Old Friend Fear

Sara Owen
Solstice 2013

“Yotei is not a challenging climb. It’s a six-hour walk – no ropes, no crampons. All you’ll need is a pair of snowshoes and a couple of Asahis,” my husband assures me. He knows mentioning my other love – beer – will help me forget about my fears, if only for milliseconds. “What about Friday’s surf spot? What kind of break is it?” I wait for his response but don’t get one. He’s lost his battle with jet lag, and he’s out cold. I lay awake for hours on my lumpy tatami, first imagining myself triumphantly at the top of the volcano and then fighting to keep pace with the trail guide.

We begin at dawn, and I practically run up Yotei for the first couple of hours. With no other tracks in sight and an empty parking lot below, I know I have to keep up. The conditions are challenging with waist-deep snow, clouds that look like last night’s unfiltered sake and a crew of pro snowboarders who manage our quick ascent while munching on sushi and fidgeting with camera settings. Midway up I have to convince my legs to carry me over the remaining gully walls with the promise of a powder-filled descent.

At the top of the slope, I’m the last to drop in. The nose of my board dips just slightly, then pops up through the powder. The face is so wide open and the snow so light that I can go as fast as I want. Charging down the mountain I find a few unslashed windlips and leave my mark. The gully tightens and I catch up with the pack. Bunched up as we are, there’s still an untouched line for each of us all the way to the bottom.

The following day we’re to head to the coast for a cold-water surf. I’m in bed by 8 p.m., but my old friend Fear keeps me awake. I try my best to visualize Gerry Lopez’s laidback style on massive barrels but images of waves pummeling me and holding me down keep creeping in.

Before the sun rises, we hop in the Delica and make our way to a secret surf spot. I’m told there’s a beach there, but all I can see from the van is a foot and a half of snow. From the jetty, the waves look rideable – shoulder high at most – but it’s frigid. I look around, half seriously, for floating ice and wish that I had worn two sets of baselayer under my dry suit.

My breath is taken away instantly as my body hits the board and the ocean spills onto it. I shout to my husband back on the beach, but the words freeze inside my throat. As I paddle out, I try desperately not to duck-dive or let my toes dangle in the brutally cold water too long. The waves are short and punchy and hard for a novice like me to catch, but I stand up on a few and smile with frozen lips. At the end of the session I sprint to the hot water tubs and strip.

Shivering in the back seat of the van, I start to ask my husband about our plans for the following day, but I pause after two words realizing that nearly two feet of snow on the beach means perfect pillow fields tomorrow.

About the Author

Sara Owen was born and raised at the foot of British Columbia’s North Shore Mountains. She’s now an expat working from Portland, Oregon, but would live anywhere, so long as there are mountains and a coastline nearby.