Yesterday I and a friend of mine brought some of our kids up snowboarding. I have long considered Homewood on the Tahoe West Shore one of my favorite places to ride, and decided it would be fun to bring us all there. For my friend and his son this had been their first time up in a few years, and might be their only time coming up this season.
As we were hitting the various runs, I noticed that my friend’s son was only riding on his heel side edge. This is common for many snowboarders. they learn how to ride generally straight, or they learn to break on their heel-side edge or slide down on their heels on steep slopes. For many snowboarders, this is as far as they ever get. I’ve gone up with some riders who have ridden a few days a season, and even well into their thirties and forties, they are still only able to go straight or go heel-side.
As is often the case when I snowboard with friends, I cannot help but morph into a teacher (it’s an annoying trait, I know), but I asked him why he wasn’t doing toe-side turns? He shrugged and mumbled, and I suggested, if he was interested, that I could teach him how to do toe-side turns. It’s really not that hard to do, once you get the technique down. I even offered to share with him my “secret sauce” technique that has worked with everyone that has ever tried it. He moderately agreed to give it a try, and with that, I went up the hill to an open run, and gave him the following piece of advice.
When we snowboard, the most critical thing we can do is keep the center of gravity right between the balls of our feet. To do this, I asked him to visualize how he would carry a 5 gallon water bottle, full, for a distance of 100 yards if he had to. Some smart-alec’s will say “throw it on my shoulder” because they want to look macho, but most of us, when pressed, will likely say that we’ll carry it right in front of us, with our hips helping to support the weight. This is the answer I was after, because if he could visualize how to walk while carrying this, he would realize where his center of gravity would be.
I then asked him to flip over and stand up on his toe side edge, and practice doing the exercise while determining just how much edge he needed to get moving and stop. For many of the people I’ve shown this idea to, they have been able to pick up on it in just a few minutes. In this case, though, while he would momentarily get it, each time I tried to get him to go further, to commit to the turn, he would panic, lose it, and crash. His frustration would take over at that point and he would get mad, or punch the now, shout “I can’t do this!” or some other thing. Net result, he came dangerously close to doing it, but at the last moment, he’d bail on it, and ultimately i just had to say “well, there’s the technique”. You know what you need to do. Commit to it and you’ll get it.”
Sometimes the most frustrating things when it comes to teaching a new skill is getting over the “commit” phase. We know that we want to do something, we can rationally understand why it would be god to do something (rationally, we understand that linking heel-side and toe-side turns gives us much better control, lets us ride a lot faster, and cover much more terrain comfortably). Still, it’s one thing to say it, it’s another to really be wiling to tell ourselves “I’m going to make this turn, even if by doing so I’m going to crash, hit the snow, and it’s likely going to hurt”. Fact is, at that point, it stops being fun, and for many people, they would rather just stick with what they know rather than go into that “punishment zone”. Making the decision to commit, and go through with it, no matter how hard, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how scary, is a real leap of faith, and a real act of courage. Often, we get to the point where we master the goal, and we then say “huh, that wasn’t such a big deal!” but leading up to it, oh yes, it absolutely is.
This need to commit, no matter the price shows up in everything. It shows up when we want to learn new testing skills. It comes up when we want to code. It comes up whenever we need to branch out into a new technical skill or gain domain knowledge of any kind. We can have all the tools and all the techniques at our disposal. Sometimes, we can just walk the steps and presto, it’s all good. Sometimes, though, there’s a wall we have to go over, or around, or sometimes just punch through, and at those times, tools, techniques, skills, mentors, none of that matters. Those are the moments when we are alone with our own “lizard brains” and we have to make the decision, right then and there, to commit. If we do, we will likely come out the other side better for the experience. If we don’t, we can go on as we already have. Either way, the choice is always up to us, but if we want the reward… “‘ya gotta’ commit!”