words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mary Walsh, Mike Yoshida, and Ryan “Huggy” Hughes
The crowd had been prepped with vodka tonics, Coors Light, and bite-sized chicken and waffles, and by the time everyone took their seats in the Montalban Theater in Hollywood, the air was lit with anticipation for the feature films. Much of the snowboard industry had flocked to Los Angeles for the world premiere of Nike Snowboarding's Never Not and, despite summertime heat and bumper-to-bumper traffic getting into the city, snowboarding was on everyone's minds. After months of filming and weeks of online leaks, both Never Not Part 1 and Part 2 were going to be revealed.
On the message boards, folks tend to argue about whether they feel a company of Nike's size and history should be involved in snowboarding and we would like to be upfront about this. When considering Never Not, it is important to take a step back. Nike Snowboarding is made up of a group of individuals—both those in front of the camera and those behind it making this movie come to fruition—who represent some of the most dedicated, core riders in our community. Former and current pros, industry veterans, and people that we respect made these films. If you are to write Never Not off as a product of a company that doesn't know what's what in snowboarding, you are missing the point. These guys are snowboarders. And Nike's Never Not is no doubt a labor of love. The assembled crew of riders is one of the best in the business and the two men tapped to make Part 1 and Part 2, Joe Carlino and Per-Hampus Stålhandske, respectively, are card-carrying members of the snowboarding film auteur canon.
Part 1 is the traditional snowboard film offering: opener, ender, shared parts, hammers. Part 2 has a different approach, taking its cues from a behind-the-scenes-style documentary. Part 2 approaches the motivation, the hardship, and the passion that is necessary to make the riding shown in Part 1 happen. On Friday night as the sun set and a rowdy crowd filled the lower level of the Montalban, Never Not Part 2 played first. The boozy sodas had no doubt affected the crowd and as the screen was filled with images of Nicolas Müller popping over powder-light pillows, the theater erupted in screams. (Sage Kotsenburg was so stoked he lost his voice during the showing of Part 2 and we would petition Nike to add a bonus section where he provides commentary on the whole film. It would be filled with spoice.) Each segment of Part 2 details a different aspect of snowboarding, focusing on specific Nike team members and the types of riding they are most passionate about. In having such a diverse athlete roster and a large brand reach, Nike is afforded the opportunity to speak to a wide audience about snowboarding and they approached this responsibility with the weight it deserves. There have always been lines drawn in the sand between contest riding, filming video parts, and riding in the streets or the backcountry, and Per-Hampus and the Nike crew are able to not only blur these divisions, but provide insights as to the personal reasons that drive high level and high-profile riders to make the decisive career moves that they do, often implicating their passions in the process.
In the first segment, Jed Anderson and Justin Bennee discuss what getting shots and putting together parts is like for them. It's intimate and honest, and is an apropos message, especially for viewers less versed in snowboard culture outside of competition (note: a heavy fall section is embedded in this portion; it's aggressive).
The second part is Ambition, in which Spencer O'Brien, Scotty Lago, Peetu Piiroinen, Louie Vito and Danny Kass speak about riding competitively. This most mainstream part of the snowboarding family tree is no doubt high consequence and fast progressing, but it is also often sidelined in discussions of snow culture because of its mass appeal. Pockets of casual fans may define this sport by X Games runs and Olympic medals and the core members of our community have long decried that as only part of the story. While this is a just sentiment, Ambition gently reminds us that competitors deserve their due as well. Danny Kass offers potentially the most accurate insight to date on the realities of contest riding. As a person who has competed and filmed video parts—and has received acclaim for both—his words on the challenges of putting oneself out in the open in front of judges and the world are incredibly compelling.
The third section, Exploration follows Nicolas Müller and Austin Smith into the high peaks. Snowboarding's individuality and polarizing dichotomy are once again brought to light by Nico's words, "Couple people want to go to X Games and do a triple cork and that's fine, but some people just want to do powder turns." Without being saccharine, Nike does a fantastic job during Part 2 of instilling emotion into the video frames. Part 2 is a primer for those less familiar with the intricacies of riding and perhaps should become required viewing for beginner boarders, but those who are already well-versed in shredding ideology will no doubt find a few new truths in this film as well. The final section of Part 2 is Celebration and needs little explanation. The overall takeaways of individuality, freedom to follow your passion, and the fact that filming a video part is fucking hard, are tenets that are good to be reminded of. Oh yeah, that and the unbridled joy of strapping in and heading downhill.
The other half of the project, Never Not Part 1 is clean, concise, and to the point. Joe Carlino's depth of filmmaking talent comes through when considering that Never Not is a seamless blending of snowboarders with a variety of personal styles and terrain preferences. Cuts between Nicolas and Bennee, Austin and Halldór, are done in an honest and masterful way. To say that the transitions are smooth is an understatement and that's a challenge in itself when working with such a diverse crew. It's too easy for a film to falter when divided by style and Carlino and Nike do a fantastic job of creating cohesion as the movie goes from rider to rider, the end result leaving you wanting more from every snowboarder on screen.
Of course this team is stacked, and the highlights of hammers in this film are too lengthy to recount in a web feature. Post-film, the opinions on which part was a personal favorite ran the gamut. Jed's opener was, of course, nothing less than standout. In addition to hardway 270s, Jed's ever-celebrated switch back 270 to goofy, and multiple redirects, Jed continually selects features that set him apart from other denizens of street riding, specifically his skate-influenced multi-hit lines. Jed also stacked backcountry clips for his part. Nico's part is the kind of segment that makes you want to go out and ride fresh snow immediately. There's big lines, pillows, flips, a handplant, a textbook Japan, and a backcountry McTwist (on a jump), all topped off with a classic Müller method and set to a Rolling Stones song. Bennee's style of street saavy is up third and opens with the SLC ledge that was leaked in Never Not's online clips. Manuel Diaz, Johnnie Paxson, Sage Kotsenburg, and Ethan Morgan share this segment. Sage has a couple of solid clips that illuminate a bright filming future and Ethan Morgan impresses both in backcountry and on street rails.
Austin Smith's part catapults the viewer again into the backcountry. Austin showcases a proper and textbook style off the beaten path and he has a determined precision to his riding that is subtly different and is a well-matched contrast to the more playful styles of Nico and Gigi. Austin spent much of 2013 riding a custom-made powder board with a very short tail and his riding shines on that deck and when he's not riding a niche stick, he's standing atop a more traditional all-mountain deck that allows him to finish off his insane part with a front ten into deep pow. Austin Smith is back, and better than ever. Halldór Helgason brings the heat in his segment. Everything that this lanky Icelandic upstart does is just big. His part starts with a nosepress on a steep kinked rail and doesn't let up as he redirects, bomb drops, and boosts in the backcountry. His fearless mindset is displayed in numerous shots, including the backflip to 360 double line across two rooftops that makes up his ender. There's multiple flips thrown in for good measure, a Mack Dawg-esque transfer between two large poles, and a few other bangers that we'll leave out for an air of mystery because his part is too heavy to not watch and be surprised.
Jess Kimura's segment is another landmark in women's snowboarding. Straight up, Jess kills it, and while this isn't news to anyone, her Never Not part serves to expand her hit list. In her segment, which bookends shots from Spencer O'Brien, Annie Boulanger, and Laura Hadar (the first who throws down over a massive Mammoth jump and the later two who showcase shots of their backcountry prowess, with Annie pointing it into a pristine big mountain 360), Jess opens up with a proper front board, followed by a Miller flip, and then a wallride 270 out. That's a heavy start for any rider, regardless of gender, and she keeps the momentum with every trick and a big gap to DFD at the end.
In a film with this many rock solid parts, the portion that ends the movie has got to be next level, and Gigi Rüf delivers. He is just so good at snowboarding. Beginning in black and white, this Austrian powder hound gets creative with some wild terrain in perfect powder conditions. As the music switches, full color returns and Gigi's part kicks into high gear. The second trick is the rarely-seen Chicane and Gigi's segment rolls forward with big lines and style that can really only be called picturesque.
Nike's 2013 offering of Never Not Part 1 and Part 2 leaves you wanting more. Specifically, it leaves you yearning to take out your board, strap in, and rip some fresh snow of your own. While there are many snowboard movies that showcase great riding and banner achievements, there are less that are able to drive a personal passion and harness that itch for winter. Never Not does just this. It's an alarm clock reminding us that winter is right around the corner and that no matter if you're signed up for heli rides and limitless powder runs or posted up at the bottom of a rope tow for park laps, as long as you are strapped in that's all you need. As Nicolas Müller said in Part 2, "The one trick is just to strap in." And this is the beauty of snowboarding, isn't it?