I first met Yvon Chouinard in the water. He sat out the back at a small pointbreak quietly waiting for sets. For an hour I just watched him surf, and there was something about him that reminded me less of a businessman, or even an environmentalist, and more of my dad and uncles, who were pipeliners and cowboys. Finally, I worked up the gumption to introduce myself.
In that first meeting, he told me about some of his favorite fly-fishing spots and turned me on to a recipe for buffalo meat. When a set swung his way, however, he didn’t hesitate to break off. When he paddled back out, I told him that I’d seen Mountain of Storms, his obscure 1968 movie that documented his overland adventure to Patagonia, and that my friend Jeff Johnson and I wanted to someday follow a route like his to Patagonia. He sat up on his board, looked out to sea, and said, “Well, you’d better go now. The bastards are damming the place to hell and poisoning all the river mouths with pulp mills.”
Some time later, I met with climber and filmmaker Rick Ridgeway. He listened as I told him how inspired I’d been by Mountain of Storms, and that I wanted to film a road trip that combined climbing and surfing. Before long, we brainstormed an idea that excited us both.
Why not a modern-day remake of the ’68 trip? Exactly 40 years later, we could get a team together to leave from Ventura to surf and climb all the way to Patagonia.
Rick then pulled out a map and showed me a section of the Patagonia coastline where Conservación Patagónica (a nonprofit founded by Doug and Kris Tompkins) was working to create a new national park. He also pointed out a mountain that he and Yvon had talked about climbing: It looked like the Matterhorn, only it rose above the beach on one of the most amazing coastlines he’d ever seen.
In the months to come, Rick and I pondered the team we might put together to retrace a route inspired by the 1968 trip. We both realized that if the film were to succeed, it would need to capture not only the dynamic elements of surfing and climbing, but also explore how that original trip had been such a catalyst in setting Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins on their paths as wildlands philanthropists and adventurers. What was it about Patagonia, the place, that had made such an impact on their lives?
For our team, we had access to the most famous climbers and surfers in the world, but that route didn’t seem right to me. Whoever followed in Yvon and Doug’s footsteps had to be someone who, like each of them, had dedicated his life to experiencing the world. One evening, as Jeff and I were mulling over the list, I realized that no one was even remotely as qualified. He was intelligent, self-educated and independent – and a gifted photographer and writer. Jeff was the one who’d found the old footage, and it was also his dream to retrace their journey. I didn’t care that he wasn’t a big name, or a name at all. He was the person for this trip. I called Rick and we made our decision that night.