I was stoned, in love, and angry because I couldn’t ski. Not necessarily in that order.
Up at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, it was close to heaven, a heaven of snow and ski babes. A friend of mine had a timeshare there and invited me to go skiing. He was a dude from the neighborhood and we were living the California lifestyle. Or trying to.
At the time, I actually was living in Cupertino, 10445 Mary Avenue. I’ll never forget that address. It was one of the best times of my life, and that is saying something. We had a swimming pool outside the patio door, sunshine, fine wine, cold beer, blender drinks, babes all around. Anything seemed possible.
Except for one thing. Skiing. I had been to the Olympics, thrown heavy iron in world class events, competed against the best, but when it came to skiing, I was a babe in the woods. I didn’t know it was going to scare the hell out of me and become one of my most memorable experiences. I can still recall it like it happened yesterday. Or the day before yesterday.
It became one of those scary events in which your life passes in front of your eyes as you are speeding down a mountain, and I knew I didn‘t want it to end just yet. My life, that is.
But more than a death-defying experience, the skiing weekend became a practical application for throwing. See? If you just put some thinking into it, you can turn almost any life experience into a practical application for throwing.
Drinking shots of tequila, for instance. Don’t do it. I had been to ABC’s Super Stars and was looking forward to the throwing season of 1976, which was just starting. I would be heading to throwing boot camp in Texas, which would include a night in Juarez, Mexico drinking cheap tequila. Don’t do it.
But at Squaw Valley it wasn’t the skiing that taught me anything about throwing. What I learned about throwing at Squaw Valley came from the snowball fight. It was more of a snowball ambush, really, which is the best kind of engagement.
It was my first skiing experience and my last. As a working class kid from the flatlands, I never had the money to go skiing. It was an expensive sport then and still is, more so today.
So when the opportunity arose, I said yes, not knowing what was in store for me. After all, I thought, it’s only playing around in the snow. Then you put on armor-plate boots, strap long boards to them and hold short, pointed spears that are made for stabbing. If you think about it too much, you’d never do it, and it gave me a far greater appreciation for the downhill events in the Winter Olympics. Any place that has a ski run named Granite Chief is going to be formidable.
I overcame my fear of skiing by sublimating it through mild intoxicants, readily available everywhere in California without a prescription at that time. You could literally follow your nose to find some. There was no war against illegal drugs back then and it seemed everyone was a lot calmer about the whole situation.
But back to the snowball ambush. A friend and I rode the chair lift up and I then saw that I had to get off and ski somehow. I had not taken a lesson, so this was a challenge. I managed to do it without falling, but I did learn how to fall by myself, no problem.
I couldn’t stop, but I figured out how to maneuver my skis to make these big looping awkward turns from side to side. I was able to slow down and stop and at one point and took out my pipe and had a little marijuana moment. Why not? Everybody else was, including a lot of my training partners.
I remember I was wearing blue jeans and a thick sweater I bought in Norway before the Munich Olympics with a blue jean jacket over that.
I was looking very cowboy-ish, which was big at that time. Western films were still pretty big, so it set a western fashion trend and when in California, do as the Californians do.
As I paused on the hill, I did what came natural and started throwing. It seemed like the thing to do. I was up the mountain a bit and started lobbing snowballs high into the air, landing them right between the skis of other people. Some of them would stop and throw back, but they couldn’t touch me since I was uphill of them.
I relate this story because throwing snowballs helped my shot throwing. I don’t mean just blasting a snowball in the general direction of someone. I mean calculating, judging, and releasing toward a target. This can help in discovering what the effortless throw might feel like. Throwing snowballs can teach you to throw rather than shove, which is what you want to work into your shot performance — throw rather than shove. It became the missing link between shoving and throwing and I began working on the speed of the shoulder movement and then led me to develop what I called the “Big Shoulder” technique. This separated the shoulder from the hip and led to faster shoulder motion. It was a fusion of shoving the shot and throwing it. It helped me let the nothingness into my throws.
It was a revelation that I could still wind up and throw something as smoothly as I could. There was a range of motion in it that connected with my inner throwing mojo and awoke that childhood memory of why and when we begin to throw things, like spoons and rubber duckies.
Most throwers remember throws in which they exerted great effort and as much power as they could muster in order to achieve their best throw. But the best throws don’t require a blast of power. Athletes often remember the adversity of the throw, but they don’t remember the effortless throw, the throw that seems to float up and out in a graceful line that could go on forever.
The other thing I learned that weekend is that no matter how strong or fearless, anybody can be terrified.
It’s the beginning of the throwing season, the dead of winter, and a good time to go out and throw some snowballs. Try throwing them with the South African technique. Effortlessly.
By Brian Oldfield with George Houde