The 80 Year Old Who Conquered Everest. Age Is Just A Number To These Four Inspirational Action Sports Heroes
'I want to see how young I can get...'
Actions sports are synonymous with youth. Picture a snowboarder, and most people think of somebody in their mid-twenties.
Your mental image of a skaterboarder’s probably somebody even younger. Right at the top end of the scale, you might think of a skier, in their late 30’s, flailing off a mogul.
Take a look at one of the major competitions and this stereotype is reinforced by the fact that the average age of competitors is decreasing annually.
"Age is irrelevant"
American skater Mitchie Brusco won an X Games Big Air medal when he was 15. Moody Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano picked up a Winter X Silver in the halfpipe aged just 14!
However, the fact that young pups are dominating the headlines doesn't mean that action sports are closed off to older people chasing that adrenaline buzz.
If you’ve reached the age where you can’t bend over without making a pained groan, all is not lost. Far from it in fact. Here are some inspiring people proving that age is just a number.
There are very good reasons why Yuichiro Miura gets referred to as “the most interesting man in the world". Back in 1970, aged 38, Miura became the first person ever to ski down Mount Everest.
Just let that sink in for a second...
There’s no chair lift. No mountain side café serving €35 bowls of Austrian dumplins. Just ice, rocks, howling winds, days of punishing climbing followed by a brain freezingly steep descent.
In a bid to combat the speed generated by pointing it down the highest mountain on the face of the planet, Miura packed a parachute.
However, the ‘chute failed after 1.2 miles of death defying skiing, leaving the dare devil to fall and slide on his body for a further quarter of a mile. The whole project was filmed and later turned into an Oscar winning documentary in 1975.
Skiing down Everest and picking up an Oscar for the trouble would be enough for most people to dine out on for a lifetime, but not our friend Yuichiro.
In 2003, aged 70, he went back to Everest and became the oldest man to climb the highest mountain on the face of the planet. When a 71 year old took his record, Miura climbed back to the top of the mountain again, aged 75.
Last year, still not content, 80 year old Miura got the bug again and packed his carabiners one last time. As you'd imagine, the ascent was punishing, but the descent almost killed our hero.
Exhausted, the octogenarian lost all strength in his legs and, virtually paralysed below the waist, had to be helped down by Sherpa guides and his son – a renowned freestyle skier in his own right.
Now fully recovered, Yuichiro Miura has promised to take things a little easier. Somehow, we can’t quite picture him at bridge night down at the retirement centre.
Aged 70, Gwyn Haslock is probably Britain’s oldest surfer. The Cornwall resident has been surfing for over half a decade, and can still be found catching waves in Truro, several days a week.
Gwyn’s dad Fred Haslock was a surfer, as was her old brother Rob, so it’s no surprise that she grew up riding a board. She started belly boarding in the 1950’s, back when the boards were just small, flat pieces of wood.
After a few years, Gwyn had progressed to weighty 10 foot boards, and was given the ultimatum that she – or anybody else for that matter – could only surf the local spots if she was strong enough to carry her own board.
"age is just a number"
Gwyn started entering surf competition in 1965, competing with the men as there were no female-only comps at the time.
By the end of the decade, organisers had got the message and added women only competitions to their schedule. Of course, Gwyn dominated, and became the first ever Ladies British Surfing Champion.
What might be the most inspiring thing about Gwyn’s story is that you get the impression that all of this is absolutely normal. She’s not a surfer in her 70‘s. Not a novelty. No, Gwyn’s just a surfer. Age is irrelevant - something we could all learn from.
At 61, Donna Vano is the oldest professional snowboarder still competing at national competitions regularly. That fact alone would be enough for most peoples personal highlight reel, but Vano is somewhat of an action sports super woman.
She’s been a professional skier, inline skater, and is in the Guinness Book Of Records for being the oldest pro female pro vert skater.
Wait, there’s still more. In her late 30’s Dona involved herself heavily with the United States of America Snowboarding Association.
The USASA has taught thousands of kids to snowboard over the years, including Elena Height, Jamie Anderson and somebody called Shaun White - all of whom Donna has mentored.
Vano didn’t learn how to snowboard herself until she was 41, but quickly turned pro and is still competing in national competitions today.
Neal Unger is a 60 year old skateboarder from California. He claims to be just a beginner, only taking it up a couple of years ago.
As the man himself says; he only knows about 10-20% of the beginner tricks, but you get the sense that filling his trick bag isn’t why Unger gets on his board.
His philosophy on his own skating is pretty holistic, improving physically but also using his time on the board to explore and relax his mind.
"action sports aren't closed off to older people chasing the buzz"
While he puts it in terms that many of us probably wouldn’t consider, surely most – if not all of us - do what we do because it keeps us fit, but also makes us happy, and distracts us from the tedious facts of modern life: bills, deadlines, work, arguments ...
Neal must look a little out of place while waiting to drop in at his local park, towering above the pre-teen beginners. But when he starts riding, he just looks like a skateboarder. A skateboarder and an inspiration.