Feature 15.8 A New Zealand Crapshoot Featuring Team Vans

When flying to the Southern Hemisphere in hopes of getting quality footage, odds are not usually in your favor. It’s a long shot the trip will be productive. However, spending a crapload of money, meeting people you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and having hella fun is a sure bet So much happens on a mission like this that it would be impossible to catalog every event. Therefore, botched shots and acting like a crybaby will only be remembered deep in an unmentioned person’s psyche on this trip. Individuals involved were Kurt Wastell, Erik Leines, Brandon Bybee, Mitch Nelson, Daniel Franck, Vans Team Manager Brian Knox, Ian Ruhter, and myself. Here Goes
The twelve-hour flight from LAX ended when the plane set down in Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. The best mountains are on the South Island-we boarded an island hopper and landed an hour later in Christchurch. At the airport, we ran into Todd Richards, who was filming for E!’s Wild On, Down Under with Brooke Burke or something-it must be bitchen to be the media’s favorite shred. Todd told everyone they could use their cell phones as much as they wanted and wouldn’t be charged.

Knox’s organizational skills were instantly under fire when his travel agent didn’t book us four-wheel-drive cars. This really sucked-the roads to the ski resorts are as safe as razor blades in apples. Knox is haunted the entire trip-only when he took his frustrations out on our rental car did he find solace. Our hotel in Methven was surprisingly nice. Aussi Hotel Owner Nick Taylor told us the snow was great, but the weather was not-go figure. Everyone was wired from lack of sleep, so we played a round of golf. Mitch and Bybee both have a mediocre game, which surprised me. Brandon’s all up in those Alphanumeric ads golfing. I figured him for the pale version of Tiger Woods-no dice. Kurt and Erik were good, athough they proved to be no match for Ian, who’s golfed four times in his life. He quickly earned the name Ruht Daly for emulating his cousin John Daly’s driving power.

It’s amazing how a little bit of sleep makes you feel when you’ve stayed up as long as a crank fiend. Our internal clocks were messed and some of us began milling around the hotel at 6:00 a.m.-we’re ready to go at eleven. I took the wheel and Knox yelled that I was driving over sharp rocks. I told him it was cool but the air was out of our rear tire by the time I finished my sentence. Instantly, I was demoted to backseat driver. The snow was beat at Mt. Hutt, but we shredded regardless and it was hella fun.

There aren’t really any Mexicans in New Zealand-never, ever eat Mexican food there. We made the mistake of going to Ernie’s Cantina and nearly croaked. If the food wasn’t bad enough, the owner’s wife snapped and told us the world would be a better place once Americans realized it doesn’t revolve around us. All that because I asked for separate receipts, and ’cause Bybee sent his milkshake back. Funny thing was-she was married to an American.

Bets were pending that Daniel wouldn’t show, so jaws dropped when he arrived at the hotel. There was one catch-his boards didn’t. Brandon and Mitch started shelling out all their cash for calling cards to call their wives. Ruht and Kurt talked to their breezies on cellulars ’cause Todd said it was free, remember.

An island in the middle of the vast and turbulent South Pacific sea, New Zealand’s constantly bombarded by storms. Weathermen in the region are said to have forecasting down, but locals still rely on the hair of a sheep’s ass standing on end to warn them of a storm. I called Methven Heli Services to see about getting some time in the bird-“The snow’s great, mate, but there’s a bit of weather out there-give us a call in the morning.”

We made it up to Mt. Hutt at two that day, but the wind was blowing like a hurricane, so we talked the resort into letting us hit a rail. Management was so damn cool-they roped off the stairs annd a crowd gathered. Children and the elderly requested autographs from Erik, I swear he’s the most popular snowboarder in all of New Zealand. Erik floated an ollie over the top and middle of the rail and set his board down five-O on the bottom rail his first try-the crowd went wild. Bybee got beat a few times, then gapped to frontside boardslide on the bottom rail. Back in Methven, everyone skated at the Boarding House. Owner Greg can help you find whatever you need in NZ-he’s a good guy. He built an indoor skatepark behind the shop that keeps travelers and locals sane in times of foul weather.

As our time in New Zealand dwindled, the crew began to tire of Methven Heli telling us, “The weather should be good tomorrow, mate.” Bored out of our gourds we headed down to Christchurch for a little culture. Everyone except Brian Knox was married or had a serious girl-so the normal debauchery associated with New Zealand was left unexplored. Hypothetically speaking, if you were a single dude, it would be easy to get super scandalous here. Brian was too shy to go into one of those places alone, so it was off to the beach. Brains that we are, Kurt, Erik, and I decided it would be fun to go surfing in frigid water. It was hard times surfing in six-degree-Celsius water-wearing a wetsuit that doesn’t fit.

Back in Methven the weather outlook was still grim. To assure ourselves that we weren’t Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, everyone except Daniel shaved their head. Kurt’s clippers started smoking halfway through Mitch’s hair-we borrowed Nick’s Norelco Beard Buster and finished. New Zealanders laughed at us-assuming our group was an athletic team (it was funny until locals in Hawai’i mistook us for skinheads and wanted to “kill the haoles” on our trip home).

The next morning we finally got word it was time to fly, but it’d been so many days of beat weather, no one believed them. The road to the heli pad was a 60-minute drive-with Kurt behind the wheel it took half that time. All passengers were white-knuckled as he pitched the wagon sideways around corners-sheep scurried off the road onto the hillsides.

After a quick debriefing at the heli pad, up we went. The Rakia Gorge is one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve seen, but the face the heli dropped us on was nothing special. It seemed we’re being milked for money. The next peak was a bit better-Mitch, Bybee, Erik, and Kurt built a kicker. The fact that it’s summer back home was all too apparent as a couple of the riders had a hard time finding their landing gear. Bybee narrowly missed smacking his head on some rocks, so we broke for lunch and called it a day.

The guide finally took us to “Master Blaster,” a run Erik’s brother told him about. There were natural rollers, cliffs, and steep faces so we ended up flying the same run for our two last days. Everyone had found their legs and was landing tricks. It was seriously so much fun-I forgot we’d waited ten days to fly three. As Master Blaster disappeared into the mesh of mountains behind us I let out a big breath of relief, knowing I just might be able to pull a story-out of thin air.

Upon arriving home Ian and Knox both received cell-phone bills exceeding 300 dollars in long-distance charges.

For Information on helicopter service in New Zealand go to www.heliskiing.co.nz Phone: 64-3-302-8108Lodging in Methven: contact Nick Taylor at Mt. Taylor Lodge.Phone: 64-3-302-9699www.mounttaylorlodge.co.nzInfo on Mt. Hutt or other New Zealand ski resorts go to nzski.com