Filipina Olympic Snowboarding Competitor Travels The World And Tells What It Is Like Being Asian In A Frozen Industry.

Falling In Love With Snowboarding

Snowboarding is the main reason why I ever got the travel itch. But before that, growing up at the beach and being immersed in surf culture was all time.

I remember waking up before school and riding my bike with my surfboard under my arm down to the nearest beach break. My friends and I would surf until there was hardly any time to barely squeak into first period – clothes slightly salty and hair sopping from the ocean. From there, naturally the progression of board-world took my family up to the mountains.

My dad had gotten me into surfing and then he introduced me to snowboarding. My entire family fell in love with the sport. But something I noticed early on was that we were different. We were in fact one of the few Filipino families consistently going up to the local mountains. And even though snowboarding has always been an inclusive community – a sport born from rebellion – I found the sport lacking something.

I found myself being an advocate for everything the sport is lacking. I started pushing for diversity in the outdoors. In addition, I started pushing for female representation in this “male-dominated” sport. (Side note I say that in sarcastic air quotes because this is whole idea of things being “male-dominated” needs to change. We. Are. 50. Percent. Of. The. Population. We have been here and we are not going anywhere.)

Traveling While Asian-Snowboarding Family

Representing The Philippines In The Winter Olympics

In the meantime, things progressed for me in snowboarding. Around the age of 16 I was traveling the nation to go to contests. By 20 I was going overseas to go to World Cups, trying to gain points for the 2014 Winter Games to represent the Philippines.

This is was an experience that really struck a chord with me. The Philippines had reached out to me since I had dual citizenship and said they would be able to cover my entry fees but couldn’t support me financially until I was officially qualified to go to Sochi. So I had saved and fundraised to go to a few of the contests, but didn’t have a coach like the other teams. I was a singularly representing a tropical country and man, did I feel the frost from some people. At first I thought WOW. I had been doing Grand Prix and US Opens nationally already so I thought it was so cool being able to compete at these events globally. I thought that the Olympics would be all about meeting new people from other countries and that everyone would have a sense of togetherness because, sportsmanship. Nope. Nada. That is a facade and even though I was doing contests before representing the Philippines, the coldness I felt from certain Olympic Committee members and coaches was felt. It was apparent that they did not think I belonged there.

Luckily all the athletes I knew were friendly and inclusive. Their focus and goals were the same as mine – to get qualified. A co-worker and friend from High Cascade Snowboard Camp was also on the road to Sochi: Sandra Hillen. She was representing Mexico and I will be forever thankful that she was there, too. Having her there, representing another country that is not usually seen in the Winter Olympics, made me feel less alone and more open to experiencing the culture around me. Especially since we were traveling to cool places that I had never been to before.

However, ultimately the logistics of getting to the contests I needed to be at and falling short on points, I didn’t make it to Sochi. But I did get to experience countries and cultures that I may otherwise never had a chance to visit.

Traveling While Asian-Snowboarding

Traveling The World Through Snowboarding

While on this journey of traveling the world for snowboarding contests, I did learn a lot about how I am perceived in other countries – as a brown person and as an American. I am a Filipino-American that is the daughter of a mom from Cabanatuan and first generation dad that had parents from Bikol. I have some German in me from my grandfather who had to change his name from Baughman to Ortanez because of the backlash of WWII. Because of this, people often think I am Latina or Nepalese because of my lighter shade, but do generally guess correctly that I am Asian.

When my dad and I were exploring around Prague in the Czech Republic after one of the World Cups, we went into a market and the man behind the counter was Indian. He asked us if we liked Prague. When we replied that we did he responded in a perplexed look “Really?” It was a silent understanding. We were some of the only brown people around and that look held all the prejudices and hardships that storeowner faced.

While we enjoyed the rest of the trip by drinking beer and eating vepřo-knedlo-zelo (roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut) and seeing some of the most beautiful gothic architecture (Hradcany), I started to notice that when my dad and I walked around the streets, people weren’t necessarily making eye contact with us or smiling. I shrugged it off as us just wearing big clunky clothes and having our faces covered. But in the back of my head, the thoughts wandered to that storeowner’s reaction. Was there really a difference because we were different looking? Was it because we were so obviously not from the area that people were avoiding us? Or was it because we were American? Do people even think we are American? All these questions, no solid answers.

Traveling While Asian-Snowboarding Dad

However, there were some awesome experiences I’ve had traveling to other countries! When I was in Quebec for another contest, the hotel accommodation that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) had arranged were far too pricey for my budget. So I booked myself a private room on Airbnb that was close by the hotel. I saw so much doing that and ended up making friends with my host. She had her friends over and we all made pizza!

Another good experience was while I was in Norway this past winter. Our filming crew was there for about 2 ½ weeks for a snowboarding trip see Falling Leaf 3 and we got to explore the city in a completely different way. Norway had some of the best public transit I’ve ever experienced and people were super helpful when we were looking for certain parks or trying to find food from KIWI Mini Pris (markets) out there.

Traveling While Asian-Filipino Snowboarder

Starting Soy Sauce Nation: A Platform for Minorities In Snowboarding & Skate

When I’m snowboarding, I don’t think about skin color or ethnicity because, well I’m snowboarding, and that’s all that matters in that moment. But I do believe that representation matters. The outdoor industry is lacking diversity in mainstream marketing, advertisements, campaigns, and committees. Companies need to expand beyond the token Asian person on their teams because there are more than one of us out there!

So when my friend, AK, and I started Soy Sauce Nation just to be funny, we actually gained traction because we were sharing photos on Instagram of minorities snowboarding and skateboarding. People around the nation were connecting through the platform and we now have a community of POC boarders out there getting the pow or park with their friends.

As far as other Filipino snowboarders, there is Hailey Langland out there crushing it at the Olympics, Summer Fenton traveling around in search of powder, and myself. But I know there are more little girls and boys that need more Asian role models to look up to.

Traveling While Asian-Snowboard Competition

So how to get more Asian snowboarders?

I started at Big Bear and Mountain High where there was a large Asian population from LA. If you’re Asian, encourage your Asian friends to go snowboarding or go camping with you! If you see a POC family on the slopes or out hiking a trail, be friendly and maybe make new friends outside of who you are comfortable being with. And if you are a non-Asian person, encourage your Asian friends to go snowboarding or go camping with you! They belong there! We belong here.

Traveling While Asian-Snowboarding Competitor

Traveling While Asian-Filipino Snowboarder

About The Author

Nirvana Ortanez is a Filipino-American born and raised in California, currently residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. She represented for the Phillipines in slopestyle for qualifying rounds of various World Cups leading up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. She continues to snowboard, but also films, creates content, and advocates for diversity within the snow and skate industry. To follow her passions and minority platform, click on the social media buttons below and check out her website.

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