While their peers were off chasing powder in Argentina this past summer, a small shred media contingent went even deeper: Africa. Videographers Jeremy Miller and Justin "Teenwolf" Turkowski, photographer Stan Evans, and ESPN writer Colin Whyte filled their board bags with jerky, tripods, and equatorial SPF and headed off to Kenya, the land of The Lion King and insane views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. Hakuna matata.
Strangely, snowboarding had nothing to do with this trip, headed up by Quiet Way, a non-profit, and BluFrog, a video marketing outfit, both Utah-based. Instead, the crew used their snow-honed shooting skills to document Kenya's punishing drought and help raise awareness that over 10 million people now face starvation in its dusty wake. Quiet Way's most recent project, Give A Dam, builds retention ponds so that what little rain falls (thanks, global warming!) actually sticks around. And, unlike larger non-profits that can get bogged down in administrative high talk, Quiet Way's founder, Ron Hatfield, seems to roll more like a snowboarder, preferring doing it to claiming it. As CEO, he's never drawn a salary, and he said, "never will."
Selling the dream of snowboarding is one thing, but to have a hand in making small dreams come truereading, writing, running watertalk about a shift in reality...
Stan Evans, trip photographer
The other goal in heading to Kenya with 80K worth of camera gear was to trade in the static, at-times manipulative documentary style folks are accustomed to seeing from Africa for something with the excitement and accessibility of a good shred film -- no small task. Peep the HD trailer here for an idea of the outcome.
"In a million years I never envisioned that I would be heading to Africa to shoot photographs," said Evans, who grew up in Alaska. "It was a dream come true, and to actually have the real feeling that my photos could make a difference was surreal." After spending a long winter making Stance, a women's snowboard film with Miller and Turkowski, Evans swapped his sled for a lifted Land Cruiser and his manly vanilla lattes for a grip of malaria pills. Documenting snowboarding has taken these guys all over the world but seldom south of the 45th parallel and never to the equator. "Selling the dream of snowboarding is one thing," said Evans. "But to have a hand in making small dreams come true -- reading, writing, running water -- talk about a shift in reality..."
"The most epic moment of [my] trip was hanging out of a helicopter chasing giraffes and damn near touching their heads with my camera," said Miller. "The icing on the cake was having Discovery's 'Planet Earth' pilot."
After wrapping his teacher interviews at Shiswa Primary, Whyte poached a soccer game with students: "I couldn't resist," he said. "Of over a thousand kids at this tiny school built for 500, more than 200 of them are orphans because of AIDS, malaria and other crappy situations. I was the only guy over 10 and the only one wearing shoes, yet despite giant rocks on the sidelines, razor-sharp 'grass' and the fact that they were using a tetherball, these kids owned it. They clowned me every time I made a move. It was one of the highlights of my life."
The crew's shooting schedule was intense and included: a dozen needy schools; real deal wildlife; a million interviews; hyped kids hanging off them like jewelry; a hospital visit complete with a bone surgeon's yellow DeWalt drill and federal prisoners chained three to a bed; and even political interviews at city hall in Kakamega, the town where Quiet Way started its operations. When they weren't hauling the loaner Technine jib arm into croc-infested waterholes for a "sick shot" or watching a pack of lions "devour a slow-ass zebra," the crew got to bump fists with Kenyans from all walks of life and found them to be exceptionally bright, friendly folks keen to tell their stories and improve their lot in life.
(Just in case though, Miller bought a blade: "Buying a knife out the window of the Land Cruiser was pretty rad: 1000 shillings [$13] and I was laced with protection for the sketchy drive to Mombasa." He never needed his knife but J Mills did drop in on some cholera-caliber food poisoning from Mombasa's red snapper offerings.)
In snowboarding circles it's common to bitch because your goggles keep fogging or your Subaru won't start. But try having to sell your family's last goat to buy medicine because your sole water source keeps making you sick. Or only eating once a week. Everyone in this crew had their respective comfort zones pushed out the window, but in a good way:
"[This trip] inspired me to maximize my effort in life," said Miller. "No excuses for anything. Get the job done by any means necessary... Because you could always be walking ten miles a day for water to survive."