By Ava Jemison
“When did you decide to predominantly focus on ski racing instead of surfing?” is a question I’ve gotten from many curious alpine athletes and parents. For me, I’ve always just tried to do what I love while staying immersed in training and competition. As different as these sports may seem, they actually complement each other and surfing has helped fuel my ski racing career.
Growing up in Colorado, I spent all my free time skiing in the mountains and being outdoors. When I had vacation time, my family and I would seek the opposite and head to the beach for a change of scenery. With such blessed opportunities, I was able to discover surfing which soon became another passion I chose to foster. Whether it was the sea or snow on a bluebird day, my love for outdoor sports and competition had me hooked at a young age. I caught my first wave attending a surf school while on summer vacation.
From that point on, I grew to love the challenge of paddling out on big days and the serenity of waiting for a good wave. I appreciate the laid-back and supportive surf culture, and of course, the incredible feeling of catching and cutting down a wave and reacting to each unique break. I learned how to be adaptable and follow my intuition in a constantly changing environment. By the time I was 12 years old, I had a taste of competition. Two years later my mom and I were flying to Southern California for surf competitions on the weekends when I wasn't skiing.
To make up for my lack of training in the ocean, I would surf as much as I could when we were on our short trips; 3 hours in the morning prior to an afternoon competition and then again after the competition to prepare for the next day. At that point, I was not an elite surf competitor but I was having so much fun that my results were secondary. Eventually, I began to day dream of competing collegiately, especially when I hit an athletic slump in my ski racing career at the tail end of high school.
Skiing has always been my first love. I truly enjoy the competition, the progress, and the feeling of a good run. Despite my dedication and success in ski racing throughout my youth, I began to lose the joy in my late teenage years. This was due to personal life issues unrelated to skiing but the distractions had clearly obstructed my mental clarity and ability to ski well.
As I lost focus, I became even more frustrated since my race results declined. I was not on track to take my ski career to the next level and considered quitting the sport altogether. This was a hard time. It was painful to think that all the years of hard work and effort would become insignificant in an instant. At this point, I imagined I would transition to surf life as an alternative. This “back up plan” was a glimmer of hope since my lifelong dream of ski racing was diminishing. The idea of surfing was one of the few things that helped brighten my perspective.
By my senior year in high school and what I considered as potentially my final season, my coach suggested I take time to remove myself from the personal disruptions and give ski racing a full-focused effort in Burke, VT. This year helped me reset my ski mentality. I learned exactly what I wanted to do, and had the confidence to go after my dream wholeheartedly.
By taking a step back, I realized how my relationship toward surfing could influence my skiing in a positive, productive way. Surfing helped me realign with my first passion by guiding me to adapt, find the flow and to just enjoy nature; all the qualities I originally embraced in skiing. By applying these lessons into ski racing, my alpine career took a big step forward. Surfing shaped me into the ski racer I am today by combining the qualities of both great passions, and ultimately continues helping me to become the best athlete I can be.
Ava Jemison is a World Cup Dreams Athlete. To learn more about her,