PEOPLE LIKE US | Bruce Johnston Interview + Full Video


by Jesse Fox
photos by Todd Easterbrook

Street, park, backcountry—Bruce Johnston is a ripping snowboarder in any arena. Growing up in Mississauga, he was groomed by the Ontario parks and pipes of Georgian Peaks alongside riders like Mikey Ciccarelli before moving out West in search of more. He moved to Whistler, bought a $2,000 beater snowmobile (he would later watch burn to the ground) and soaked up backcountry knowledge and safety from local pros. Today, Bruce's standout riding has been featured in videos over the past decade. Based out of Pemberton, he has become a fixture in the backcountry snowboard scene. 

Five years ago, Bruce was approached by Revelstoke-based photographer /filmmaker Ryan Collins to be a subject in a film that explores the experiences and perspectives of queer folks in mountain culture. Avid skiers and snowboarders living in non-urban landscapes where getting gnarly is expected and acceptance isn't guaranteed. Bruce didn’t want to be recognized in the film. He never thought his sexuality and snowboarding needed to be discussed in the same breath. And, until very recently, only a few close friends and family members knew this side of him. His hesitation to share himself is understandable. Like many of us, Bruce grew up in a snowboard landscape where B-roll of snowboarders partying like rockstars with faceless pretty girls was idolized. Hypersexualized images of women sold every product available, and saying something was gay ran rampant in the bro bra blah blah culture. 

This winter, when Collins' documentary People Like Us finally came to fruition, Bruce had changed his mind. Now, on top of being known for his layered skills on a snowboard and held in the highest regard for his kindness, humour and charisma; Bruce will be known as a person who also happens to be queer. I caught up with Bruce to learn more about the doc, his hesitation, and the film's positive message.

Five years ago, you were asked to be in this doc, and you wouldn’t go on camera. Why not? And what changed?

Well, just growing up looking at snowboard movies it's a lot of partying and always just dudes with chicks. It's always had this macho, gnarly attitude around it along with the people in it. So it just didn't always feel like an accepting place. No one ever spoke about a gay snowboarder in the media, ever. In the last 20 years. It never happened. I've never heard of anyone at all, other than when [Jake] Kuzyk came out with Torment. That was literally the first I'd heard of a gay snowboarder, it was Kuzyk. And I was like, what?! Sick!

I couldn't help but feel sad knowing that snowboarding wasn't a space you and others felt comfortable being yourselves in. 

It was kind of sad. We all just kept our mouths shut. It was just easier. That's how I felt. It was easier to just fly under the radar with that part. I was nervous of it negatively impacting my snowboarding or friend groups or something like that. It's so dumb, because all of our homies we snowboard with are our good people. They don't give a shit. 

Is there anything about living in Pemberton specifically that contributed to this?

Just small-town vibes. Lots of people say, "that's fucking gay," or "faggot” or whatever. Just change room talk, and I don't say anything, right? You're just like, "Okay, that's how that guy talks.” Noted. But for the most part, I think people are good here, and it's turning around.

How are you feeling with this doc coming out knowing this side of you will be news to a lot of people?

It feels a little intimidating, but all my close friends and family are all supportive and like my snowboard homies. It's just going to be positive, a positive feel. I know a few friends found out from [me] posting the trailer, and they were like, "No way, sick!" just good comments, nothing negative. I remember when I told Nitro, Ryan [Willisko] of Nitro Canada. He was pissed at me, he's like, "Never keep anything like that for me ever again. You should have told me long ago. I fucking love you dog. Don't keep that shit from the people you love." kind of thing. And I was like, man, that's cool. 

Do you think snowboarding has changed in its openness, acceptance, language or behaviour in the past few years?

There are still a ton of bitter people out there, and it sucks that they're snowboarders. It just makes us look so trashy and uneducated. But I think it has [changed]. And changed towards even people of colour, too. You see more dark-skinned shredders, Asian shredders and it's super sick, that is rad. I think snowboarding is growing up and progressing and it's more open now and accepting because so many people are in love with it, and it's like, why would there be any hate? It's ridiculous. Snowboarding was an outcast sport from the beginning. We should be open to anyone.

How has the experience of being a subject in this documentary been?

It's been a positive experience, I think the film is a positive outlook on the future of skiing and snowboarding. The whole goal of it was to make people more comfortable being themselves in those industries and spaces. I participated in this for my younger self and/or some kid who sees this film and does what I didn't do earlier, just be myself and keep snowboarding.

Is there anything you would tell a younger version of yourself who wasn't comfortable sharing who they were? 

Just to be true to yourself and don't worry about what people that aren't your friends might think. 


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