Sometimes I lie awake at night, in the darkness of this Winter and worry about that reef at the end of the Maliko run, near Kanaha. In my head, I replay Jeremy Rigg’s instruction about how to line up with the crane in Kahului Harbor to make sure I hit it right at the end of the Olukai race.
But here lately, I have been kept awake in the darkness of the long, worrisome Carolina winter by a much more ominous prospect.
How to get off the chairlift on a snowboard.
Eons ago, my wonderful Aunt Meb, who I idolize to this day, offered to teach me how to ski. My love of the outdoors comes from that side of the family, my mom’s side. It was my Aunt Meb who took me hiking for the first time when I was six. My cousins took me sailing in their El Toro on Lake Tahoe, and I saw the grandeur that is Yosemite National Park for the first time with them. She is an amazing artist, who has an incomparable vision and spirit that is so connected to nature.
And though the love of the ocean comes to me from my dad, when I feel the need to strap on a backpack and head to the mountains, I know it’s my Aunt Meb calling me there.
When I was in high school, we made the trip up to Aunt Meb and Uncle Jim’s home in Mariposa, where we loaded up our gear in their motor home and headed to Yosemite’s Badger Pass. She was an accomplished skier and was so excited to teach me how to glide down the slopes.
We were both giddy with excitement.
Well, on the way to get lift tickets, she slipped on a patch of ice in the parking lot and broke her ankle in several places.
But Meb was never to be stopped. While she couldn’t ski, she grabbed her sketch pad and camera and set about documenting our week together. The instructor job fell to her oldest son Craig, my cousin whom I had adored since that first hike years before.
Craig was a kind and patience teacher and in no time I was snow plowing down the bunny slopes. By then end of the week, I was doing intermediate runs. Aunt Meb was thrilled.
I continued skiing through high school and college at a Mammoth and Big Bear, and other California resorts. I got a full ski kit for Christmas one year and I even learned to cross country in Yosemite as well. I watched the ski reports in the winter as often as I check the surf and wind reports now.
I still have the Swiss Army knife I found on one of the backcountry ski trails near Badger Pass. And my pin from Badger. Back then, it was the fashion to collect and keep them on your parka.
Then I moved to North Carolina.
I was a poor, starving reporter fresh out of journalism school with her first car payment and apartment rent, who couldn’t afford lift tickets. Once or twice I went to Boone and decided that the time, and gas money to ski on crunchy icy snow just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t long before my gear was outdated.
I grew up. Got better jobs. And then this whole paddle thing happened and well…the rest is, as they say, history.
Times change. So do obsessions.
Fast forward to 2016, and I am a paddle instructor for REI and a part-time outfitter on the sales floor at Store 97 in Raleigh. My REI Ohana is amazing and every year there is at least one unofficial staff outing to Snowshoe, the big ski resort in West Virginia that everyone says is much better than the local NC resorts when it comes to snow quality. It’s about the same driving distance to Snowshoe as it is from Los Angeles to Mammoth. Last year, I promised my Green Vestie Besties that I’d go skiing with them this year.
2016 is kind of a year of renewal for me.
So, why not get back on the mountain?
And after all, snow is just water, frozen, right? And when it melts, it runs into the creeks, that run into the rivers that eventually end up in the ocean.
Once again, we are all connected by water, even when it is crystalized.
I fully expect to be extremely well-connected to that frozen water this weekend on our trip, at least my backside will be, because I have decided to ditch the ancient skis and learn to snowboard.
The operative part of that word is BOARD. As in longboard, surfboard, paddle board.
Wait a minute. I could get hurt.
Why am I doing this again?
For the fun and the camaraderie of being with some of the best people I know, this side of my paddle peeps.
And because I love the challenge of going outside my comfort zone, pushing myself and learning something new.
And because I can.
And because…of the gear.
Except that, the person who put together my board and binding package when I ordered them didn’t understand that he really should have asked me if I was okay with HOT PINK bindings.
I invested in some decent Burton gear that was a fantastic deal because it’s a season old. But HOT PINK????
Okay, maybe it’s not really getting off the chairlift that scares me.
It’s being laughed off the slopes because I’m wearing HOT PINK bindings.
On the bright side, one of my REI buddies told me that as long as I’m wearing “a Patagonia” I’ll fit in just fine.
(By “ A Patagonia” she means the Patagonia Snap-T fleece pullover in some ungodly color, like HOT PINK favored by the high school girls in North Raleigh who come into the store thinking that Patagonia is one specific item, not a brand that makes, oh, about a thousand other things – including kick ass ice axes – besides ubiquitous Polar-tech pullovers.)
Just keep repeating your mantra, Lisa:
Form follows function.
I have lessons scheduled. And safety gear, LOTS of safety gear including the all important helmet, and gloves with built in wrist guards. The Western Journal of Medicine cites wrist fractures as being the most common injury among snowboarders, especially kooks – I mean novices. Also, I have this undergarment thing that looks like bike shorts on steroids to protect my tailbone. Really.
Oh, and I even have a LEASH.
I wouldn’t even dream of paddling without a leash, so of course I bought one for my snowboard. (Like I won’t be able to find it if it gets away from me on the slopes. It HAS HOT PINK BINDINGS.)
I am not sure what I was imagining a snowboard leash would be like but when it came in the mail from Amazon, I though someone else’s order for a CAT COLLAR had arrived.
Perhaps a snowboard leash is as about as useful and practical as a cat collar. I guess I will be finding out.
Maybe I should put a bell on it. In case the board flies into a very deep snow bank, and I can’t see all the HOT PINK.
Then there are the stomp pads.
My LaHui Kai race board has a wicked stomp pad on it and it has made me proficient at buoy turns. It big and thick and sits a couple of inches off the very back of my board.
Clearly I need a stomp pad on my snowboard.
Snowboard stomp pads are about the size of a quarter. Okay, maybe a dollar’s worth of quarters. WTF?
Nope. Stomp pads on a snowboard don’t help you turn or pivot.
According to snomie.com, the free snowboarding guide online, here’s what the snowboard stomp pad is all about:
“For those who are unaware, a stomp pad is something you stick onto your board, next to your rear binding to add grip for times when your back foot isn’t strapped in.
They come in all shapes and sizes and usually have grippy knobs on the top of them.”
Apparently, these things are extremely helpful if you are a newbie and you’re worried about the chairlifts.
“This is probably the biggest reason for using stomp pads. If you’re a beginner and you’re having problems getting off lifts, then a stomp pad might not be such a bad idea. It’ll give you somewhere to put your leg and you’ll stop slipping out every time you get off the lift.”
Mine is in the shape of a forest ranger’s badge, which I am sure will be SUPER HELPFUL.
snomie.com also says they are useful to people who ride a lot with one foot.
Wait a minute. Did that say “Somewhere to put your leg?
Ride a lot with one foot? What?
Grasshopper has much to learn.
In addition to worrying over this whole chairlift thing (and I am much more comfortable with that now, after learning that only one foot will be strapped in. Really, really I am) I just can’t fathom what I am going to do with my hands.
There is nothing to hold on to.
No ski poles. No paddle.
But WAIT! EPIPHANY!!
There IS a paddle! Kahuna Creations makes a snow blade for their land paddles.
And you can damn well bet I’m slapping one of those on my adjustable Kahuna Big Stick and taking it with me. If anyone questions me, I’ll put my GoPro on it and call it a selfie stick.
With a big rubber stopper thingy on the end.
So…here’s the picture: 52 year old standup paddler on a green snowboard, with HOT PINK bindings and neon snow clothes carrying a big old crutch. With a camera on it.
Quick, somebody get me that Patagonia.