The Outside Blog

Adventure : Dec 2012

My Perfect Adventure: Kaya Turski

There’s no doubt that Kaya Turski is a trailblazer. One of the world’s best female slopestyle skiers, the 24-year-old from Montreal has tested the limits of her sport time and again, like in 2010 when she earned the highest score in slopestyle history at the Winter X Games, or earlier this year when she became the first woman to ever land the switch 1080 trick. Now Turski, who won three consecutive X Games and was ranked No. 1 in her discipline for four straight seasons by the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, is ready to blaze a whole new trail: She’s heading to the Olympics in 2014, when slopestyle skiing will make its debut at the Games.

Turski’s father taught her to ski when she was just three years old, but her foray into competitive athletics actually came in a different form: rollerblading. As a teenager she developed her air awareness and balance at international rollerblading competitions, but when the sport started losing popularity she slowly transitioned to skiing.

Here, Turski tells us what she would do on a perfect day if she weren’t skiing, how losing a close friend affirmed her life philosophy, and why two tough years of injury helped make her stronger than ever.

Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
I guess it depends. My perfect day in the winter would be a nice mild, sunny day after an overnight snow. I'd go ski some powder runs with a couple close friends, say Kimmy Fasani and Kim Lamarre, and then we'd have a really fun day cruising the mountain, exploring, and maybe playing around in the park. I'd end the day with a casual dinner with some friends, to share good laughs and just enjoy the evening.

If I weren’t skiing, my perfect day would be a super casual, mellow day on the coast somewhere, anywhere with the ocean and a beach. I’d wake up, get the espresso machine going, and take my yoga mat and freshly brewed coffee to the beach, where I’d just zen out and get ready for a nice day. I'd cruise the beach and the local beach city, enjoy a nice healthy lunch, and then go paddleboard, surf, bike, and enjoy the outdoors. I'd enjoy this with a couple of girlfriends. I suppose I really like to keep it mellow.

If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
I would really love to go to India, Nepal, Tibet, or Thailand, where I could visit Buddhist temples and experience the culture firsthand. I'd like to do that because I've been reading a lot about Buddhism and think the religion is really eye-opening. I love how it’s about finding the good in me, not looking outside for happiness. I've learned that so much is created from within, and the outside world only changes with perspective. I've worked a lot on compassion and being a more open person, and I’m really enjoying this path.

I've also always wanted to check out a tropical rainforest, to immerse myself somewhere deep in the forest. I'm fascinated by all the wildlife and plants, and how alive and lush everything is.

Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
I've checked out some amazing places, but my top three, in no particular order, are:

1. South Island, New Zealand. As a skier, I go once a year and always stay in Wanaka, a small town on Wanaka Lake that’s surrounded by beautiful mountains with white peaks. It's absolutely stunning. It's also got a really great energy to it, and people there are very friendly.

2. Whistler, British Columbia. You can feel how alive the vegetation is up there, and the air feels so clean and fresh. There's something about this place that lifts me. I go up to three times a year, either to compete at the Telus Ski and Snowboard festival, to train on the glacier during the summer, or to get in some springtime skiing. The town itself is something very special that you can't find anywhere else. It's filled with lots of unique restaurants and boutiques, and decorated with a beautiful spirit. People are always smiling and having fun.

3. The California Coast. From Carlsbad to Encinitas, Venice Beach and Santa Monica ... I've fallen in love. I love how calm the ocean can make you feel and I love the sunshine every day. People seem generally happier and more open, and the lifestyle is really healthy. Basically around every corner you can find a local organic lunch stop or a coffee shop, and the abundant assortment and accessibility of healthy foods is there. Everywhere you go, you’ll find people who are outside riding their bikes, skateboarding, going for a stand-up paddleboard run, surfing, or doing some other fun activity.

If you could have lunch with any adventurer, explorer, or athlete, who would it be and why?
I would have lunch with Rafael Nadal, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, because I'd love to pick his brain a little. I've never met him but like watching him on TV. I love his demeanor on the court—polite, in control, and overall he has a very strong presence. I think he's amazing.

What's something you can't travel without? And why do you need it?
I think it's my iPod, just because music influences my life a lot and adds so much to my experiences. I love triggering memories with music—that's one of the most amazing things about it, how you can attach experiences to certain songs. I use music to get energized or to mellow out. If I'm en route to an event or a workout, I like to get amped with Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Biggie, Dr. Dre, or some other hip-hop. Lately I've been really into Florence & the Machine and Lana Del Rey. I love cruising to that in my car or skiing to it; I feel like it gives me a great flow.

When you arrive at a new destination, what's usually first on your agenda?
Locate a good coffee zone, settle into my living space, and take a deep breath after the travel.

What motivates you as a skier?
I love pushing myself and testing my own limits. Basically I compete with myself every day, and I've learned so much about myself through it. It's given me a lot of self-confidence and provided an outlet that I can count on.

As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, when and why did your plans change, and do you have any regrets?
As a child, I wanted to be an artist, a jeweler maybe. I also wanted to be a marine biologist. And I wanted to win the X Games and the Olympics. Ha. Some things have changed, while some things have been clear to me since the beginning. I still really want to scuba dive, so that would be my fix of marine wildlife. And I’m still very artistic and creative, so I’ll always be an artist. Olympics ... bring it on!

When and how did you first start freestyle skiing?
I was a skier as a child and then I snowboarded for a couple years when I was nine or 10 years old. Then I got really involved in rollerblading at the skate park and would spend weekends at the local park, practicing tricks and flying through the air. That's where I developed a solid foundation of air awareness, balance, and a good feel of transitions. I competed around the world in rollerblading but the sport was struggling a lot and slowed down for me when I was 15.

During my last year in high school, I was invited to a ski event by a sponsor, a local ski and rollerblade shop, and I instantly fell in love with the sport. Something just clicked; jumps and rails made sense, and I caught on quite quickly. I spent nine months saving up, finished one semester of college and moved out to Whistler on my own to enjoy a season of skiing and to see what I could do on skis. And then everything picked up from there.

What's one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring professional skier?
Find the source of your love for the sport and always roll with it. Never forget that spark. When you put your heart and soul into something and love what you do, you can't really lose.

Have you ever had any role models or mentors? Describe the most influential and what he or she taught you.
Back in my rollerblade days, Fabiola Da Silva was a professional rollerblader who competed with the guys. She basically put the girls on the map in the rollerblade world and was the most badass chick I'd ever seen. I always thought: "If she can do it, I can do it!” And that confidence stuck with me. Fab made me believe in myself. I was fortunate enough to meet and compete with her, which was such a great challenge and experience.

When I got into the world of freeskiing, it was hard not to be infected by Sarah Burke's determination, perseverance, and talent. I was instantly in awe of what she did on her skis, and also of what she represented in the sport and for women. She was a very sweet soul but had a strong presence and directed the sport of freestyle skiing for women, always fighting for our spot in events like the X Games, Dew Tour, and the Olympics. She basically showed the world that girls could do it too. She was simply amazing.

After I met Sarah in 2006, she became a good friend—I could share my ideas about skiing with her, and also about life as a professional skier. I think she understood me better than most people do—I think we had a lot in common. Even though Sarah isn't with us anymore—she died due to an injury last year—I feel that she's always here with me, with all of us. Her amazing energy isn't gone—it's floating along and helping bring out the best in all of us. She will always be one of my greatest inspirations.

Do you have a life philosophy?
After having the honor of getting to know and be inspired by someone like Sarah, and then losing that precious someone unexpectedly, this has never been more clear: Live life with all your heart. Love it with all your heart. Life's simply too short not to savor all the beautiful moments, not to do what you love and to reach for anything less than your fullest potential. Never sell yourself short.

Have you ever made a mistake or experienced an injury that made you think twice about competing again?
I had to take two years off due to an internal injury followed by a torn ligament in my knee in 2008-09. Those were the hardest two years of my life. I had been fresh on the scene, on fire, and it felt like everything had been taken away from me when I hurt myself. I didn't know how to deal with it, and I somewhat closed myself off from the world. I wouldn't say the injuries were mistakes—there are inherent risks in skiing, and, in my case, the injuries probably resulted from a mix of bad luck and a lack of the physical prep that’s needed for the impacts you take in the sport. It was a bad time, but looking back I don't think I'd change it for anything. It taught me a lot about myself, especially that I’m resilient and determined. I'm also a better and more experienced skier because of those injuries.

If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
I'd like to be a psychologist because so much of what I do is mental. So much of life is mental. It's pretty wild what you can do if you prep your mind for it. I've been learning a lot about it this past year, and human potential fascinates me.

Name three things you still want to cross off your life bucket list.
Go on a tropical rainforest excursion.

Meet Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Sky dive.

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Visiting Every Country in the World

Just last week, Graham Hughes became the first person to visit every country on earth without flying. After almost four years of travel, the 33-year-old from Liverpool, England, set foot in his 201st and final country, South Sudan. When he began his challenge, the country did not even exist, but now it represents the crowning glory of a long and frustrating journey.

It started as a mad dash, one-year trip, back to Australia to be with his girlfriend, captured on the TV show, Graham’s World, on the National Geographic Adventure Channel. But things did not turn out quite as planned. Hughes broke up with his girlfriend, the show ended, and the journey took almost four times as long as intended, but he has finally achieved his goal.

Hughes caught the travel bug early, visiting Eastern Europe with his family as the Iron Curtain was coming down, and has not really stopped since. He does not, however, really have the look of a modern day adventurer. There’s no army physique or weathered features, just a typical looking English guy in a fedora, the hat made famous by Indiana Jones. Indeed, Hughes has dubbed himself the "Thinking Woman’s Indiana Jones," but it is another one of his fictional role models that he most resembles, Phileas Fogg. The 19th-century protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days was an unflappable charmer and schemer, able to think on his feet and talk his way around the world. Like Fogg, Hughes will return to Liverpool by boat, having succeeded in a scheme, very much in the vein of a late Victorian adventurer.

Here, Hughes tells us why the United States was one of the hardest places to enter, what pieces of equipment have been indispensable to him over the past four years, and what he plans to do if new countries are created.

Why did you embark on this journey?
I think it’s the same sort of reason people give for Everest: because it’s there. The challenge was there and no one had done it before. It was a Guinness World Record I knew that I had the ability to achieve and I thought it was possible. I’d traveled before starting this and I wanted to do at least one amazing thing in my life—and now I’ve done it.

You’ve said it was a decade-long dream. How did it come to fruition?
I got the concept for it when I went backpacking in 2002. I’d bought an around the world ticket and went to a lot of places. I had the most amazing experience. I said after that, Would it be possible to get to every country in the world without flying?

Throughout the 2000s, as the world was getting more peaceful and wars were ending in West Africa and Central Africa, I realized the world was getting a bit more easy to get around. By 2008, I realized I could do this in the next couple of years. I spoke to people at Lonely Planet Television in Australia and they really liked it and said you could probably do it. They commissioned me to make a TV series that was on National Geographic a couple of years ago, the first year of my adventures.

It’s taken almost four years to do. Did you ever think about quitting at any point?
I never thought about quitting. I had some difficulty last year because my sister passed away. After that I didn’t want to quit, but I wanted someone to take the reins and sort of deal with the complicated stuff and arrange things for me. For the whole trip I’ve been a kind of one-man band. It was a lot of responsibility to keep it going, but there wasn’t a point where I thought I was going to give up. I felt like it would be letting so many people down, people who had helped me on the journey.

Did you have any indispensable bits of equipment that kept you company throughout your travels?
My GPS logger is still with me. My trusty camcorder has been with me all the way. There are bits of equipment that really are indispensable when you’re traveling, like a Swiss Army Knife, wet wipes, a bank card, and a passport. But I travel pretty light.

Which was your favorite country?
A little island state called Palau.

Which was the hardest country to get in to?
The U.S.A. now, because I need some crazy visa! But other than that, the Seychelles because of the Somali pirate situation. I tried from about seven different places in the world to get to the Seychelles before I actually cracked it.

What was the issue with the U.S.?
I was on a ship going to Micronesia and Palau. It stopped in Guam, which is part of the U.S. commonwealth, but they wouldn’t let me off the ship. They said I needed a special visa waiver that costs $100 and I had to apply for it three days in advance. How is that not a visa?

What was the most dangerous experience or place?
I was in Senegal and I had to get some fishermen to take me over to Cape Verde on a pirogue, a wooden canoe with an outboard motor on it. I was on it for four days in the open ocean with no radio, no distress signal, no satellite phone, and no means of communication if anything went wrong.

Was it terrifying?
It was fine, I suppose. There was no storm or anything. I watched the movie The Perfect Storm a few weeks afterwards. If I’d watched it before, it might have been a different story.

Who were the friendliest immigration officials?
Mauritius was OK. They were pleased to see me. Going into Afghanistan, the guy was laughing. The border guard asked me what I was doing there. I said, "I’m a tourist." He said, "You’re no terrorist, we have too many terrorists here." That kind of thing. Some places people have been really welcoming. In Sierra Leone, the guy on the border basically gave me a hug because I’m British. It was because of the conflict there that was ended in 2002. He said the British saved his life.

What aspect of this journey would you consider your greatest achievement beyond the title and the record?
Not going home in four years—that’s a pretty good achievement! I think having the determination to see it through to the end when things got very difficult. In the first two years, I traveled through 184 countries. In the last two years, I’ve been to 17. That’s because they’re all islands in the middle of nowhere. Or places like the Seychelles and the Maldives that are in pirate areas.

The record might not be static. Are you scanning the map to look at the potential for new countries to come into existence?
Yes. I want to do this for the rest of my life. The idea is that every time a new country gets created, I go and visit it overland. I’ll take three or four months out of my life to go and do that. I kind of like that idea. I’m keeping an eye on things.

Are you driven by the idea of fame and creating attention as an adventurer?
Long term I want to make feature films and tell stories, so that’s not that important to me. I do like that idea, but it’s not the main reason I did this. I did this more than anything because I wanted to get in the Guinness Book of World Records, and it had never been done before, and it was something that I’m good at. I’m really good at travellng! I don’t get ill when I travel, I can sleep anywhere. I’m great about waking up when I need to get on a train. I seem to be naturally adapted very well to this kind of lifestyle.

Do you have any role models as an adventurer or a traveller?
My role models are obviously Phileas Fogg, Michael Palin, and my father. Those are my inspirations.

Your journey was different from most people’s experience of travel. How meaningful is as a travel experience when you constantly have to think about the next country or the next challenge?
Obviously, there’s a difference between traveling for the sake of traveling and going on holiday because you need to relax from work. I don’t feel like I’ve been on holiday for four years at all. I feel like I’ve been working for four years toward something.

If you want to sit on a beach and relax, that’s fair enough. I get a bit annoyed when fellow travelers will tell you that you’re not doing it right. Just because you didn’t go to this hut in Lesotho, you’ve never really experienced Southern Africa. Come on, seriously? Everybody has his or her own experiences of travel. Travel is a very subjective thing. I don’t think there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. I just think there’s a way that you enjoy and I actually enjoy this.

What’s next for you?
I want to do some more TV shows. I enjoyed doing the show for National Geographic. I like telling stories. At the end of the day, I get a random email from some person halfway around the world, saying they’ve been inspired by my travels.

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Camper's Axe

With a one-piece steel blade and shaft, Estwing’s Camper’s axe stays true to the formula—simple design, high quality—that has defined the company for nearly a century. It also wrapped the handle in vinyl, dampening impact and making wood splitting easier on the joints.

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