Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Which is more difficult, surfing or skiing? Can you believe that anyone would waste valuable time debating this ridiculous question? Surfing is way harder.
Anybody can ski. It is child’s play. I’ve been doing it since I was a toddler. It’s as simple as pulling on four layers of winter clothing, locating gloves, helmet, ski pass, wool socks, sunscreen, goggles, hand warmers, neck gaiter, and the gold card (Oh, yes you need that!), then lugging all of this along with your skis, boots, and poles to the mountain. After this, it only gets easier.
Once on the slopes, a skier shakes and clenches to clamp down stubborn boot buckles, clicks into his bindings, stands up, zips his pockets, adjusts goggles, blows the nose, falls down, stands up again, catches his breath, and lets gravity do the work from there. You don’t have to catch the mountain as it rolls up behind you. You don’t have to time your descent and skate like crazy to catch the slope before it scoots past you. You don’t have to spring up from your belly and balance yourself before a foaming torrent of snow breaks across your back and smashes you into the rocks. You just check the grooming report and head to the softest, smoothest, most effortless slope available. The ski patrol, trail groomers, and real estate sales people dressed up as “mountain hosts” will do everything in their power to make sure that there are no surprises waiting for you.
In rare moments of honesty, between boasts of “thigh deep” powder runs on fat skis with tips wider than snow shovels, “huge” air off blue groomer catwalks, and sips of micro-brewed embellishment, skiers have to admit that the greatest skill required in their sport today is being acutely adept at budgeting.
None of these things are true with surfing. The ocean rocks and rolls. Trying to balance on a long, thin board on top of this mercurial surface is nothing short of miraculous. Even if you happen to master standing upright with such unsure footing beneath, actually catching a wave is an art form in and of itself. Timing, strength, balance, agility, and patience are all necessary to even have a chance at catching a wave.
The economics of surfing are simple, too. A used van (preferably VW), a couple swimsuits (a nice one to wear with a button down Hawaiian shirt for dress-up), a dozen or so surf boards (by far a surfer’s largest investment), sunscreen (entirely optional), and maybe a wetsuit for cold wintertime waters are about all you need. What, and all this for about the price of a week’s worth of lift tickets at Aspen, in low season with a discount coupon? Obviously there are few financial or logistical obstacles to taking up the sport. So, why do so few people do it? It’s not because people prefer frostbite and windburn to bleached blond hair and sun burn. It’s because surfing is physically more challenging, and because you can’t hide the middle-age roll in a pair of baggies as easily as you can beneath a down parka and snow pants.
But, we could talk theory all day long without proving anything. With that in mind, I recently ventured to San Diego to do research. I put my wife in charge of logistics and she arranged for our entire family to take lessons at the Surf Diva surfing school, mostly because of their stellar reputation as renowned experts in the field of surfrology and partly because they were conveniently located.
The first thing I noticed in their shop was that there were only bikinis, pieces of jewelry, pastel colored boards, and sun dresses for sale there. I figured it was a place where a lot of chicks hang out, further proof of how cool the sport is.
On the beach our lean and mean, no-nonsense, hard and seasoned surf pros talked us through the Zen qualities of beach life. According to Nicole and Lindsay, the fact that we and they alike were an hour late to the lesson and nobody seemed to worked up, was proof that we were already surfers. We talked the basics of surfing and practiced paddling and springing up on our boards while they were firmly lying on the beach. When it was time to get in the water we were already exhausted.
The girls (and I call them that with utmost surfer deference) taught us how to carry our boards on our heads to make it easier. I was fine with that until we passed two surfer dudes carrying their boards under their arms and I realized my arms, too, were plenty long enough to carry my board comfortably in that masculine style.
Before entering the water we had to put on colored vests to distinguish ourselves as students. This was so our instructors could easily spot us and so that the local surfers would hopefully extend some mercy if we inadvertently floated into their territory. I was surprisingly comfortable with the too tight fit and decidedly feminine floral print.
The rest of the morning was spent with shrieks from Nicole and Lindsay in my ears: “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” “Up, up, up!” “Oooooh!” They are sounds I will hear in my sleep for some time.
In assessing our overall performance I would give myself good grades for being able to catch waves, but performed poorly in keeping the nose of my board from pearl diving and launching me catapult style face first into the sand. My kids were really nimble and quick in standing up. My wife was pretty good all around and looked very cute in a tight wetsuit.
The morning after our Surf Diva experience, my deltoid muscles were sore to the pressure that a T-shirt exerted on them, the tops of my feet were rubbed raw from scrapping across the board when trying to stand, both hips were bruised from shallow water landings, my nose was sunburned, and my ears were full of sand. So tired was I that standing in the long line for the Shamu show at Sea World seemed like a luxury. If only skiing could afford me that sense of accomplishment.
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High Points: “Now I don’t want to be an apologist for the Aspen Skiing Company, but to me $199 to ski the crown jewel of American skiing during the height of what is traditionally the busiest time of year is a total bargain.”