Interview by Stan Leveille
Chances are, Jill Perkins works harder than you. Chances also are, Jill Perkins is more frantic and manic than you, too, but it’s those attributes that work together to create one of the most powerful names that snowboarding has seen in the last five years. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t someone who was originally skeptical of Jill’s fast-rising stock in the industry. I can remember implying that she was being handed a lot of things in a short amount of time because she was a cute girl from California. I fought against writing any of that in this intro, but acknowledging the reality of it only helps set the stage for why Jill is so remarkable.
Jill Perkins has become a close friend of mine, so I wanted this interview to read as a head-on, non-sugarcoated look at the various realities that have led her to be one of the most lauded snowboarders in modern times. All of these questions I asked in earnest, and some of them I felt scared to ask. But just as she does in her riding, Jill took these questions without hesitation.
Whether self-inflicted or not, Jill Perkins has overcome countless blockades to win 2021’s Female Rider of the Year after three straight years of peer voted accolades including Rookie of the Year and Video Part of the Year. This interview talks about Jill finding herself, the importance of working for yourself instead of others, and her turbulent but exciting sponsorship opportunities over the last few years.
You were born and raised in Southern California. I look at the kids who are raised in San Diego and LA County and I think it looks terrible for them. Specifically, the culture of California as a child. I think there’s a really big pressure to be trendy. Is that congruent with your experience?
I will say that I recognize those things as well. I do believe that where I grew up, Moorpark, isn’t necessarily what you might see in LA or San Diego. Moorpark is on the outskirts of Calabasas. If I lived in Calabasas, I’d be fucked.
Did you play sports?
Oh yeah. I played all the sports. I remember being really, really young and I did a couple dance classes and I hated it. I think I just did it because I wanted the lollipop at the end. What I actually really liked the most was hockey and that’s what I was the best at as a kid. I was also super young, I was like 11, but the most accolades I had from team sports was hockey.
I ask that question because you have the drive and mindset that seems typical among professional athletes. It’s not something that is evident to someone looking at you from the outside.
Do you mean to say anger issues? Hahaha.
I don’t know if it’s anger issues. I equate it to competitiveness as it pertains to you. You apply a do-or-die attitude to everything you step to. Why do you think you are that way?
I don’t know, that’s a really good question. Sports and doing things outdoors, for me, was never something that I was forced to do and it was never something that I was forced to be the best at. I think I just like progression. That’s why I cycled through so many sports and activities as a kid. I would get to a point every three years where I’d do a sport and I’d learn so much about it but inevitably get to feeling over it. I stopped playing hockey because I decided I needed to go to high school and make girl friends and wear skirts and look cute because I felt that’s what society wanted me to do.
That’s what I was getting at in reference to being raised in California. Did you feel the pressure to be a, for lack of better term, ‘Cali girl’?
Oh, for sure. I did my hair every day. I worked at Tilly’s for almost three years and my paychecks were spent at the local boutique to have the cutest shirt for the party I was going to go to that weekend. It is absolutely a privilege and it is absolutely a curse. I wish those were not my priorities but those were everybody else’s priorities. And like you said, I’m competitive and I started to feel like those were the things I had to do to compete with other kids in my class. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of things as a kid are unfortunate.
Skateboarding is often adverse to the team sports in high school. Did you have any sort of hierarchy? Was skating on the backburner?
I started skating at a really young age before I even knew that you could get made fun of. It was something that my brother, neighbors, and myself would do every day. We had 1080 ramps, anything under the sun. That was before I even knew that most other girls didn’t do it or that it was even a stigma, so I didn’t care. The group of us would go to a local place called Skatelab and find the biggest thing to drop in on. That was the best trick. It wasn’t like skating how it is now for seven-year-olds because that shit is crazy. It was something that I loved to do and we would go skate for three-hour sessions a couple times a week. Then I remember I was in fifth grade and I kicked the back of my skateboard and it came around and clocked me in the mouth. I split my lip completely open. It was terrible. I went to school the next day with a swollen face, my mouth the size of a softball. This was the first time I ever felt like people were looking at me thinking, “Ew, what is going on? A girl? Skating?” I think that was the first time that I got called a ‘dyke’. I had to go Google what that meant. It was just me and the guys skating for the most part, and a part of me thought that was cool. That’s around the time I first realized that I didn’t want to be seen as a novelty girl. I wanted to compete with the guys. That is something that I still carry. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it comes from having an older brother. In fact, I wanted to play hockey first and my parents wouldn’t let me. Not in a bad way, my parents are some of the most gracious, supportive people I know. They were just like, “No, no girls are doing that,” and I don’t blame them. Then my brother played for a year and I was like, “This is bullshit, I want to play.” I struggled with finding my identity as a kid for sure.
How did that manifest?
There was an all-girls club soccer team in my town and the woman running it was seeking me out after I gained a little steam playing hockey. It was fifth grade, I had a gash on my face, got made fun of, and I get to thinking, “Oh, maybe I should join an all-girls soccer team so it looks like I’m not a dude.” I quit skateboarding, I quit playing hockey, I changed my wardrobe, and went to a new middle school and met a whole new group of people and started seriously playing conventional sports. That kind of set the tone for a lot of things in my life because I played soccer throughout middle school and then in my freshman year of high school, I decided to play basketball to mix it up because I knew I wasn’t good enough at soccer to compete at the level I wanted to. I guess It’s an ego thing haha. There’s a part of me that wishes I didn’t care as much as I do about things like this but at the same time it’s in my makeup. My goal as a senior in high school was to go to the community college and play basketball for a year or two and hopefully get a scholarship out to a D1 college. I was going to basketball camps, coaching basketball, hanging out, helping out where I could, doing all these things. That was where I wanted to see my future: in athletics. Around that time, I went snowboarding a couple times and thought it was cool.
So you did go to college?
Yes, but I have yet to finish. Ventura Community College. And it was around that time that I would truly circle back to snowboarding. I remember my coach telling me I basically couldn’t go snowboarding in case I got hurt and that didn’t sit well with me. I was like, “I don’t play enough minutes in the game, plus these girls are like 6´10˝ beasts and I’m just bouncing off of them.” I realized I wasn’t even happy.
Ever since then I have been working towards building a life that is good for me, not a life that people expect of me. You know that question: What would you tell your younger self? That would be my answer—stop doing things based on what you think people want to see you doing, because one, they’re probably wrong and two, those people don’t know what’s best for you.
Really diving into snowboarding at 18 is later than most pros. You’ve had a relatively meteoric rise in snowboarding too. You were able to prove yourself, accomplish more than a lot of people are in a short amount of time. Did you ever get the impression that people were annoyed with you about that?
"Ever since then I have been working towards building a life that is good for me, not a life that people expect of me."
How do you manage that?
That one beats me up to this day. I have a hard time distinguishing whether people dislike me for how loud I am, or if I am applying this pressure on myself. I question whether I’m making it up that I feel these people are being competitive with me because of my expedited rate of getting to where I am. I mean I’m still confused, and I think I struggle with that a lot.
I imagine it becomes more comfortable over time. At a certain point you have to realize that you just have imposter syndrome. But the more that you do get recognized for doing things, filming highly praised street parts, I imagine it starts to feel more comfortable.
So many people will say that it’s not about the awards or the accolades or things like that—and to an extent I agree—but there is a part of me, and it’s a part of a lot of people whether they want to admit it or not, that is reassured by those accolades. Whether it be Rookie of the Year, Rider of the Year, Video Part of the Year, whatever it is, it just helps you accept reality a little bit more. But even still I get insecure.
Paired with your already competitive nature comes this notion that you are being handed things. I would imagine that only fuels your desire to silence those people with incredible footage.
Absolutely, I’ve heard those comments saying I’ve been handed things for whatever reason. And rather than look at it like, “Oh you’re right,” I look at like “I would fucking hate that to be my reality, so I’m going to work as hard as I can to make it so that’s not true.” Also, I genuinely like doing this and I genuinely love everything that gets poured into it; all the struggles and pain and the pleasures that come along with riding at this level. In that regard, the negative comments just kind of hurt my feelings. I am not here to step on anybody’s toes and there have been times where I felt like I was stepping on people’s toes purely through trying to be the best person that I could be. I fucking hated that. I didn’t know how to deal with that. I think that made me be kind of stand-offish to a lot of people. Not only women, but people in general. But as I film more projects the more comfortable I feel. But that isn’t to say I am satisfied.
I get a kick out of your inability to be satisfied. It has helped you become not only one of the top names in women’s snowboarding but just snowboarding in general. Do you ever see yourself being satisfied with your accomplishments?
The only times that I feel a sense of satisfaction is when I shed literal blood for something. And even then, I’m not sure that it’s satisfaction as much as it’s a relief that it’s over. I’m like, “Holy shit, I did it. I wish my arms were different, but I did it so I’m satisfied.” Very rarely am I satisfied. I wouldn’t say that’s something that I’m ashamed of because that’s part of the reason I am here today. It’s actually directly correlated. Do I wish I wouldn’t get so angry at the fact that I have a weird face in this photo? Sure. But without that high standard, good wouldn’t exist. It’s an important factor to the art form of snowboarding to set standards for yourself in order to keep up with the growth at which you want to achieve. I look back at it this year, and I don’t think there’s one thing where I walk away from thinking, “Fuck yeah, that’s perfect.” I don’t believe in perfection, and I don’t think I believe in self-perfection because there’s always something that could be done better. If you’re not yearning for a little bit more then you’re going to get stuck somewhere. That’s in life, not just snowboarding.
You have a really high standard. I think some people find that abrasive because they’re satisfied with just being casual and laid back.
Sometimes I wish I could be more laid back. In fact, over the years this is something I’ve been working on. I think my level of intensity is a lot sometimes, especially when it is so outward. But it really all comes down to striving to be the best I can be. But yeah, I’m not always excited about being the most intense in the room. Hahaha.
I understand why you would have a feeling of hate towards that but I vouch for you being that way. I like it. I think it’s cool that you’re so focused.
Well, thank you, Stan. As far as the intensity goes, I think there’s ways that I can personally navigate it differently, but at the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily change that because without it, it would water things down. One of my biggest fears is watering down my capabilities.
You won the Game of S.N.O.W. in New Jersey against some really stiff competition. I remember having a conversation with you about how good Gracie Warner and Savannah Shinske are specifically. Do you feel threatened by riders like that?
Of course, but also not. It excites me. If anything, I genuinely hope that I can make it easier for them to be themselves in the industry. That’s what I want my role to be. When I see somebody come along with power and good fundamentals bringing their passion to it, I think it’s really cool. I just really think it’s about time. It makes me extremely happy to be in a space with all these talented riders. We are in such a rad spot right now and everyone is pushing it which in turn makes it super exciting.
"Put your money where your mouth is. If you care about these people and their livelihood, take care of them."
You’ve become a vocal spokesperson for women in snowboarding as well as for queer people in snowboarding. Does the industry’s recent efforts towards diversifying their team and marketing feel genuine to you?
With all the traction associated with being a queer woman in snowboarding, I would not consider any brands I am affiliated with to be using me or “cashing in” on my demographic. As far as the recent efforts, I think It’s a case-by-case basis. I think there’s a way that brands can do it right. This movement to gather as many women, queer people, and people of color is happening—and it's a positive thing. Snowboarding is a place for everyone. It’s incredible and about damn time that we are becoming more inclusive and brands are recognizing it. It comes down to it seeding from a genuine place. Someone could look at a brand and say they only put so-and-so on because they needed to add a woman to their roster. And honestly, they probably do! People need to understand that expanding the demographic is huge and creating space for people is necessary and chances are… Those people who they chose to support fucking rip. It’s just under a microscope right now. While I’m not sure exactly what “the correct way” looks like, making connections with your riders and your team is a huge thing.
Also, it would be nice to see diversity and inclusion all across the company landscape, not just through the riders. It’s hard to believe these decisions are coming from a genuine place when it's the same cis white male team manager squirming to diversify.
For the brands themselves, if you place people on the team under these circumstances, treat them right. Treat them like they are anybody else on the team. Don’t pity them with a low budget just to get them on your team to flaunt them around. Put your money where your mouth is. If you care about these people and their livelihood, take care of them.
I also think you’re someone who has pretty good relationships with the brands you work with. You and Colleen Quigley at Dakine seem like you have a strong bond.
Yeah, having Colleen as a team manager and a friend is something that I didn’t even know could exist. She knows the ins and outs of what goes on. And to work for a brand with a woman in a position of power such as herself, is huge. Similarly, Ride has Lauren Oka. To be involved with brands like these, I’m just so very fortunate because I don’t know if the opportunities that I have gotten would exist if I didn’t ride for those companies. I also fucking love all the dudes at Ride and they have a huge understanding for who I am. Tanner McCarty gave me a first break. Jim is the man. Durham is a genius. T-Bird is endlessly helping myself and others, I don’t know where I would be without any of those people.
How do you find that you maintain those relationships?
Honestly, maintaining positive relationships with the people I work with isn’t work for me. It’s more or less being confident and happy enough to have conversations and understanding that even though these people are in positions of power, they’re just like you and me. Putting your ego aside and just getting to know them as human beings is so crucial. I think that is a major step that people miss, and it’s so important.
Yeah, I think that’s it. It’s not that tough.
I think another thing is to make yourself available. Show up, and show up not thinking that you deserve more than what you’re getting in that moment. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you basically make the lowest bracket and then you work your ass off, then you go back and you say, “Hey this is what I did with the lowest bracket, I think it’s time that I deserve more,” you know? It’s not like, “I’m going to change the world, watch this, pay me now.” That’s just not really how it works.
Speaking of sponsors, I’d be curious to talk about the transition from Adidas to Vans and how that worked.
Sure. I was perfectly uncomfortable at Adidas. I felt like it was a necessary thing in my life that was going to push me to get to the next level. It made me so insecure and uncomfortable with my snowboarding that I had no other choice but to get better or get out. I decided that I was going to keep working. That was the first real situation where I was genuinely uncomfortable and imposter syndrome was major. Louif [Paradis], Tommy [Gesme], Ben [Bilodeau], Wiz [Alex Sherman], all these guys and then for whatever reason they had me come along. It was a little too good to be true at the time and I was a little immature in my career at that point. Then it started falling apart. Adidas was pulling back. In my head, I’m like okay, if this never existed, where would I want to be?
I’ve always admired Vans. They’re inclusive, they’re organized, they have a plan, they’re kind, and they’re helpful. They really want to do the best they can at whatever they’re doing. That is what I hope my mindset is. No matter what they’re doing, they’re going all in, and I stand behind that so much that it just kind of made sense. I look at the individuals on the Vans team as some of the most hardworking people I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. To be a fraction of what they are would be amazing. To be able to get the opportunity to stand alongside the Vans team is a dream come true. I’m very fortunate. I never would’ve guessed that that opportunity ever would’ve swung my direction but I’m happy that it did. I would lose sleep at night because I’m dealing with two big corporations and it’s just little old me living in a basement. I’m not having my agent call them up, that’s not how it was working. Ultimately I was the only girl on Adidas and I wanted to be a part of Vans where there’s a collective group of powerful women who are undeniably at the top of their game. Snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding. I am excited to stand alongside those people because I back what they’re doing. It was hard, but at the end of the day, I realized that I would be happier on Vans because I could be a part of something with a beating heart.
While we’re on the topic of sponsors we might as well go into the decision to ride for Monster Energy as well. It’s rare to get those deals without an agent. I would love to talk about the pressure that goes along with agreeing to a deal like that.
This all stemmed from bench pressing in a gym. Just by the fact that I was bench pressing in a gym seemed like a solid fit for Monster.
But seriously, this is a conversation that is not new and shiny in any way. Is the energy drink cool or not? It is interesting to watch people make that decision. I personally think it’s insane that people have anything negative to say about people taking energy drink money, but people certainly do.
I think it is what you make it. If you have a vision of getting involved and making it the best you can, and bring your views to the table and the brand is down to listen, then all signs point to go. At the end of the day, energy drinks are getting involved, pouring money into our sport which in turn is creating opportunities for athletes and jobs for those who are passionate about the space. As much as I hate to say it, I think a lot of negative talk stems from the exclusivity that is perceived by people who aren’t involved or getting offers from energy drinks. To be honest, It is life-altering on the level of things that you get to do after that. I’ve been on Monster for a year now, which is not a long time, but, what I thought about the brand before to what I have learned about the brand now has completely changed for the better.
Is there a difference between that and people who make beer money?
But the stigma doesn’t seem to be there for beer money.
No, that’s a really good point and I would like to steal that from you.
How do you deal with signing on to a company that the core wants to talk shit on, while balancing how helpful it can be to your life?
It’s so hard. For some, signing with an energy drink is their lifelong dream. To me, I didn’t even consider it an option. To my knowledge, Jess Kimura is the only female street rider to have signed with an energy drink. MFR too, but i’m not too sure if she fully transitioned into the back country yet or not. That may or may not be one of the main reasons why I justified it. Not to mention the idea of changing the stigma. People have these preconceived notions of who can sign on to an energy drink contract. Who are they to make the rules?
They came to me and they said, “We are not trying to change you. In fact, we want to learn from you.” I think that was a huge turning point on my spectrum of getting involved with Monster or not. The fact that they didn’t come to me saying, “We’re going to make you,” they came to me and said, “How can we learn?” After that moment, it was kind of like, this isn’t a joke anymore. This is them actually trying to get involved and be realistic about being smarter with your decisions and branching out and supporting the Dustbox and quite frankly supporting anything I could want to do.
Ah yes, the Dustbox. You filmed with them all year? Describe your relationship with them.
Yeah, I mean I worked at camp when The Dustbox wasn’t The Dustbox. It’s awesome to see the transformation and the buildup to what it has become. I am so proud of each and every single one of them for being their true selves and creating something where they’re able to exercise their freedom and their ability to do what they want to do because they’re going to do it that way no matter what. I’m envious of the fact that they found each other at a young age and are able to create this empire for themselves. My involvement with them is a funny one because yeah, I knew them when they were younger and I was younger. To me, it just kind of made sense. They all moved to Utah. I had worked with Colt [Morgan] previously.
"The only times that I feel a sense of satisfaction is when I shed literal blood for something. And even then, I’m not sure that it’s satisfaction as much as it’s a relief that it’s over."
I feel like it was an aha! moment for you when you realized you should film with the Dustbox.
What was really in my head was the worry of winning them over. I’m like, “I’m trying to win these 21-year-old kids over right now? Come on, Jill.” But at the same time, I’m the happiest when I’m filming with Reid because we push each other. I just have fun. He’s crazy, I’m crazy, it’s great. So getting involved with them and really getting to see the entire experience changed my life. I cannot emphasize that enough, how much that it changed my perspective on snowboarding, on life, on friendship, on caring for other people. It’s not every day that you get to work with your best friends. I’m talking about genuine best friends. Sometimes you join a film crew and you’re like, “Fuck, I haven’t strapped in in three days, this homie is trying to do this trick and they’re taking forever.” It’s rare that you get in a position where that’s cool with you because all you want to do is see the other person succeed. With the Dustbox, that’s what it is. You don’t care what you’re doing because you’re enjoying watching your friends succeed and overcome things that you also feel. It’s something truly special. I mean sure, I am also dealing with the boys who are pissing in milk cartons in the back of the fucking van. You might have piss on your leg, you don’t really know. Is that water or is that piss or is that fucking barbeque sauce from McDonald’s that we got three weeks ago? You don’t really know. It is the sickest thing.
When we started talking, I brought up these norms in California, how you felt like you had to be what other people wanted you to be. It sounds like since filming with the Dustbox, you’re getting to a place where you get to be you?
Absolutely. I mean, in this exact minute, yes. Time goes on and this will change I’m sure. I used to care a lot about what other people wanted to see and where they wanted to see me and shit like that. I do feel as if I’m at a place in my life where I can be who I want to be and say what I want to say without being scrutinized, and that’s really lucky and cool. But I didn’t just wake up one day and it was like that. I went through a lot of pain and suffering to get to that point.
Yeah, it’s a journey. I also imagine that coming to terms with your sexual identity made that journey confusing as well, and that’s not something we’ve expressly talked about yet.
Dude, so confusing. I definitely remember being in a relationship with a woman and not wanting to expose that because I was afraid. I wanted the support of the dudes in the industry so bad that I wasn’t going to be content in my own life. That is so ass-backwards and so fucked up, but it’s a real thing. People deal with that every day. I dealt with it for years. It’s exhausting. The only thing that makes it feel better is eating shit from a two-story building, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, it’s so much better to be confident in who you are from the get-go than to find out the hard way. I was not strong enough to do so, so I let that jeopardize my happiness and cloud my mindset. I was confused. It wasn’t like I was deliberately doing that. It came from a state of confusion. To be honest, there’s straight girls that are dealing with that too. They feel like, “If I show I’m in a relationship then I am afraid that my male following will not back me anymore because they see that I have a boyfriend.” That is true in every other line of work too, like skateboarding, tattooing, everything really.
I think the best thing I ever did was come out. It eliminated a lot. It might be the best and hardest decision I ever made. Not to mention I was alongside Tanner Pendleton, Kennedi Deck, Jake Kuzyk, and Chad Unger. That took a lot of pressure off of the sexualization aspect of it I think, which is sick. Sexualizing people in the snowboarding space is real and it’s something that should be addressed. It is a problem and it’s annoying, and I think that has to do a lot with eliminating influencers who are hired on a looks basis and a day rate. It’s really easy to hire someone with 1.2M followers over somebody with 8,000, but at the end of the day, does that make you sleep better at night?
This has been eye-opening in a lot of regards. Before we end, is there anything else that you feel you want to talk about?
I should mention how amazing my family and support system is. Big shout out to my parents for always supporting and loving what I do. My brother, Max, and sister, Halle, continue to inspire me with their hard work and support. Also a huge one goes out to Desiree Melancon. Desiree is a huge catalyst in where I am today and she’s taught me a lot about snowboarding, myself, and the way the world works. Also, I would be nowhere if it wasn’t for Katie Kennedy. That’s a fact. Katie has brought so much sunshine into my life and so much laughter and joyous moments to this whole experience. Emma Crosby lights a fire under my ass and Stefi Luxton will put a smile on your face every day of the week. Having a good friend group is life changing.
Straight up, connecting to your question about becoming more comfortable with myself—I’ve found a group of people who support me for being me. I mention all these girls but there’s you, Stan, as well as Dave Marx. I mean I could go on about this stuff, but realistically what really gets me through is the relationships and conversations I get to have with the people whom I really care about. You, Katie, Desiree, Amanda Hankison, Stefi Luxton, Emma Crosby, Nicole Hause, Kayla, Nora V, just the people who take the time to listen and care and be around and genuinely get to know me and give me enough of their time to get to know them as well.
These people have seen me at my lowest. They have seen my anger and my downfalls but they love unconditionally. Some people hate it, but it is me and that’s my makeup. It’s a real thing that people deal with and it’s important to understand that not all heroes wear capes. As much as you can idolize somebody, they’re probably going through some gnarly shit just like you. It’s not this fabricated life where you get everything you want. In fact, these people are working really hard to get to where they are. This can come off harsh on the outside at times and I may not always be the friendliest or most patient, but it’s situational. Not only in terms of snowboarding, but in life. Buckling down to be the best one can be, and progress whatever they are working hard at, isn’t always the prettiest. As much as I wish this line of work was always fun and free-spirited, it can build up and be really tough at times. Snowboarding is something I love and really care about and it isn’t necessarily about winning, but it is a driving force.
But that’s what I also like about you! It IS about winning. You want to fucking win.
Haha I don’t know. People are intimidated by drive and grit and compassion. It freaks them out. I constantly have to tell myself, “Get with it or get out…” At least, that’s the mindset that helps me. This isn’t anything new and it may not work for everybody, but at the end of the day, it encourages me.
The need and the want to win and to be the best is cool. I think that a lot of snowboarders don’t want to admit that.
I agree. The amount of times I hear, “I’m just having fun, I don’t really care,” is hard to digest sometimes. I mean, maybe it’s not, maybe I’m just some psychopath. I wish I could be more, “Stoked to be here pumped to ride,” which a lot of the time, I am. But at the end of the day, I feel a sense of purpose when I make an impact on things. I don’t feel that to be a vain or selfish statement because I think a lot of people feel that way. I think if I’m not doing something to prove to myself or change something or raise the bar, then why am I doing it? And this doesn’t speak to everybody, but as for me, this mindset works.