Johnson had been a professional surfer until an accident, in which he broke his nose, had his front teeth knocked out and received more than 150 stitches to his mouth and forehead. He was also very big into skateboarding, and learned how to surf and skate from his father's best friend Alex Conwell. Alex also taught Jack to play the guitar and the flute. He learned to play guitar at age 14, but did not seriously pursue a career in the arts until his college years at University of California at Santa Barbara, where he graduated with a degree in film. In his time off after graduating Jack traveled and, during 1997-98, co-directed and shot the purist surf film Thicker Than Water to be released later. He is also a vegetarian.
Making friends with Garrett Dutton of G. Love & Special Sauce, he recorded "Rodeo Clowns" to be released on their 1999 album Philadelphonic. He also was taken under the wing of Ben Harper after hearing his music. This launched his music career and led to the release of his first album, Brushfire Fairytales, in 2001 to aid in the Thicker than Water soundtrack.
After touring for almost two years, Johnson released his second album, On and On, to generally favorable reviews in late 2003. Many of the songs on On and On had previously been released on bootlegs, such as J.O.A.T. and B.O.A.T., but received the accompaniment of a full band on the new album.
Johnson's interest in surfing also led him to produce and score several surfing films including September Sessions and Thicker Than Water, the soundtracks for which were released on CD/DVD between the release of Brushfire Fairytales and On and On. Johnson has appeared in the surf film Shelter, created by his manager Emmett Malloy, and also in Sprout, where he was featured in the Sprout House Band (Jack Johnson, Tommy Guerrero, Money Mark and Adam Topol). The music video for his song "Taylor" also features a guest appearance from actor Ben Stiller.
Jack Johnson also owns Brushfire Records which released the soundtracks for the aforementioned films. Other artists on that label include Matt Costa, Animal Liberation Orchestra, Donovan Frankenreiter and G. Love & Special Sauce.
In 2004, Johnson founded the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that supports environmental education in the schools and communities of Hawaii. The Kokua Festival is the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's annual benefit event that brings together environmental organizations, eco-friendly businesses, musicians, artists, teachers, and community leaders to promote environmental awareness in Hawaii.
His third studio album, In Between Dreams, was released on March 1, 2005. Over a year later, it is still in the charts, where it recently positioned at #3(as of 21st March 2006).
Johnson was featured on the Sublime tribute album Look at All the Love We Found, and was on Handsome Boy Modeling School's White People, released in 2004. In 2005 he appeared on the Black Eyed Peas album Monkey Business on the track Gone Going.
In the music video for "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing", everything is backwards, except Jack's lips and the music. Originally, they planned the entire video would just be Jack Johnson sing and playing guitar, while his friends (including Ben Stiller) would just be throwing stuff at him. Him and his crew thought they could do more. So, they put it backwards. In order to do this, Jack Johnson had to learn the song backwards. They filmed him singing it backwards, while everything else in the video was happening. They put this in reverse. The film was made this way.
He will be touring Europe in spring 2006.
He won a Brit Award in 2006 for Best International Newcomer, beating The Pussycat Dolls, John Legend, Arcade Fire and Daniel Powter.
Jack Johnson is currently the number one listed music on student profiles on Facebook.
He also uses major chord tonality in his basic chord progresions. This makes his music very easy to listen to or very catchy.