Blog, Philosophy, Travel

Snowboarding, or What I Learned From Doing Something I’m Not Very Good At


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As an alarming global pandemic sweeps through every nation like a brisk autumn wind we have all found ourselves, alas, with a lot of time to kill. Except, of course, medical professionals who have all kinds of apocalyptic hell on their hands, and may we all utter a silent optionally religious prayer for those poor, overworked souls. What I have on my hands, apart from residue of soap and hand sanitiser, is the abrupt void of nothingness that comes with a mandatory government-enforced holiday to write all the articles I never got around to at the time when they happened and, boy, do you have some delightful reminiscing coming your way, my dear reader. Let me fetch my half moon glasses, recline suitably in my chesterfield armchair, and take you via a progressively blurry scene transition all the way back to seven months ago when I went snowboarding for the first time.

For many, many years I wanted to learn snowboarding. My family was too poor for snow sports holidays growing up, so all I could do was longingly watch baggy clothed individuals shred the powdery backcountry in snowboarding videos on YouTube. So entranced was I by the noble, frightening majesty of the wintery mountains and I itched to see them in real life. I’ve also always yearned to be cooler than I am, or at least try to distract people from the reality that I’m secretly a goofy hermit with a weird sense of humour and my own blog on the internet, and snowboarding seemed like a good way to do that. Last year I finally booked a snowboarding getaway to the South Island of New Zealand, which is, of course, littered with mountains, and since I was in the country anyway it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

I was terribly excited, or about as excited as I get, which is not outwardly excited at all due to a quirk in my personality when it comes to expressing excitement. I envisioned myself carving my way down the glistening slopes with my friends, sun shining, laughing, high fiving each other, breathing in the crisp snowy air, not a care in the world. I would feel like I was achieving something. I could tick another thing off the Bucket List. I would feel happy.

It seemed sensible to have a practice on an indoor slope before the trip, which, though it was indeed sensible, was also where the first sign of trouble materialised and then disappeared under the skirting board like a surreptitious house spider. I suddenly doubted whether I would even be able to snowboard for five days; on the spectrum of knitting to extreme sports I’m probably more of a knitter and although I have surfed a bit, sliding on compacted snow with your feet stuck to a board is a whole different vessel of marine life. When I got to the indoor slope I was surprised at how fast and slippery the fake snow was, how little control I had and that there were no other snowboarders there I could copy. I sought advice in the lift operator as to how to navigate the button lift. She offered some incredibly vague instructions and then waved me on impatiently. I’m pretty sure I did the complete opposite of what you’re supposed to do and unsurprisingly got into an alarming wobble two-thirds of the way up and then fell out of the elasticated frisbee seat. The woman didn’t even stop the lift, which she should when people fall off, and I had to trudge the rest of the way to the top, one foot strapped in, people looking on sympathetically as the lift towed them past at 7 kilometres per hour. My first descent was more cautious than a deer on roller skates in an antique store, but I did it; slowly, utilising what I’m going to call my ‘bum break’, but I did it.

Faster than I could say ‘who needs a coccyx anyway’ day zero was upon me, whether I was ready or not. It was lovely to see my friends, having beers together at their cottage and planning the next few days. The level of stoke was high. We loaded up the ute with all our gear, navigated the sludgy unsealed mountain road to the ski resort and I very quickly and painfully realised nothing about snowboarding made me feel cooler or better about myself. I was intimidated by the lifts, anxiously watching them scoop people up without mercy at the speed of an unsympathetic revolving door, I hated the Kermit-the-frog-coloured helmet I had hired, and was slapped with a cold tsunami of realisation that I didn’t belong here. A few runs with my friends only made things worse as I fell over more often than I would like to admit, worried I was annoying the group by slowing them down and felt stupid as tears of frustration brewed under my goggles. It became agonisingly obvious that I was still regular old me, except stuck to a snowboard sitting tired, aching and demoralised on a busy ski slope while other people schluffed past happy and without a care in the world. I wanted the trip to be over so I could go back to my cave and never try anything adventurous again.

Things got even worse when I had a particularly bad morning on day three where I fell and sustained injuries with progressive severity, apparently having a competition with myself, which reached its climax when I fell backwards and twisted my knee to the unnerving sound of tearing ligaments and had to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the day to think about all the money I had spent that I couldn’t really afford on this holiday. I ruminated gloomily in the resort café, hobbling and nursing another cup of earl grey alone while my friends shredded the slopes without me. Perhaps it was something about watching the kids in the children’s ski lesson from the café window as they slowly descended the baby slope looking like padded starfish, jerking to an undignified stop on the rubber matting at the bottom, suddenly collapsing out their skis for seemingly no reason, tumbling in slow motion off the magic carpet conveyor, but time after time being scooped up, propped back on their feet and guided to the top by the instructors that teased me out of this insistence that I have to be perfect at everything. It’s okay to be bad at something, I told myself. Everyone has to start somewhere. At least I was having a go, which is something a lot of people never do.

The next day the weather was bad so we decided to avoid the slopes, give my knee a rest and do touristy things in Queenstown instead. During this time away from the sharp jabs of my painful shortcomings in snow sports, it occurred to me to do something I never do: to give myself a break. Besides, I was injured, which was an excellent reason to let myself chill out a bit. Perhaps I could even come to accept a kind of peaceful mediocrity.
On our final day, supported by a knee brace, a lot of ibuprofen and a new perspective, I strapped into my snowboard and set off on my own down the gentle slope, grimly vowing to not worry about what anyone else was doing. Gliding at the pace of a fast snail, I was suddenly more aware of all the beginners learning around me rather than the pros speeding past in a blur of powder and unrealistic comparisons. Now that I had eased the immense pressure on myself, things started to click into place. I felt in control, was finally brave enough to work on my toe turns and, to my immense relief, I felt… happy.

I was never going to be some snowboarding prodigy, lying undiscovered until the age of 29 before exploding onto the scene among whispers of who is she and where did she come from?, delighting crowds at the X Games and dominating the slopestyle at the Winter Olympics. It’s okay to be average. Most people are. No one is perfect at everything and, anyway, it’s really hard to like those kinds of people who can do things well without even trying. Being bad at stuff like those little kids on the ski slope is so human; embracing those things makes someone interesting. And there is so much more to be gained from failing but picking yourself up (literally), bruised, soggy, mentally exhausted, and trying again. And again. And again.
Would I go snowboarding again, I hear you ask. Absolutely 100% hell yeah. Just try and keep me away from that ski slope.

Me near the top of a ski slope with mountains in the background, with one foot strapped in to my snowboard tensing my biceps as if to say "hell yeah!"
Someone high-five me or something!

No need to wonder about the GoPro strapped absurdly to my head; you can at your leisure inspect how hard I worked to make myself look less terrible in this video I hashed together from the scraps of footage captured in this manner:

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