Snowboarder Brings Positive Message to Campus
It seems crazy that a Californian would visit Phoenix in the dead of summer to talk to Native American basketball players about snowboarding.
Or does it?
In a sense, that unlikely scenario was a perfect fit for the optimistic, anything-is-possible message of 28-year-old Lonnie Kauk on Wednesday evening, July 7, at Antelope Gym on the GCU campus. The occasion was NABI Night, an event held in conjunction with the annual Native American Basketball Invitational in Phoenix.
Kauk (pronounced COWK) is a professional snowboarder who looks the part with his stringy hair, backward cap and loose-fitting clothes. But those judging him by his gear and laid-back vibe are in for a surprise.
“I put my heart and my Native spirit into all of this,” says Kauk, who is from Yosemite Valley, Calif., and is of Ahwahneechee descent. “I found something I love to do, and I’m very passionate about it.
“If you’ve got Native blood and it’s pumping through you, you’ve got to be proud of that. That can take you places.”
For Kauk, some of those places are spectacular and can be seen in snowboarding films featuring him. As his NABI audience watched one short film of Kauk gliding down the face of a mountain in British Columbia, there were audible gasps of amazement at his fluid technique and athleticism.
Kauk, who says he was on skis at the age of 2, dreamed of making the U.S. ski team until he took up snowboarding in his teens. For years, he worked overnight as a janitor at Mammoth Mountain so that he could be on his board during the day. He says his worst injury has been a dislocated finger.
None of this would have happened, he says, if he hadn’t found his purpose and acted on it. The odds of a Native American — or anyone — becoming a snowboarder backed by corporate endorsements are steeper than the mountains he loves.
“No matter what, I carry my Native side, the spirit that’s alive in us all,” says Kauk, who is half-Native and whose father is a rock climber. “The Native side is special. You have respect for everybody and everything.”
He acknowledges he hasn’t taken the “regular route” to a career. But the perks can be out of this world.
“I’m always in beautiful places all the time, and that’s the best part of it,” says Kauk, a rock climber in the warmer months. “Anything you can put your heart into, that’s where it’s at. The second you think, ‘I just love what I do, I don’t care what anybody thinks, I just love it,’ that’s when things happen for you.
“I get to live a crazy good life, and I can’t believe it.”