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Years ago when I first learned to ski, my friends who taught me also gave me extra lessons about watching out for the snowboarders.
"They are rude. They called me names."
"They try to hit you, even though skiers go in such a predictable pattern."
and so on.
It was believable enough. I saw how those young snowboarders were thrashing themselves about the mountain, always passing me a tad too close for comfort, running over my friends too often to be accidental. Sometimes they even turned back and give us a menacing grin, with that glint in their eyes that said: "aren't I a dare devil?" or "aren't we the coolest?"
Remove the dare and you got it right, we thought to ourselves.
Then I stopped skiing for a while. When I returned with a new set of friends, a few years later, much has changed. I was persuaded to try out the fine art of snowboarding.
"It is so much fun!"
"You will never have to carry those cumbersome skis around anymore, and the boots are really comfortable."
The point about the boots got to me. Contempt with snowboarders did not deter me (even years ago) from a secret longing for their boots, comfortable enough to walk in. It also would be a nice change not to end the day with the boot's every nooks and cranny carved into my feet.
Then there's the "epic" powder conditions we're encountering. It amounts to simple physics that a snowboard just travels much better on loose powder than the thinner and longer skis. I watched a dear friend tweak his knees badly on even extra wide skis when one side got stuck inside loose powder, the other side moving forward on inertia. I resolved finally then to take a snowboarding lesson.
Of course it was strange to have two feet strapped together, at first. Failing to get off the lifts cleanly was also embarrassing and uncomfortable but my Achilles's heels with snowboarding would definitely have to be the "toe edge".
Toe edge refers to a change. It isn't something you sit on but rather something you change into. As a snowboarder, you can technically spend your life sliding parallel to the mountain on the heel edge, sitting with your back leaning into the mountain, knees bent and bums reclined much like lounging in a chair. But to make the S shape turns that is the epitome of snowboarding, you must get off that bum chair and make the transition into the toe edge.
To achieve this, you need a little speed. To get speed, you need to point your board directly down hill. If you have not fallen by then, you lift up one heel, press down the other, much like pressing down on the pedals of a bicycle. The momentum and the direction of your gaze will do the rest of the work, and there in lies the challenge.
You must trust that the work will be done, while you are sliding uncontrollably down the mountain.
Sounds awful, doesn't it?
It wasn't bad when the instructor stays close and helps you fix your gaze by successfully distracting you from all thoughts of peril.
When he leaves at the end of the lesson, the toppling angle of the hills threatens to devour me with mental images of spectacular crashes.
Though I reckon, this isn't unlike that first time I rode the bicycle. I had sneaked out of the house with it on my own, thinking if dad came along I'd never get to ride it. He'd insist on holding onto me, and run behind me like a heavy trailer. I'd remembered that heart thumping first pedal, that first moment of the bike picking up speed and gaining balance, that first feeling of gravity lifting, the suffocating strangle over my ankles releasing, the wind billowing into my hair, and the world blurring into techno color and shifting shapes.
It also isn't unlike that first time when I learned how to float. I had to get into new and uncomfortable positions and let go of some familiar stances and muscle tensions that served me well on land. Then the water carried me with surprising strength and stability, giving me a magical feeling of weightlessness, of the power of softness over hard control, of the rich gains of releasing all I held as safe.
I suppose quitting a well paid but loathing restaurant job to go back to school was a moment of letting go too, of putting a certain trust in that certain uncertainties will pay off, and that life will catch me somehow, when I forgo two years of hourly pay check and turn over my savings as tuition. Suppose I had not stopped too long to think about all these when I got that first dream job offer post graduations, vanity of the youth and all. I had just lost myself in the celebration, the elation and feelings of triumphs, forgetting the price I had to pay, the price of letting go and free falling into a chance for that moment. A chance for a new height, not withstanding new challenges and failures.
Something tells me 2011will be another one of those turning point of change. Many constants have shifted away and left me in unrecognizable tracks of snow melts while I tried to hold on and fight in vain, only to spin further away from any axial of comfort and normality. Trying to slow down had only made me fall hard against the speeding train of changes, and barely scratching nail marks into the surface of the loose snow that is the security blanket of an old life.
I caught my breathe and looked again, not down the hill but towards the direction where I am turning. A new life awaits me there, unfamiliar, on the edge of darkened woods, just beyond protruding rocks and patches of ice; yet exciting and pregnant with possibilities of being the perfect spot for another turn, for a future of flying through soft snow and new explorations.
I set my mark, as I was told, on where I am headed, rather than the potential danger that kept me from the heart's desire. I let the board slide, into that leap of faith that carries me speeding down the fluffy powdery run, a magic carpet through the clouds like experience. I hardly want to stop it but I pedal, I gaze over my shoulders and I fly, into my first solo toe edge. My hearts leaping in "I wasn't sure but I am so glad" flutters.
I no longer look on snowboarders with contempt, now that I am changed, for good. I join them on trusting the simplicity of laws of gravity and momentum, on setting intentions and falling a bit into the unknown, on exploring new possibilities. As life is not just about plateaus of comforts and conveniences, but also in experiencing moments of new heights through leaps of faith, at each and every turn.
Now all I have to do is tell ma, about this big change that's been on my mind, and hope she doesn't push me over the hill with her bear hands.