I recently returned from an amazing catboarding trip in Utah with eight of the most famous surfers who’ve ever lived: Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, Joey Cabell, Gerry Lopez, Nat Young, Herbie Fletcher, Joyce Hoffman, and L.J. Richards. It was the trip of a lifetime.
Or almost the end of one. I got caught in an avalanche that could have wiped out a significant chunk of surfing history.
Our guide and co-owner of Park City Powder Cats, Ray Santa Maria, who organized the Legends Classic, had been saving a special patch of snow for us. James Cassimus rode down first and set up straight down the fall line to shoot stills. Herbie Fletcher followed and then stood off to the side with his video camera.
I waited until everyone else went down and then dropped in over the crown and gouged a deep heelside turn. Crack! A slab of snow ripped all the way across the top of the slope. Suddenly I was floating downhill flat on my back; bodysurfing upside down and backwards on a sea of slow-motion chunks heading right for an island of pine trees. Ray told us earlier that if we got caught in a slide to try swimming–the backstoke was his favorite–and to hold one hand over our face to create an air pocket and one in the air so they can find you easier when buried alive.
I was staying on top of the rapids so I didn’t have to swim, but I held both arms straight up in the air saying, “Watch me, watch me.” It felt just like doing a coffin when surfing a longboard: only for real.
Everything happened so slowly that I didn’t even get an adrenalin flash. And there was absolutely no noise. Weird. It was like I was beyond scared because I knew I had absolutely no control and all I could do was focus my entire being on the board-and-a-half wide gap between the trees that were like the goalposts of life.
The slide shifted sideways just enough for me to magically thread the hole. While I was silently celebrating my narrow escape and wondering what was going to happen next in this crazy sideshow, the river of white cement slowly settled and planted me straight up and down like a tree. When I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be buried alive I yelled “Safe.”
I was so happy that nothing else mattered. I’ve never been so intent on making a goal in my life. Only this time I was the football.
James Cassimus almost got buried as well after taking shots of the whole thing before being pushed backwards about thirty feet even though he was hanging on to a tree. Herbie videotaped the beginning of my slide but hit the “off” button on his camera by mistake in the middle, and then caught the tail end. Gerry Lopez told me afterwards, “We ran like a rabbits.”
Before any of us dropped in on that run, Gerry told me I’d set off a small slough while traversing across the top of the neighboring gully. I should have listened to him and that irritating little voice inside telling me it wasn’t good news and maybe I should pay attention. Gerry actually called it to Herbie just before the slide, “Watch this heelside turn, the whole thing is going to go,”
After I dug my legs and snowboard out with Ray’s shovel, we regrouped at the bottom. Ray told me I broke his record of 23 years without an accident. I told him he broke mine of 13.
Ray then said he wanted to name the run after me and we should all form a circle to decide what to call it. So we huddled. I told everyone I was very glad to be part of the circle instead the object of it. After a few random suggestions that didn’t click, Gerry suggested “Heavy Kevy” and that was it. I’m now immortalized somewhere in the Utah backcountry for being overweight and/or turning too hard in sketchy snow. I’m afraid the nickname is going to stick, too, they called me that for the rest of the trip. What an inspiration to lose weight.
But I’m sure glad to be alive.
P.S. For the rest of the story on the first Park City Powder Cats Legends Classic, keep your eyes on Snowboard Life next season.