Vail senior gets invite to Burton US Open
EAGLE COUNTY – Vail Mountain School senior Rakai Tait was introduced to competitive snowboarding through the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in Stratton, Vermont, when he was 12.
Competing in the kids portion of the competition, the Junior Jam, Tait dreamed of one day making it to the main event. Last year, his younger brother Taiaroa Tait competed in the Junior Jam, taking second and impressing officials enough to give him a spot in the actual Open. Rakai made his way up to the top of the halfpipe to watch his brother, poached a quick run as is tradition at the U.S. Open and vowed next year he wouldn’t have to steal his U.S. Open halfpipe moment.
When the invites went out this season, however, Rakai Tait’s name wasn’t on them. Nevertheless, he thought, it was a good season — he competed in World Cup events at Copper and Mammoth and even made it to the Olympic test event in Korea. Then, on Saturday, exactly one week from this year’s U.S. Open halfpipe finals, Tait received the call.
“Kwang-ki Lee had dropped out, all of a sudden there was a spot open,” Tait said. Two days later, Tait was wearing an official U.S. Open bib, practicing his run in Vail’s halfpipe with no poaching necessary. “I’m working on method, frontside 7, cab double 1080, front 9, back 9 and a front 1080 to finish it off,” he said. “I’m definitely super stoked to be the local guy on a local board, repping Weston snowboards, in an event that’s right in my back yard.”
Tait was born in California, lived in Switzerland when he was 7 years old and learned to snowboard there, lived in New Zealand for a few years after that and obtained citizenship and now lives in Eagle County.
His mother is a teacher at Vail Mountain School and his father is a social worker for Eagle County. They like to travel, but have always put Rakai and Taiaroa’s interests first. And ever since that brief stint in Switzerland where Duane and Kim Cope Tait, the boys’ parents, worked as teachers for a few years, Rakai and Taiaroa have considered themselves alpine dwellers in their hearts.
“We’re both surfers so we were a little bit perplexed by having these mountain kids,” Kim Cope Tait said. “We took a few years figuring out where we want to be, but Eagle County really feels like home, it reminds us of old Santa Cruz where Rakai and Tairoa were born. It’s a great lifestyle that really balances athletics and academics.”
Hopeful FOR OLYMPICS
Rakai Tait’s grade point average at Vail Mountain School is a 3.6. He is considering attending Western State University because he has already been accepted to the honors program there. He wants to study journalism, but he also wants to pursue his snowboarding. Later this year, Tait plans to compete for New Zealand at the World Championships halfpipe competition in Spain. There’s also a high probability that Tait will compete in the Olympics next year.
Through it all, though, Tait’s fondest snowboarding memories are of that first U.S. Open in Vermont, he says, where he watched stars like Benji Farrow, Kazu Kokubo and Louie Vito. “It was my first contest ever, I had no idea what was out there besides from videos, and seeing that inspired me so much to keep trying,” he said.
“Seeing that whole atmosphere and seeing the contest, all these snowboarders that either I looked up to or hadn’t heard of, all of a sudden they were in my life and the whole snowboarding scene just blew up in my mind right then and there. It opened my eyes to what was possible, I just remember thinking to myself I really, really want to do this one day.”
In Thursday’s halfpipe semifinals, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Vail’s Golden Peak halfpipe, Tait will compete against Vito, whom he remembers being inspired by at that U.S. Open in 2011.
“It’s crazy to think about, I’ve been watching some of these guys for so long,” Tait said. “I can’t wait to see what everybody’s going to bring to the comp.”
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While U.S. Ski & Snowboard hasn’t officially announced its roster for the upcoming world championships in Aspen, Hanna Faulhaber did confirm she would be one of four American women to compete in halfpipe at the competition.