Words: Ruby Woodruff

Photos: Union Binding Company

On a rainy Vancouver night, snowboarders of all backgrounds gathered at the Rickshaw Theatre to watch Union Binding Company’s new team movie, Stronger. The Canadian premiere brought locals, veterans and pros together, all eager to see what the stacked Union Team had come up with. Produced by Pirate Movie Production and Red Bull Media House, Stronger combines the best riders and filmmakers to document some of the finest snowboarding around. Filmed across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan, with only Ultra HD RED cameras, the video is full of Planet Earth-esque shots. As Johnny O’ Connor puts it, “It’s a piece of art. [The filmers] put just as much time and effort into the filming of every spot as the riders did with the actual snowboarding.”

Kazuhiro Kokubo, one of the most stylish and inventive backcountry riders in the game
Kazuhiro Kokubo, one of the most stylish and inventive backcountry riders in the game

By the time the video started, the place was packed and the crowd was fired up. Kazu Kokubo’s opener demonstrated the high calibre of filmmaking and snowboarding that would be present throughout Stronger. Crystal clear shots showed the Japanese stylist navigating gnarly backcountry spines and pillow lines with cat-like reflexes, projected on the Rickshaw’s three screens. The following riders were all equally as solid, showing off their distinctive styles. “All of our chemistry worked well and I think that shows in the movie,” says Whistler local, Dustin Craven.

The video alludes to some of the troubles the team experienced making the film, but it mainly showcases the good, leaving the bad and the ugly in the rearview. One of the uglier shots that made it in was Johnny O’Connor’s gnarly crash on a stair set, a slam that earned him a broken tibia and fibula. “I’m still recovering from that,” he says. “That was over six months ago. It will be good for next season but it was definitely the harshest injury I’ve ever dealt with. Right now I’m just building muscle back, letting it do its thing, getting strong… getting stronger.”

Dustin Craven holding it down for the Canadians.
Dustin Craven holding it down for the Canadians

Dan Brisse’s part also showed a bad crash he had in Salt Lake City that resulted in a back injury that put him out for six weeks. Kazu Kokubo, Gigi Rüf and Torstein Horgmo got hurt as well but their bails didn’t make it into the final cut. Scott Stevens remarks, “Considering how many people were injured, the video turned out really well.”

Another challenge they faced was a lack of snow. “The snow didn’t fall in the areas we were hoping it would, so we ended up going into cities that we’d been to before,” says O’Connor. “It was a lot of trying to dissect these areas in ways we hadn’t already and find new ways of hitting old spots. It challenged our creativity.” The team also got rained out in Helsinki but ended up in a small town in Northern Finland where they got some of their best shots. “There were new spots for all of us and we’d never been there so we all loved it. That was a great trip,” says O’Connor. Stevens adds, “It was kind of uncharted territory for a lot of us. Lots of snow and deeper breaths…Helsinki was hell.”

Jess Kimura about to drop– this is the moment before shit gets heavy
Canadian killer Jess Kimura about to drop– this is the moment before shit gets heavy

The challenges the team faced didn’t come across on screen. The backcountry footage had so much powder you never would’ve known the team had troubles finding snow. You could almost feel the spray from one of Gigi Rüf’s epic slashes in Japan. And despite breaking his back, Torstein’s ender part was full of bangers.

Other highlights included Stevens’ segment, which paired some of the most creative one-footed boarding out there with Rockwell’s track, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” The legendary Bryan Iguchi also had a memorable big mountain part to the soulful soundtrack of Charles Bradley. Travis Rice’s section was fast and furious shots of him on the steepest terrain imaginable. It goes without saying that any film Rice is apart of is going to have some incredible riding, and this was no exception. Even other A-listers on the Union Team talked about how stoked they were to be in a film with him.

Gigi with his infamous air sense– dude's like a cat when it comes to finding his feet
Gigi with his infamous air sense– dude’s like a cat when it comes to finding his feet

The wild, drunken antics of other films are fun to watch and give you a bit more of the personality behind the riders, but Stronger doesn’t go there. It shows the professional side of pro snowboarding. It’s a film you could show to your parents and not have to skip through sections with questionable content. Craven says, “this is one of the most professional, well done movies I’ve ever been a part of.”

Leaving out the dialogue, crash clips and lifestyle shots lets the riding dominate the film. No one was trying to be philosophical about why they snowboard, or talk about the deeper meaning behind doing a crazy trick, they were just doing them. Making a snowboard movie that people are going to watch to the end is a challenge these days. Every insane trick gets posted online as soon as it’s done so it’s hard to see anything new. As Stevens points out, “your mind is blown everyday by Instagram. It’s a new time for snowboarding but this video has a lot of awesome things and is a really well made film.”

The twock is strong with Kazu
The twock is strong with Kazu– making that back 1 look brand new

Venturing out in the rain to the Stronger premiere was well worth it. Union’s movie showcases professional snowboarders and filmmakers doing what they’re best at, and the mix of urban and big mountain riding proves they have a well-rounded crew. On top of that, the high level of production that went into this project shows how refined a team movie can be. Even though there were plenty of injuries and other issues that went on behind the scenes, you would’ve never known it. But as it goes with snowboarding, what doesn’t kill you makes you Stronger.

The Global Online Premiere of Stronger will be on Red Bull TV, October 31st 2016.

www.unionbindingcompany.com for more!

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