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Snowboarding a ‘rush of adrenaline and happiness’ for seventh-grader

Meet the Future: Keahi Potratz

Name: Keahi Potratz

School/grade level: Seventh grade, Cedar Springs Middle Level

Passion: Snowboarding

Cedar Springs — Keahi Potratz remembers being not quite 3 years old, seeing a Winter Olympics slopestyle snowboarding competition, and saying, “Ooh, I wanna do that.”

Fast-forward nine years, and the Cedar Springs seventh-grader lives, breathes and dreams snowboarding. 

“He basically just wanted to do nothing but watch snowboarding after that,” said Keahi’s mother, Nicole Potratz.

Since age 6, Keahi has been a regular contender in United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association snowboarding competitions, focusing mostly on freestyle events. 

He hopes to go pro someday, and he’s doing everything he can to achieve that goal.

‘I’m planning on working a lot harder this year. I want to learn a lot more tricks, and just have fun, mostly.’

— snowboarder and student Keahi Potratz

When and how did this become such a big part of your life? Shortly after the fateful Winter Olympics broadcast that started it all, Keahi received a snowboard from his mom, Nicole, who has also been into the sport since childhood; she helped him out with the basics.

He can’t quite remember the feeling of getting on a board for the first time — after all, it was a lifetime ago for him — but he has a vague recollection of knowing early on that it was a feeling he didn’t want to lose.

“Once I started getting into the park, I was only hitting small jumps, but I’d hit it, and I’d be like, ‘Whee, this is really fun,’ and I’d want to come back the next day,” he said.

And come back he did. First weekly, then a few times a week, then pretty much every day.

Since first snowboarding at Cannonsburg Ski Area, Keahi’s spent as much time as possible on the hills. At this point, he can pinpoint the allure of it all a little better: “It’s like a rush of adrenaline and happiness.”

He’s barely had any lessons, aside from some initial help his mom insisted on for his safety, but he seems to be a natural.

“It’s always kind of been his obsession,” Nicole said. “He’s wanted to go to the X Games since he was 4. Probably the point that we really realized he had a chance was within the past two to three years, when he started going to nationals and he started doing really well there. 

“Most of the people in the industry that we talk to are like, ‘He’s really good.’ That’s when you know.”

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? “I just want to be a snowboarder,” Keahi says when asked about his plans for the future. 

Going pro is absolutely the goal, and as he continues to improve, that goal is seeming more and more achievable.

Keahi said he’s seen his skills blossom over the last few years.

“I’ve been doing flips and stuff,” he said.

Seventh-grader Keahi Potratz hopes to eventually become a professional snowboarder (courtesy)

A few related accomplishments: During his first national competition with the USASA, he placed in the top 10 in every event he participated in. His second time, he placed second in the nation in the Rail Jam event. When nationals was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, places were determined by boarders’ standings at the time, and Keahi secured a first-place win in Rail Jam.

Keahi’s page on the USASA website is a seemingly endless list of first- and second-place showings. He’s hoping to capitalize on his momentum this coming season.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Keahi said. “I want to take a lot of risks this year. … I’m planning on working a lot harder this year. I want to learn a lot more tricks, and just have fun, mostly.”

Do you have teachers or other people who have made a big impact? Keahi and Nicole credit fifth-grade teacher Erin Cairy for being supportive of Keahi’s dream and Middle School Principal Bill Cataldo for helping to pave the way for success.

Keahi’s passion requires consistent practice and frequent trips out of state, and Cataldo helped Keahi adjust his schedule to make time for training and competition.

“We have a special schedule,” Keahi said. “I can skip my last hour every day, and Fridays I can take off.”

Nicole said she was surprised the school agreed to such a flexible schedule, but she’s grateful they did. There aren’t many competitions nearby, so the extra time for travel is much appreciated.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It gives us extra time in the afternoons and all day on Friday.”

Keahi said his friends both on and off the hills have also been supportive of his dream, though his classmates tell him, “Don’t get hurt too much,” so he doesn’t have to miss school unnecessarily.

Seventh-grader Keahi Potratz poses for a photo in the cafeteria at Cedar Springs Middle School

His fellow snowboarders also provide a tight-knit community and support system.

“Being at my home hill is really fun. Everyone’s happy watching everyone do a trick,” Keahi said, noting the camaraderie that exists on the slopes.

Other interests or hobbies: As a condition of Keahi’s special schedule, he has to keep his grades up, so he routinely lands on the school’s honor roll. 

In addition to snowboarding, Keahi is active in soccer and baseball. He enjoys gymnastics and skateboarding as well, and he plans to take up tennis this year. 

He also recently took up the violin, and took home a Top Dog award in band for quickly learning sheet music.

Read more from Cedar Springs: 
Athletics, art and academics come together in new regional conference
Voters approve extension of Cedar Springs millage

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.

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