A spiritual friend told me I was a spy in a past life. I had the devious ability to live multiple lives within the same life. In the words of my 20-year-old self, “I am who I am around.”
I’m a badass snowboard bro when I’m at contests and industry trade shows.
I’m a straight-no-chaser party stoner when I’m around my friends.
I’m a friendly, cunning student when I’m around my professors.
I’m a fake identity and hope we don’t have any mutual friends when I’m secretly hooking up with guys on Grindr.
Six years ago, that’s who I was. Lost in the void of infinite lives, burying the shame of my repressed queer identity. I would never come out of the closet. I didn’t understand anything.
To my privilege and delight, my family moved from the flat suburbs of Boston to the towering mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, when I was 14. This coincided with my entrance into the sacred, revered past time of American youth culture — high school. Rumors of hooking up with girls at parties with alcohol were fabled to exist in this uncharted land.
Beyond the rumors, two things were very real to me at this time: the ability to snowboard more than I ever had before, and the burgeoning realization that I was gay. As I forced myself further and further away from who I really was, snowboarding became my solace. It was my way to quietly express my true identity.
At the time, snowboarding was a culture dominated by straight males. On the one hand it revered creativity and self-expression, and on the other it had a box for it’s participants to fit into. There was minuscule representation and even acknowledgement of queer people.
As I got better at snowboarding, I started to gain some traction — picking up sponsors, winning contests and going on film trips with professional teams. The deeper I got into the industry, the more snowboarding became my justification to stay in the closet. Every time I fell or didn’t execute a trick with style, someone would scream, “That was so gay!” Damn bro, that shit hurts. What’s so bad about being gay?
I finally started to ask myself that question. After years of ruminating, I decided that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but there was something wrong with this amazing little world of snowboarding that I loved so much. So, I gave up on it — partially. I never let go of my identity as a snowboarder, but I let my dreams of supporting my life through snowboarding die.
But, with death comes rebirth. After years of reconnecting with my true self and shedding unhealthy coping habits my closeted self had developed, I fell back in love with snowboarding. I was brought back to my 10-year-old self, to the first time I linked a turn, to the purest form of happiness I know.
Over the last few years, the snowboarding world has changed drastically. Multiple snowboarders have come out and the community has embraced them with open arms. The biggest companies have done campaigns in support of LGBTQ+ athletes, and queer snowboarding feels like it’s the new cool thing.
After I came out, and received nothing but support from even my most hardcore snowboarder friends, my life as I knew it changed. I could finally have real, deep conversations with people again, I could live without fear and I could understand what I wanted in life.
And I started getting better at snowboarding again. As a proud gay man, I started competing in the qualifier series for the Freeride World Tour, the professional circuit for big mountain snowboarding. Last winter, I placed third and second at the first two qualifier events, then missed the registration deadline for the final event. If I would have placed in the top three, I would have won the qualifier series and made it onto the pro tour.
As this season begins, I’m training to compete in the qualifier series with the goal of winning and becoming the first publicly out gay man to compete in a professional snowboard contest. To show all kids and adults in the world that there’s nothing better than being you. You are the one and only, and you’re perfect just the way you are.
Jack Hessler is a snowboarder and filmmaker based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. His snowboarding is supported by Arbor Snowboards, Zeal Optics, Pret Helmets and Snowbird, and he has a film production company, WZRDmedia. He can be reached by email at (email@example.com) or on Instagram at @jah_he.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Check out our archive of coming out stories.
If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.