DC - From the X Games to the Olympics, a career in snow, skate, and surf
Reflects upon the path that resulted from a love of music, the biggest hurdle anyone faces, and what might be the fountain of youth.
Jonathan Oetken’s blue eyes crinkle at the sides when he smiles, which is almost constantly. His broad shoulders seem a close fit as he bounds through the doorway of his home in Breckenridge, Colorado, on a sunny spring afternoon. He pauses to enjoy a view of the Tenmile Range while retrieving gear from a morning splitboarding on Mount Quandary from a mud-spattered 4Runner.
“If I could go back and tell myself, at 18 years old, what life would be like 20 years down the road… traveling around the world, working in action sports, surfing and snowboarding and exploring the mountains…that kid would have his mind blown.”
Your name is Jonathan, but everyone calls you DC. Where did you get the nickname?
I was born in Washington, DC. When I was 20 years old, I put my savings in my pocket, and drove to Colorado with my cat Maggie. I had never been west of the Mississippi. My very first day in Breckenridge, I found a place to live and my new roommates started calling me DC. These guys I had just met became close friends, and the nickname stuck!
I love hearing my real name, it’s music to my ears, but my nickname is fitting. It’s where I’m from. Everything was influenced by DC. What led you to Breckenridge?
Snowboarding. I fell in love with snowboarding. In 1993, I was a freshman in high school and my dad let me take a snowboard lesson. A dude named Greg taught me, he had a big old goatee, and he was the coolest dude ever because he was a shredder! Since that first day I’ve loved it.
Your career involves snowboarding - tell me more about your work.
I work primarily in the event world. In the wintertime, ski and snowboard competitions. In the summer skateboard, BMX, and mountain bike events. X Games, Dew Tour, Burton US Open, Red Bull events, big events and concerts.
What exactly do you do at these events?
There are many facets to my livelihood. Live announcing, field reporting or sideline reporting, hosting, DJing.
At the Winter X Games in Aspen, I’m the field reporter. I interview the ski and snowboard athletes before their runs, after their runs. It’s filmed live and broadcast to the audience on big screens.
Sometimes I’m the sport caller, calling the tricks when the athletes take their run. I was just in China for the World Championships of Snowboarding, hosting the webcast and TV show. There were two of us announcing, doing back and forth banter during the competition. There was a Michael Franti and Spearhead concert recently in Breck, I opened for that, DJing on stage in front of the crowd and also I was the host, introducing him and the band.
It sounds like you have about six different dream jobs.
I’m definitely having fun!
You’re in front of huge crowds, with your face broadcast on giant screens. Do you ever feel nervous about any of it?
Never. Being on stage, on screen, being in front of thousands of people… it’s always felt easy, natural. I know everyone is stoked to be there, and I’m excited to be there too! I don’t worry about what other people think of me.
You have a career that’s, well, pretty amazing. You’re very modest about it.
I’m confident, I’m proud of what I do, but I don’t think it’s good to have a big ego.
Where are some of the places you’ve been for work?
All over Colorado, the west, the Rockies. New Zealand, Switzerland, Alaska. China. New York City, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin. In cities, they shut down blocks downtown for skateboard contests. At Summer X Games in Austin a couple years ago they set up a vert ramp right in front of the Capitol building! Brazil was a recent trip, prepping for the Olympics. I’ll be in Rio a lot this summer.
What do you love most about your work?
Everything. Seeing the best skateboarders and snowboarders in the world, and it’s my job to talk about it. I love the action sports world, the level of snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding, dirt biking, mountain biking… the athleticism is impressive. When the athletes try something new or different, it’s exciting.
I love getting to be outside, around positive energy, positive people, active people. The locations are amazing, every day I look around and I’m thankful for where I am.
You started college, but dropped out. Did you see that as a negative at the time? Do you now?
No. At the time I felt like it was the right decision, and I still feel like it was the right decision.
My dad wasn't happy with me, but I was over 18 and completely supporting myself. I had to make my own choice. For quite a few years he was angry, wanted me to go back to school. We’ve patched it up, one hundred percent. Looking back, I know it was because he cared.
For the 2 years that I went to the University of Maryland, I supported myself working at a pizza place. I started making pizzas, and then I was managing. The owner, Jim Paradiso, taught me more than I learned from school. He had requirements for everyone who worked there, reading assignments.
Wait - reading assignments at the pizza place? What kind of reading?
Like ‘The One Minute Manager’, “How to Win Friends and Influence People’, books he thought would teach us about business, leadership, teamwork, success, and life.
We would meet at work and discuss the books, he wanted to make sure we understood everything. It was really cool.
When I decided to drop out of school and move west, I talked it over with Jim. We talked about the pros and cons. I really took everything he said to heart.
How did you get into your career?
I started with DJing, doing music for snowboard competitions.
I had been a DJ before I moved west, I had always loved music. Hip hop was what I was exposed to as a kid in the DC and Maryland area, big time. On the street corners you would see it.
I remember being yelled at as a little kid, I had seen a Run DMC video with Jam Master Jay scratching… I did that on my parents record player! I was 5 or 6 years old. I started making mix tapes in middle school and high school, and when I was 18 I started DJing at bars.
What was it like growing up in DC?
I was raised in Prince Georges County, Maryland, on the Northeast side of DC. I was one of the only white kids in my neighborhood.
We didn't have a lot of money, and my parents got divorced when I was 12. Especially after the divorce, my mom was very poor, we were always on the brink of welfare.
After the divorce I was largely on my own. My independence came from that.
High school was crazy. Hectic. 4,000 kids. DC back then was a very violent city, the murder capital. Constantly watching out for yourself was part of the game. It was all I knew.
Was there a lot of violence in your neighborhood?
I saw a dead body for the first time when I was 10. I grew up with violence everywhere. There were gangs. People got shot, bodies were found. I remember waking up in the summertime, with the window open, there was a gunfight half a block away. I could see the flashes from the guns. I was scared. That left a mark, I will never forget that.
Seeing people get jumped was really scary, I saw people beat to a pulp, unconscious and bloody and carried away. When I started DJing at parties and bars, there was not a night that a fight didn't break out, a big fight. It didn't make any sense to me. It was part of the reason I wanted to get out of there.
Did you get involved in many fights?
A few, but not many. I’m not a confrontational person, and I knew when to walk away, when to leave. I’d rather try to be friends with someone than fight them.
There must have been times that you were afraid.
I don’t let fear consume me. Everyone feels fear, probably most recently I’ve felt it snowboarding, dropping into a backcountry line and it’s a place where if you fall or it slides on you, you die. But no matter what it is, you need to be able to harness that fear and perform. It’s all very calculated risks as well. You breathe, think positive, and do it. I always have faith that I’m going to be alright. I think driving on I-70 is more dangerous than any of that.
Have you changed since moving out west?
In a way I’m the same person, but my experiences have changed me for the better. Your experiences define you, and can make you a stronger, wiser, person.
You mentioned you moved to Breck with you cat? Not many teenage boys have a cat.
Haha I got her when I was a kid! I loved pets, who doesn't love a kitten?! I still think kittens are one of the cutest things in the world. I got Maggie from Carlos, a kid down the street, when his cat had kittens. I saw her on the front stoop. My mom chose her name, I think it was from an old school comic strip in the Washington Post. Maggie was so cool. When I was 18, moving into my own place, I took her with me and that was that.
How many tattoos do you have?
10 or 12 now.
Do you have a favorite?
Right here (inside of right forearm), a maple leaf with fall colors. My mom passed away a few years ago, and when it happened I was distraught. I was beside myself. She had a maple leaf, so I got one too. I can always look down and be reminded of her. My mom was from upstate New York, and fall was her favorite time of year. She passed away in the fall. It’s a powerful time of year for me.
Were you close with your mother?
Very close. I loved her, and she inspired me, and she knew it. Whenever I was feeling the most stoked, I would call her, tell her where I was, usually at the top of a mountain somewhere, and tell her I was thinking of her.
What makes you proud of yourself? Do you feel successful?
That I am choosing what route my life is going. To me that's success.
Other people might be in an office building wearing a suit and a tie. That might be success to them, but to me that would not be success because it’s not what I want to do.
I want to be the person who I am. Who went snowboarding today! Who is carving my own unique path.
I’m happy with where I am. But I’m striving for more. I’m not done by any means. You achieve your goal, and you come up with a new goal.
My story is still unfolding.
What are your goals at the moment?
I want to get more into surf events. I want to have a greater television presence, too.
You seem very motivated.
Absolutely. There are always road blocks and hurdles, but it's a part of life.
What kind of hurdles?
Yourself. If you don’t believe that you can achieve something.
Self doubt can be the biggest hurdle out there. It’s important to have a positive mind set.
You turned 38 recently… happy birthday!
Thank you! I’m 38, but snowboarding is the fountain of youth! It's about how you feel in your head and your heart.
When you look back, do you have any regrets? Anything you wish you could have done differently?
If I died tomorrow, I’m happy with everything I have done. I chose the path that I did, and I’m happy where it’s taken me.
What is one great decision you made today?
To go snowboarding.
What’s one great decision you’ve made in your life?
To go snowboarding!