During an 18-year-long career, Natasza Zurek shook the snowboard scene. With a quick Google search you can unveil multipage lists of interviews, video parts, and worship, exposing almost her entire snowboard career, and part of her intriguing personality.
When talking with Natasza you immediately notice her very unique, precise, and introspective way of being. It’s a personality that she attributes to a lifelong struggle with shyness. A struggle that, at times, was so paralytic that Natasza’s mom would have to book hotel rooms for her 17-year-old daughter who was too nervous to talk to anyone. Natasza still works on her shyness, but credits snowboarding for being somewhat of a “guru” in this case: the piece of wood that helped her overcome many personal barriers. “Snowboarding forced me to be in social situations,” Nataza says, “and interact with people. It helped me grow out of my shyness.”
Backside 360, Slocan, BC [o] Christy Coulombe
Natasza’s appreciation for self-development is probably why she is one of the most memorable female snowboarders. Having moved from Poland to Vancouver with her family at the age of six, Natasza didn’t start snowboarding until she was 14. But when she did, it absorbed her. Thinking about it day-in and day-out, orienting her life around it, always trying to be close to it.
“I would take classes like Art, Woodwork, and Metal Work because they didn’t require text books, so I would have more room in my locker for my snowboard,” she says laughing.
She’d also write in a snowboard journal every day, scratching down memorable events, tricks to work on, and goals she had. This kinda sounded like a schoolyard crush to me, but when I told her that, she said, “It was less of a crush and more like a crutch.”
During those early years, snowboarding allowed Natasza to enter into her own world, have fun, and not stress about other people. But parts of that early solitude only lasted for so long, because after snowboarding for only two years, Natasza’s love had her sponsored by Shorty’s, traveling for magazine shoots, and filming with guys like Devun Walsh and Rob Dow, the OG Wildcat homies. “I got sent in with the big boys right away and I was shitting my pants scared of them, and the stuff they were sending.”
[o] Priscilla Cannon
At the age of 17, after being tired of constantly overcoming being shitting-her-pants-scared, Natasza ditched filming and started competing in halfpipe. “I felt way more comfortable competing because then I could hang out with girls.” But she wasn’t just chillin’ with the chicas. She was winning. She took her self-determination, coupled it with what she learned from filming, and crushed the contest scene. Crushed it so hard that after only three years of riding pipe, she qualified for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Four years later, she made the Salt Lake City Olympic team; however, in Salt Lake, she blew out her knee, and decided to throw in the towel on her competition career, transitioning back into filming—but with the girls this time.
From 2003-08, Natasza filmed video parts for Process 4, Thanks in Advance, It’s Always Snowing Somewhere, Guy in the Sky, and others. She put together a laundry list of parts and NBDs during those years, inspiring many women to ride the way that they do today. Marie France-Roy, who's on the front lines of women’s progression, said, “Natasza was probably the only girl at the time who could spin all four ways and hit handrails switch. She is the one who made me realize that I should probably start spinning more ways.”
Natasza in Burton's 2009 release, It's Always Snowing Somewhere.
At the end of the 2008 season, while filming with Burton, Natasza was in an avalanche in New Zealand that sent her 1,000 feet down a mountainside. While lost in the hurricane of snow, her body was sent off a cliff and through a boulder field. She came to a rolling stop, board split in two, at the base of the mountain. Shook up, but miraculously not physically hurt. Psychologically, however, this marked an important point for her. After the incident, Natasza started questioning whether snowboarding was worth risking her life.
Three years later, in 2011, Natasza said, “after I kinda just dragged my ass through the last year. I thought, ‘this is dumb, I’m quitting.’”
Since then, Natasza hasn’t touched her snowboard, watched a video, or talked to many of her snowboard friends. She’s been working on a new life path—art and motherhood—and wants to encourage any pro snowboarder who is falling out of love with the sport that, “It’s OK to retire from snowboarding. Your life goes on, and your world is not going to be over. There is a lot of community and other awesome things out there that you can get involved in and engaged with.”
The same summer Natasza quit snowboarding, she had an experience at Burning Man that was life altering. She said, “I experienced the value of art,” while on a half hit of LSD. She remembers walking into a place called Fractal Nation, which was filled with visionary art—art that is an expression of universal energy or consciousness—and being able to see the art for both what it was and what its potential was. Since then, she’s worked with a couple different mediums, but in the last two years has found that visionary art has the most value to her.
“I feel like [painting] gets me to go even deeper. I feel like I get really in-tune with my emotions, unlike I did with snowboarding... because in snowboarding you’ve got shit to do.” Which seems right. In snowboarding it’s about mind over matter. Snowboarding doesn’t allow space for fear and anxiety, because when those emotions are too present, you don’t perform like you do when you’re focused and confident.
About a year after quitting snowboarding, Natasza had her first child—now four—and two years later she had her second—who is now two. It’s redundant to say, but apart from painting, she’s been spending a lot of time parenting her little ones in Penticton, BC, and exploring what it means to unconditionally love another person, or, in shred lingo, to care about someone else’s video part, yah know? Having kids, “is another way to expand as a human,” she says. “They make it so it’s not all about you.”
Even after snowboarding, Natasza’s life still seems to be about pushing herself. She’s continually choosing to expand her conception of what is and isn’t attainable, which considering all that she has already accomplished—seems like the persistent mentality of someone who’d like to be superhuman. When I told her that, she very audibly said, “I wouldn’t not want to be a superhuman.”
Her phrasing and confidence took me off guard. In the moment I just laughed while trying to process how someone so seemingly humble could say something so seemingly cocky. But then I realized it’s not about being humble or cocky. For Natasza, it’s about expecting more from herself by understanding her limits and pushing them. It’s about being her best self: the superhuman version of herself.
Natasza Zurek, 2008, La La Land
This coming winter, Natasha hopes to return to snowboarding, both physically, and artistically. Physically she just wants to do the dang thing. She misses it. She began tearing up even while we were talking about it. And, artistically, she’d like to bring snowboarding to one of her canvases, using her visionary art style.
“I think getting back into [snowboarding] will be healing for my soul, because it is so pure. Before all of the expectation, I loved it for what it was.”