From point A to point B: Meet the Philippines only snowboard racer
If you had a snowboard in Manila, for example, you might take off the bindings and paddle out into the South China Sea for a dip or a wave. Snow, as you might imagine, is about as available as a flock of penguins.
But along came Eden Roa Serina, who grew up in the Philippines before moving to southern California for high school. This weekend, Serina is preparing for the Snowboard World Championships in Kreischberg, Austria, as the lone member of the Philippine National Snowboard Team.
The three-year resident of Vail has trained in the valley since she moved here in 1999, working her way up from a Wall Street financier to a novice carver to a World Cup racer.
“When I first decided to do this, I wanted to see how far I could go,” Serina said. “I didn’t know about the whole World Cup circuit thing, or the World Championships. I didn’t know anything about it.”
There is a reason, which goes beyond her upbringing in warm climates. Serina never even stepped on a board until 1997, the year after she graduated from New York University with a finance and marketing degree. By then, she had landed a dream job at Salomon Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank, and assumed she was following a path she would stay on for life.
Her brother, Eugene, had other ideas.
On a snowy winter day, Eugene took his sister to Hunter Mountain in Vermont and gave her a lesson. She would sneak away from the bulls and bears on Wall Street on the weekends and continued to improve. Finally, with the blessing and financial support of her family, she moved away from the city and landed in Vail.
“I was happy with my job. That wasn’t it,” she said. “I miss the money. But I really wanted to snowboard.”
It didn’t take her long to start racing. She found herself with a freestyle board on a slalom course, carving the gates all while the competitors snickered. Then, she heard about another local racer, Stacia Hookom, one of the U.S. Snowboard Team’s finest racers. Hookom has placed in the top 10 several times this World Cup season and will be competing along side Serina at the World Championships. When asked about racing, Hookom gave the young upstart a couple boards, bindings, a helmet and enough tips to fill a book.
“She’s really the most important person I’ve had,” Serina said. “She’s like my big sister. At the races, she’ll always make sure I’m doing OK. I had no clue what I was supposed to do, and she told me.”
In 2000, after a full year of racing in regional and national events, Serina qualified for the U.S.A. Snowboard Association National Championships, where, to her surprise, she finished second in her age division. Her career immediately began to skyrocket. With a year, Serina began racing under the Philippino flag on the World Cup circuit and competed at the 2001 World Championships in Italy. In the last two seasons, she’s been placing in the top 50, but it didn’t start that way.
Imagine a Volkswagon at the Indianapolis 500, because that’s the view Serina started with.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” she said. “At first, it was really frustrating. I was finishing last all the time. When I’d come back to Vail, I tag along with some other boarders. I didn’t have formal coaching, so I had to take the tips they’d give me. They helped, but when I finally got a coach full-time in 2001-2002, I got the racing form down. I figured out the line.”
And now, that VW is supped-up roadster with dual exhaust. Through all the transitions she’s made in the last few years, she’s stayed quiet and endlessly thankful.
Serina knows there’s a lot of people, her brother included, who want to be in her position. Her mother and father, Norma and Eliseo, as well as her two sisters, Elaine and Enna, are always at the tip of her tongue.
“It’s just been a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” she said. “It’s probably the most emotionally-trying thing I’ve ever done. To finally see improvement helps. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing this for. I mean, I’m racing on snow for the Philippines. Sometimes, people laugh at that. But I’m trying to recruit others.”
Serina will be competing Monday in the giant-slalom event and the slalom Wednesday. Her trip to Austria is just one more reminder how far she’s from her point of origin.
To be exact, it’s 7,654 miles
“I don’t think I can ever leave Vail though,” she said, laughing. “I came here for a year. And now it’s already been four.”
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.