WHY I: ROBIN VAN GYN
Canadian snowboarding-supernova Robin Van Gyn has just wrapped a screening of the latest epic cinematic masterpiece from infamous snowboarder Travis Rice and Quiksilver and Roxy, “Depth Perception” in the bustling heart of London’s film premiere hub, Soho. An unusual place to find a mainly mountain-dwelling athlete like Robin, but it is clear she is exultant, in high spirits riding the wave of an incredibly successful tour of the film which has garnered world-wide critical acclaim.
The previous outings of Travis Rice’s huge-scale masterpieces have electrified the action sports and indeed wider world of sports cinema, the incredible production on renowned movies including The Art Of Flight garnering global attention. In 2017’s Depth Perception, Travis Rice, who off the back off of previous outings like The Art of Flight has near god-like status (quite rightly) in the upper echelons of snowboarding’s hall of fame, enlists the help of fellow riders Robin Van Gyn, Bryan Fox and Austin Sweetin to explore the whimsically wondrous and little showcased peaks of CMH Galena, British Colombia.
A smaller cast notably, and also noticeable is the presence of Robin, the first female in one of these large-scale productions yet. The film is an awe-inspiring spectacle of both mind-blowing snowboarding and technical production that showcases the wildly stirring beauty of the British Colombia Backcountry. An homage to nature with undercurrents of a quirky Wes Anderson styled journey (visually and through the narrative) that makes for a wholly different and wonderfully epic movie.
Robin Van Gyn’s snowboarding is the stuff of jaw dropping dreams. Her lines she carves on some of the most mind-blowingly beautiful and terrifying spines, how she sails down pillow lines, is not just a stunning display of snowboarding, but poignantly, really carves a new line through in women’s snowboarding today. A face well-known in snowboarding cinema, Robin, who started her career as a snowboard coach, has appeared in notable movies including the recent all-girl epics Full Moon and Peep Show, is a cover girl of magazines multiple times over, and a long-time athlete of the Roxy family. Her fearless charging of frothy pillows and the challenging terrain of the backcountry has stood her apart from the pack, seeing her take home accolades including Transworld Snowboarding 2016 Women’s Video Part of the Year for Full Moon.
Wrapping up the screening, Robin reflects that a production of this scale working with Travis Rice was a “new experience for her”, such are the massive levels of production and the number of crew that work into creating a cinematic spectacle of this mature. “They were very meticulous very planned and the execution was brilliant… we worked with amazing people”. The people Robin refers to includes film maker Ty Evans, famous for his work on celebrated skateboard movies including We Are Blood, and Directors Justin Taylor Smith & Chris Murphy. “It takes somebody like Travis to bring those kinds of people together “Robin begins, “it’s cool to have all these different eyes in the production team that’s why you get something like this.”. Describing the pain staking lengths and time that went into each individual shot reflects the quality of what we’re seeing on the big screen, and Robin adds that “it was definitely a bit of a departure for me but I learnt a lot about film making, and quality and patience.”
Our minds have long been blown by the mountain prowess of Travis Rice, quite rightly a name that will forever go down in the history books of snowboarding and indeed, sport. I wonder if it must have been intimidating, joining a small crew including Travis, San Diego Native Bryan, and Austin, a mind-blowingly talented roster of athletes? “I think at the very beginning I was really intimidated and super scared and like oh my god what am I doing here, do I even deserve to be here, what’s going on. Why am I here?” Robin considers.
“I began to figure out that I did deserve to be there. I was there for a reason, and I had to use this opportunity to ride to the level that I knew I could, and push myself”.
The stylistic lines, the smooth riding and tackling of some of the most fearsome of back country lines and obstacles we have seen on screen are elegantly and beautifully carved by Robin, a technicality in her riding that is awe-inspiring paired with a fluid grace that makes for an entirely unique and very much discernible style.
Robin continues with “I think there’s another thing at play where you’re like, I’m with the guys, but, I’m not trying to be the guys. I’m trying to be ME, and who I am is a snowboarder who is strong and experienced but also feminine. You can tell my line on the mountain next to the guys because it’s just different, I have a different way of using the mountain, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s beautiful in its own thing, an expression of your line on the mountain. It’s just like, your piece of art."
The challenges from an athletic perspective of achieving what went into achieving these shots, lines and effortless-seeming trickery is mind-blowing to anyone who has ever strapped a snowboard onto their feet. I wonder what Robin found the most challenging part of this experience? “It's challenging dealing with your own mental state” she begins. I’m a very passionate person so I over think things like crazy …it’s not until after you can step back and be like oh that really didn’t matter. But in the moment, you’re just like obsessively thinking about how you screwed up a shot, you’re beating yourself up..."
"I don’t want to put out this message where it’s all like I stepped onto the film set and here I am killing it, woo! It was…a lot of mental challenges… And you know you compare yourself to the immediate people in front of yourself. But when you have a chance to step back and be like I’m not Bryan Fox or I'm not Travis, I’m Robin! Focus on that. That was my biggest challenge, not comparing myself to everyone else”.
When your colleagues are luminaries like Travis, one can only imagine the mental challenges at play here, but Robin’s journey through the execution of the film to bring us the visual feast of snowboarding wizardry is explained by how she believes’`I think we all do this we focus on the small things, and I think sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture, and appreciate where we are, why we're there...I think for me that’s a big one. sometimes I get so focussed on stupid little things when I should I’m like hey I’m here with this amazing cast, and I’m in beautiful setting, and the snowboarding is insane! Focus on that instead of your shot comings, focus on what you’re doing well, and not the things that you aren’t doing well...
"It's more realising the beauty of everything around you and being able to see that. The beauty of Travis inviting a woman to be in his film, to see the beauty in that. Going out that day and falling down the mountain for the entire day, you were still out in one of the most beautiful places in the world, you know, with an opportunity, you know maybe it wasn’t your day, but there will be another day..."
"So, I think it’s good to keep your eye on the prize. Don’t obsess about it and step back and realise that you are not that important, you know there's like this big picture that you need to kind of, relax, and take a breath." With the awe-inspiring backdrop of CPH Galena, Robin clearly thrived off exploring the beautifully challenging terrain in BC, and spending time with its colourful locals and highly knowledgably mountaineers. “I think it’s just incredibly versatile, out of all the places I’ve been snowboarding in my life, this place was the most versatile I’ve ever ridden, pillows, tree runs, high alpine, it has it all”. With one of the main protagonists of the movie being a tree itself, this feels like Travis Rice’s love letter to mother nature, and the spine-tingling beauty of what is captured, the playfulness of how the quadrant explore the vast terrain, and their interactions with the flora and fauna are wholeheartedly believable. With a spotlight shone on the colourful locals who know the place better than anyone, who the crew relied on to safely and efficiently guide them around the challenging peaks, Robin laughs that “every country has this underbelly of people who live amongst it. And they might be a little weird…but they are the ones really experiencing the beauty of It… they get it … they see the beauty in nature and in and they aren't amongst it and that’s something we should be envious of.”.
Robin has long been impressing with her parts in snowboard movies, the aforementioned Full Moon, an all-female production spearheaded by legendary fellow rider Leanne Pelosi signalled a positive moment in women’s snowboarding Here, Robin explains, “Leanne (Pelosi) our producer really felt like she wanted to communicate was the community that we have in women’s snowboarding…It was really really important for every female snowboarder to see that we support each other, that we have fun, that it’s not all about being the gnarliest, it’s just about the going out there and enjoying yourself and keeping the vibes good. As females…we can be catty. And you know this is not helping anyone."
The tapestry of talent that went into the production of Full Moon includes a veritable who’s-who in women’s snowboarding: backcountry boss Marie France Roy, current Olympic Gold Medallist and multiple X Games Champion Jamie Anderson, legendary pioneers Barrett Christy and Tara Dakides, amongst others snow luminaries. “I think we’re at a point now where it’s like we’ve been through so much as females and we're in a really good place. but we’ve still got a lot of work to do and we’ve got to support each other… so I think with all female snowboard films that’s that message …but it was also really important to be a part of the bigger films like this one or Absinthe with Kimmi (Fasani)… she is really pushing the boundaries of her own snowboarding with those guys…"
"I think there’s a need for both. There’s a need for the good vibes and we can push on each other amongst ourselves but then there’s another level of progression... we can ride with guys and feed off of with them, and I don’t think it should be weird to have a girl in a movie”.
Hopefully this is heralding a new norm in snow cinema and particularly, for women riding in the back country, which Robin describe as “a side mission of mine”. Continuing her work with coaching and at snowboard camps, Robin explores that “there came a time where I was like I’m working in back country snowboard films, promoting the back country, do I feel comfortable selling people indirectly selling the product that they should go and use in the back country without having any knowledge or means to. So, I kind of had this epiphany where I was like oh my god I’m really pushing the glory and glorifying the back country and making everyone think that oh you can just go do that but in reality, it’s a lot of experience, and skill and I really wanted to make an effort at least to help people to get them the skills and knowledge that they need. So, wherever I can do that, I do it. Because I feel like that’s a side mission of mine. And I want to see more females I the back country you know were seeing a big gap right now..."
"I don’t wanna be one of 5 females, I want to be one of 25 females doing that professionally, that’s how it should be."
Robin shines when talking about the current mind-blowing levels that is women’s snowboarding in 2017. With fearless slopestyle queens like Anna Gasser and Klaudia Medlova “Absolutely sending it”, Robin suggest that I actually think the women’s Olympics this year is going to be the television event of our lifetime. Do not miss that moment!”, and I am inclined to believe her. South Korea is fast on the incoming in February 2018 and with girls like Anna and Klaudia, and Robin’s team mates, the steadily podium placing young ripper British Katie Ormerod and Aimee Fuller throwing down absurd spins and flips, it sure is lining up to be quite the show.
And what, you wonder, is on the agenda for Robin? "I got some little pots boiling all over the place” she laughs, so “you’ll see content out of me for the next few years that’s for sure…And if I ever get the opportunity to go ride with Travis again I will 100% be there!".
Stay tuned for more in the WHY I series