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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien


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Uncategorized

Dec 01, 2017

For Love of the Bike

A cycling group visits a cafe in Colorado everyday, and takes a young barista under their wing.

WRITTEN BY

Kelly Magelky

Now a professional cyclist, Kelly reflects on the moments that got him here.

 

I always wanted to fit in. One of my first memories as a child was being overly agreeable to try and please other kids just so I could be included in their friendship circle. I’m not exactly sure where it came from, but that character trait was present in me for a large part of my life. I would say the most telling (and traumatic) moments of that trait for me were in junior high and high school when the dreaded call to sign up for sports arrived. ‘Sport’ was seemingly the most important measuring stick of worth in a small town like the one where I grew up. At least that’s how I felt as a young man.

Situated next to the Badlands of North Dakota, Dickinson was a football and wrestling town. My build and athletic ability (or lack thereof), didn’t allow me to even think about trying out for football – and I was definitely not cut out for wrestling. I did find a small group of like-minded allies who were into skateboarding, which became my de facto ‘sport’. There I could find acceptance and freedom to try and be myself. I loved every aspect of skateboarding even though I knew I would never be good at it. However, the community aspect was really what kept me around that circle until I graduated from high school. Just two days after I walked across the stage in our school’s gymnasium to grab that coveted diploma, I packed my bags and left for Colorado.

Kelly racing at MTB90 in Brazil. Despite not even running on his own bike he took third place. Image: MTB90

Being naive has its benefits. When I rolled into Denver at the age of 18, I was wide eyed and ready to take everything in. I hadn’t run away from my home town as much as I had chosen to try a new adventure in life. In fact, I’ve always been very close with my family and it was a difficult decision to leave them in search of a new and unknown chapter in my life.

The first order of business was to get a job. It turns out that graduation money only goes so far when you have to get your first apartment in a big city. I look back on those days with bewilderment that I actually didn’t even think about a financial plan. I just sort of assumed it would work out. And it did. Soon after getting into town, I got a job at a coffee shop where a tight-knit group of cyclists would meet up post-ride and hash out the gritty details of how much they had just suffered, all the while laughing about it. Some of them were bike shop employees, some were just serious cyclists, and some were Olympians. I quickly befriended them – or more accurately – they befriended me. I was a completely unknown kid who was working as a barista and had no athletic ability, but they were treating me like a part of their group. I had expressed interest in learning how to mountain bike after I had seen my first full-suspension bike and I was quickly set up with the gear and the people to teach me how. It was love at first pedal stroke. That was 1998.

Kelly racing at Maah Daah Hey. Image by Chad Ziemendorf.

Just yesterday, I was mountain biking outside of Golden, CO and couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic about the good ol’ days, shortly after I moved here, when I was on the same trail with a friend of mine. She was an Olympic cyclist from Australia and she took me under her wing. There was no ego, no pretension, no feeling of “I’m wasting this woman’s time.” She and I had great conversations which led to a solid friendship. What I remember most was how professional she was, but also how ‘in the moment’ she was. That always stuck with me. She guided me along until I ultimately grew into a bike racer, sharing with me what hard work and discipline looked like and what the outcome would be.

If I take a 30,000 foot view of how I became a ‘professional’ cyclist, I’m completely blown away at how lucky I was to fall into such a great group of people. There was never a need to try and fit in. We all shared a potent love for being outside on two wheels. Sure, some of us loved pushing ourselves harder than others, but that was something each of us respected about one another. One person in particular, Josh, became one of my closest friends and teammates. Of all the hours we spend training together, our conversations rarely revolve around racing. We cover everything from family, kids, work, food, movies, beer and travel. Some of the most formative years of my life happened to be in the midst of my growing love of the bike, so most of my major life-changing events have specific rides and people attached to them. Those moments, those rides, are invaluable to me and I’m so grateful for them.

Ultimately, I realized that I race bikes so I can use it as an excuse to ride. I rarely record any data from my training rides and the most technologically advanced piece of gear I wear is a watch with a second hand (and yes, I deservedly get ridiculed by other athletes). This is not to say that I don’t work hard nor take my ‘second job’ seriously. I’ve always prided myself on being professional when I realized I had an opportunity to excel in a sport, but I was taught by my peers that winning and losing is fleeting. My coach told me to realize the ‘now’, because soon enough it will be the ‘back then’. Bike racing will be done one day so I certainly make sure to enjoy it, but I also know the longevity of the sport lies in my love of being on a trail, high up in the mountains. No number plate needed there.

As with any relationship, sometimes it takes a while to find one another. I was into my 20s before I really started to understand how important cycling was to me and it became a sort of therapy. If I ever needed to get away, the trails were always going to be there. The mountains were always welcoming and the air was ever inviting. Cycling has given me a calmness that I believe I was longing for from a young age and I will forever be grateful to the people who went out of their way to take me in.

Kelly and his twins after winning Maah Daah Hey 100 for the third time in a row. Image by Rachel Sturtz
Feeling inspired to go on a biking trip? Check out The Outdoor Voyage!
Featured Image by Chad Ziemendorf

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Uncategorized

Oct 22, 2018

Surfing the Dream in Taiwan

Tucked away in a remote part of the eastern coast of Taiwan, surfer and board-maker, Neil Roe is working on his next creation.

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WRITTEN BY

Alison Watson

It’s a magnificent piece of crafted wood which begs you to touch it. On seeing it, I am seduced by its smooth curves, the rich grain of the wood and the delicate geometric insets. Is it possible to fall in love with a surf-board at first sight?

A deeper admiration surfaces when Roe explains that this board has literally emerged from the jungle outside. Roe shows me a log of wood lying in the workshop: “This is the wood we use. It’s called Paulownia and it’s a very strong and light wood that doesn’t absorb salt water and won’t rot. It’s also the fastest growing hardwood.”

The jungle road to the workshop is a doozy.

“Roe tells me how he scours the Taiwanese jungle for fallen logs after typhoons have passed.”

My eyes are drawn to the twisted hunk of fallen tree. It’s difficult to believe that this transforms into the gleaming surfboards that rest against the wall. Roe tells me how he scours the Taiwanese jungle for fallen logs after typhoons have passed, and after haggling with the local indigenous people for a good price, he will haul the log back to the workshop.

Roe and business partner, Clyde Van Zyl, currently work from a rough studio that rests beside dense jungle some 2 km from the small town of Dong’ao. The town is perched near a bay with dramatic cliffs that plunge abruptly to the Pacific Ocean. Roe describes it as the ‘start of the real east coast of Taiwan’. Other than some low-key fishing operations and guests of organised kayaking trips, the pebble-lined beach in the bay remains relatively deserted. I’m told it’s possible to camp for the night and enjoy a fire on the beach.

Rough Jungle Workshop

“Before you even get in the water, just picking up a wooden board connects you with the earliest history of surfing.”

To get to the Zeppelin Wood workshop, however, we need to drive inland on the opposite side of town. We direct our taxi driver, flagged down from the train station further up the coast in Su’ao, deeper towards the jungle-clad mountains. As we drive onto a muddy dirt track she becomes increasingly agitated. It’s a relief then, when we see Roe popping out from a derelict-looking shed on the side of road and giving us a wave. She promptly tells him that we owe her more money for the rough driving conditions she has endured getting us there. It’s an exaggeration but I’m not about to argue. I’m keen to get inside the workshop and check out Roe’s creations.

Normal greetings aside, I can’t help but ask the Mandarin Chinese-speaking Roe how he ended up here. It’s a long way from Durban, South Africa. He explains that he was once slaving away behind a computer as a product designer, enduring constant deadlines, and feeling unsatisfied facing the daily office grind. He started dreaming about the possibility of going to Japan, famous for its woodwork and joinery, and finding some wood design guru who would agree to mentor him. And so, off he set.

Roe and Van Zyl’s surboard workshop in the Taiwanese Jungle

But a quick stop in Taiwan on-route visiting an old university friend teaching English quickly turned into three-months, six months, then a year: “I remember I was on a surf trip to Taitung with some friends, camping on an empty beach, jungle clad mountains rising up behind us, Pacific Ocean blue in-front, empty waves rolling endlessly down the point right there. I was hooked. I remember thinking… Can you really do this? Is this kind of life possible? I felt so free in that paradise. I never wanted to leave. I’m still here ten years later. Still smiling.”

Not long after this, he and Van Zyl searched the east coast for some place small to start building their business from, with key requirements of being cheap, close to the waves, and having accommodation to begin a small guesthouse. But the business has now outgrown the current facilities, and the owner of the guesthouse returned home and wanted his house back. The pair are currently searching for new premises to expand their dream of surf and lifestyle.

One of a Kind Craftsmanship

Their expansion plans also align with their new partnership with a surfboard manufacturer further up the coast who will do the final epoxy-fibreglass finishing of each board. It’s a messy, time-consuming job that’s best done on a larger scale and Roe tells me this will make the whole process more efficient. He’s hoping that once cranking they will be able to make finished boards within ten days.

Neil Roe left his office life behind to follow his dream

But this isn’t mass produced product at budget prices. Roe is aiming for the type of surfer who has a passion for a different type of surfing and is prepared to invest in a one-of-a-kind board, made by hand, and coming from nature.

I ask Roe to explain the difference between riding a wooden surfboard to the modern foam composites. He hesitates, searching to put into words the obvious devotion he has for his craft and surfing: “There is an emotional pull for a wooden board, a type of nostalgia that draws you in. Before you even get in the water, just picking up a wooden board connects you with the earliest history of surfing. The ancient Hawaiians used to shape boards out of Koa logs harvested from the jungle. There are so many classic stories and photos etched into our memories of pioneer surfers riding balsa boards.”

Hand-crafted surfboards to meet a variety of sizes.

Aside from the aesthetic and emotional reasons, wooden boards have other qualities according to Roe: “They are heavier, and this weight translates into a different feel in water. I think it makes you surf more in tune with the wave, as you start to use gravity and wave power to get speed and direction. You follow the waves lead and you end up surfing differently and a kind of graceful style evolves. Combining the extra weight with the stiffness makes for a silky-smooth ride you just don’t get on other materials. This is especially noticeable on the wooden longboards in bigger, faster and choppier waves.”

Taiwan’s Typhoons Bring Waves

“Any invitation to come on over, enjoy a fire on the beach, surf, explore the jungle and generally get lost in this fascinating part of Asia is one worth taking.”

Surfing in Taiwan is gaining popularity but it’s still a little rough around the edges. But that’s probably what makes it special. The waves are most consistent between the months of November to March, although typhoon season from April to September can also reward surfers with big beefy waves. Water temperature doesn’t go below 20 degrees. Best of all, Roe tells me that you can easily find empty waves in the weekdays, and even in the weekends if you are prepared to look. There are plenty of places to rent boards and travel is relatively easy.

Taiwan is still relatively unknown as a surf destination but it’s an ultra-cool place with good waves and the laid-back style of Bali – without all the crowds.

Just remember to bring an international driver’s licence, as well as your national driver’s licence, if you intend to rent transport. We didn’t and renting a car was impossible. Luckily, public transport is good with a train system running down most of the east coast with plentiful cheap connecting bus services. Most surf shops run shuttles, can hire out scooters, or are close enough that you can walk to the break. But having a car would give you much greater freedom to explore this wild coastline.

While Roe and Van Zyl are concentrating on developing their surfboard business they also encourage people to visit the workshop and get involved in the process of making something. And the pair offer a small number of dedicated surf trips where travellers can: “Chase waves, camp on the beach, visit the hot springs, and explore waterfalls and mountain swimming holes.” Basically, Roe says it’s the kind of surf trip that they like to do themselves when they have free time: “For sure we’ll take some of our boards along for the surfers to try out. But hopefully we’ll also make some friends along the way.”

Finished Zeppelin Board in Taiwanese temple.

Any invitation to come on over, enjoy a fire on the beach, surf, explore the jungle and generally get lost in this fascinating part of Asia is one worth taking. You may even fall in love with a piece of wood beneath your feet.

Images by Dr Alison Watson

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