Transworld Business Investigates: The Jake Burton Children’s Book Controversy

By Mike Lewis

If you work in the snowboard industry, odds are you've seen the email going around about a book for kids called Jake Burton Carpenter and the Snowboard. The email, sent by "History of Snowboarding" or H.O.S., states "Burton has teamed up with a kids’ book publisher to create their skewed version of snowboard history… Probably so that they’ll be inclined to buy Burton product as they get older.If you read this cartoon book, despite its after-the-fact footnotes, it is clear that Burton is trying to brainwash little kids these days that Jake invented snowboarding."

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Transworld Business decided to get to the bottom of this issue by actually reading a copy of the book, then reaching out to all parties involved to see if there really was some kind of conspiracy in play. After a few days of unbiased research and fact-checking, it's pretty easy to see that H.O.S., who didn't respond to repeated emails, either didn't read the book, has his own agenda, or both.

The short, comic-style hardcover, published by Capstone Press for school libraries in 2007, opens in 1968 on a snowy hill in North Andover, Mass. with Jake Burton being prodded by some unnamed friends to give their Snurfer a shot. The book goes on to tell how Jake saw the potential of the Snurfer and took his idea of making a better board and turned it into a business.

The book's author, Michael O'Hearn, is not a snowboarder and says he didn't talk to Burton or anyone else for his research. "I used what books I could find and a lot of articles… That was primarily it." O'Hearn, who has written a number of similar books for "reluctant readers," felt there was enough publicly available information, and didn't think an interview was within the scope of the book. He also knew from past experience that Capstone would bring in an expert to fact check his work.

This fact checking has dragged Transworld into the fray as Transworld Media alumni Lee Crane is listed as the sole consultant on the title page, which is available online. "I have no knowledge of Burton being involved," states Crane, who was approached by Capstone to review the book as an "expert" after they saw a snowboard historical timeline online that he edited. "I remember asking the publisher if all of Jake’s life sketch details were correct (nothing seemed glaringly wrong to me) and they said they had all those details handled.”

Capstone, who approached O'Hearn with the book idea, is focused on getting children to read. "We wanted to take a topic that kids are interested in, a topic kids want to know about, and present it in a way that is appealing to kids," says Capstone Senior Product Planning Editor John Rahm. "Although Burton may not be the official inventor of the snowboard, we feel his story fits into this series because of his important contribution to the sport…That said, no one from Burton Snowboards was involved with this project."

Which brings us back to the elephant in the room. Burton. It seems pretty clear they had nothing to do with the creation of the book, but in a prepared statement they said "just like everyone else, we think this book is misleading. We wish it wasn't out there, but it is." So why haven't they done anything about it? "We’re limited in what we can do because Jake is a public figure and anyone can choose to write about him,” says Bryan Johnston, Burton's Senior VP of Global Marketing.

In fact, the only recourse would be to pursue a defamation lawsuit, which would require they prove not only defamation per se, but also malice on the part of O'Hearn and Capstone. “There’s noting we can do about the copies that are already out there. But we are going to recommend the publisher work with us or an independent source like Transworld to make corrections if the book is re-printed,” adds Johnston.