Skiing and Surfing: Separated at Birth

Bryan Berkowitz Photography

Two of the world’s most popular adventure sports have inspired and influenced each other for more than half a century. By Jay Cowan

LIFE magazine was likely the first national publication to recognize surfing’s impact on skiing, and it wasn’t favorable. In the issue dated March 12, 1965, the editors ran a feature headlined, “Aspen’s Awful Surfer Problem.” The story described Aspen as “one of the toniest ski resorts in the country—until the surfers arrive. Then the town fills with youngsters…there’s wild skiing and wilder parties rock the nights. These surfers-turned-skiers are a new breed on the slopes.”

While the story insisted “the new invasion makes Aspen very unhappy,” it gave skiing the same glamorous national spotlight that was already making surfing explode. Skiing grew in popularity among surfers—and also attracted people who had never considered either sport, but wanted to try something sexy and fun. 

Snow riding and wave riding have many of the same followers who pursue both passions with one love. Soulful sports that employ water as their medium—on liquid waves or frozen slopes—both are artistic expressions of freedom in exciting and beautiful places. And the lifestyles can be alluringly hedonistic. 

Of course, not all the surfer/skiers were “bums” and “vagabonds,” as the Life story labeled them. Joey Cabell from Hawaii was one of the most famous surfers of the 1960s. He started skiing at 19 in Alta and moved to Aspen in 1960 to take up ski racing. “In the early ’60s, Europeans still dominated the Aspen ski scene,” he told me. “And we weren’t what they were used to. But as long as crossovers with [skiing] exist, surfers will be there.” ...

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