Sailing

Do snowboarding and sailing have anything in common? Perhaps more than you think.

The comparison came to me when I was cruising on my board at Vail. I was on a trail with the friendly snow: not powder, not groomed, not ice, but a nicely firm surface that was suitable for simply playing around. Mixing it up. Going fast. Going slow.

I glided almost effortlessly from one side of the trail to the other. Sometimes I stayed in the middle to spin in a circle as I continued the descent. At other times I “bombed it” for a short distance. But mostly, I took what the terrain gave me, gently riding up and down the small undulations of the trail.

The experience reminded me of sailing at its best. Both are best enjoyed on a sunny day. Both are best enjoyed when both are at shade that invigorates but is hard to describe. In both snowboarding and sailing, the blue is contrasted with white: the snow on the mountain, and the wake on the sea.

In both situations, the sportsman uses his skill and knowledge, an engineered product, the laws of physics, water, and an ever-changing natural environment to bring about physical, emotional, and even spiritual pleasure. In both situations, human will, shaped by “givens” of nature, whether they are wind and wave conditions, or snow conditions and the shape of the terrain.

Now, it may be that I’m overstating the comparison, but I’m not sure. While I have been a passenger on some sailboats, I’ve never been the captain. I’ve watched, and done as told. One day’s effort at windsurfing left me exhausted, and the opportunity for a repeat has never presented itself.

Speaking of variations of sailing, I have also gone parasailing. Twice. One trip took me 250 feet over the Gulf coast, near Tampa. A second took me 500 feet over Green Bay, off the Door County peninsula. Both events involved some of the elements I have mentioned above: blue skies, water, being shaped by the natural elements.

Yet there was one missing element: lack of control. Stand up on the boat, let the parachute fill with air, and go along for the ride. In snowboarding or in sailing, I had the choice of how to change my direction. On the parasail, I hung on for life and dared not make any changes. It was more of a passive experience. So I would give extra praise for snowboarding.

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