Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

The secret to snowboarding is to get up more times than you fall down

We’re spending the weekend at Incline Village, at a place owned by a friend of my wife’s family. We haven’t been skiing in a couple years, and it’s always an adventure.

This year the kids both decided they wanted to try snowboarding. They were impressed by the snowboarders at the Olympics, and while they’re pretty good skiiers, they’re also young, so they have a good shot at learning new skills rapidly. (The neuroplasticity of kids never fails to impress me.)

via flickr

So this morning the kids and I rented boards (my wife, who’s skiied for some time, saw this as an opportunity to do some more challenging runs free of children, and took off for the lifts) and took a lesson. After a couple hours of training, and another hour or so of snowboarding on their own, the kids both decided to go back to skis, and in short order were throwing themselves down the hills. I decided to stick it out, and see if I could actually learn how to do this.

via flickr

Part of the reason I wanted to keep going is that I’m not a great skiier, and didn’t feel like I had a lot of embodied knowledge to undermine me. And after about half an hour, the two felt so different, I suspected I could go from one to the other without penalty. But mainly it was a challenge. In some ways, it’s desperately counterintuitive: you keep your balance and control the board by leaning far to the front, which is different from many other sports I’ve done. With each run, I felt myself getting marginally better– more comfortable going a little faster, better able to do the toe turns (which I figured out a lot faster than the heel turns, to my surprise– it seemed to me that the latter should be a lot easier).

But I still kept falling down– crashing out on heel turns that threw me on my back, catching an edge in a toe turn (less and less frequently), falling to keep from running into someone. After a certain point, my backside was really sore, my wrists were starting to complain, and my quads were killing me. But it became a point of pride to keep going.

via flickr

By the end of the day I was running pretty confidently. At one point I discovered, no kidding, that it helped to imagine Will Smith shouting “Aw Hell no!” when I was starting to wobble. And, while my shoulders are sore and I really don’t enjoy sitting, I feel better than if I had switched to skis.

Perhaps I’m turning into a masochist, or maybe this is a sign of maturity, but I find I’ve reached a point in my life where the rewarding things are difficult, or have serious costs. But I find my capacity for doing hard stuff is going up proportionately. I’m better able to push through muscle fatigue when I’m lifting weights. I can be more mindful about how hunger and mental alertness are associated (food is turning into a narcotic, I’m afraid), and just stay away from food during the day, knowing that there’s a significant upside that’s worth the cost.

via flickr

You have to accept falling down a lot and getting hurt. And then you have to get back up and keep going.

[To the tune of Kuni Kawachi & Friends, “Kirikyogen,” from the album Love, Peace & Poetry: Japanese Psychedelic Music (a 3-star song, imo).]


  1. Do you remember how long it took you to learn how to ski and how that compares to this? I found snowboarding much more intuitive than skiing, and it sounds like you had a different experience.

    Now I’m wondering why I thought it was easier, but it is hard to remember learning something after years have passed by, I just remember that it took me over a week to feel comfortable with skiing but I was happily snowboarding by the end of the first day, as you are.

  2. I think skiing was a little easier, one I figured out the turns. But I still can't stop as quickly as I can on a snowboard!

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