I've been snowboarding for 16 long years.
In that time, I've become a pro at freeriding, which means I don't f*ck with terrain parks. I prefer carving scary steep slopes and floating through waist deep powder over hitting jumps and rails in the park.
My dad put me on skis at three years old. I switched to snowboarding around age 9, during my prime Tony Hawk obsession years. Yup. I used to skateboard, too.
Every year, from late December to early March, I spend weekends at ski resorts. While I prefer to go with my snowboard club, I'm just as happy hitting the slopes alone.
There's more to doing a sport than just the physical rewards. My snowboard addiction has given me buns of steel, but I'm mostly hooked on finding ways to improve and push my limits.
For me, snowboarding is not just a hobby, it's spiritual. Here are some of the most valuable life lessons I've learned from doing an extreme sport.
1. You have to laugh when you fall down.
When you first learn how to snowboard, you end up on your ass. A lot. Most people get frustrated and quit after the first few days, because falling on packed cold snow for five hours a day leaves you with bruises on your knees and your ego.
Falling always cracked me up. Sure, being young, flexible and lower to the ground helped too. Either way, my attitude got me through the tedious phase of mastering how to stay upright on a board.
When people tell me they want to learn how to ski or snowboard, I always say this: Snowboarding is hard to learn, but easy to conquer. Skiing is easy to learn, but hard to get good at. Determination is essential for learning how to snowboard.
You will fall. Bruises will happen. But as long as you have a sense of humor about it, failure is no big deal. You get back up and you keep going.
2. Keep your eyes set on where you want to go.
One of the most important rules in snowboarding is don't look down. If your eyes fall to the ground, so will you.
This lesson is especially important when learning how to turn and carve. Looking at what's in front of you when your body is doing something else seems scary, but you have to trust that your body will follow.
This approach applies to getting where I want to go in life, as well. My goals are in sight at all times and I try not to get distracted. Keeping my eyes on what I want ensures that it will become a reality.
3. You won't see changes unless you challenge yourself.
Like anything else, pushing yourself is the only way to get better at snowboarding. Practicing on the same terrain will only get you so far.
I force myself to ride trails that scare the sh*t out of me. This is my mantra: I can handle this, and it doesn't have to be pretty.
Challenges get the same treatment. I'll take the plunge on something new and figure it out on the way down. It doesn't have to be perfect.
Exploring new terrain makes me a better rider, but it also more confident in my abilities. Taking these risks expands what I believe I can do as a person, and it's incredibly rewarding.
4. You get over your fear of the unknown.
As someone who always has a plan, I like to know what's coming next. Snowboarding forces me out of that comfort zone. On the mountain, you can't always see what's around the next turn. You don't know what the terrain is going to be like just by looking at a map. Snow conditions vary.
You'll never find me on the same trail twice. When I try a new resort, my goal is to cover as much ground as physically possible. If I see terrain that looks scary, that means I have to try it.
Once I put myself there, I can't turn back. I'd rather take the risk of wiping out than pop my snowboard off and walk down.
I embrace the fear before experiencing the unknown. After quitting my job last year, I took a road trip by myself for the first time. I had no clue what to expect, but I knew I'd learn as I went along.
5. You'll find out what "zen" means to you.
When I'm strapped in and carving down the mountain, I get into a rhythm. I'm not thinking about work or how I can barely feel my toes. I just focus on my body and the slope in front of me.
My zen moments happen when I'm riding on that fine line between being in control and nearly eating it. It's the most badass feeling I've ever experienced, and I'm completely addicted.
Having a physical outlet boosts my self-esteem and helps me clear my mind at the same time. That's what zen is for me. Whenever I feel lost or down, I remind myself of what it's like to tear down a mountain as fast as possible.
Snowboarding has made me a stronger person. This sport has taught me about facing fear, having goals, pushing past my limits and finding inner peace. Also, it's really f*cking fun. You don't have to be a professional athlete to learn how to do an extreme sport like a pro.
Like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it.