Three inches of “choice” powder on an unseasonably balmy and sunny February day at the Santa Fe ski basin were an opportunity not to be missed. Razelle Benally took her “snow break” and her snowboard and headed over to the terrain park. She executed 50-50s and board slides before heading downhill to exit via a C-box under construction. Overconfident the ramp was intact, she cut off the jump before it made its eponymous curve only to realize the out-of-use ramp had too high a transition, sending her simple “simple air” askew and wheeling her over to rest in the snow on a newly broken pelvis.
Her bone will heal (although she’s fractured it since, skateboarding) but she has other ways to bide her time—until snowboarding season starts again, of course.
Benally is not unique for her pursuits—although they do run the alternative gamut, from indie filmmaking to skateboarding to underground hip-hop—but rather for her unflagging assumption that these things, which she speaks of all in terms of “love,” are an integral part of life, not just hobbies.
Raised in Baker City, a small resort town on the eastern side of Oregon, Benally took up snowboarding at age 13 at nearby Anthony Lakes Ski Resort.
Now at 21, she’s confident enough with her snowboarding abilities that she soon hopes to begin competing, a concept with which she’s familiar.
In June, still nursing a fractured pelvis, Benally entered the Apache Skateboards-sponsored K-Town Get Down skateboarding competition in Kayenta, Ariz. She placed first out of 10 other girls. But she insists: “I don’t skate to compete, I just skate because I love skateboarding.”
As for snowboarding, to combat its expense and to enable her to do it more than three times a year as she did when she was young, Benally now works at Ski Santa Fe.
She also is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, a filmmaker and a skater sponsored by the San Carlos, Ariz.-based Apache.
At Apache events, she is a skater, an event coordinator, a graffiti artist and a hip-hop aficionado. She ran Skateploitation!—a multidimensional youth skateboarding event—in August during Indian Market weekend, and she does film work for the company.
“Douglas Miles [owner and designer of Apache Skateboards] realized I’m trying to be a filmmaker and it just kind of clicked perfectly, hand in hand. I ended up being half rider, half videographer,” she says.
Benally’s films bridge many of her interests, and often feature hip-hop, skateboarding, graffiti as well as a punk sensibility (some of Benally’s work can be viewed on her YouTube channel. “I’ve always had a natural draw to film, ever since I was 5 or 6,” when she first saw Pulp Fiction.
“[Film is] a reflection of my emotions, it’s a reflection of my interests, but it’s not a reflection of my personal identity. Because my identity, I can’t classify. I’m involved in too many things,” she says. “I like skateboarding. I like snowboarding. I love filmmaking. I love art. I love underground hip-hop. I love to spray-paint graffiti. I do poetry. So I do a lot of diverse things and I can’t just classify myself as one thing.”
She hopes to one day create narrative full-length feature films.
In the meantime, she’ll continue snowboarding, which, for Benally, is not an alternative to her other pursuits, but an extension of them. And, like those other pursuits, snowboarding is a creative outlet. All of her interests are a way of fighting against the lack of creativity she sees in the world around her. She is especially keen to inspire kids to be creative, and Apache events give her that opportunity.
“The kids on the rezes, the kids that live in LA, the kids that live in Portland, Chicago, New York, South Dakota, Iowa, all over the US, I think society force-feeds kids that the way you must live to be successful in the future is to live that linear ‘go to college, get a degree, become an accountant’ lifestyle, and I think it really limits our imaginations,” she says. “Anybody can gain knowledge from anywhere, from any institution, however, if you don’t have the imagination to back up the knowledge, there’s no innovation.”
Though she laments that more Native kids can’t afford the sport, Benally sees snowboarding as a tool to expand creativity in children.
“[In] snowboarding you have to adapt yourself to the mountain; you gotta adapt yourself to the environment. And how can you not be stylistic or how can you not be expressive when you’re on a mountain?”