Dream weaver: Kauk’s vision prepares him for Winter X Games

By John Marshal
AP Sports Writer 1-08

Snowboarder Lonnie Kauk flies off of a jump in this 2007 photo at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

AP Photo by Pater Maxwell Morning

Lonnie Kauk dreams...

Not the fantastical daydreams of others, of winning the lottery or wishing he could fly. His are more like visions, images of the past and future that mold him, prepare him for the challenges of life.

Kauk imagines himself in a previous existence as a warrior shaman or samurai, a noble protector who never wavers from his beliefs. The present dreams come while lying in bed, visualizing himself as this little character who does amazing things on a snowboard, an alter ego he can slip into while shredding the mountain.

When Kauk dreams of the future, it’s of the mental world taking physical form, belief manifesting itself into truth.

These visions are bound by a positive energy, an unshakable faith – based on the principles of his American Indian ancestors – that anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself.

Kauk’s ideology has led him to the Winter X Games during January 2008, in Aspen, Colo., where the 25-year-old rookie is poised to take the next, perhaps biggest, step toward realizing his dreams – and creating a buzz while he’s doing it.

With all the pieces of his life – past and present – coming together, Kauk is ready to succeed on one of his sport’s biggest stages, to learn from his mistakes if he fails.

“My dream was to be where I’m at, for sure, with everything, the way I think, the way I feel about things,” Kauk said. “I try not to get too frustrated with anything and be stoked with it all. In contests sometimes you do good and sometimes you don’t. It’s all learning and you’re just climbing a ladder or going with the water, flowing with things, always knowing that things are getting better, not worse.”

If it seems a bit much for a snowboarder to take such heady views of riding down a mountain on a chunk of fiberglass, consider where he comes from.

Kauk is a direct descendant of Chief Tenaya, the Ahwahneechee leader when California’s Yosemite Valley was discovered in 1850, and was raised by his maternal grandparents, who still follow many Native American traditions. He’s also the son of pioneering rock climber Ron Kauk, who made groundbreaking ascents in Yosemite in the 1970s and became world renown for his climbing abilities.

Lonnie Kauk grew up in the Yosemite Valley, where he felt a connection to nature, where his grandparents taught him the principles of his ancestors, to be respectful of everyone and everything.

So when he talks about a spiritual feeling while he’s riding a snowboard, a oneness with the mountain, it’s not schtick. This is the way Kauk lives his life and snowboarding just happens to be a big part of it.

“Knowing where I came from where my family came from, how they lived off the land, had a lot of respect for the earth and each other, always kind of helped me be grateful,” Kauk said. “Not that I was all religious or anything like that, it was just kind of natural to feel that.”

Respect is the reason Kauk has waited so long for his big moment.

Exceptionally fluid and able to pull off unbelievable tricks – he once did a 720 over a 120-foot gap – Kauk has been considered one of the world’s top riders for years. But he refused to get caught up in the competitive snowboarding scene, about making a name for himself by entering contests, worrying about whether he was wearing the right gear or not.

It all goes back to the way Kauk was brought up.

He was taught not to do anything before you’re ready, before visualizing it over and over, before preparing mentally for success or failure. So instead riding in front of big crowds as a professional, Kauk uncorked his amazing tricks in relative anonymity.

Now, after all those years of equipping himself for the future, Kauk is ready to take it head on. He’s got the right people (positive) in place to help him along, the financial support (a recently signed sponsorship deal with DC Shoes) to travel to contests around the world, and the confidence to deal with whatever comes at him.

“It just matters if you can deal with it mentally and don’t let other things pollute your way of doing things,” Kauk said during a break from a contest in Switzerland. “Once you’re prepared for it and you have people guiding you in the right way, you’re never really going to lose yourself, feel doubt or insecure or whatever. I’m not going to let what people say or whatever jeopardize the way I feel about myself.”

Kauk’s chosen path has given him an almost mystical quality in the eyes of his fellow competitors.

When he drops into the pipe for the first time during late January, there will be more than just a few curious eyes following every 900 and 1080. Though some of world’s top snowboarders have caught glimpses of Kauk, at Mammoth Mountain or in the handful of events he’s entered, he’s mostly a mystery, this amazing rider who everyone has heard about, but few have seen.

It’s creating buzz that hasn’t been felt around Buttermilk Mountain since Shawn White came back with gold from the Olympics.

“I don’t know much about him,” said Andreas Wiig, who won two Winter X golds last year. “I watched him ride when I was over in Mammoth. He’s always impressed me. I’m always like ‘who’s this guy? He’s really, really good.’ Everyone’s been talking about him.”

Kauk is keenly aware – not surprisingly – of the stir he’s causing, the curiosity his fellow riders have about seeing him on such a big stage. And he’s ready for it. No matter what happens, whether he ends up on the podium or on his backside, Kauk knows he’s done everything he can to prepare for the moment.

“For me, it’s like art,” he said. “I’m going to paint a picture and people are going to look at it, but as long as I feel good about my picture, then it’s OK.”

And, of course, he’s already got a mental image of what it’ll be like.

“Once I heard that I was going, I’ve dreamed about it every night; every night I lie in bed and think about it,” Kauk said. “I just want to feel good. I don’t want to feel pressure to do good, basically just ride and feel free-flowing and be able to create anything, maybe even something new.”

And, if everything works out, his dreams will come true.