Philanthropy: Do-Gooders Rule!

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, December 1997

Philanthropy: Do-Gooders Rule!

In this age of mounting apathy, an unlikely subculture steps up to the plate
By Paul Kvinta

And the Moral Is, Never Underestimate the Home-River Advantage

Flesh-eating piranhas, orifice-plumbing protozoans, and titantic river swells from overloaded melon boats — clearly not the sort of conditions that congenial, blazer-clad lads from Oxford and Cambridge are used to encountering on the Thames. Which might explain why things turned ugly for their top heavyweight eights at last September's 12-kilometer Regata Internacional da Amazonas, near Manaus, Brazil, the first-ever international rowing race to be held on the Amazon — and maybe the last. "I guess you could say it didn't prove too hospitable," says Oxford rower Jordan Irving, whose team was expected to win the three-boat invitational. "Not that it was entirely the river's fault." A valid point: Both the Oxford and Cambridge shells sank before the halfway mark, victims not of an equatorial deluge but of overly enthusiastic spectators in motorized dinghies. Miraculously, the mayhem didn't stop the third entrant, the Brazilian national team, from crossing the line in a victorious 46 minutes — a fact that, while suspicious, didn't cause too much consternation among the Brits. "We weren't that upset about losing to Brazil," says Irving. "We were just glad that Cambridge didn't win."

No, Seriously. This Time I Really Mean It.

After launching into a tirade at last September's Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run near Wrightwood, California, canyoneer-turned-running-coach Rick Fisher declared he won't be bringing Tarahumara Indian athletes from Mexico to U.S. ultramarathon events anymore. Of course, there's no telling whether the threat is real: The oft-disgruntled Fisher said precisely the same thing at the 1995 Western States 100. This time around, an irate Fisher attempted to accompany his two runners along a section of course deemed off-limits to support crews — a perk he felt he deserved as coach of non-English-speaking competitors. "The last thing I want to do is disqualify a runner," says Angeles Crest codirector Ken Hamada of his decision to pull Gabriel Bautista and Madero Herrera from the race, "but Rick left us no choice." Meanwhile, Fisher's tantrum-throwing management style has prompted several Tarahumaras, including surprise race-winner Cirildo Chacarito Gonzalez, to find alternative means of support. News that seems to delight Fisher's colleagues. "This will be great for the sport," says veteran ultrarunner Ann Trason. "We want the best athletes to race, but Rick kept the Tarahumara unecessarily secluded. He wouldn't even let us talk to them."
Todd Balf and Paul Kvinta (with Trevor Curwin and Barry Lewis)

Last september at the Willow Creek Golf Course near Vail, Colorado, the country-club set experienced its worst nightmare. In broad daylight, 140 baggy-pants-wearing snowboarders commandeered the fairways, blasted Beastie Boys tunes from the clubhouse sound system, and hacked out nine holes of "golf." They teed off while strapped onto their boards. They putted blindfolded. Between holes they boarded down steeply bermed bunkers, ollied up to indy grabs, and executed somersaults that left huge divots in the sand. "It was really weird," says Rich Teeters, a club member who witnessed the spectacle. "I didn't see anyone dressed like a normal golfer. I mean, you usually don't see much piercing on a golf course."

Self-mutilation aside, it was, for better or worse, an officially sanctioned event. By the end of the day, the tournament had netted $3,500 for the Snowboard Outreach Society, a charitable organization that teaches snowboarding to under-privileged kids. And this was not an isolated incident. Yes, as strange as it may seem, it turns out that snowboarders can often be found donating their time, talent, and money to worthy causes. This month, for example, the Snowboard Outreach Society will follow up on its golf event with the Real Love Tour, a four-mountain boarding competition in Colorado. Then, in March, the fifth annual Board AID takes place in Big Bear, California, in support of AIDS awareness; in April, the third annual Boarding for Breast Cancer takes center stage at Sierra-at-Tahoe in California, while the third annual Vegetate, a fund-raiser for — we are not making this up — the imperiled wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, kicks off at Oregon's Mount Hood Meadows.

It should also be noted that these are not small-time happenings. The two biggest charity events, Board AID and Boarding for Breast Cancer, have raised $470,000 and $105,000 respectively and draw 5,000 to 7,000 spectators each year. Of course, much of the interest can be attributed to something not entirely altruistic: The events are more Lollapalooza than black-tie banquet, featuring high-flying boarding demonstrations and high-decibel concerts that attract top riders and edgy bands like Porno for Pyros, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Bad Religion. But for the most part, riders check their competitive juices and mosh-pit penchants at the door, turning the festivals into genuine feel-good love-ins. "At our '95 event, Perry Farrell sang 'The Mountain Song,' which he hadn't sung since he was with Jane's Addiction," says Board AID's Leah Jones. "Man, that's like an anthem for snowboarders. It was nothing less than spiritual."

Which brings us to the question that must by now be on everyone's mind: Why such sweetness and light from a group that studiously cultivates a Bill-Johnson-meets-Ice-Cube image? "Snowboarders are no less aware of the problems facing our society than anyone else," answers Boarding for Breast Cancer cofounder Kathleen Gasperini, with the slightly annoyed tone common to those who are
repeatedly asked to explain the inexplicable, "and they're very passionate people. I mean, when they get behind a cause, they don't get kinda behind it. They get way behind it."

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