Wednesday 28 March 2012

180 degrees of inspiration

Every now and then a film comes along that changes you. I saw 180º South last night and felt different afterwards – not just satisfied by a great film full of incredible footage of natural places, and surfing and climbing, and interesting and inspirational people, and cool music, and a strong environmental message (yep, it ticked a lot of boxes). It was just, I don't know, honest, and raw. 

I've been feeling the winds of change blowing me around lately. I'm still not sure which way is up or forward but watching this helped. (Outside magazine said the movie will make you "quit your job" and I can vouch for that...)

I saw it at a screening to raise funds to send a bunch of surfboards to kids in the Solomon Islands, organised by Joel Coleman – a surf photog and all-round nice guy in Manly (Sydney) who runs Saltmotion gallery and sends daily surf-report emails to people like me. Joel got permission to use St Matthews church (also in Manly) to show the film and there we were: 250 surfers and ruffians sitting on (thankfully) cushioned pews looking up at a big, portable screen hanging over the altar, and local surfer/musician Dylan playing steel guitar riffs to warm up the crowd. Then the lights went down.

In a nutshell, 180º South is about an American surfer/climber, JeffJohnson, who follows the journey taken by two greats of the outdoor industry – Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face – in 1968. 

Chouinard and Tompkins drove their Ford Econoline van all the way from California to Patagonia, at a time when the Panamerican highway was nothing but a dirt road south of Mexico, in search of walls and waves. They found both, and a wild and open landscape that crept into their souls and stayed there. 

Johnson's journey is a little different: he sails to Patagonia, for one thing. But I loved that Chouinard and Tompkins are involved in Johnson's journey, hanging out in a rustic shingle house in Patagonia, ribbing each other as old friends do, talking about adventure ("The word ‘adventure’ has gotten overused,"  Chouinard says. "For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts") and the ethics of climbing. 

"The whole purpose of climbing something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. But if you compromise the process [by, say, paying $80,000 for someone to guide you up it], you're an asshole when you start out and an asshole when you get back." Again, honest.

Keith Malloy & Timmy O'Neill
on El Cap for 180 South
I loved the old footage of Chouinard, Tompkins and friends like Royal Robbins in Yosemite Valley in the 1960s, climbing the North American Wall on El Capitan and living for months at a time out of their cars, which they bought for $15 (!). Those were the days.

When the boat Johnson is on loses its mast, the crew stop for repairs at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where he meets a beautiful surfer woman, Makohe, who goes with him when he leaves. It’s a little unbelievable – she’s almost too lovely, with hair down to her waist, she even sings and plays guitar – but Chouinard, Tompkins and climber Timmy O'Neill keep the whole thing grounded.

The environmental message runs throughout but focuses on what's happening in Chile, particularly pulp mills on the coast and massive hydro projects threatening wild rivers. Tomkins and his wife Kris live in Patagonia and talk a bit about buying land to protect it; their Conservacion Patagonica project has so far protected 890,000 hectares (2.2 million acres). Why Patagonia? Read why here.

Patagonia is of course the star: peaks, waves, people living simple lives with respect for the land and sea. Treat yourself, and your heart and soul, and find the DVD. You can watch the trailer here first, and read an interview Alpinist magazine did with Johnson and the film's director Chris Malloy, but see the movie too. You'll thank yourself for it. It might even change your life.

PS The name, from what I can deduce, comes from something else Chouinard said, that you sometimes have to turn 180 degrees from where you're facing to change your world view, to change the world too.

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