube, and I
couldn’t move the Ping-Pong ball.
The diagnosis was Miller Fisher,
the gnarliest form of Guillain-Barré. The myelin sheath around
your nerves gets damaged. No one
knows what caused it—a flu shot,
the surgery, a bad oyster.
At first, it was, “OK, I’m sick. I’ll
be missing this meeting or whatever.” But I spiraled down quickly.
On the third day, they jammed
tubes down my throat. People
would visit and walk out crying.
Part of the disease is confusion.
I couldn’t open my eyes, but I also
couldn’t sleep. When I did sleep,
the nightmares were horrific.
Breathing was the worst: I could
never get enough air. All my life, I
had had the lungs of a swimmer.
Now I was putting all my energy
into getting the next breath.
I literally talked to my middle
kid about suicide. I was just so
over it. One day, my doctor asked,
“Are you suicidal?” Remember
that German plane, where one guy
went to take a piss and the other
guy locked the door and drove the
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEN HOFFMANN ; ; ; JULY/AUGUST 2018 ; INC. ; 41
JAKE BURTON/BURTON SNOWBOARDS HOW I CAME BACK FROM MY NEAR- DEATH EXPERIENCE
(AND GOT BACK ON THE SLOPES)