Just being Tina – Snowboarding pioneer still breaking new ground
To tell Tina Basich’s story, you’d need to write a book.
So she did.
Cross that one off the list.
To know, we’d have to have a look at that list, an apparently long and diverse docket that both serves as a map showing where she’s been and where’s she’s still headed. But it’s actually the simple act of crossing something off the list that matters to her most.
“Oh, I love lists,” she said during a recent interview at a Nevada City coffee shop. “I have a list every single day. I have things on that list just to make sure I get to cross something off.
“There is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off the list.”
Basich has been described not only as an elite athlete, being one of the top snowboarders in the world, but also as a pioneer and a renaissance woman.
Ask her, though, and she’s “just Tina.”
She’s just Tina, whether she’s up to her elbows in weeding the herb garden or fixing the picket fence around her Nevada City home.
She’s just Tina, whether she’s painting a water color or designing a line of clothing.
And, whether she’s trying new tricks in the halfpipe, cutting seconds from a world-class slalom run or carving long arching turns in the untouched powder of an Alaskan mountain vista Ð more than ever – she’s just Tina.
“I pinch myself sometimes,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to have my passions and dreams be my career.”
The rest, she said, is just icing on the cake.
And for Tina, that’s quite a bit of icing.
She and her little brother Mike, today a professional snowboarder and photographer who lives in Colfax, were like many children growing up in the Sacramento suburbs. Their world – defined as “Fairyland” in her autobiography “Pretty Good for a Girl” (Bookseller, $15.95), which was published last year – was one of creativity, building tree forts and bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard of their Fair Oaks home. Occasionally, her parents would pack up the family of four and head to the Sierra for a winter weekend. After learning to ski, Tina and Mike would “snowplow” downhill all day, go sledding or build a snowman.
Then it was back to Sac.
And for their childhood, they spent more time on their skateboards than anything else. Or, at least that was case until their mom hurried home to tell them about this thing she’d just seen at a ski shop.
It was called a snowboard.
“Snowboarding to us was a savior,” she wrote in her book. “It was wholly original and something all our own. There were no role models. We made things up as we went along Ð stickering our boards like our school notebooks, duct-taping our equipment, cutting plastic straps to make bindings smaller around our feet, testing out new tricks.
“The addiction was instant the first time we figured out how to link turns down a hill. Riding down a natural slope with the wind in your face from the speed you’re creating is freedom and that’s completely intoxicating.”
Soon after trying out a rental one day at Soda Springs, she was off and carving. She and her friends embraced a sport Ð one with rules yet to be written Ð that they could make into anything they desired. And in a scene dominated by boys, she was one of just a handful of girls who, at the time, had strapped themselves onto a board for the long haul.
She entered her first competition in 1986 at Donner Ski Ranch, one of the few resorts that even allowed boarders to ride their lifts, and promptly took third place in the halfpipe. A year later, she captured first place in both the halfpipe and slalom, at competitions at both Donner Ski Ranch and Mt. Shasta.
It was later that year, in March of ’87, when she traveled to Breckinridge, Colo. and the newly-formed World Championships, etching her name into the history of the sport with a sixth-place finish in the halfpipe.
“The direction the sport went was definitely in the hands of the people who started out in the mid ’80s,” she said. “First it was just slalom and giant slalom races. Then we started to get air and do tricks, like Indy grabs, just like we did on our skateboards.
“I don’t think it was a conscious decision to start doing freestyle stuff, it was just where we were at.”
And where they were … was just the beginning.
Odyssey of Opportunity
It wasn’t long after her performance at the World level that opportunity came knocking. And it did so in the form of a sponsorship and roster spot from Kemper snowboards.
“Being sponsored meant that I was under contract to wear only my sponsors’ clothing and gear and that I represented them whenever I was snowboarding,” she wrote. “My obligations were to compete in snowboarding competitions and be in photo shoots for media exposure in the new snowboarding magazines.
“I was getting a free ride to travel the world and snowboard. I wasn’t giving this up for anything. I was an athlete-a professional snowboarder.”
From there, and her World-class performances, the rest is history Ð both hers and snowboarding’s.
Among her career highlights, a record long enough to rival her “list,” is a first-place in Big Air at the 1998 ESPN X Games in Crested Butte, Colo., in addition to a U.S. Open championship in 1991.
From her podium appearances has come only more opportunity to flourish in fields she also thoroughly enjoys. Her artwork decorates her own-designed pro model snowboards – another item on her list – and she also designs lines of clothing for her sponsoring companies.
“All of these opportunities also meant I was snowboarding every day, because they were using me to plug their products,” she said. “There was a huge conflict, in the beginning, between the core snowboarders and the industry.
“Some people said the industry was going to rip the soul out of snowboarding. Nobody can ever touch the soul of snowboarding. They can’t change the way it all started.”
It was a matter very close to her own heart and soul that, perhaps, created an event in 1996 that was every bit as impressive an accomplishment as her actual athletic achievements.
When a 26-year-old colleague and fellow snowboarder revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Tina and friends answered the call.
“I thought breast cancer was something that our grandmothers were dealing with. Not us,” Tina wrote in the book. “And not a dear friend fighting for her life and having a mastectomy.”
Her friend, Monica Steward, died at the age of 29.
In her memory, Tina and two of her snowboarding friends, Sharon Dunn and Lisa Hudson, organized “Boarding for Breast Cancer,” a festival-type event hosted at Sierra-At-Tahoe, that brought the snowboarding community together for both a competition and a good cause. The top pro riders in the country came out, as well as some top-shelf bands providing the background music to a celebratory scene. Nearly 6,000 people turned out for the inaugural event, which was headlined by none other than the Beastie Boys, helping to raise about $50,000.
Boarding for Breast Cancer (www.b4bc.org) has since become its own entity, hosting “board-a-thon” events at several sites across the country each year. Tina remains active with the group, setting up shop at snowboarding competitions in order to educate young women on breast cancer and the importance of performing self exams. She also donates portions of the proceeds from the sales of her pro-model snowboard to the cause.
Her career – at least during winter’s months – have been a whirlwind for Tina.
In addition to her snowboarding, designing and writing, she’s also been the subject of several stories for various media outlets. She’s been on the cover of a magazine in Japan, filmed Mountain Dew commercials in the U.S. and even had her likeness digitized into a video-game character.
She’s now hosting her own TV show, “GKA” (www.gkatv.com) a half-hour, girls-action sports show on FUEL, Fox’s new action sports network. The show is in between seasons, but Tina said has been picked up for 14 new episodes, which will begin air in August.
“Here I thought I’d be downshifting my career,” she said. “And I find myself all miked up on a 125 (cc motorcycle), heading across the track. Surfing, skating, moto-cross, I guess I’m not really downshifting things, huh?”
Instead, it seems she’s shifting a new career into high gear.
Last month, she worked as a commentator in NBC’s coverage of the World Snowboarding Championships in Whistler, British Columbia, which will air 9 a.m. Sunday on KRCA, Sacramento’s NBC affiliate.
“They flew me up there, handed me one of those NBC embroidered jackets, miked me up and then it was like ‘Oh, my gosh. What did I get myself into,'” she said. “It was kind of my tryouts with them for the Olympics. Since that, they’ve hired me for four more jobs. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because that’s my new goal to get to the Olympics.”
But she’s not done.
In January, she also presented “Carving a Path for Women” at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in Nevada City. The presentation included an animated short by Paul Frank, starring herself; a montage of “GKA”; and a sneak preview of her directing debut of the film, “Represent: The Rise of Women in Action Sports,” due out this year.
“That’s the project this year,” she said, before admitting there are plenty more projects awaiting her return to Nevada City.
“This is the perfect place to live, with all the old houses and architecture,” she said. “I wanted to be in the mountains, but not in a ski town. I wanted a place where I could have my herb garden, my tulips and lavender. My mom said I should check out Nevada City. So we did. And that was that. Halfway up Broad Street, we did a U-turn and I walked into Cornerstone Realty.
“There’s always a house project, especially when you live in a house that’s 130 years old. Life just got a lot busier because winter has kicked in, but it’s always nice to come home to the good life in Nevada City.”
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It’s just good to be back playing.