Living on the Edge, in Snow and Surf : Winter sports: Snowboarder Nicholson will be competing on two surfaces in the Op Wintersurf Pro, which begins Saturday in Huntington Beach.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a deep tan and blond hair, Dana Nicholson looks as though he just finished ripping through a heat on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals tour.

But don't be fooled by appearances. His surfer image is only half of Nicholson's story. We'll let him tell the rest.

"There's nothing like hiking up a mountain in the morning and putting your board on the edge of a cliff," he said. "And then just going off."

From his apartment two blocks from the beach, Nicholson stretches out on his sofa and tells the typical success story of the Southern California beach kid.

You know, the one where the unknown local climbs on a fiberglass board and makes a living out of doing sweeping bottom turns, cutbacks and high-flying aerials. His image, lifestyle and livelihood revolve around his ability to land upright and keep going.

But Nicholson's story has a hitch.

Instead of surfing in contests, Nicholson gets paid for guiding a four-foot piece of fiberglass off a 40-foot cliff, then landing in a soft pillow of snow.

Nicholson's passion is snowboarding, and he doesn't mind the two-hour drive from Huntington Beach to Bear Mountain to find the cold, wet stuff.

Nicholson, 27, has been hitting the slopes for the past eight years, logging plenty of frequent-driver miles. Although he lives only a few hundred yards from the best waves on the U.S. mainland, Nicholson just started surfing last summer.

"I'm a pretty terrible surfer," he said. "It's just fun to paddle out and see what I can do."

This weekend, Nicholson will have a chance to test his skill on both surfaces. He's among 32 of the top surfers and snowboarders competing for $10,000 in prize money at the Op Wintersurf Pro.

The two-day event begins at 6:30 a.m. Saturday with the surfing competition at the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier. The snowboarding starts at 10 a.m. Sunday at Bear Mountain Ski Resort.

Nicholson said the snowboarding slalom course will be much easier than the cliffs and moguls he is used to jumping.

"I think the surfers have a big advantage in this competition," Nicholson said. "You can't learn how to surf in a day, but you can learn how to snowboard in a day."

Nicholson has competed on pro snowboarding tours for the past six years. He has never won a major event, but his flashy fluorescent clothing, breathtaking free-falls and outlaw attitude have helped revolutionize the sport.

Sanders and Nicholson signed a contract with Op four years ago. The sponsors help pay for contest entries, clothing, equipment and travel.

"Damian and I never even read the first contract," Nicholson said. "We decided just to go on fate."

The risk paid off.

Nicholson's apartment is full of snowboarding equipment from his sponsor. His hallway is crowded with boards. His closet is lined with jackets. And he has a lifetime supply of sunglasses hanging on his bedroom wall.

Between contests, endorsements and training, Nicholson has little time to himself. He and his wife, Shelley, a model for Op, are constantly on the go.

But he knows it's a small price to pay. Top pros on the tour earn as much as $150,000 a year, and they can make as much as $30,000 more in endorsements and appearances.

"At first, my parents didn't understand why I'm doing this," Nicholson said. "They'd say to me, 'You're going off to play again?'

"Then they saw me on TV commercials and on posters, and they looked behind all of this and saw what I was doing. I'm not out to make a million bucks in snowboarding, I'm just trying to portray a good image."

While the other snowboarders were concentrating on the next contest, Nicholson and Sanders were looking for a new move to invent, a bigger mogul to jump.

"Here were Damian and I, running around with wild hairdos," Nicholson said. "We were always looking for a bigger standard."

Finding those standards required travel. Nicholson has competed in Canada, Japan, Europe and all over the United States.

His latest standard--a four-day trip to Utah--has been captured on a one-hour video called "Creechers of Habit."

The video was shot by John Freeman of Hot Shot Productions and will be released in August. Nicholson and his friend Trent Smith are the featured snowboarders.

"We're trying to capture the extreme aspect of snowboarding," Nicholson said. "A lot of the people who race let the free-riding aspect of the sport slip away."

Nicholson believes in extremes. He recently took his snowboards from the extremely cold to the extremely hot.

He and his friends taped part of the video in the desert. They were towed by four-by-four pickups and quadrunners around Dumont Dunes, just east of Baker. It's called sandboarding--sort of water skiing without the water.

"It was killer," Nicholson said. "My friends and I went out and had a good time doing that."

And there's no telling what they will try next.

Notes

Orange County surfers expected to compete in the Wintersurf Pro include Christian Fletcher of San Clemente, Mike Parsons of Laguna Beach and Gary Clisby and Noah Budroe, both of Huntington Beach. . . . Parsons, who recently signed with Team Op, plans to quit surfing the ASP tour full time and concentrate on the U.S. tour this summer.

TALKING ABOUT SNOWBOARDING

Some popular half-pipe maneuvers from the pro snowboarding tours: Cross-rocket helicopter--The snowboarder crosses his hands, grabs the nose of the board and spins 360 degrees. Iguana backflip--The snowboarder holds the tail end of a board during a back flip in mid-air. J-tear--An aerial maneuver where the rider does a back flip and a half twist into a hand plant. Mashed potato--The rider grabs the back of the board with both hands during a flip. Roast beef--An aerial maneuver in which the snowboarder grabs the nose of the board and snaps the board out behind him. Wipeout--Self-explanatory.

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