Words/Photos: Matt Georges
For this season’s movie, Perceptions, the Pirates crew make a departure from the classic, high-octane shred porn they’ve been stoking us with the last few years to concentrate on more of what it means to be a snowboarder – the places we visit, the new friends we meet, the changes this affects in us… all are of equal importance to simply the act of snowboarding. Matt Georges joined for one of the chapters, as Kalle Ohlson, Wojtek Pawlusiak and Sami Luhtanen struck out for Newfoundland.
Kalle Ohlson was right. For several years he’d been talking about travelling to Newfoundland in his desire to ride more exotic street spots. As the new Pirate flick Perceptions focussed on the adventurous side of snowboarding that we love so much, we thought it was the perfect moment to join riders Sami Luhtanen, Wojtek Pawlusiak and Kalle himself on their journey to the west. The geographic location of the main island’s city, St. John’s, is peculiar. You need to be flexible and to pay great attention to the weather forecasts – snowfalls can be abundant, but never last long. We decided to book our flight seeing that it had just snowed more than a metre so, if everything went as planned, we’d be right on time!
The landscape looks like the backdrop to a Wes Anderson’s movie, like Moonrise Kingdom. All the fishermen’s houses are colourfully painted. Time seems to have stopped. The city snakes up the hills above the St. John’s Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Then, on a dead-end street, we spot a huge red and white lighthouse. This is where the lightkeeper lives, on the far east side of the island. This is also where we will be staying, in pirates’ territory.
The poetic charm of the first day disappears as we discover the rest of the town. It reminds us that we are, in fact, in North America: big Hummers, boring residential homes, huge malls… We expected something wilder, atypical, but the old fishing port has been industrialised over the years, especially thanks to – or because of? – the off-shore platforms that surround it. Rare are the remains of the first Vikings and other tribes of the last centuries to be found.
Today the snow is abundant and by exploring we find good hits for the next day. But a detail worries us: it is too hot. +10°C and the sky is particularly cloudy. A thick fog means we have a hard time finding our way home. ‘Our’ lighthouse sounds its horn tirelessly to guide lost souls safely back to the port, pushing them away from the cliffs that guard the bay. It also helps us find our way home, but it isn’t so fine when we want to sleep! The sound is heavy and loud. It tears the silence every 10 seconds.
Next morning the fog is still low. It is raining and the snow already melts. After a couple of hours’ shaping, security comes and asks us to leave. There is no way to negotiate. We go to the next spot. The same happens! Even though the trip was promising, it is taking a wrong turn. It is still raining… We decide to cheer up by making our own version of ‘Masterchef’: each night, one of us must cook a tasty meal for the rest of the crew. Some good food and red wine have what it takes to soften the mood, even with the foghorn and constant rain.
When we wake up the following day, we see… the green of grass in the garden. It is still raining and the weather’s hot. Fortunately, there is still some snow left here and there – it should be enough to build a small hit with transition in front of the house. It will keep us busy and make for nice photos with the lighthouse and St. John’s Bay in the background. We’ll find something else to do the following days. Snow remains only at the side of the streets, in small piles full of stones, but everything else is green. Our mood takes a turn for the worst. The forecast shows no snowfall for the next few weeks.
St John’s city centre somehow reminds me of a district of New York. There are a lot of art galleries, cafés, small fish restaurants, and so on. The local skateshop, Ballistic, is cool, but unfortunately it doesn’t sell any snow. It is time to be flexible and to relocate. Sometimes you just need to swallow your pride. We cannot go home with so few pictures, so we have to give up the idea of a whole trip in Newfoundland & Labrador. We have to forget about exoticism and rather focus on what we do best: snowboard on actual snow!
After a quick check of weather, temperatures and flights connections, we leave to Ontario and Quebec. Our destination is the city straddling these two regions: Ottawa. We wanted to avoid well-known places, but our choices are limited. The plus side? There is snow and it is extremely cold. Returning to Europe is a no-go with the terrible conditions of January.
In Ottawa it is -35°C but it feels like -47°C because of the blizzard. I hurt like the guy who breaks his dreadlocks in the movie Cool Runnings. I think of my Finnish friend, Antti Autti. I remember making fun of him when he showed me the heating system he put in his boots that helped him stay warm during the long days he spends on snow. Right now I DO envy him!
For the first time in 10 years, I have to shoot with gloves. The skin on my fingers is burnt by the cold. Shit, my reputation… In the evening, Wojtek greets us with a delicious meal. He gets good ratings from all of us and seems to be in the lead to become THE Masterchef of the week. Tomorrow it will be Sami’s turn. We will finally know who wins a dinner out!
We drive around for hours to do our first spots’ selection. We explore every corner of Ottawa and its industry areas. We have no winch, just a bungee, therefore we have to give up on several hits, especially the huge Dan Brisse-style jumps. This becomes a running joke each time we see a rail on top of a 40-storey car park! We still manage to find some spots that work nice thanks to a natural hit, a lot of wood pallets and other urban debris that we can pile together.
The last snow fell 10 days ago. We have a hard time choosing what to ride. Our stuntmen are undecided – they don’t want to get hurt and prefer to go for basic stuff with fewer risks involved, whereas as usual, we – the media – enjoy the bigger hits and bangers… which doesn’t mean we want to see injuries. Progress is slow. There is a lot of ice and not so much snow meaning every spot needs hours of shaping, but at least this helps warm us up. We notice the limits of the bungee, which becomes totally inefficient under -30°C – the gum doesn’t react anymore. Nothing is simple here. The optimism isn’t higher than in Newfoundland & Labrador and we seem to only be inspired by the next Masterchef meal. Sami’s up! He’s got no excuses, since he’s had the chance to take notes during the previous evenings. It will be hard to choose a winner. Every menu was unique and delicious! The last feast finally arrives… Maybe a Finnish specialty? Or a recipe he got from his mother? Not! It is pasta gratin with ketchup! Do I need to say that Sami did NOT win our Masterchef competition? For that matter, he even had to wash the dishes.
NO WIN NO FEE
We are in North America, a paradise for litigation of all sorts – it is really different from good ol’ Europe. I don’t know about you, but I often think of the mother who spilled her Coke in a fast-food restaurant, slipped on it, broke her leg and sued the brand. It might be stupid, but she won several million dollars for wearing a plaster cast for one month! Ottawa is no different. When the cops don’t make us leave, the neighbourhood does. It might look simple, but nothing is harder than shooting snowboarding in such a place. We take our boards to a public park – one hour later, we get arrested by a police patrol. The officers explain that it is private property, as are all the other parks in town. We cannot snowboard here, because the city don’t want to pay millions if we decide to sue should we get hurt. Nor are we allowed to film since we need a permit from the high council of frickin’ Ottawa. Screw it, we’ll come back tomorrow and every other day if we have to. We’ll change clothes and we’ll talk with a Spanish accent rather than Swedish. More importantly, we will try to avoid being arrested again.
The policemen greet us with a beautiful farewell: “You know, we actually don’t care if you film snowboarding. But since we’ve got nothing better to do right now, we have to prove our chief that we do some work.”
Later that afternoon, we get another example from the boss of a social security company, who yells that he doesn’t want us to ride his building. We try and negotiate. He allows us to jump from his parking lot but without touching “his” rail. He doesn’t see any problem if we land in the next parking lot… which belongs another business. After a long talk, we seal a written deal – signed by our three stuntmen – waiving our rights to any legal procedure in case of injury. Finally, snow falls again and helps us shoot bigger spots. Sami cooks another gratin, but doesn’t win our Masterchef Season 2. Wojtek enjoys some slams head first on the ice. And Kalle is happy to have enough snus for the whole journey.
In short, Newfoundland & Labrador is very cool. But it is definitely a ‘Russian roulette’ kind of destination, like Corsica, Sicily, Manhattan… You need to be ready at the right time and to be extremely lucky if you long for some big riding! We should have thought about it more, perhaps, but with a bit of flexibility and a willingness to travel further we made it happen.
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