Snowboarding or surfing?
“Surfing or snowboarding – which do you prefer?” For what used to be an instant response, “Snowboarding of course!”, today the answer is taking a little longer to formulate.
Transitioning from snowboarding to surfing
Some say surfing is a 10 year sport. It can take up to ten years to fully master and perform on a wave. Think about it. There is no other competitive sport where a turn is a trick! Unlike other board sports I had tried, surfing had me on the proverbial back foot. My main squeeze of snowboarding is a sport that requires your weight to be predominantly on the front-foot. To steer the board and make the tail light for turns (except in powder snow). Surfing on the other hand (or foot!), is all back-foot. Weight on your back leg helps lift the nose of the board above the water so it can glide and stay afloat.
With 21 years of pre-disposed snowboard snow muscle memory, I was kicking the nose of that surfboard underwater and going splat on my face every surf. Like others transitioning from snowboarding to surfing, I had to re-train my brain to shift my weight instantly and instinctively. Ten years huh? I’ll take snowboarding over surfing any day.
But then something clicked. The lights came on. Things started to slow down and intuition kicked in. Someone told me to open up my shoulders and suddenly the rides got longer and the smile got bigger. Surf trips, long walled up waves and feeling the weight of the ocean roll down my back… it is all I could think about. This feeling was new and exciting. Surfing started to offer a steeper progression curve. Something my main squeeze of snowboarding hadn’t been giving up so easily in recent years.
Surfing – my new love
Now in my 7th year as regular surfer, that progression was being delivered straight to the vein. The hits came in droves and I simply couldn’t get enough. In the Spring of 2016, I left snowboarding in Alaska early, to make my way down South to surf in El Savador where I stayed for months working on my right handers. There I was, ditching snowboarding in Alaska, the dream destination and mecca of big mountain riding, to go chase waves. Something had changed. I had changed.
For so long, snowboarding had been everything. It made me skip class, defer years of University, break up with boyfriends, move countries, change careers and even change citizenship. There was nothing I wouldn’t swap, sell or swallow for a nipple-deep day of fresh untracked powder snow. Later that year like I did in Alaska, I left the snow again to chase the waves. I deserted the Argentina Andes, leaving my boards and boyfriend in the safe spring snow, to head North to Peru’s long left handers. What happened? Snowboarding in its current state just wasn’t doing it for me any more. I had got bored.
Chose: Surfing or snowboarding?
Addicts are always chasing a feeling and us extreme athletes are no different. Progression is something I’m openly addicted to. Nothing feels better then landing a trick after countless attempts, no matter what sport I do. Despite the continuous beatings my body takes, I always go back for more. With each attempt I inch closer to that feeling of accomplishment… of progression. This is otherwise known as a “positive feedback loop”.
Sports coaches use the positive feedback loop as a method to provide ‘brain food’ to an athlete. The All Star Sports Academy in the USA say that all the synaptic impulses that happen in our brain are affected by previous proprioception (the subconscious awareness of your body). Emotional proprioception is how an athlete feels about her performance and the physical/neuro-muscular effect of those perceptions on emotional states. This can make them desire to do that sport or avoid it all together. The feedback loop contributes as much to training success as quality of movement and variety of exercises chosen.
As I got better at surfing and experienced more positive experiences, memories and emotions; my positive self-image, confidence and a belief in my potential for success increased. Although I still receive these ecstatic experiences with snowboarding, they aren’t as fresh and exciting and consequently, surfing started to feed my synapses more of the ‘athlete food’ that I was so addicted to.
If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.
– Henry Ford
Keeping it exciting
Is it possible to have two loves? I think it is possible. But to love them equally and get the same stimulus from each is a harder task to conquer. When people cheat on their romantic partners, they often say that they get different things from each person. When experiences become stale and less exciting, it’s human nature to look around for a new stimulus. The same is true with sports. You have to keep things exciting. Keep that brain food coming. Without new challenges in life or within your chosen sport, you are likely to get bored and look for an alternative. You need new attempts at greatness, new goals to summit, new tricks to try. Without the challenges and gratification of that positive feedback loop, just like with a lover, you may start to go astray.
Bring on the new challenges
Now in Thailand stealing the last few waves before the winter season, I am armed with the knowledge that I need new challenges with my snowboarding. The winter ahead is sure to be full of demanding situations. After many years of training to get to this point in my snowboarding career, I have graduated to a dream job as a professional backcountry snowboard guide in Japan. Despite the long, freezing days outside, confidence in my own snow science observations, knowledge of changing weather patterns and avalanche risks, plus the deep, deep powder and the language barriers I am sure to encounter, I can honestly say that I’ve never been more excited to go snowboarding. The mountains will always be my first love and by actively seeking new challenges with snowboarding and my environment, I have granted myself an endless opportunity for progression both on and off my board.