Words by AMELIA LIM
For most people, their idea of unwinding might be through doodling, writing or even taking a walk in the park.
However, for medical student Daniel Straw, his way of de-stressing and unleashing his creativity is via extreme board sports like snowboarding and surfing.
The self-professed adrenaline junkie loves the rush and speed of snowboarding in particular, as it has more room for him to create his own medley of tricks and moves, which he sometimes showcases on tape.
“I like the rush and speed, especially for snowboarding as you can go pretty big and stay in the air for a long time,” explains the 23-year-old. “With snowboarding, it’s easier to do a lot of different stuff but for surfing, you have to do what the waves tells you to.
“Sometimes I make GoPro style videos of myself snowboarding or surfing and it is something that I enjoy creating and editing.”
The Victorian who grew up in Alexandra only started surfing when he began his studies at Monash University, because the waves were far from his home. The mountains however were much closer for him, as Straw grew up snowboarding together with his brother, and learning the ropes from his father who also shreds the snow.
Straw’s love for snowboarding runs so deep that he spent six months in New Zealand, during the intermittent break he took from university last year to give himself a breather from school.
The fourth year medical student spent his time snowboarding and working at a ski shop in Queenstown that does promotion work for a heliskiing company, and it was also there that he had the time of his life. Straw was given his first chance to do heli-snowboarding on his birthday at a discounted rate, and he leapt at the golden opportunity without a second’s hesitation.
“The night before my birthday at my birthday party, the heliskiing company called me and asked if I wanted to go heli-skiing for NZD 250 (AUD 230) and it usually costs NZD 1200 (AUD 1100) and I was pretty smashed at that time but I was like yes!” Straw exclaims.
“So, I went heli-snowboarding on my birthday and it was my first time but it was hands down the best snowboarding experience and best day of my life.”
Like most extreme sports, snowboarding does not come without its risks and Straw has had his fair share of near misses and close shaves to potentially serious accidents, not only just in snowboarding but also in surfing.
From nearly getting caught in a mini avalanche in Alberta, Canada, to almost getting electrocuted by lightning whilst on the chairlift on Mt Hotham, the brown-haired snowboarder thanked his lucky stars for his close encounters with death so far.
“My brother and I were snowboarding down a pretty steep chute with rocks on both sides and he was a couple of meters in front of me, he did a turn and the snow below him suddenly just slid off, creating a mini avalanche… it was not enough to bury us but it could have been pretty serious if it was above us,” Straw recounted.
“Another time when I was on a chairlift at Mt Hotham with my friend, and it was just the two of us on it as it was really crappy weather with very low visibility, suddenly there was an explosion of sparks and the lift stopped for 20secs… the only explanation we both have was… the cable got struck by lightning but because the seats were plastic, we didn’t get zapped.”
At this stage if one thinks that Straw’s snowboarding stories were not hair-raising, they should hear about his surfing experiences, where he encountered sharks and had a few near drownings.
Although Straw has never been bitten or witnessed someone else getting bitten by a shark, he is still nevertheless wary of these apex predators, and gives them a wide berth whenever he sees one, like when he was at Sheringa in South Australia.
“I was just sitting on my board and waiting for the waves to come in when I suddenly saw a huge dark shape swimming underneath me and I could see and feel the current pushing against my board when it swam past,” Straw said.
“That area is known for great whites but there were lots of dolphins around as well so I thought it was a dolphin at first… I spun around and asked my friend who was 5-10 metres behind me if it was a dolphin and he had a closer look as it swam underneath him and was like nope! So we paddled the hell out of there.”
However, it was not the shark encounter that left Straw shaken, rather, it was the freakish 12 foot waves that he encountered in Raglan, New Zealand, that nearly cost him his life. The Australian fell when he was attempting to shred a double overhead wave (nearly 4m high), giving himself a bad vertigo when he smacked his head hard against the water as he fell.
“I fell and got really bad vertigo whilst I was underwater and was freaking out, I had to pull my leg rope to climb back on my board but I was so dizzy that I couldn’t even climb on it,” Straw said.
“I didn’t know which direction the other surfers were either as I was still really dizzy and disorientated… and the waves were still crashing on me. This happened for one to two minutes before I was finally able to climb back up and lie on my board.”
This is not the only time that Straw has battled freakish waves and his recent experience was in Samoa earlier this year where he had a tumble in the rough whitewash. His wetsuit top was ripped cleanly off him and was swallowed by the ocean, never to be seen again.
After all these encounters, one might think that Straw would be toying with the idea of quitting or toning it down. But the near two metre tall Alexandra boy feels that it is not as dangerous as most people often think and insists that he is not going to put a halt to his extreme board sport hobbies even when he gets older.
“If you are just cruising down the mountain without trying anything you should be fine, and even for surfing, you can just stick to the shallower parts,” Straw said.
“As long as I am physically able, I will keep doing it as it’s only as dangerous as you make it.”