It was around the time that I got my very own snowboard that I stopped snowboarding. Snowboarding gave me wings, the freedom to fly down a mountain and take risks I would have never attempted on skis. I took to snowboarding faster than any other attempted hobbies, and got good enough in only a few days to ride rails and take jumps. At 13, this was quite the confidence booster.
But being 13 brings other preoccupations, so even though at that age I had my own snowboard, I didn’t have the focus to consistently find my way from San Francisco to Tahoe in the winter months. There wasn’t a definitive moment where I stopped being a snowboarder; the increase in seasons going by without a trip to the snow was gradual. One year turned into three, which became ten, until I was an adult person with the ability to get myself a lift ticket, but had over time developed an identity that lacked the interest.
My excuse was that I could pick up where I left off if I really wanted to, while we all know that the truth was that I was scared to discover that my skill had long since vanished. Plus the added fear of feeling the effects of a decline in physical aptitude – that never feels good. A lot can change in one year, not to mention a decade, so it was easier to keep the memory of myself as a snowboarder intact rather than prove those fears right.
The funny thing about fear is how much it looks like wisdom. Fear disguises itself as reason, telling you it will keep you safe when all it does is keep you scared. I’m not talking about the adrenaline rush when a snake strikes, but the forces that keep you fat and happy so that you never have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to the world. Declaring that I hated snow or couldn’t afford a Tahoe trip were convenient claims that I tricked myself into believing for a long time.
These overt realizations came only recently, because gaining clarity can be as gradual a process as losing it. I had the opportunity to travel to Snowmass, Colorado for work, and the trip included a generous amount of time for skiing and snowboarding, lessons included. I initially begrudged the schedule for all the time on the mountain: after all, more time snowboarding meant more time seeing how bad I am at it.
It’s really easy to make excuses for not coming to terms with my failures, but the only way to overcome an inadequacy is to face it head on. I had to acknowledge that I was coming from a place of fear, and I didn’t want to be that person anymore.
My first morning back on a snowboard in more than 10 years was spent almost entirely on my ass at various places along a small hill where all the other young children were trying out skis for the first time. Even though my teacher, Doug, had given me a Red Bull, I was not the teenage snowboarding prodigy that my memory claimed to be. It was a good thing I had been knocked on my ass, otherwise reality would have done it for me.
Even though each duration of going down the hill was short lived on that first day, it was enough to remind me of how much fun snowboarding can be. Doug was a very capable teacher who reduced the possible instances of my failure, ensuring my progress in literal baby steps without unnecessary frustration.
On the second day we graduated to an actual slope, taking the multi-colored Skittles gondola back up after each run, enthusiastic each time. I could feel myself improving with every run, remembering my youthful affinity for snowboarding. Where was the fear, then? Gone, replaced by adrenaline and determination. By the third and final day I was able to ride that slope without Doug’s aid, and without falling (as much), at least the point where we were able to get a decent GoPro video of me on my own. I was a snowboarder again.
I left Snowmass with a plan to return as soon as possible. No longer would I feign a hatred of the snow, or pretend like a short, direct flight to a ski resort somehow a major inconvenience. I may be just a rookie snowboarder, but at least now I can own it and work on getting better. Plus, my mom won’t be mad that I’m storing a snowboard in her garage anymore.
Ignorance is bliss, until it isn’t. Whether or not I can snowboard isn’t the end-all of my identity, but making decisions rooted in fear isn’t the legacy I want to leave. I want to look back at the end of my life and see that I grew as a person by stepping outside of my comfort zone.