Working with hundreds of kids at an action sports camp has made me realize what the word “fearless” means. With some kids, if they want to try something new, they just do it. Double backflip off the trampoline? Can’t be too hard. Send the megaramp on a skateboard? Easy. They don’t need someone to make them try something new. They just get out there and do it. They seem to lack that part of the brain that gets them thinking about the worst-case scenario. They can shut off their brain and just go for it.
All that is just because they’re kids, right? Well, not all children are the same. Meet 8-year-old me. She didn’t wand to go on Disneyland’s Splash Mountain. She stayed far away from diving boards and the deep end. She never picked up a snowboard until she was 14. She never went through this phase of recklessness.
Despite this, for some inexplicable reason, I have since then found my love and passion in freestyle snowboarding. I absolutely love it, even though it goes against everything my overthinking brain tells me. You know, the sport that was considered being taken out of the Olympics because it was “too dangerous”. The one where the sign looks like this?
I like my brain. It’s smart. It got me through high school in three years. It got me through calculus at the top of my class. It remembers things really well, sometimes with the craziest, most unnecessary detail. There’s no way I can say I hate my brain. It just thinks a lot. Always working, always finding ways to make life easier. However, there are moments when I wish I had a different brain. Those moments when I have the perfect speed for a jump but I throw in a few too many speed checks and case it. Those moments when I totally mean to do a backflip but I end up bailing and doing yet another straight air.
So there’s something I tell myself in those moments. As much as I’d like to deny it, I’ve got to face the facts. I’m just not born “fearless”. But here’s the catch: I’ve become really good at pretending. Instead of trying to shut off my brain, I get it to override the default system of self-preservation built into my body and subconscious mind.
For this split second it takes to jump onto this rail, let’s just pretend. Just pretend you’re fearless. As I approach the lip of the ramp at the point where you can either send it or ride around it, I pretend. Just pretend you forgot about that time you dislocated your shoulder last time you tried this trick. Pretend you never broke your tailbone on this same jump. When I wonder how on earth I even got myself into a situation standing at the top of a cliff over Lake Tahoe, I pretend. I act like I was born to do backflips off ramps. I’m an actress, an impersonator, a performer. I’m playing a character: Fearless Hanalei, the daredevil.
I almost feel it was not me who did the backflip off that ramp. It wasn’t me who jumped on that rail and balanced all the way to the end, or hit the big ramp with perfect speed. But somehow, I snap into character and do it again.
In an attempt to understand why someone like me was drawn to freestyle snowboarding, I think I’ve got an idea. It’s the satisfaction you get when you stomp that new trick. It’s the adrenaline jitters you get after doing something epic. It’s that horrible gut-feeling you get at the top of the jumps. It’s that floaty feeling you get in the air. Snowboarding is my medium for pushing my comfort zone. I rebel against how my “default mode” wants to act. I exercise authority over animal instinct.
That is why I ride.