'The balance between the physical and the mental leads us to a true sense of self. This is not a judgement of intellect or fitness, rather an openness to challenging ourselves in both forms of endeavour'

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Friends And Surfboards - article in White Horses

I've just bought a new surfboard and lost a best mate. The board is a 6' 4'' c-wing quad from a friend and master shaper, Roger Hall at Surfline. Roger was one of the surfing mentors of my now very dusty youth, a visionary of shapes and techniques that has taken me more than 35 years immersion in the watery arts to fully realise. This is my second custom from him, to go with a super fun, old school, twin keel that keeps me company on smaller days.

Good things take time...but can also be lost in seconds. The mate was Jamie, a climbing god/surfing apprentice whose minor slip on the side of a mountain has had sickening, final consequences. A small wave of snow – no larger than the floorspace of a bedroom – carried him over the edge and down a gully that no one could recover from. Another good friend was with him at the time, and he watched helplessly as Jamie slipped from sight. The weight of this is still sinking in, and no doubt will be for longer than I care to think about.
The board turns up in the post. Clearly a work of art, I wonder momentarily whether it's more appropriate on the wall in our home rather than soon-to-be under my clumsy feet. Glueing a deck grip on seems sacrilege. The wax creates its own random and affecting patterns across the polished surface.
I took a phone call from Jamie's mother last night. It's been just over a month, and she's having trouble sleeping. 'I believe he's still here, in a place I can't quite reach but I feel his presence,' she said. I knew this was my time to be strong, but the tears felt so, so close. I tried to find the right words when there aren't any, to be able to soften the free fall she is experiencing; that we are all experiencing. Life just fucking sucks some times.

It's a Monday morning. Dark clouds are gathering inland, on the foothills, a precursor to rain according to the forecast. The wind is from the southwest, brisk through the trees in our garden. These days it seems my wife Shelley and I take a moment longer to hug before parting. She completed the hardest climb of her life with Jamie; I'd watched from below as they spidered up an unclimbed monstrosity of a mountain face, the rock like scales on the mountain's armor and loathe to allow passage. At a small snow shelf just below the summit, Jamie decided that they should descend.
Shelley can be prone to summit fever and, despite a storm approaching from the coast, she would have continued climbing. The rain hit that night – a nightmarish jumble of what if's shrouding my mind as they managed to get off the mountain just as thick cloud swallowed the last of dusk's warbled sheen. We were at least two days walk from the nearest road. I quietly thanked Jamie for making the right call.
The three of us often surfed together near our old Christchurch home in the days before the earthquakes, before sewerage flooded into the sea and turned it to a cesspool. Jamie took pleasure in telling me that his younger brother Sam was gifted in the ocean. He wanted to keep practicing, so he could get good enough to be able to share waves with his bro.

At first, Jamie and Shelley were similarly skilled at learning to surf. The shore break was not their friend. But Jamie's long arms hauled him out the back more often, and his athletic ability slowly adjusted. His ratio of successful takeoffs to wipeouts improved, and his 'poo stance' narrowed. But the wicked side to me enjoyed watching him occasionally cop a beating from set waves. I savored the irony of the situation, comparing it to being in the mountains when it would be Jamie cajoling me onto steeper faces despite me whinging that I was out of my depth.
Climbing was Jamie's passion but surfing was his release, he once told me. He liked that it didn't come easily, that he had to learn the way of the ocean just like he had learned the mountain path. That he was one of the country's best climbers didn't come into it, at least not to him.
With my new board and a heavy heart, I go in search of waves. The main southern coast has crosswinds, but there's just enough swell to bend into a secluded sandy beach brushed with steady offshores. The beach is empty, the way I wish my mind would be. I think about the other weekend when I returned to the mountains, to a place I had last climbed with Jamie. It was a similar time of year, and familiar fangs of ice squeezed between otherwise blank rock walls, steep frozen staircases that had let us climb that little bit closer to whatever it was we were seeking.
Now, I'm trying to distance my own perception of risk from the grief in my heart. Of course, I wonder at the worth of chasing dreams, especially when the cost can be so goddamned high. And how does it make me feel about my own climbing, about surfing, about life?
Any imagined symbolism between a new surfboard and a dead friend is tenuous at best. The new board and my ice axes are simply tools, taking me to places I couldn't otherwise reach. And the mountains? The sea? These are my dynamic, inspiring, and sometimes frightening pathways. I don't always get them, but I get needing to be among them. The quality of the wave or pureness of the climbing line doesn't matter, at least not always. Just knowing I have the opportunity....
First immersion always has a bite to it in these parts, but the wetsuit does what it's supposed to and I ease into the line-up. Only shoulder high, the waves hold a gentle, forgiving ambience that fits perfectly. I glide into an A-frame on my new board and slide to my feet. The sun reflects off the water around me, tiny slivers of intimate light. The carpet rides beautifully, without thought.

I guess my feelings have been compounded by recently losing another friend Marty to the mountains. Marty was considered a world class high altitude climber and guide. He died, with his only son Denali, high on the slopes of K2, the world's second highest mountain. Jamie and I had caught up for lunch not long after Marty and Denali's death, when I was up working in Christchurch. We talked about how it made us feel about our own climbing. Shelley and I had been busy planning a trip to Nepal to attempt an unclimbed mountain but, after Marty and Denali's death, we wondered whether our hearts were still in it. I remember Jamie saying that we 'just had to go', that we 'would regret it if we didn't'.
'Just be careful, Paul,' he added, 'you're good at that. You understand your limits.'
Jamie was killed a week after that conversation.
The waves do what they need to. I sit between sets and watch the water, the denim-blue of the sky and the effortless sweep of an albatross further out to sea. Ocean current carries me down the coast, towards another point. There, on the shore, a lone yellow-eyed-penguin stands and watches. No doubt he wants me to piss off so he can safely enter the water. I figure it's perhaps time to head in.
At Jamie's service, before a sea of light-shrouded faces, I spoke of my treasured friendship with him, how he inspired me to strive for things, even if I didn't think I'd reach them. Jamie always liked to challenge my ideas or way of thinking. I can see him prodding me now to come up with something positive. 'Come on Paul, all that thinking and writing you do. What's your intuition on this? Give us some insight.'
I don't really have any insight, but maybe an observation: When we lose someone close, like this, we fully realise what it was about them that we valued so highly. Yet in society we don't tend to do it so much, or express it, when they're alive. I never told Jamie how much I appreciated his company and friendship, how much I cared for his views and attitude to life. I mean, we had some pretty snuggly bivvies together – on cold, windswept mountainsides – but that's not quite the same.
Maybe it is, as Jamie so often illustrated to me, the case that actions are always stronger than words.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Basis For A Great Therapeutic Massage

Mmmm...a decent deep tissue massage. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Over the years of my various athletic and sporting endeavors I’ve learnt the value of massage therapy, and have experienced a range of different sport massages – some good and some not so memorable. For me, the best massage therapists are like the best coffee – strong, reliable and available whenever you feel the need.
So with an upcoming expedition to climb Anidesha Chuli (6815) in the Eastern Himalaya of Nepal this April/May, and the physical and mental demands of training and planning for it, I figured it was a good idea to source a decent therapist in Dunedin.
Fortunately, my friend Theo Wallis and his brother Matthew have recently started up The Muscle Mechanics, a sports massage business opposite Les Mills Gym in Dowling Street. I gave Theo a call and was stoked when he offered me a deal on 3 months of weekly deep pressure massages aimed specifically at supporting my training for the expedition. Having weekly sessions with Theo, through his athletic support package, would certainly help greatly in my training regime.
I have had 6 weekly sessions with Theo now and am pleasantly surprised to see that the program is actually making a noticeable difference to my health and fitness. Recovery has been quicker after strenuous exercise, which means I am able to train more intensely and more frequently. I have had no niggles or injuries to hinder my training, and really look forward to my Tuesday morning massages – perfect timing after a weekend of training!

While Theo and Matthew also offer a much lighter relaxation massage, it is the deep tissue/ deep pressure massage where Theo sees the most benefits for his clients.
'Our goal here is to release as much tension as possible during each session,' he says. 'Working towards a desired level of intensity, there will be a noticed improved muscle recovery and development.'
Theo and Matthew have put together a very sharp little business. They are both big and strong which seems to help them hit the right err spots, and they also have created their own intimate studio, including an insulated internal room which they heat to 25Âș. During my massages, I have found the warmer temperature to be very relaxing and comfortable, especially when coming in from a chilly day outside or if my muscles have been quite sore from my last training session.
The quality of Theo and Matthews' business and massage skills doesn't come as much of a surprise – adventure sports with a health and fitness focus have been an integral part of both of their lives.
I’ve known Theo since 2005, when we worked and surfed together in Otago.
A rangy teenager with a big grin, back then Theo and his mates chased southern waves, before wanderlust took hold. Theo spent the summer of 2006 teaching at a surf camp in San Diego, then ski instructed in Whistler and surfed round Vancouver. He returned home for a year, and in 2008 joined a volunteer LEAP (Local Empowerment Assistance Project) programme in Sumatra. When the LEAP programme ended, Theo headed to Perth, where he worked on Rottenest Island and looked a luxury yacht before sailing it up to Indonesia. ‘I did a lot of strength and endurance training, pushing my body, starting to become aware of how it works and recovers’ he says. It was there that Theo focused on yoga, and after 2 years of setting up and running an impressive holistic center called Power of Now Oasis in Bali (I had the pleasure of visiting there in 2010), he has returned to New Zealand to spend more time with his family and friends especially his brother Matthew.
Matthew is also sport and health focused. His travels have included North America, South East Asia, Bali and Europe where he snowboarded, surfed, kite-boarded, mountain biked, dived, and did meditation retreats, as well as working with youth, building and pursuing adventure sports here in Dunedin.

In preparation for setting up their health and fitness based massage business together, the brothers have both spent 18 months doing a Practical Apprenticeship with their Uncle David Baillie before studying with The Lotus College last year.
'I guess this is just another step along a path to helping people lead healthy lives,' Theo tells me. 'My own life is very focused towards a balance of health, fitness and fun, and I see massage therapy as a vital element of an optimal lifestyle.’
Theo explains that they personally receive massage therapy every week and find it very effective in releasing tension as well as assisting to repair and rebuild a more efficient, higher performing body that stays more resistant to injury.
Theo is excited about the current success of The Muscle Mechanics studio, and for the prospects ahead. 'Dunedin is a great place to live, and we are stoked to be able to offer this service as a complimentary part of the ultimate life style,' he says. 'There is a young, sports-orientated population here and plenty of outdoor pursuits to get immersed in. Health and personal fitness is an important part of life.' Theo also studying Sports Nutrition and Matthew Personal Training, so they are looking forward to continuing to expand their business and become a cornerstone for their clients health and fitness based lifestyle.
As for me, weekly massages with Theo is allowing me to train harder, which in turn increases my chance for success in the Himalaya. Being around someone as fit and focused as Theo, helps with my motivation in the short term, so that my long term goals may come to fruition.

For more information go to Theo and Matthew's website: www.themusclemechanics.co.nz

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Striving For Status - article in White Horses Magazine

The road is long and winding, twisting back on it's gravelly self like it can't make up its god-damned mind. Dust leaps in sepia clouds as a vehicle ploughs onwards. Dave – think clumsy giant cut from the same mold as a youthful Liam Neeson, but still not measuring up to his old man – is angry. He doesn't really know why. He thinks he does, but that's not the same. Young, naive, brutishly strong, he's always been determined to carpe the crap out of every diem he can, drawn to each coming dawn like a lizard to the sun's warmth, or a moth to the naked flame. Why is it that life conspires to squeeze the juice out of this? The coming of age, of responsibility, the need for a real job smoulders like a wreck of burning tyres in his mind.
The road heads mostly east. Dave's thick hands flex around the steering wheel of his father's aging land rover. The vehicle is more beat up, more weathered, than his old man but the grumpy sod still only lends it begrudgingly.
'Ding it you'll be in the shit,' younger brother Stewart had warned.
'Screw 'im,' Dave replied in nervous defiance, double-clutching but still grinding the gears as he left home.
His father hadn't been there to ask, unusually hadn't returned home from the night before. Dave's mother shrugged her shoulders when asked. 'Guess he needs time to himself...,' she started to explain, but then looked into the half-space in front of her, as if further explanation had somehow evaporated there.
Dave's old man was a hard task master, always criticising, pointing out 'the little things that can turn into big things if you don't pay them enough heed'. He somehow managed to twist any potential lesson, as if picking up on Dave's insecurities and taking to them with the kitchen knife. Walking on broken glass was nothing compared to this.
The wood pile was a good place for revenge. Sinking the splitting axe into the skull of a log, the force of each strike reverberated up through Dave's arms, a jolt of satisfaction. But last evening the axe had winged off a knot and nicked his shin. Blood oozed from the gash, dripping on to the concrete. Dave dabbed at it with a cloth, his hands shaking slightly, knowing he'd get a bollocking for not paying more attention.
The cut still throbs this morning. Dave flexes his calf gingerly before clutching and grabbing for the gearstick, his father's four-wheel-drive bucking over ruts on the road.

A few years back, his old man had reluctantly lent him one of the old surfboards that were stored in the garage rafters, a tanker that wouldn't turn a dime. Yet it glided over the smallest ripple, inert, somehow detached from the ocean while still allowing Dave to see what he wanted.
He'd worked hard then, after school and weekends till he had squirreled enough cash. His father drove him down another dead-end gravel road to someone he knew, a sour-faced old timer who squinted as he looked Dave up and down. 'Big bastard ain't ye? Just like him,' the old guy wheezed, pointing a notched finger at his father. Dave figured it wasn't meant as a compliment, but he couldn't be sure. He started to reply, but a sideways glance from his old man stopped him.
The old salt continued, motioning Dave to follow him back to his shed as he spoke. 'Well ye may have a big shell, but nothing but a pipsqueak inside. If I'm going to be making you a board, it's only because he's asking.'
The board is in the passenger seat, nestled under the seat belt. He hasn't ridden it for over two weeks. First his end-of-year exams – the last exams of his school life – and then this cursed flat spell. But Dave has an inkling about this morning, or maybe it's just a premonition of what waits for him in the real world. His father's expectations: 'You'll be looking for work then!' Not a question about whether he wanted to travel, or maybe just cruise for a bit.
They'd had a real bust up yesterday morning, the first time that Dave really stood up to his old man. When he had suggested travelling up country to chase waves, all his father talked about was work. 'Can't get by without money, son. You think it grows on trees?'
Dave had shouted at him then, striking back with anything to cause pain, venting all of his misguided youthful angst. Tears had welled, but there was no bloody way he would let his father see him cry. He turned away, not hearing the final, softer words spoken to him.

The pull of the ocean is like a doppelgÀnger to what he wants his life to be about. Its moods dwarf his own feelings in the power of a single rising swell. Like that, he is lifted. See it unfurl under the pale light of dawn, soft hues somehow imbibing the clashing of water with an almost inviting serenity. Almost.
This is as big as Dave has ever seen Caverns unleashing, the reef's rocky teeth camouflaged with boiling, turbulent ocean. Each wave erupts with the sound of...what? Uncertainty of the future? For the first time, Dave's anger subsumes with doubt.
And then, through the hazy offshore, he catches glimpse of someone way out the back sitting on their board. Their head is turned to the horizon, eyeing warily for the next set. But it's the board that focusses Dave's attention, an old tanker that he thinks he recognises.
He hasn't seen his father surf for years, hasn't seen anyone surf a wave like this on a board like that. The physics of it all seems wrong. No flashiness. No exuberant arm waving to gather enough speed. Just a methodical necessity of surfer, surfboard and wave.
His father stands there in the eye, shoulders square, legs braced, no adjustments necessary for trim. The wave spirals and spirals, allowing Dave to watch the most amazing, inspiring thing he's yet seen in his young life.

He doesn't for a moment consider paddling out.