Editor’s Letter | The D.I.Y. Issue – February 2016
Here's what this month's long reads have in store
The first time I ever tried snowboarding, I headed out with my brother, my cousin and a family friend and (to borrow a phrase from Nike) we just did it. Or at least, we tried to.
It was my first ever winter sports holiday and having decided skiing was something boring parents did, we’d excitedly chosen boards (complete with 90s step-in bindings) instead of skis from the rental shop. Sensibly, our parents had booked us a lesson for the following morning, but that was hours away. There was a chairlift nearby where they weren’t checking passes and we thought (in all our 12-year-old wisdom): “How hard can this be?"
"There was a chairlift nearby where they weren’t checking passes and we thought 'How hard can this be?'"
It was very cold and nearly dark by the time we made it down. My cousin had sprained his wrist and my coccyx was so bruised I couldn’t sit down for a week. But if our gung-ho ‘do it yourself’ approach seemed regrettable at the time, with the wisdom of hindsight I’m not sure it was an entirely bad idea.
We actually taught ourselves a lot by just trying it. And as anyone who’s learned to link turns will tell you, snowboarding is a sport where theory can only get you so far. There’s a moment when it just clicks, when you just get it. Having an instructor on hand will definitely help you reach that point quicker, but it’s still something that you have to feel for yourself.
The same is true of all adventure sports. No amount of practising popping up on the beach will actually prepare you for what it feels like when you catch your first wave for example. As you progress this only becomes even more apparent - just because someone explains the physics to you, doesn’t mean you can kickflip a skateboard. These are activities that reward people who are prepared to get stuck in, get out there and just give something a go.
Ski writer Matt Carr found that out for himself this month when he eschewed a carefully-prepared package holiday to the Alps in favour of a last minute DIY mission - and scored some of the best powder of his life in the process.
On the other side of the pond Alf Alderson took a similar approach, swapping a fixed base in resort for a motorhome. This meant he and his crew could be flexible about their plans and decide on a daily basis which Canadian resort they fancied riding, depending on where the snow was best.
"It didn’t exactly go according to plan - I triggered an avalanche on the way down"
Given that learning these adventurous activities requires a bit of get up and go, it’s perhaps no surprise that the people who get really good at them are also good at making things happen for themselves. Sam Haddad’s fascinating investigative piece this month takes a look at how a DIY, punk rock approach that developed out of necessity has shaped women’s professional skateboarding, making it arguably more vibrant than the men’s scene. As she explains: “[It’s] still small, with few participants, very little money involved and barely any outside recognition or brand support. And it’s so much more interesting for that."
The lack of financial backing given to adventurous women is sadly something that Jacki Hill-Murphy, who we interviewed this month, has also encountered. As she explains though, she’s never let that stop her, simply funding her intrepid adventures herself.
Of course going it alone can carry risks, whether that’s the pain of not reaching your stated goal, like cyclists Russell Stout and Fraser Glass (who were forced to pull out of an attempt to ride across Europe) or the more serious pain facing rock climber Dave MacLeod who - after a nasty fall on a failed attempt - eventually climbed what was then the world’s most difficult route in 2006. But by taking risks and pushing yourself to do something new you usually learn something new, as Vernon Deck, the photographer behind the aptly-named video series Learning by Doing explains in his interview.
That could be how to survive a storm with very little experience of sailing, something Deck had to learn on the job. Or it could be something slightly less risky (though no less out there) like the correct way to skin a dead animal you’ve found on the side of the road and prepare it for dinner - something Poppy Smith learned, slightly reluctantly, when her boyfriend started doing just that. Plus as Dave MacLeod explained, adventure wouldn’t be adventure if it didn’t involve risks and novelty. “Adventure has that uncertainty," he said. “[When] you have to make it up as you go along [...] there’s something a bit special and a bit creative about that which I really like."
This is something I experienced for myself this month, scaling a remote peak in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia with my snowboard to ride a line that no-one had ever attempted before. It didn’t exactly go according to plan - I triggered an avalanche on the way down - but I managed to emerge unscathed.
In that, it actually felt remarkably similar to my very first run on a snowboard (which also hadn’t gone to plan). Both felt very new and adventurous at the time and although they involved taking risks (and there are bits I would rather not repeat) they taught me a lot. The main lesson I took from those two runs, some 18 years apart, was that if you’re after an adventure, sometimes you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new off your own back. This issue’s long reads are a celebration of that idea.
I hope they inspire you to get out there and do it yourself.
– Tristan, Editor-in-Chief
Keep your eyes peeled for our Origins Issue, dropping next month