I've said it before and I'll say it again, I LOVE doing interviews! There are so many unique and amazing people in this world and I love to share their stories through these interviews. It allows to me to get an insight into a world different to mine, but in many ways the same. It gives me a different perspective on things, broadens the way I think and I'm left feeling totally inspired. This interview with James Chao does all of these things.
We were lucky enough to spend a day on the mountain with James last season in Queenstown. Aside from the fact that James is a super rad, chilled dude exuding positive vibes, he is also a kickass coach. He took me through a bunch of progressions on a jump which then lead to me hitting the biggest jump I had ever attempted. The change in my ability from the start of the day to the end of the day was huge! I couldn't believe what I had achieved in such a short amount of time.
But enough about me. In this interview, James talks about breaking stereotypes, finding your passion and personal progression. Check out the interview below and give James a high five in the comments below!
Q. TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
Both my parents are Taiwanese, and I was born in Taiwan. I moved to NZ at the age of 8. Growing up I played a lot of badminton - something my dad got me into. It was never a passion, although I loved the social side of sports and doing well would encourage me to carry on and try harder. I stopped playing once I left school to do an apprenticeship in Maintenance Engineering - again not a passion, although it was a good choice financially and I enjoyed being outside of the stereotype.
Working with my hands has never been my strength, although in a way I am quite competitive, especially with myself, so I ended up staying in the industry to prove to myself that I can be "handy". This self-competitiveness came in handy when I was introduced to snowboarding at the age of 18, during the last year of my apprenticeship. I fell A LOT on my first few days. Luckily I was stubborn enough to push through and eventually found what I’m passionate about.
During the past 10 back to back winters, I’ve worked in various departments at ski fields in Canada, USA, Japan and New Zealand including Lift Operations and Terrain Park but mainly instructing. Most recently after achieving the SBINZ (Snowboard Instruction New Zealand) L3 certification for instructing I have been taking training sessions for other instructors in Japan.
Q. 10 BACK TO BACK WINTERS, THAT'S QUITE AN ACHIEVEMENT. WHAT IS IT ABOUT SNOWBOARDING THAT'S GOT YOU MISSING SUMMER EVERY YEAR?
Snowboarding is my passion, but it’s also the sense of progression. Not only in snowboarding, but the whole package of going back and forth to new places and progressing by making connections/discoveries about people from all different cultures and walks of life that helps me progress along as a person.
Q. YOU TALK ABOUT STEREOTYPE, SOMETHING I CAN TOTALLY RELATE TO. TELL US MORE ABOUT FIGHTING STEREOTYPES AND WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW YOUR PASSION
One thing I can draw from my own experiance is that you can really be who and what you want to be, despite stereotypes, expectations, social pressures etc. I wasn't good with my hands, but I sucked more at studying in school. I used to rip out pages of my final report from school, the pages which said I failed something, to stop my parents freaking. Haha.
During my first year of apprenticeship I had a work accident - caught my hand in burning hot machinery, which resulted in the permanently "clawed" middle finger of my dominant hand. Still I stayed within the industry for 7 years and "conquered" my clumsiness. It also helped finance the first few seasons of being an instructor later on (you dont get much work usually for the first few seasons as a rookie).
If you know what your passion is, then seek out a path that ultimately leads you to where you want to be. Maybe it’s creating a living through your passion, or doing something you enjoy that also allows you to incorporate your passion into your lifestyle. Don’t let the illusions of stereotypes and external pressures keep you from working towards doing what you absolutely enjoy. At the end of the day, if you enjoy it, you’re most likely going to put in 100% and do it well!
Q. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A SNOWBOARDING INSTRUCTOR?
Snowboarding can be an incredibly expensive sport. Unless you live and work in a ski town, lift passes, travel expenses and accommodation can add up quickly, making it inaccessible to somebody like myself. I also wanted to be on my snowboard as much as possible, meet new people, and learn new skills, so becoming an instructor and getting a job on the mountain was the ideal situation in the beginning.
I would like to think that we can all make a positive impact in our world no matter what we do, and instructing has become my way of making a difference by passing on my stoke so they can maybe take it away, and somehow use it in their lives back home.
Q. BEING AN INSTRUCTOR SOUNDS LIKE A KICK ASS JOB. BUT IT'S NOT ALL ROSES RIGHT? WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF BECOMING AN INSTRUCTOR?
In the beginning work can be hard to come by. But with the right attitude and work ethics you can definitely make enough money to survive. One of the biggest challenges is actually having to relocate almost every 5-6 months if you wish to live in year round winter. Planning and organizing logistics, accommodation and applying for jobs can become stressful and tedious. Making new friends is great, but having to leave them sucks. It is almost impossible to maintain a long term relationship!! Hey ladies… haha!
Q. YOUR TEACHING STYLE ROCKS. I CAN VOUCH FOR THAT FIRST HAND. YOU SEEM TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW AND WHEN TO PUSH SOMEONE TO TAKE THEM TO THE NEXT LEVEL. IT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT SKILL AS AN INSTRUCTOR BUT NOT EVERYONE GETS IT RIGHT. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO A NEW INSTRUCTOR ABOUT THIS?
As instructors we want to make people kick-ass snowboarders in the shortest amount of time, and sometimes the most challenging aspect of instructing is being patient. Stop and listen to your students to understand what it is they really want out of the lesson. Get into their shoes to understand what the issue is that’s preventing them from absorbing what you’re trying to teach them.
Try new teaching styles, try weird stuff – if it dosen't work, at least it’ll be a good laugh!
Q. AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WANTING TO LEARN FREESTYLE?
Please please please don’t “#justsendit”. Take a lesson, ask for advice. For almost everything freestyle, there is a progression you can work with to achieve your goal SAFELY in the terrain park. Always ride with a buddy.
Q. HAHA, BRILLIANT ADVICE! YOU'RE ALSO A BIT OF A WHIZZ ON THE CAMERA AND PUT TOGETHER A LOT OF PROMOTIONAL VIDEOS FOR REMARKABLES PARK LAST SEASON. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR THE AMATEUR VIDEOGRAPHERS AMONGST US?
Haha, you’re giving me too much credit here!! I love documenting snowboarding via videos – although I’m very much still an amateur. However, the best tips I have received and have helped me the most so far are – composition and lighting, get better at story-telling and try to incorporate that into a snowboarding video, think about what trick the subject is about to do, and where is the best angle to capture the trick and landing.
If anyone has any more tips for me I would love to hear about them too!!
Check James's vid made for the NZ park battle competition, where four terrain parks battle it out by video!
Q. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT SNOWBOARDING?
Playing guitar, trying to surf, and probably petting a dog.
Q. WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?
Instagram, email, Tinder, on The Remarkables during winter in NZ, and good luck finding me in the northern hemisphere, because I'll be hiding in the white room somewhere on the mountain in Niseko, Japan.
Q. WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
Working in the Terrain Park at The Remarks is just around the corner as the season starts in June this year. Then I will be back at Niseko, Japan instructing and enjoying the Onsens!
Q. GIVE ME THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF. OR WHAT FRIENDS WOULD SAY ABOUT YOU.
“dude, got your pass?” - sorry that’s four words…
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Jen spends most of her time following Mick around the mountain, often unintentionally off jumps and cliff drops. Currently on a mission to prove that you’re never too old to try freestyle. Aside from snowboarding, a little obsessed about tattoos, CrossFit, saving animals, learning to play the guitar and clean eating. Web designer and digital marketing nerd.