In the turbulent dark morning hours of June 5th, two of Bellingham, Washington's most vivid personalities, Sean "Donnkie" Mansfield and Gunther Jose Frank were lost at sea. They attempted a swim to shore in the cold waters of the Puget Sound, after their 17-foot sailboat capsized under the pressure of the weather. The sudden and mysterious loss of these two friends is a devastation to the local community, to many people around the country, and beyond.
When I started riding at Mt. Baker, apart from the magazines and videos I obsessed over, the first person to influence me and revolutionize what I thought was possible at the time on a snowboard was Sean Mansfield, better known as Donnkie, an eccentric and high-flying Mt. Baker native.
Eight years later, I still look up to Donnkie as one of the most original and influential snowboarders to come out of the Pacific Northwest. On and off the mountain, he was electrifying and artistically driven, and I feel fortunate to have observed his mind-blowing dance with life.
Through Donnkie I met Gunther, a standout local photographer and, like Donnkie, an unmistakable individual who left an impression on me that time will never be able to wash away. He could ride down the street standing on the handle bars of his BMX, all the while holding a fish eye above his head in one hand, and a flash in the other to capture the most inspiring self-portraits I have witnessed.
So many people are held back by their fears, of failure, loneliness, of financial stability, of death, and never live the way they imagine they could. Donnkie and Gunther, although human and rightly susceptible to the ways of life, had their own set of rules, and were willing to fail in order to progress, something that not many people can cope with, all while staying original. When things didn't turn out how they had planned, they kept pushing in what they thought was the right direction, even if it didn't make sense at the time to anyone but them. Gunther would always tell me, "Go fast, take chances." I have used his words to propel myself out of a slump on many an occasion. There's just not enough time to live any other way.
Both were VW van owners, and no strangers to the road trip. I had the pleasure of riding with Donnkie in his van on numerous occasions. The skateboard road trips we took stand out in my mind most. Wherever we stopped, within 10 minutes, Donnkie would make friends with the locals and whoever else happened to be skating. And soon after the session we would be driving to Donnkie's new friends house for a few drinks, maybe even a shower.
Last week, my good friend Matt Edgers, my girlfriend Jenell, and myself drove up to Hurricane Ridge, a small ski resort outside of Port Angeles, Washington. There are no chairlifts; just two rope tows and a Palma lift. In the winter, the road to the top is only open on weekendsthat is, if the snowplows can clear the road that stretches to the summit of the area.
We saw more deer than snow. The national park is a safe haven for the creatures, who roamed the parking lot and surrounding fields with no fear of humans. After walking across the south facing aspect of the summit, absent of any snow, we found a little patch looking north over the Straight of Juan De Fuca, the waterway in between Washington and British Columbia.
After shaping up a mini hip and extending a runway into the grass above for more speed, Matt and I discovered that neither of us had remembered to charge our camera batteries. We managed to capture a few hits before our point and shoots died. We were ready to throw in the towel and come back the next day, but Jenell had coaxed a black-clad couple who were sightseeing, with a high-quality camera, to take some pictures. AJ and Danielle DeRosa were on a month long road trip from Boston, and had walked over to check out the view from the observation deck that overlooked our little patch of snow. AJ had never snowboarded, but had skated all his life, and was stoked to help us out, capturing our hip session, the surrounding Olympic Mountains, and the sea in the far distance much better than Matt or I would have been able to with our cameras.
After the session, AJ and Danielle followed us to our place, which was a short drive from their campsite, so we could download the photos. We listened to some records, and looked over all the shots together. The dynamics of our day could easily have been random luck with no extraordinary forces at work, but my mind does not think that way. I couldn't shake the feeling that we had been on the receiving end of a gift from our missing friends, one telling us to keep ourselves open, to keep exploring, meeting new people, and pushing ourselves in times of setbacks, frustration, and pain.
Thank you Donnkie and Gunther. I will miss you both so much.