Guest Post: Snowboarding for the mind by Tim Owen


Today, I'm going to talk about the positive impact that snowboarding has had on my life.

I always hated sports in school. P.E always felt like such a chore, and I hated the inevitable bullying that came with it because I sucked at seemingly everything.

Looking back, I think the biggest issue was that schools mostly teach kids team sports, where one guy can ruin for it the entire team. When you're always that guy, that gets really old really fast!

I suspect the emphasis on team sports is to encourage cooperation, but to my mind it always seemed to just encourage more boisterous competition and separation.

I remember liking running, tennis and badminton but that was honestly the only physical activities I enjoyed during my school years.

Then there was a revelation. Towards the end of my teenage years I got a job at an indoor snow slope. Something about the simultaneous badassery and down-to-earth attitudes of the snowboarders really appealed. They were always smiling, whooping, cheering and having an absolute blast while riding. I wanted some of that in my life. To my eyes then, snowboarding was and still is one of the coolest things in the world.

At the risk of skipping to the end, I'm now a snowboard instructor. This is my seventh year of teaching. Just yesterday, I had a kid on a lesson who asked me: "what do you like best about snowboarding?"

Firstly, I told her what a brilliant question that was (because I'm a damn good instructor!) but I also had to tell her that it's hard to pick a single specific thing.

Snowboarding isn't really a sport, it's a lifestyle, a culture. An attitude. It's a method of self expression where my board is my brush and the snow is my canvas. It enables me to experience things others would not, and to be someone more than I am. It elevates me, and it humbles me. It challenges me, and it relaxes me. Picking the one thing I like best about this beautiful, beautiful 'sport' is extremely difficult.

On further consideration of my answer, I settled on one thing that I think trumps it all. Snowboarding is an adventure. Travelling to the mountains, gearing up to protect myself from the weather and battling the elements while I ride, it never feels ordinary. It's never not exciting. I get to see staggering sights, breathe in deep lungfuls of the freshest air, and stand on top of the world. It's so liberating. It's exhilarating.

Hopefully, you can already see why snowboarding has had such a positive influence on my life. It changed my attitude towards the nature of sport, it became my career, it's hugely expanded my social circles and it's helped me carve an identity for myself. Snowboarding is who I am, not just something I do.

Of all the many things I love about snowboarding, it's the infinite value of the lessons that it teaches me.

OK, so I fell over, but if I pick myself up and keep trying not only will I overcome my initial challenge, but I'll be laying the foundations to build on and achieve more. There's no end game here, I can't master this sport - and that continually drives me to be better and to improve my skills.

Those are lessons that everyone could learn from. Learn how to pick yourself up, and always strive to be better.

When it comes to struggling with mental health issues "be better" has been a guiding force to help me mitigate my lows. "Be better" doesn't tell me how much better, it's intentionally vague and ill defined. If yesterday I became so overwhelmed with anxiety that I could barely leave my bed, then "be better" just means getting up and having my morning shower. Already, that's better than yesterday.

It's a deeply powerful motivational tool, and it's something I learned from snowboarding.

You know something else I love about it? It's for me. It's mine and mine alone. Yes, there are millions of people who snowboard, but I'm the only person who rides like me.

I don't have to impress anyone else with my snowboarding, only myself. Even then, I ride because I want to ride, because it makes me feel good. Because just spending time on my board brings me a sense of freedom and fun that is so far beyond words. It's so deeply personal, and yet when I share my stories of my struggles with nailing a new trick, or the time I was alone and my binding broke off my board while still attached to my foot, I feel so connected to the wider community. We all get it. It's a family and a support network.

For better or for worse, every person who rides brings something to the greater whole.

Shaun White? Sure he's great in the pipe, but he can't ride for shit. And as an experienced instructor, I can say that with substantial authority. Trust me folks, Shaun White's technical riding is absolute garbage. But he wins medals in the halfpipe because that's his thing.

For myself, I'm not particularly great at freestyle. But could I out ride almost anyone with only one foot attached to my board? Will I always try something new, regardless of how out of reach it might seem? And am I excellent at teaching people how to progress in this sport? You're goddamned right I am. These are my gifts. These are my personal contributions to the sport.

Snowboarding helps me to recognise my postive attributes and builds my self confidence like nothing else. It's never a case of "I don't think I can achieve this particular skill," but knowing that with sheer brute force practice and perseverance I'll eventually lock down something that might previously have been beyond me.

Persistence within my sport gives me the strength I need to push through my anxiety when things get tough for me. Hard work in snowboarding translates to the hard work I have to keep up to overcome my anxiety disorder. That's utterly invaluable.

What does snowboarding mean to my mental health?

It's that a plank of wood and some bindings can be therapy, guidance, philosophy and meditation. Snowboarding brings calm, excitement, unity, humility, identity and abundant joy. It is an exploration both external and internal. It is my life. My love. It sustains me when I'm low. It inspires me and encourages me always.

Snowboarding proves that reality can be better than fantasy. It shows me that despite all the noise in my brain, I can still achieve the incredible. Snowboarders love talking to snowboarders. Hell, even Travis Rice was stoked to hear about my snowboarding experiences and he's probably the best on the planet!

Did I mention snowboarding allowed me to meet one of my heroes? Because it totally did. And outside of that, it allows my friends to be my heroes and inspiration too. When I see my riding buddies pushing their limits, or doing something amazing, I can't tell you how hyped I get. It's bloody brilliant!

I'd like to end by giving my eternal thanks to Jake Burton Carpenter and Tom Sims, the godfathers of modern snowboarding.

Thank you for reading.

Author: Tim Owen