Catching Air: On the Farm with Mitch Keet

This poultry farmer’s son is no chicken. He gained the confidence to fly because of his work in the barn, in the fields and behind the wheel of a tractor.

By Will Stillman | Photos By Will Stillman

In summer, Mitch practices in the farm pond, while in winter, he uses ramps built with a tractor.

In summer, Mitch practices in the farm pond, while in winter, he uses ramps built with a tractor.

Time has stopped, he’s in the zone and on autopilot.

Body is square to the jump, knees bent as he pops up and off at 25 mph. Flying high into the air, body twisting, contorting in different directions at once—gazing skyward, blind to the ground and seemingly out of control.

Air squeezes puffs of snow spray out as the board and rider land as one, straight and true. The jump is nailed.

Mitch Keet says he still revels in the feeling of when he has nailed it, or “stomped it,” even thousands of successful jumps later. “It feels so good. You just know that your hard work has paid off and you’re not hurt. You feel proud, happy and relieved,” he says.

Whether he’s snowboarding in winter or wakeboarding on water during the summer, each attempt at a difficult jump is a dance with disaster. The 17-year-old knows that split-second timing and a few centimeters can mean the difference between a successful landing or a wipeout.

Mitch and Derick.

Mitch and Derick.

Growing up on the family poultry and grain farm amid the Canadian prairies, significant snow-covered mountains and big bodies of water are not exactly something in Mitch’s backyard. The nearest ski hill is more than 100 miles away, and the closest lake about the same distance. So, old-fashioned rural ingenuity brought the altitude and wet stuff to the farm near Grandora, Saskatchewan.

During the winter, one of the family’s Massey Ferguson® tractors scoops and pushes snow together to build a small jump hill beside the poultry barns. An elongated pond of water was dug behind those same barns for summer wakeboarding, which doubles as a hockey rink in winter. With his father, Derick, at the throttle, a homespun, carnival ride-sized winch pulls Mitch through his practice maneuvers for both wakeboarding and snowboarding. He can do more jumps in an hour than he can in a whole day on the natural slopes or water.

Neighbors first introduced Mitch to waterskiing at age 9. By 12, he was wakeboarding and snowboarding. It wasn’t long before he was riding for the Sask First Snowboarding team. Notable wakeboard achievements followed, including being named Saskatchewan Rookie of the Year in 2011 and the Most Improved in 2012. He won gold at the provincials in 2013. Mitch has also achieved membership on Canada’s National Development Team.

Whether on snow or water, using a board is a thinking game for the self-driven Mitch. “You have to be able to break things down in your head as they’re coming, to be able to just kind of almost see things in slow motion and to be able to think every step,” he says. “You’re thinking about the trick, three tricks ahead, to be able to know where you’re going to be and where you’re going to turn. It’s all about determination, confidence and just knowing that you’re going to land it.”

Mitch shows off one his most prized boards, complete with a drawing of a Massey Ferguson tractor.

Mitch shows off one his most prized boards, complete with a drawing of a Massey Ferguson tractor.

The Keet family’s 600-acre farm, Double D Poultry, was started by Mitch’s grandfather David. Derick, a former Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, police officer, returned to take over much of the day-to-day work of running the family farm the year Mitch was born.

Every eight weeks they ship 100,000 broiler chickens for processing to the nearby city of Saskatoon. Derick and David handle most of the work using their fleet of Massey Ferguson tractors, and Mitch can be counted on to handle a daily list of chores. “I go through the barns and pick up chickens, and when the birds go out, I’ll clean barns and spread straw and dump feed and spread manure, and harvest and combine for long days in the fall. I do lots of that stuff,” says Mitch.

The Keets pride themselves and work hard to do most everything on the farm themselves. “We do all of our own welding and plumbing and electrical—absolutely everything from start to finish. So, every day we’re doing something different,” says Derick.

Then, adding a parallel to his son’s board regimen, he notes, “Everything I do all day long, I’m thinking two or three or four steps later. I’m not just randomly walking around doing whatever,” he says.

Mitch on the pond in summer.

Mitch on the pond in summer.

It’s one of many lessons that wasn’t lost on Mitch. As is usually the case, behind many successful children are dedicated and hard-working parents. Derick and wife, Cindy, are no exception. Countless hours have been spent on their three children’s interests and growth.

“Our rule or philosophy is all of the kids have to get an education, get a career, get a job, do what they’ve always wanted to do. The farm will be here. They may choose 20 years from now that this is where they want to be,” says Derick.

While Mitch has his sights set on making the National Pro Team and competing at the world championships, he wants to do it his way. “The farm is the best; it’s open, it’s nice here all year round. And,” he continues, as if divulging the secret ingredient to his success, “the farm, it taught me skills and working, and that kind of stuff. I’ve got a good family, so I don’t want to go anywhere,” he says.

Mitch said being raised on the farm with chores and parents who take the time to teach him has made him both tougher and definitely more confident. “I’ll always remember that my dad taught me how to drive a tractor. He taught me how to drive the combine. My father’s confidence in me makes me very much more confident.”

And that attribute, says Mitch, is a big reason for his success, in boarding as it is in life.