Seasick – From the Quarterdeck: An Interview with Curtis Ciszek

“EVERY TIME I FISH WITH HIM, I CATCH MAD FISH. BUT ONE TIME I WAS GOING TO JET BOAT WITH HIM, AND I SHOWED UP AT HIS HOUSE AT 7AM WITH ALL MY STUFF AND HE SAID IT WAS TOO WINDY. A TEXT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE.” – GABE FERGUSON

BEFORE I MET CURTIS I’D SEEN HIM IN SNOWBOARD MAGAZINES, specifically the infamous TWS What the Kids Are Rocking photo. And I had heard stories about him from Lucas Debari, who stayed with Curtis in Mammoth Lakes when they were about 12 years old. He told me about an extravagant snowmobile racetrack around the house that Curtis’ dad had built, where Lucas ended up crashing one of the snowmobiles. Lucas’ stories painted a picture that was out of Peter Pan’s Neverland and the Lost Boys. Curtis and the Ciszek family were, in fact, living a Peter Pan fantasy. Curtis grew up on a one-acre island in Washington’s Puget Sound called Treasure Island. To access the island, you could walk through the mud at low tide or take a rowboat. From here, the family of six moved onto a 120-foot pirate ship named The Unicorn. The Ciszeks lived on The Unicorn, sailing around the world until an unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner. That night, two new crew members, who couldn’t decipher between lights on land and lights on another boat were put on watch, resulting in a collision with a 600-foot oil tanker, sending the turkey flying against the wall and nearly sinking the boat. This led the family to move to Mammoth Lakes, where Curtis started snowboarding at age 10. Here, he and Eric Jackson became best friends and together, they became snowboarding’s next generation. Fast forward twenty-plus years, and the two of them are on a boat sailing towards Alaska making a movie in memory of Curtis’s dad. The Ciszek kids inherited the boat, The Emerald, from their dad and this trip was dedicated to spreading his ashes in an appropriate manner.

Curtis oozed an element of coolness/style/charisma that I never had. When I met him, he was sponsored by Oakley and Lib Tech. He had a minidisc player and listened to Iron Maiden and AC/DC. When he got to Bend, Oregon, he went to two days of the seventh grade and decided he didn’t like it and dropped out. When he turned 16, he got a Toyota Tacoma. At that time, his best friend was Janna Meyen. Shortly after this, he lost his virginity to my girlfriend and somehow even that seemed “cool.” He doesn’t do the most technical tricks snowboarding, but what he has is this intangible thing that only a few people have. This “thing” is the nucleus of snowboarding. It creates this mysterious draw and attraction toward the sport that keeps people curious and interested for a lifetime. Jake Price has been trying to capture this same intangible trait and style with Jamie Lynn for the past several years—and now he’s working on Curtis’ project. Hopefully he is able to illustrate it through Boat Rats or Seasick—or whatever they end up calling the movie. – Austin Smith

p: Alex Pashley

Give me some background on this project/movie.
It’s about telling the story of the way my family and I grew up, and who my dad was—how crazy he was, basically. It is a combination of Handycam footage my dad filmed when we were young and new footage from this trip.

When is this movie coming out and what is it called?
January 1st, hopefully. I’ve been saying that for a few years now. It’s called Seasick or Boat Rats, still haven’t landed on that.

Where did you go on this trip?
We sailed from Astoria, Oregon up through the Inside Passage, along the Canadian Coast to the boarder of Alaska, and then back down to Port Angeles, Washington.

And you went snowboarding via sailboat?
Snowboarding and fishing along the way, just exploring. We had an inflatable jet boat as our dinghy and used it to access and fish some pretty remote rivers. We tried to do more snowboarding, but it was right during that COVID-19 thing, so that kind of shut us down. We sailed for three weeks towards Bella Coola Heli Sports, but two days before we got there, they closed because of COVID. So, then we were splitboarding off the boat, which wasn’t easy. And with COVID getting kind of scary and we also didn’t want to get hurt in the middle of nowhere…it didn’t go as planned, but added to the adventure.

Troutlake, BC. p: Alex Pashley

What was the story of pulling up to the dock in BC and being met with a shotgun?
We went to tie to a dock to wait for the tide to change, to continue through a narrow channel where there is a severe rapid that forms. A guy came down the dock with a rifle on his back, yelling at us to not step foot on the dock. When we got on the boat, COVID didn’t exist, but then the whole world shut down and everything was changing super fast. We had plans of stopping at towns and surfing, but we kind of became pirates that were not welcome anywhere. We couldn’t go to shore in BC and we couldn’t go to Alaska, so we were just floating in between. We had to call ahead to towns and have groceries delivered to the dock so we wouldn’t interact with anyone.

Rose, thorn, and bud of the trip?
Haha. Um, rose was to be able to do this trip with my sister. It was an epic journey that we accomplished. Thorn was all the boat problems that we had to deal with along the way. Bud…

That is what you look forward to in the future.
Ah, getting this whole project done and putting the movie out.

Who’s all in the movie?
Eric Jackson and Shelly, my sister, were on the boat the whole time, along with Connor Winton, who was filming. Blair Habenicht and you are in it snowboarding, and Jake Price has been editing it.

p: Alex Pashley

What was your childhood like?
I grew up on a sailboat sailing around the world and that’s a little strange to some people. Looking back on it now, I see it was a little strange, but it’s an interesting story that people might be interested in hearing about. Or not, who knows. It could fully flop.

What does growing up on a sailboat entail?
Sailing around the world on a pirate ship. You know, it’s not your normal upbringing. My dad ran a program where he would take “troubled” kids onto our boat and out to sea to try and straighten them out. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

How old were you while doing this?
It was from age 6 until 10. I also have a younger brother, Martin, and two older sisters, Shelly and Lee.

Curtis’ sister Shelly’s thoughts on growing up on sailboat:
Moving the family to The Unicorn was a spontaneous move, with little to no planning. My dad had to live out this dream of being a tall ship captain once he saw the Dutch steel schooner listed for sale. For our first ocean voyage, everyone was seasick. After releasing whatever sense of stability we had left to the ocean, The Unicorn became our home. The oven would blow the eyelashes off your face every time you lit it. There was a real horse head with a horn fashioned to it that got a sea burial in the middle of the Atlantic. And we would have treasure hunts of flying fish that landed on the decks every morning making a tasty pile for our cat, Scuttles. In the summers we did
the tall ship parades up the East Coast, and I think we just thought life was based around maritime history after a while. Climbing rigging, making forts, and watching the same VHS movies over and over was our daily life. We took watches, sanded and varnished a lot, homeschooled and learned more than I think we understand about sailing.

Back to Curt. How does one go from living on a boat to becoming a pro snowboarder?
We got into an accident in the Delaware Canal and totaled the boat. It was my dad’s decision to move onto the boat, so it was my mom’s turn to decide where we lived. So, we moved to Mammoth Lakes into a house right across from the ski resort. So, it just kind of happened.

“I DON’T THINK I REALIZED HOW CLOSE WE ALL WERE AS KIDS, BEING RAISED TOGETHER ON A BOAT EVERYDAY, NOT BEING ABLE TO ESCAPE EACH OTHER. YOU KIND OF FORGET THAT GROWING UP AND YOU GO YOUR OWN WAY. BUT ONCE WE GOT BACK ON THE BOAT TOGETHER, IT ALL JUST FLOWED AGAIN AND IT WAS SUPER EASY. I DON’T KNOW, THERE WAS SOME KIND OF BOND THERE THAT WAS WONDERFUL TO RELIVE AND SEE THAT IT NEVER WENT AWAY. AND WE DIDN’T PISS EACH OTHER OFF UNTIL THE VERY END. CURTIS HAS A GOOD HEAD ON HIS SHOULDERS, AND I TRUST HIM FULLY TO BE THE CAPTAIN. HE’S A VERY CAPABLE PERSON.” – SHELLY CISZEK

At what point and why did you move to Bend?
We moved to Bend around 2000. We left Mammoth because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and was going through chemo. She couldn’t live at the elevation of Mammoth anymore. At first, I didn’t want to leave Mammoth but I’m glad we did. I love it here and will probably never leave.

How did fishing become such a large part of your life?
A guy named Troy Garcia, who used to work at a snowboard shop that I worked at, took me fly fishing one day and I’ve been doing it ever since. Now it has snowballed into my summer job/profession/whatever you want to call it. I take people fishing, which is kind of like adult daycare. But I make money being outside, so I can’t complain.

How is it balancing being a jet boat steelhead fly fishing guide and a pro snowboarder?
It keeps your ego a bit more in check, that’s for sure. I’m constantly trying to please other people and make sure they have a good day and catch fish, rather than being a little bit selfish and traveling around for snowboarding trying to find the best conditions for myself.

Any similarities between fishing and snowboarding?
Not really. They are both outside, and I operate on a jet boat running up river, which is kind of like a snowmobile but there are six people sitting in the front of the boat.

p: Aaron Blatt

You filmed with Ben Ferguson this winter for Fleeting Time, how was that?
Yeah, I’m getting old, ha. It was really fun filming with them—Ben, Red, Gabe, Zoi, and Hailey. It was really nice for him to include us in that, and it was really fun riding with them and helping them film the gnarliest stuff—to take them to the biggest jumps and say, “I’m not going to hit it, but I know where it is and I think you start somewhere around here.” And yeah, to get a couple of shots. I’m excited to see the movie and stoked to be a part of it. Wish I would have filmed more for it, now that I’ve seen how cool it’s going to be—but Joe Carlino seems to be cutting all of our footage out of it.

Ahh cool cool, Joe. What do you hope is the takeaway from Seasick/Boat Rats?
Hmmm, maybe that there are ways of living, growing up, and raising kids other than the 9-to-5 and going through the normal motions. Or at least my parents made it happen, somehow.

Curtis and I both moved to Bend at similar times and I was immediately fascinated with the entire family. Myself and several others were semi adopted into the family, and from talking to Eric Jackson, it sounded like a similar scenario in Mammoth. The entire family—meaning Curtis’ siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins (I have met them all)—have a special ability at welcoming people and making them feel comfortable. Another Ciszek trait is extreme generosity. The saying goes, “give you the shirt off his back” but the Ciszeks will cook all of the food they have and give it to you with no expectation of something in return.

It is also a family trait to live a life worth sharing stories about, as well as being great storytellers. This was illustrated at his Dad’s memorial, where there was a big world map and friends and family traced out their different routes they had sailed around the world. The map was covered by the end of the night. – Austin

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