In return for the post I wrote for snowboarding website Board Stylist recently, Board Styler Kaz Wilmer has written this awesome piece for Riding Switch, reflecting on her season spent in New Zealand. We are quite clearly on the same wavelength and I’m sure it’ll strike a chord with many of you too…
I dropped my snow buddy off at Heathrow, and carried his excess baggage on the X26 bus back towards Croydon. As I watched the planes take off from Heathrow into the sunset, a wave of sadness struck – two years ago this was me getting on a flight to New Zealand. I’d given up my job, left home and just got on a flight. What would stop me from doing that now? Text messages started to come through, some from people I barely knew, asking if I was OK, and offering places to stay if I needed. Slightly confused, I just put on some tunes and stared out the window.
The driver stopped and refused to go any further. Then my phone rang – my mother, obviously checking I’d not got on that flight to NZ too. Or maybe not – she was checking I’d got back to my flat. The riots had kicked off in Croydon, and things were just getting dirty. What was worse, I was armed with a half-empty suitcase and a Burton Custom 154.
Half an hour after finally getting home, my flatmate and I were running through the backstreets. Living above some shops, we had to get away, and hide in bushes until we could get picked up by our parents. It was frightening, trying to be inconspicuous in the darkness as kids legged it to town to get some free trainers. A text message came through from my snow buddy’s mum, saying she wished I’d got on the flight to Queenstown with him. At that moment in time, I’d never wished for anything more.
NZ was a far cry from the dark backstreets of Croydon. We had a house overlooking Lake Wakatipu, bordered by The Remarkables, behind which you saw the most epic sunsets known to man. We’d have a morning coffee overlooking the lake from our deck. It was so cold we’d be wrapped in our duvets while the steam warmed our noses from the coffee. On working mornings, we’d walk along the lake front, peacefully watching the boats sitting still on the water. The sunrise would turn the waters from a dark blue to purple and orange.
On riding days we’d be on the first bus up the mountain. It would be pitch dark and central town may have had a layer of thick cloud, but as you passed through the dark layer you’d reach the most perfect bluebird skies. Three weeks before the mountains opened, there was so much snow that my buddies and I hiked to ride some crusty fresh pow. A week after the mountain closed, there was so much snow that we did it again, watched only by the birds, and the mountain men taking apart the snow machines. We spent five days in vans, touring crystal lakes and club fields, driving empty roads which hadn’t been passed for hours or days.
But what made NZ so special was the community atmosphere. Whether it was the Winter Festival, the local schools or an evening on the deck, the community worked together to make people happy. Some local school children couldn’t afford to do the ski days, so other parents would anonymously pay for them to join in, even donating old ski clothes. On local charity sports days, the whole town would descend upon the rugby fields to enjoy the day. Within a week of arriving, I found myself leading a parade of 200 bongo drummers through the streets on the Winter Festival parade.
A month later, I volunteered for the Adventure Film Festival, the Burton NZ Open and the NZ Winter Games. I found myself part of the ‘slopestyle crew’, ‘halfpipe crew’ and the ‘big air crew’. From dragging sponsors’ flags up the mountain at 4am through to slipping the halfpipe before Shaun White’s winning run – everyone worked together to make the events special for everyone involved – from spectators to athletes. And that’s what made it so worthwhile. Even the prime minister gave the riders bear hugs.
Six weeks later, I picked my buddy up from Heathrow. I’d told him he’d love it more than anything – saying it’s not the epic snow you go for, but the whole experience. He said the first two days he was cursing me. By day four, he didn’t want to come home. He asked about what had happened that night he’d left, and I remembered hiding in the backstreets of Croydon. It made me realise how much of a community the snowboarding world is, and how much my buddies I’ve met along the way mean to me. Even that Canadian vicar recently highlighted the benefits of snowboarding through a PhD.
I’ve worked alongside a lot of these young offenders from that night, and what struck me is that they need a supportive community with aims and ambitions. They’ve nothing to look forward to – their elations come from stealing, not that epic feeling you get from shredding. They listen intently when I tell them about the deep powder of Japan, riding halfpipes, and hanging out with mates on deckchairs in the sun. They’re faced with something they’ve never dreamed of encountering, and that made me sad. Perhaps if more people worked together to let people know how much they mean to each other and what they can achieve, then we too could have a community people wouldn’t want to leave.