An NRS crew joins surfer Chris Peterson and Forge Motion Pictures on the Lochsa River while filming Of Souls+Water Episode IV, “The Warrior”.
Anytime I get a chance to hit the eject button on my office chair and spend a “work” day on the water, I take it. So when Of Souls+Water director Skip Armstrong invited me to join him and his assistant Thatcher Bean for a day of shooting on the Lochsa back in June, I didn’t hesitate. Joined by our in-house photographer, Jacob Boling, and our video man, Darren Kellogg, I tossed a change of clothes in the big gray van, swung by the McDonalds drive-thru and hit the road.
In typical NRS fashion, we planned to sack out in our sleeping bags along the river that night. A crew had just returned from the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival in Oregon with a cooler full of leftovers, saving us a trip to the grocery store. Heading up the Clearwater River toward the confluence of the Selway and Lochsa, we poached a pile of driftwood from a beach, anticipating a fun, starry night around a roaring blaze. However, the Lochsa canyon, running roughly east-west on the western flank of the Bitterroot Mountains, is a funnel for weird weather, and by the time we rolled up to the river’s famous Pipeline wave, the skies had grayed and rain appeared imminent.
A cold rain starting
And no hat –
No matter. Skip and Thatch were undeterred, as was former Hawaii big wave surfer Chris Peterson – the subject of Of Souls+Water Episode IV, “The Warrior” – who was absolutely shredding glorious, green, surging Pipeline while Skip and Thatch manned their Red Epic HD camera from the opposite shore. The light was a little flat, but the wave was perfect and Chris was en fuego. Jacob, Darren and I jumped out of the rig, grabbed our own cameras, and began doing our best paparazzi impression in the middle of the Idaho wilds.
If you’re late to the Of Souls+Water party, here’s what you need to know: five short films tell the stories of five character archetypes, all bound together by the common theme of water, and all filmed in exquisite high definition. The first three episodes of Souls have lit the paddling world on fire – literally, in the case of “The Shapeshifter”. I’ve been privileged to watch this project grow from a twinkle in Skip Armstrong’s eye into a phenomenon, and seeing the crew in action on the Lochsa was a special treat. Skip, Thatch and Chris are super solid guys, and the vibe at Pipeline that afternoon was electric, even with the so-so weather.
About an hour after we arrived, it started to rain. Then it started to really rain. Chris paddled into the wave for one last ride, then Skip and Thatcher loaded their gear into (and onto) their kayaks and paddled back across the river to the road. But before they hung up their dry wear for the day, they unloaded their gear and hopped back into their boats for a little surf session.
After the playboating, we all gathered around the rigs and popped the tops on some celebration beverages. The day seemed over, the rain too much to withstand – a perfect time to relax, rehash the shoot, and catch up with one another. But then a strange thing happened. A beautiful mist rose up from the river as rain fell and cool air settled into the canyon. Vibrant green cedars contrasted with gray granite and white mist, just begging for Chris’s red surfboard to light the fuse on a perfect picture.
So Chris shed his dry jeans and puffy down jacket, pulled on his Radiant Wetsuit and jumped back in the river. Skip and Thatcher set up under an umbrella to work their magic while the rest of us snapped shutters and hooted and hollered as Chris cooked up a feast of airs, flat spins and carves.
Chris was seriously locked. He kept going bigger and bigger, hooting and hollering almost as much as the rest of us.
A girl pulled up in a truck with a kayak on top, looking for some boater friends she was supposed to meet. Turns out she knew Skip and Chris, so she pulled on a rain jacket and joined the fun. I’ll say it, she was cute, and it didn’t take long for Jacob to propose a photoshoot.
After several helpings of Pipeline’s finest, Chris carried his board up the bank, presumably done for the day. Only he carried his board right past the rigs and started walking up the highway. He’d been inspired, I found out later, to go check out the far bank. Something about the mist, the moment, was leading him there, and he decided to follow. Skip and Thatcher followed too, training their lens on the neoprene-clad creature crawling up on the rocks and walking amongst the trees across the water. This strange, peaceful, unscripted scene resulted in some of the coolest footage of the day.
After his meditative sojourn on the far bank, Chris paddled back into the current and floated downstream to catch Pipeline one last time before darkness shut us down.
The unrelenting downpour had dashed our visions of a fun night by a roaring blaze under the stars, so we decided on renting cabins at the Three Rivers Resort instead. But first we needed to eat, and leftover lunch meat from the Clackamas wasn’t going to cut it. Jacob, whose gift for gab is exceeded only by his talent for eating enormous quantities of greasy food, sweet talked the waitress at the Wilderness Inn Café to keep the doors open an extra half hour, assuring her we’d eat and tip well. Which we did.
Full, thirsty and pleased with a great day of shooting, we retired to two cozy log cabins and toasted Chris, who was deservedly exhausted. Next, using a little “farm engineering”, Darren and Jacob set up lights on our porch so we could film a short Q&A with Skip for an upcoming behind-the-scenes video. Kicking it in a rocking chair as rain poured off the roof and the river rolled by, Skip slung quotes like the pro he is. Then we tore down the “set,” spent an hour drooling over footage on a MacBook Pro, and hit the hay.
Hats off to the Forge Motion Pictures team – Skip, Thatcher and Of Souls+Water producer Anson Fogel – for their hard and tireless work on this series. Watching “The Nomad,” “The Mother,” “The Shapeshifter” and, now, “The Warrior” come to life has been one of the highlights of my time at NRS. Subjects like Erik Boomer, Melody Shapiro, Ben Marr and Chris Peterson exude an undeniable magnetism, as do the films’ spectacular settings, but it takes artistry to translate that magnetism to the screen, and the Forge boys have nailed it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these pics as much as we enjoyed taking them. Browse the gallery above to see more, and be sure to catch “The Warrior” at nrsfilms.com (premieres July 23).