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It is hard to separate Wanaka’s Wells brothers from freeskiing in New Zealand. Tim Miller talked to the brothers and their father/coach Bruce about how they’re tracking, with the Winter Olympics just five months away.
Despite spending more than half the year away from New Zealand, the Wells brothers say ‘‘The 443’’, known to most people as Wanaka, is still the best place on Earth.
Depending on injuries and their training and competition schedules, freeskiing brothers Jossi (27), Byron (25), Beau James (21), Jackson (19) and father/coach/manager Bruce spend about eight months of the year away from the town they call home.
Meanwhile, mum Stacey controls everything from the Wanaka end, where she also runs a swimming school.
‘‘We’ve got Skype these days, which is a wonderful thing, and we get to talk to her every day and she’s pretty good at holding those boys to account as well — she’s a pretty staunch coach,’’ Bruce said.
‘‘She really misses her boys and it would be nice if she could come over more often, but she’s got her swim school and coaching side of things.’’
Despite spending at least half the year away from home for the best part of the last 15 years, Bruce says travelling is still not something that comes naturally.
‘‘It’s funny because I’m a real homebody, actually, and . . . I love Wanaka a lot. I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a house and a ride-on mower I don’t get to use much.’’
‘‘But after all these years of travelling and visiting of all these places, I’ve never found a better place to live.’
It is a sentiment all four of his sons share.
‘When we’re always waking up in hotels around the world, it’s such an unreal feeling to be able to wake up in your own bed and you know it’s going to take 40 minutes to get to the top of the hill and you know the road like the back of your hand,’’ Byron said.
‘‘Nowhere better than the 443, man.’’
The first three digits of phone numbers in Wanaka are 443, hence its use.
Older brother Jossi agrees.
‘‘Oh mate, Wanaka is the best place on Earth. I love coming home; there’s no place like this is the world. I’m always going to be a bit biased but I think other people think the same when they get to come down here.’’
With the Winter Olympics just over five months away, the brothers and Bruce will soon set off overseas again with the goal of all four being selected for the Games — once they are all healthy.
Jossi is still recovering from knee surgery, which was needed after he ‘‘blew out’’ his patella during a competition in Norway this year.
He won’t be back skiing until the end of the year and if he is selected, the Winter Olympic slopestyle competition will be his first since the surgery.
‘‘It’s a bit of a short timeline. By the time I jump on my skis again, I’ll have six weeks before the Olympics to get my skiing back in order.’’
Because of the short time between now and the Games, Jossi knows every day counts.
‘But we’ve got a good team here at Snow Sports New Zealand who are making sure I’m doing all the right things, so when the times comes and I’m ready to get back on the skis and I can get straight into it.’’
Byron is also returning from a knee injury and has started skiing again only in the last month, while Beau James has just returned from injury and competed in his first competition for more than a year at the Winter Games halfpipe competition last week.
But all the brothers know injuries are just part of the sport.
‘‘It’s never that sweet to watch from the sidelines , bit of a bummer really, but that’s just how this sports goes, man. It’s just what we do and you’ve just got to take the highs and lows as they come,’’ Jossi said.
At the last Games, in Sochi, the three eldest brothers represented New Zealand — Jossi and Byron in the slopestyle and Jossi and Beau-James in the halfpipe.
Jackson was too young to compete in 2014, but is confident he has what it takes to join his older brothers in PyeongChang.
‘‘Still trying to qualify, but I’ll get there. It’s now just about training, working on my tricks, performing in the northern hemisphere and staying healthy.’’
While having all four sons represent New Zealand at the Olympics would be a proud moment for the family, they had their sights set on more than just competing, Bruce said.
‘‘For us it’s not just about qualifying, it’s about medalling, because they are good enough to be on the podium, so that’s what we’re focusing on in the next few months if they all stay healthy.
‘‘No such thing as low risk in freeskiing.’’
A lot has changed in the sport since Jossi, Byron and Bruce started travelling to the northern hemisphere to compete. As the sport grew, so did the sponsorship and the recognition.
‘‘There were many years at the start when Jossi was really well known in America and he would come back home and he was just Jossi and Byron, no big deal,’’ Bruce said.
But once the brothers starting winning X-Games gold medals and representing New Zealand at the Olympics, things changed slightly.
‘‘It’s been a bit of a trip just seeing where the sport has come from back when I started and the recognition of the sport, even within New Zealand, has grown so much.’’
‘‘I guess we were lucky to be part of that growth and it’s pretty special to look back and see where we are now,’’ Jossi said.