Elena Hight peels it all off

When Hight’s family relocated from Hawaii, the first thing her dad did was teach her to snowboard.

This is an extended interview from the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to The Mag today!

Why did you decide to pose?
EH: I’m finally getting to the age where I’m comfortable with myself. I want to show young girls and up-and-coming athletes that it’s good to be proud of your body and take care of it.

Body Stats

Age: 23
Height: 5’1″
Weight: 115 pounds

Tell us about your early athletic history.
EH: I grew up playing sports. I did gymnastics from the time I was 3. I think that has been extremely helpful in snowboarding — giving me air awareness, strength and discipline as a young kid. I played a lot of soccer, and I started snowboarding when I was around 6. My dad is an avid surfer and has been his entire life. I was born in Kauai, and he used to take me on his long board, put me on his shoulders and surf as he held me. I was maybe 10 months old, so I was right out there, first thing.

What drew you to snowboarding?
EH: When my family relocated from Kauai to the mountains, the first thing my dad did was teach us to snowboard. Living in the mountains, I think it was the next best thing to surfing. I don’t actually remember learning to snowboard, but it was something that brought our family together. I love the mountains and the snow and being outdoors, so that’s probably what caught me at a young age.

What do you like about your body?
EH: Your body is all you have in this lifetime, so taking care of it and honoring it is a huge part of my life. I’m a fan of eating organic and local foods, as well as exercising and being outside. As an athlete, you ask so much of your body all the time, so what you do to get that response is important.

If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
EH: My stomach. I would love to have a six-pack, but I definitely don’t. I work on core strength all the time, but some people are just leaner in certain areas, and my stomach is an area where I hold fat. It’s a struggle point for me.

Yoga is something I do a lot during my season. I love headstands. It helps with getting comfortable in the air. The more time you spend upside down the better.`

What is your favorite thing you do to train?
EH: Yoga is something I do a lot during my season. It just helps my muscles stay limber, which helps me prevent injuries, especially when I’m taking hard falls. Mentally, it clears my mind and keeps me calm and collected. I’m not too much of a contortionist, but I love headstands. It’s good to let all the blood flow to the opposite direction and decompress your back. It also helps with getting comfortable in the air. The more time you spend upside down the better.

What is the biggest challenge you face with your body?
EH: As a girl, it’s the challenge of not critiquing myself too much or being too hard on myself and my body. That’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Even being an athlete and being in good shape, body image has been a huge factor. Specifically, for some reason I can never have strong enough glutes. Snowboarding is all about leg and butt strength, so my butt can always be stronger.

Can you talk more about struggles with body image growing up?
EH: For a young girl in our society today, there’s an idealistic body image that is not realistic. I definitely struggled with it growing up. I’m short — only 5-foot-1 — and I’ve always been built pretty strong. I was never a super-skinny, lanky girl. But I’d be hard on myself and pick myself apart. And I think all women and a lot of men do that all the time. I was going for that Kate Moss image that is the opposite of what I am. But I’ve learned to love my muscles and my strength. Being strong is a great thing, and that goes back to “You get out of your body what you put into it” and loving that.

Tell us about injuries you’ve endured in your career.
EH: I’ve had a few concussions, mostly when I was younger. Some people break bones or tear ligaments; I hit my head. But besides concussions, I’ve been lucky. Last summer I had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. That was about a six-month rehab process, and that was probably the biggest injury I’ve had to come back from. It was intense, and the rehab was intense — a month of basically no moving. For me, that was a long time to just be lying around. I passed the time with a lot of reading and movies. I had little exercises I was supposed to be doing every day, and I did them a couple times a day to reassure myself that I was moving forward. As long as I was doing something, rather than nothing, it helped me stay on the path of recovery.

Fear still gets the better of me sometimes. Just being able to envision yourself doing these tricks is more than half the battle. You can’t do something you can’t see in your head. `

How do you put fear out of your mind before you compete?
EH: I snowboard because I have a passion for it. When you are enjoying yourself and living in the moment, you’re not thinking about what could go wrong. There’s always going to be fear when you’re taking risks; for me, it’s more about calming the fear and just enjoying the moment.

Fear still gets the better of me sometimes. At times I’ve been afraid to do a trick that I physically could do and my abilities would allow, but my mind was not there. That’s a tough thing; it’s something I work on all the time. When I was learning the double backside alley-oop rodeo [a trick Hight landed at X Games Aspen 2013], I was afraid to try it, and it took me some time to get the balls to do it. But it’s about realizing your potential and just going for it and jumping into the fire.

How much of snowboarding is mental?
EH: I would say 75 percent. Just being able to envision yourself doing these tricks is more than half the battle. Obviously, your body has to be there to actually perform the tricks, but you can’t do something you can’t see in your head. It’s definitely conquering fear and self-doubt and realizing the ability your body allows you.

What would you define as your edge?
EH: It comes back to knowing I’m as prepared as possible, which comes down to being as healthy as possible and trusting my body to be able to do what I’m asking it to do.

What is your one must-have junk food?
EH: I have a huge sweet tooth, so I have lots of must-have junk foods. Chocolate definitely — anything chocolate. I don’t have a super-strict plan. I base it on how I feel. I like chocolate, and I think, within a healthy diet, I have it quite a bit.

What is your must-have training food?
EH: Breakfast is a huge part of my diet. I usually do two egg whites and one full egg, with lots of veggies, avocado and hot sauce, and make a scramble. That’s my staple.

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