Fitz Cahall on Filming Gerry Lopez for “Tracing the Edge”
Editor's note: Fitz Cahall joins us today to share another behind-the-scenes story from the making of Tracing the Edge.
Winter was fickle last year. Bryan and I were set to work with surfing legend Gerry Lopez. I’d already spent a day filming with him in Bend. He’d shown me every powder stash available on Mount Bachelor, his local stomping ground. We shredded six inches of light snow. I broke a helmet cam (that’s cool). We aggravated the marketing department (that was cooler). The ski patrol just shrugged off the marketing director’s radio calls (that was the best). Gerry introduced me to every liftie by name. The teenage rippers hucking rodeos asked his opinion on where to go based on the direction of the wind. An old retiree in a one piece stopped to share a joke. One thing was clear, Gerry was king. Mount Bachelor was the kingdom. If a run was great, he’d smile. If a run was littered with moguls, he’d smile and shrug, imparting some tidbit of wisdom. Like:
“At the end every season, I make sure that I buy the patrollers a keg of beer for the end-of-the-year party. They work hard. It’s a way of thanking them … (pause) … and, you know, when they, maybe, find me some place I shouldn’t be, it’s not a big deal.”
[Gerry Lopez, still hucking cliffs in his 60s. Photo: Fitz Cahall and Bryan Smith]
That was a good day of riding. The rest of the winter was a little lackluster and organizing a four-day shoot with Gerry and his son Alex proved to be less mellow than our day on Bachelor. There were schedules to cross-reference, deadlines to consider. Jeff at the Baldface Lodge juggled trips, studied the calendar, consulted the heavens and somehow created time for us where there had been no time. It was going to work. We had to meet Gerry Lopez and Alex in Nelson, British Columbia for a 4 p.m. heli ride. Bryan could get dropped off in Nelson after shooting some backcountry skiing at another hut. I’d blast out from Seattle. Finally, Tracing the Edge was coming together.
I left two hours early just to be safe. I crested over the Cascades into eastern Washington’s wheat fields. The sunshine had the first hint of spring strength. After all the emails and scheduling conflicts, I felt calm knowing that the trip was now in motion. I sighed. Then I looked to my left. A behemoth of a man clad head to toe in leather and riding a Harley bigger than my four-cylinder truck was pointing at me. Shouting at me. Accusing me or my truck of something. Stop pointing. Why was he so angry?
Still confused where this man’s aggression came from, I watched as his eyes widened, a look of fear swept across an already frightening face and he slammed on his brakes, fishtailing , nearly hitting the pavement at 75 mph. Right about then, something exploded. The truck surged to the right and upward. Bits of rubber flew into the periphery. I fought the urge to hit the breaks, and instead pointed it for the conveniently placed off-ramp 50 feet in front of me. The truck coasted to a stop and sagged onto the exposed shoulder. My back left tire was completely gone.
I fought off the urge to vomit and instead regrouped and was back on the road in an hour. I picked the small border crossing north of Metaline Falls. I never get hassled going into Canada. I wasn’t as lucky this time. Twenty minutes later, I was trying to stomp the accelerator through the floorboards of my truck (323,567 miles at last count). The truck responded. I was blazing north. I managed the 60 miles in an hour. Such speed.
When I got there, Bryan was not calm. His ride had dropped him off on time, but sped off before Bryan had gotten a chance to organize all of his luggage. His ride had left with $15,000 in camera gear, including the camera. It’s kind of hard to make a film without a camera. I understood Bryan’s frustration and excited tone. Bryan’s ride then crossed into the states finally noticing the camera bag in the back seat. They considered leaving it just off the road at mile marker five, but eventually decided to leave it at a fishing lodge. Bryan’s a Canadian citizen. He’d never intended on crossing the border, so he hadn’t brought a passport. Bringing $15,000 of camera gear that doesn’t belong to you back across the border is frowned upon. They don’t like it. It has something to do with taxes.
I jumped back into truck and drove south. I concocted a story. It was my camera. I was actually a moron and left it at my motel. I repeated this over and over again until I almost believed it. Moron. Motel. At the border, I walked into the Canadian guardhouse and told them I’d be back in 20 minutes.
“Seriously, I’m not sketchy. I’m just a moron,” I said. They appeared to believe me.
Then I crossed back into States. For whatever reason coming back into the States never goes well for me. I fit some profile that raises red flags. In front of me, they decided to search an RV. Grass grew. I imagined a helicopter fluttering from the ground. Finally, it was my turn to face Homeland Security.
At first, the conversation went well. The guy wanted to know all about the kinds of movies we made, how we released them online. Did I think newspapers would survive? What does the digital media business model look like? Then he kept asking questions.
BP: How come you left your camera?
FC: I’m a moron.
BP: Yet it seems that you’ve convinced these companies that you’re worth their money and time?
Hmm…this guy was good.
BP: Young Man, I’m going to open the door. (rummaging) What’s in this envelope?
It was an unopened FedEx envelope containing videocassettes sent from Stuart at Patagonia. The cassettes contained footage of Colin Haley summiting some malicious piece of ice and rock called the Ogre in Pakistan. I needed to give them to Bryan. This story was getting way too complicated.
FC: I just forgot my camera in my motel room.
BP: Young Man, can you open this for me?
I opened the FedEx envelope and handed it to him. The officer's eyes went wide and called over his shoulder for assistance. Inside my mind, I was trying to imagine what Stuart could have possibly put in the FedEx folder to warrant such a reaction.
BP: Young Man, all of these tapes say Pakistan. They’re all labeled with the word Pakistan. Are you communicating with someone in Pakistan? Can you step out of the car?
I made that helicopter ride. I’d come too far not to. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say this. The guys manning the border stations, they work hard. Tirelessly. So tirelessly, that they can work up a mighty thirst. Especially in Metaline Falls. If you were them, you'd want to be thanked. Right? When the annual Metaline Falls Border Crossing End-of-Year Party rolls around, this Young Man will buy our hard working officers a keg of cold beer as a little thank you and, you know, when, maybe, they find me some place I shouldn’t be, it’s not a big deal.
When he's not working on video projects like Tracing the Edge and The Season, Fitz Cahall writes articles for climbing magazines (and Patagonia catalogs) and hosts the best outdoor podcast on the Internet, The Dirtbag Diaries. Enjoy the latest episode right here, then subscribe over at iTunes.
The Dirtbag Diaries (Shorts) – The Lost Art
Surfer. Waves. Design. Surfboard. In 25 years of surfing, Will Ranken never thought much about how those four elements interrelated to one another. When he needed a new board, he would buy one off the racks, hand over the cash, and soon he was paddling into the line up again. That was the status quo, until he read an article about making and shaping wooden surfboards. He writes, "Buying a new board suddenly seemed so boring. Like I was missing out on the really important part, like I was only pretending to be a surfer." Will designed and cut and sanded a board. He worked on it tirelessly. Flew back and forth the country to attend workshops until the day finally arrived. It was time to paddle out. Was it love at first surf?
Listen to "The Shorts – The Lost Art"
(mp3 – right-click to download)
Visit dirtbagdiaries.com to hear the music from "The Lost Art" and submit your own Dirtbag Diaries Short.