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Saturday, January 3, 2009
Updated: March 30, 6:25 PM ET
Fish Out Of Water

By Colin Whyte

Rollin' deep in more ways than one: 23 days of solid snowfall and 12 of the most influential surfers on the planet.

Within the surf/snow/skate pantheon, surfers remain the undisputed kings. After all, surfing was the stem cell that divided and mutated into these other forms of board-riding, and the sport of surfing remains the most difficult, dangerous and weather-dependant of the three. So what happens when the world's best surfers don snowboarding gear and venture into the British Columbia backcountry during one of the heaviest storm cycles in recorded history? Fun is what happens — double-overhead, pitted, floaty, measured-from-the-back fun.

Tony Hawk on a Fish but hardly out of water.
The first question is an obvious one: How does one end up in a private snowcat, strapping in next to the likes of Kelly Slater and Benji Weatherley with 4,300 acres of pow-blasted terrain to explore? The Fish Out Of Water trip was, first and foremost, a snowboarding-themed reunion for the Momentum surf films crew. Back in 1992, Taylor Steele's filmic combination of wave riding from Hawaiian powerhouses like Shane Dorian and explosive aerial action from what was then the New School vanguard — guys like Slater and Machado — made other endemic offerings look like home movies. Momentum went on to spawn both sequels and imitators by the dozen, and this week they were getting the band back together in the most unlikely of places: cold-ass Canada, inland.

"We're kind of spread out now," says O.G. Momentum charger and Vertra sunscreen founder Keoni Watson. "We're all on the North Shore at some point, but this crew hasn't done a trip together in a long, long time. Gosh, it's too bad it took a snowboarding trip to bring us all together!"

Surfers know better than most that trips will always be at the mercy of weather. Perhaps that's why this deep-rolling group of surf superstars arrived in Whistler during some of the softest, most powdery conditions in years. "This past week we've gotten so much new snow," says Watson. "In the first five days I think we saw the sun for a total of 25 minutes, and then to get a sunny day from morning to night is pretty rare indeed."

Shane Dorian snowboards "a week or two" every year and knows how to get some.

Powder this deep (breaking somewhere between hip and nipple on a powder board) can be challenging even to experienced shreds, and since Powder Mountain is all about exclusive snow access, there are no tracks to help you gauge even the groomers. Ditches and trannies that look like good launch pads often turn out to be pits of doom that grab your nose and yank you under if you aren't carrying enough speed. ("Remember: speed is your friend," says PMC co-owner Ken Achenbach, by way of advice.)

Add to this the fact half of these wave-riders came to Canada with seriously outdated step-ins, borrowed gear and boards more suited to eBay's vintage section and, well, you have a good recipe for hilarity. Luckily, hilarity was the very thing Weatherley was looking for as he and his crew shot HD for their new crossover flick, Life As A Movie. The video is all about getting action-sports stars out of their respective elements and into each other's.

This Momentum/L.A.A.M. combo saw Whistler's classic Alpine Lodge stuffed like some kind of surf advent calendar: Every time you open a window, a new surf star pops out! High-fiving on their way out of the lodge were Weatherley, both Taylors (Steele and Knox), Joe Curren, Keith Malloy, Ross Williams, Watson, Dorian and Slater. Snowboarders along for the ride included Todd "I always get the best shot" Richards, Dave Downing, and Jake frickin' Burton. Benji even brought some skaters along in the form of Tosh Townend and some dude named Tony Hawk. Regardless of how many days they'd spent on a snowboard, all of these guys were charging hard.

Makaha's Keoni Watson spends so much time snowboarding now that we're wondering whether he's gonna start getting hassled by locals when he gets back home to the break he grew up on. Surf-style backie-slash.

Shane Dorian, known for his big lines and casual fearlessness from Waimea to Teahupo'o, is one of the best snowboarders of this bunch and regularly rides a week or two a year with TGR's Jones boys in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He said of this group, "We're rolling pretty deep and it's pretty funny because everyone is on a different trip as far as snowboarding goes. We have a couple of guys who have snowboarded, like, once in their life." Dorian got taken down by an invisible powder ditch during one day of impossibly flat light, but he was out there charging cliffs, steep faces and throwing up wall-sized rooster tails like a pro. Strangely enough, given the absolutely bottomless pow up on Powder Mountain's snowcat tenure, he claimed the highlight of his trip was actually jumping off the second story railing at the lodge, attempting street tricks: "I stomped one of them! I did it four times and the third time I did it real good."

Slater was another story, and it was clear that the athleticism and balls-out mentality that have made him the most unstoppable surfer in history would translate to the mountain. For a moment it seemed as though we might lose him. The Whistler trip coincided with the weather window for the world famous Eddie Aikau invitational, and had the swell picked up, he and Dorian and possibly Watson would have flown out to pursue their primary passion: big waves. Luckily the wind went straight onshore at Waimea, and the trio was able to stick around.

Slater paddling out of another killer day at Powder Mountain Catskiing, Whistler, B.C.

When a few of the keener boys joined Whistler pros Annie Boulanger and Rube Goldberg on Blackcomb to ride the park, the nine-time [then eight-time] World Champion started hitting pro-sized park features. "Kelly loves the park," says Dorian. "He just loves to jump shit. He's like a little kid. We're riding with Rube and Annie, and they're amazing snowboarders hitting all this big shit, and he's like, 'I'm gonna hit that! I'm gonna hit that too!' And I was all, 'Kelly, you gotta realize: These guys get paid to do this. They're professionals.' But he didn't want to back down. Luckily he made it home safe and sound."

Cat access, as it turns out, is basically the snowboarding equivalent of a boat trip in surfing: You make your own schedule, you're self-sufficient, and whatever you find is pretty much all yours.

Hearing Slater explain to a curious Canadian guide the difference between First and Second Reef Pipeline was just as amazing as watching him hit kickers. The idea that anyone could have a level of knowledge so detailed about something so dynamic and so ... underwater was unreal. In between pitch-perfect Laird Hamilton impressions, these surf guys like to talk about boat trips to the Mentawais as casually as regular folks discuss visiting in-laws. Cat access, as it turns out, is basically the snowboarding equivalent of a boat surf trip: You make your own schedule, you're self-sufficient, and whatever you find is pretty much all yours.


All told, the group had two big days of backcountry action: One ridiculously deep overcast day where just falling down meant an Ironman workout getting up, and one perfectly sunny day with massive accumulation and temperatures cold enough to keep the pow light and airy.

The really deep, snowy day was all about leaning back so the backcountry dips and troughs didn't haul you under unawares. Seeing Abe, a 265-pound North Shore lifeguard, trying to ride bottomless powder for the first time will follow us to our graves but he just got up, ate another butter-tart and went back out into the elements with a big grin on his big ol' face. Taylor Knox, one of the most experienced surfers on the tour and former K2 Big Wave Challenge winner, stepped to the cliffs known as "Park & Huck" and took himself out with a tight neck from a flat landing. Keoni Watson, no stranger to Powder Mountain's shores, showed everyone his secret tree alleys and pillow lines, clearly stoked to be able to share his love of the snow with his surfing peers (along with his imported Island Princess Macadamia Nut Popcorn, a treat he's contractually obligated to bring with him on all trips to Whistler). Richards and Downing, both experienced surfers and pro snowboarders, gave subtle pointers on take-offs but clearly their "landing advice" was ignored as everyone from Weatherley to Hawk augured in and took their beatings, even in the most forgiving playground imaginable.

Todd Richards: self-explanatory.
A sayonara barbecue at PMC co-owner Ken Achenbach's stylish Whistler pad saw the entire group assemble one last time before various factions bailed to this or that surf trip, contest, or business meeting. Weatherley's Bud Lite sponsorship came in handy and the suds never tapped out. (The nice folks from Bud sent a truck full at the beginning of the trip.) With this much action-sports talent assembled in one room it was hard not to worry about some kind of disaster like a fire or bomb threat setting board sports back by 30 years, but everyone just enjoyed the fine food, mellow company and continued good vibes.

Shane Dorian, on his way to bed before bailing on Canada in the morning, said, "I heard it's been snowing at home. When I get there, I'm going to build a big kicker at Mauna Kea — try and learn some s---."

These surf gods bring enthusiasm with them when they hit the snow. I, for one, will never forget trading "hacks" and fake floaters with Slater, Dorian and Watson down the cat-road at the end of the day. And the fact that they paddled their snowboards across the flats instead of skating them somehow makes it even better. From now on, I'm only going snowboarding with surfers.

-- Colin Whyte / Redcard Writing Group