Most often, the most fun riding I experience comes when my riding simply flows. My movements and the mountains terrain, however complex or simple, work in perfect harmony. It might be one turn, one simple moment or if I’m lucky one whole run.
On a good day, flow will allow my riding to soar and that’s a feeling that’s very hard to beat.
Flow might come in how I make a turn on the piste, the clean carve of the edge, the pop of the tail, the perfect transition in to the next arc. It might come as I invert under the lip of a bank, slashing the lip like its a wave in the ocean. It might be the exhilaration of a straight line down through a narrows into a deep powder carve on the open face below.
More often than not any time spent Snowboarding is going to be amazing fun, but those times when you experience the pure flow of riding are the moments that really stand out and keep pulling you back for more.
I sometimes feel that, these days especially, we concentrate so much on our quest for adventure that we don’t always appreciate the actual flow of our actions and enjoy the moment when we get there.
I often feel that our need to go further, steeper and our push for more demanding challenges distracts us from the pure beauty of the actual ride.
Today, as a freerider, (partly due to the constant bombardment of social media) we are lead to believe that we need to be getting out there travelling further and deeper into the mountains, riding steeper and more exposed lines, riding faster and harder, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, mastering our fears and challenging our physical limits.
I see it every week in the folk I ride with, I see it every day in the posts I follow, I see it everywhere in the resorts I travel through. I see this search, this quest, this yearning for the bigger and greater challenge.
And yet, as with every winter, last season my most pleasurable and most fun riding came from the pure simplicity of making nice turns on simple but fun terrain (be it Backcountry, Slackcountry and even Pisted trails).
Without the distraction of caution, danger, exposure or even other mountain users, I felt I could loose myself in the moment and movement of riding at the best of my ability and just let my riding soar.
The pure sense of the glide, the clean feel of the carve and the perfect subtle movements of pressure along the length of the board, each movement and adjustment of balance able to flow freely through me in perfect harmony from the souls of my feet upwards to the tip of my head and beyond.
Like every season, the moments that really stand out and keep me coming back year after year are the simple moments of perfection when everything works and I feel the Flow take over.
I have often tried worked on the pure flow of movements and micro movements within the sports I follow, be it climbing, surfing, snowboarding, even running.
Those moments when everything works together with pure feeling, rather than just thought and action are those moments that live the clearest and fondest in my memory.
It often makes me think about the eternal question of ‘what is flow?’ and how can we find it and turn it on?
It sometimes takes a step back to the very beginnings to find an understanding of flow and often the very thought process of trying to understand and feel it makes it even more un achievable.
So what is flow and how can we turn it on?
Having played around with this question for many years, I have found that simplicity is the best way to understand and connect with the art of Flow. Bring it right back to the raw basic movements of something that we all do everyday and then work on building our awareness of flow through this simple action.
This is an exercise I use to help me understand and connect with flow.
The simple act of walking is something we’ve all been doing for most of our lives. Its an action we mostly partake in with out conscious thought, easy to feel and easy to achieve, but now what we want to ask ourselves is what is it ‘to walk with flow’?
For me, walking is the perfect action to create an understanding and awareness of flow, so try these simple exercises and get yourself thinking and feeling and understanding what it is that makes you flow. Its a long process, once you get started it never ends and walking might never be the same simple thoughtless process that it once was. When you link ‘flow’ into your riding, the process really knows no limits, the feeling will only get better and better and your drive for more will make you feel like you’re starting all over again… every single day!
I’ve been snowboarding full time every winter for over 30 years now, some 34 winter seasons, and yet, I still feel like I’m still starting out in terms of what I feel I can get out of the simple act of just riding my board.
The art of riding with flow is what keeps me coming back day after day, year after year. It is a feeling that cannot be beaten and cannot be master’d. when you feel it, you just simply live it and then when its gone you just know that you can and want to do it better…
Find a quiet open space with a flat smooth surface to walk around on and simply try walking 10 perfect steps in a row.
Really try to feel how you walk, how you move, how you transfer the weight from one foot to another. Feel the swing of your hip, your hip flexor contracting, the alignment of your knee, the ankle, the roll of the foot…
In this one simple exercise I think it’ll be a safe bet to say that you will suddenly realise that there’s a whole lot more to walking with perfect movement and flow than you at first thought.
Now take of your shoes, find somewhere with smooth flat ground where you’ll be able to feel the whole of your foot working with the ground and simply stand in silence.
Feel the ‘fine Art of standing in silence’.
Find the perfect stance above your feet. Feel the width of your stance, how you use your feet, the tripod from heel to big and little toe and all in between. Feel how you stack above your feet, your joints and spine perfectly extended and in balance from your feet to the crown of your head. Feel how your breath adjusts your balance, how it expands and moves within you.
Now make the same 10 steps?
Ok, so now you probably can feel even more how complex this action has become.
Feel the stance again and now ‘before’ you take the first step feel the movements you make in your feet and feel how you body stacks above these movements.
Now take the step.
Ok, begin again, make this first movement and follow it towards the strike of your first step and then stop and begin again.
Now try to make the first foot strike as smooth and quiet as possible, feel how you use your foot and how you stack and move above it. transfer your body over this foot and begin the process again.
As you progress, become aware of not just your feet but the flow and movement of your whole body as you search for the perfect movement and the perfect step.
Now go for a walk, a new walk, walk like you’ve never walked before and learn from every step you make.
Feel how you use your feet, how you want to use your feet, allow the change and accept that no foot strike or movement will be exactly the same but at the same time feel the flow of movement and alignment over your feet and adjust to make it softer and smoother and more flowing with every step.
Allow you conscious thought to drift and allow the simple feeling of walking teach you something new about yourself.
Feel the flow of movement and thought working together with the simple goal of perfect movement.
As you will find with everything you do, there is no right or wrong, only smoother movement, better alignment, effortless energy transfer and a body more perfectly stacked. It is a never ending process, a moment by moment learning progression. This exercise in the simple act of walking translates to everything and anything that you want it to.
Now imagine this same flow of movement and thought as you ride your Snowboard?
If the simple action of walking can first become so complex and then so perfect, imagine the same process in your riding.
Imagine that complete feeling of perfection running through your stance as you stand ready for the drop in. The subtle movement of pressure to the back heel before the smooth movement from back foot to front foot as you simultaneously roll your front foot towards your toes edge flexing the board along its central axis, subtly releasing the heel edge in the front half of the board, following it with your body stacked over the movement perfectly as gravity pulls you towards the fall line and the ride and creativity waiting below.
Flow can be one turn, one movement, one trick, it can be any action.
An understanding of flow can help you not only improve your riding but can help you learn new actions quicker and easier than before.
Once you understand and feel the movements within the movements you’ll be able to change and adapt to change micro movement by micro movement and progress one moment at a time.
Snowboarding feels amazing! Don’t get lost in the endless search for adventure when the adventure might simply be within every moment you ride.
This coming winter I will be running a series of Freeride flow clinics in the quiet unspoilt calm of the Pyrenees.
Until then get out there and learn to walk again.