The Outsider: To Brock Little and the soul surfers
On Thursday the surfing world was hit with a bombshell: Brock Little, the tough-as-brass North Shore native known for tackling Hawaii’s biggest waves, died just a month after publicaly announcing he was diagnosed with cancer. He was 48 years old.
I know hardly anything about Little’s legacy and impact on the surfing community after 30 years. (He was even a Hollywood stuntman for flicks like “Transformers.”) I heard the news of his death through (what else?) a Twitter link posted by a friend of mine. She’s the New Jersey version of a mountain town local — a surfing fanatic who wakes before sunrise to catch the best winter waves. Her RIP tweet was simple enough to catch my attention, and then it was lost in a wave of @breckenridgemtn updates and random #tbt posts. So it goes.
Still, it made me want to learn more about Little. (Maybe it was the word “legend” in the link she tweeted.) I read his Wikipedia page — what amounts to learning more these days, I guess — and then started Googling. That’s when I fell down the Internet rabbit hole, browsing photos and tribute articles and more about a true legend of the sport. I’m no surfer, but his effortless sense of power and style is universal. Artful, in an intense way.
The same friend who tweeted in memory of Little was just in Colorado for her first (and likely only) day of snowboarding this season. It was equal parts fun, fascinating and familiar to watch her surf through the freak 8 inches of snow Copper got overnight late last weekend. She’d unconsciously lean back to weave her shoulders through turns — an East Coast surfer’s flowy upper body is made for powder riding — and had a tendency to pump through every fluffy snowbank, like the whitecaps at home. She also looked damn uncomfortable with her feet strapped to a board.
“I just want to move,” She said, talking about her cemented feet. Maybe the next time she’s out I’ll introduce her to snowskating. A few days after the surprise powder day, I met with Fairplay snowskate pro Clayton Conway and his crew at Breckenridge (look for the article and photos next week). One of his friends — East Coaster Angelica Clemmer, a veteran surfer who now splits time between Breck and California — said she prefers snowskating to snowboarding. Why? She can move and walk on the deck, much like she does on a surfboard. It just feels right.
This all got me thinking about big mountain skiing and snowboarding. Backcountry riding is like big-wave surfing: The two are more about thrills than structured competition, and the consequences can be very steep for anyone who isn’t ready to face Mother Nature. But that’s the point. You simply go. Soul surfing.
I recently interviewed a few coaches and athletes for an article about big mountain ski teams (see page A2 for the story). It’s a structured discipline built around a style of freeriding, just like the Titans of Mavericks big-wave comp that Little dominated for years. I would have loved to ask him what I asked the skiers: Have rules, tours and cash taken away from your sport?
The jury’s out on that one, but just about every athlete I interviewed agreed that they absolutely love big-mountain skiing. And, from what I hear about the legendary Little, he felt the same about surfing. Rest in peace.
Announcing the Red Bull Orbital Flight big air
A new event is coming to Breck, and this one promises to be unlike anything the mountain has hosted before. And this mountain has hosted a lot.
On March 19, Red Bull brings a nighttime big air to Freeway terrain park. Dubbed Orbital Flight, it’s a jam-session event scheduled to run from about 6 p.m. to midnight, with skiers like Breck local Bobby Brown duking it out from 8-9 p.m., followed by snowboarders like Eric Willett after 10 p.m. The Red Bull touch: a massive light and video show projected on jump. Oh, and it’s free.
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