As of yesterday, Heath Joske hadn’t been on a snowboard in 13 years – too busy chasing surf around the world. Now, after a wrong turn, he’s boot-packing with pro boarders Robin Van Gyn and Forrest Shearer in the backcountry of New Zealand’s Southern Alps
There’s an unwritten rule in Wanaka that when it snows like it did last night, you’re half-expected to cut from work or school (maybe at least for the morning) to take advantage and get in a few runs. Well it dumped almost two feet of fresh powder overnight and we’re looking at a bluebird day.
Robin and I are stoked to be chasing winter here in New Zealand, and it’s even better that we get to show our buddy Heath a bit of our world on the mountain.
We’d all gotten in a few good runs before Robin and I peeled off to the left to stretch our legs away from the crowds, boot packing up to check out the ridgeline. We’re headed back up after a run and I hear “Case!...Hey! Casey!”
Someone is calling out behind me, but it’s just me and Robin on this side of the mountain. We had started as a four-some but Heath Joske and Glen Casey, both surfers, were sticking to the groomed runs. As of yesterday, Heath hadn’t even been on a snowboard in 13 years – too busy chasing surf around the world.
“Casey!” I hear again. I turn around to see Heath trudging towards me. “Shit mate, I only followed you because I thought you were Glen,” he says, frustrated, exhausted. But I was glad to see him. If we’d left it up to Heath to decide he’s ready to go off-piste with us, it might not be this trip.
“Hell yeah, brother! You’ll be alright” I say with a pat on the shoulder. I reckon this is my favourite crossover to watch these days. Surfers may be out of the water and out of their element, but as soon as they get on the mountain and strap into the board, the froth is real.
“I’m still figuring out how to get off the bloody lift” he says, sounding defeated as we boot pack up a chute. Robin points out to me that “even though he feels like he’s out of his depth, he wasn’t anxious until he realized you were the wrong person. He was totally doing it.” She’s so right, it’s easy to get intimidated when you’re in a new arena, especially with people who are so at home there. We’ve both been there before, and will be again when we go surfing in a few days.
But right now we’re still on a good 45-minute thigh-burner and he’s not just keeping up, Heath’s actually out ahead head of us. Ocean or not, he’s still a top athlete.
Finally on the other side, the mountain opens up into an epic view and a landscape of options, and for a moment we’re just awe-struck, taking it in. Heath breaks the silence. “I was shitting bricks back there,” he shares from the safety of semi-flat ground.
“You’re good, Heath! Just do what you know how to do,” encourages Robin.
Then there’s nothing left to do but drop in. Right away we’re cruising some wide open, uncrowded terrain. For the first time, Heath has a length of proper powder to just glide from turn to turn and let his surf style come out. You can’t do that on the groomed runs, especially on the best snow day of the year.
It’s a perfect day of riding with friends, watching each other rip turns and seeing my buddy quickly adapt his technique from the ocean and apply it to the mountain, surfing long, frozen waves, and conquering a few burly hike missions with Robin and myself.
Ultimately whether on the mountain or in the ocean, we’re all just after that feeling of flying, and getting to share it only fuels the fire. There’s something so gratifying about taking someone with you who you know will love it, and getting to show them your world.
Next we’ll be in on the coast in Heath’s world. Hopefully he’s not holding a grudge about that hike we took him on.
Above: His surf style is mirrored on the mountain when he finds some open terrain.
Snowboarding on the South Island made possible by ExploreWanaka.com.