Features 14.6:New Zealand

Here I am-a tourist. I’ve just flown across the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere-a fifteen-hour flight to the South Pacific, and I don’t even need a foreign-language dictionary. It’s summer back home; the ocean water is warm, and the mountain nights are perfect for camping. Here, though, it’s not yet spring, and the weather is dreary. Gray clouds remind me that rain is near, and my street clothes are no match for the damp cold that seeps through them with ease.

Waiting on a curb at the airport in Christchurch for my ride, I browse through a book on the history of this country. I don’t even bother to keep a close watch over my baggage because the people are just as I’d heard; as friendly as the religious zealots who knock on your door, but without ulterior motives. It’s hard not to be suspicious of a helpful person in a foreign land, but to what point have our minds been polluted by the media’s capitalization on crimes and the grotesque nature of a few? Literally having you for lunch is probably the farthest thing from a New Zealander’s mind-I’m sure they’d rather invite you in for some spicy wedges and a cup of tea.

The atmosphere of this country seems peaceful and serene, but as I continue to read through the book, I’m briefly educated on its past. A couple-hundred years ago, the indigenous people (the Maori) of the two islands were pillaged and betrayed by ship-riding Euros similar to what happened to Native Americans in the United States. This practice was acceptable back in the day and was even tagged with a patriotic-sounding name-colonialism, meaning the control by one power over a dependent area or people. This spelled the end of the Maori way of life as they knew it.

The Maori were stripped of their land, their language, and their pride. Once fierce warriors ruled by powerful chiefs, they now use what little strength is left in their communities to hold on to parts of their culture that have yet to be consumed by the machine of homogenization.

Chris Owen finally arrives, and I put the book away. I load my gear into his car and we begin the short drive toward our final destination. I take in the unfamiliar landscape. Gone are the strip malls and Starbucks present on every corner at home. They’re replaced by mom-and-pop stores selling hot meat pies. The cities are clean, save for the few dark alleys that offer debauchery to the lonely or obsessed. Public skateparks are as much a part of the landscape as the rugby fields in the parks. We leave the city via a two-lane road-a far cry from the eight-lane Interstate-5 I commute on during the workweek.

Millions of sheep roam the hillsides and farms set along the roadways, and in the back of my head, I ponder what this place looked like before it was settled. I give this up quickly, because what’s been done is irreversible. I look at the mountains jutting into the dismal-looking sky, and I see the start of the giant rivers fed by glaciers. They’ve cut deep into the valleys below, providing the ideal habitat for photo opportunities and trout alike. But I’m reminded of my job and that this story isn’t for Fishing The West just as I’m reminded now by my boss that I’m no cultural anthropologist and I should write a story pertaining to the subject matter of this magazine.

So here it is-a happy story about snowboarding and everything else we experienced during our stay in New Zealand. Chris and I pull into a hotel driveway in the tiny town of Methven, and he shows me to my room. There, Todd Richards, Joey McGuire, Javas Lehn, Eric Leines, and Embry Rucker have been sitting out five days of less than cooperative skies. Their spirits are down, and their outlook on the future of the trip is grim. Luckily for them, aside from bringing along buzzwords such as “doinklet” and “hella,” I’m also packing a break in the weather-three days of bluebird I bottled up back in the Golden State. So kick up your feet and enjoy the images of these athletes captured by Chris and Embry and the words written by me.