Back from 1997: snowboarding & VHS memories

1997 Forever / Hja!

Back before the internet spoiled everything, the VHS was a perfectly acceptable form of watching a movie. Probably because it was the only way we could. Unless you were Richie Rich and had your own cinema. Never mind the squiggly lines at the bottom of the screen, that shit was fine. Especially if the tape got caught up in the player, offering you a fun activity mid-way through watching Free Willy for the 30th time.

Written by Tom Lenartowicz

Those days, specifically in the 1990’s, were some good times. VHS entertainment kept us happy at home; faded-denim fashion was all the rage; the legalisation of skateboarding in Norway had recently taken effect; and beside building secret dens in the woods after school, it was a huge decade for snowboarding.

Without going into the history of snowboarding too much, the 90’s witnessed a boom within the sport and its culture, and with it came some of the most legendary snowboard movies to date. Many of them came out of the US, from big film crews such as Standard Films and Mack Dawg Productions.

For me, it was a VHS tape mounted on a copy of UK-based snowboard magazine, Whitelines, that would be my first foray into the fascinating world of snowboard film. Entitled Subjekt Haakonsen, the Veeco production from 1996 documented a Norwegian rider who many consider to be the greatest snowboarder of all time: Terje Haakonsen. It turned out to be a huge influence on me; not least for inspiring me to snowboard, but also for its music and its accessibly raw style.

Over the years, many other snowboard films have come and gone, featuring amazing riding by the biggest names in the game, accompanied by memorable soundtracks. Video footage is now primarily pumped out from the web, and while film crews have experimented with different formats and pushed the levels of production up to this day, it was the VHS-90’s that really set the tone.

The aforementioned film crews from across the pond would release a highly-anticipated film at the beginning of each season: usually about a half-hour edit featuring a plethora of snowboarders in a part-by-part format, each with its own music track to compliment the riding. Punk, heavy metal, hip hop and derivatives of each were the stock genres likely to be heard. For the viewer, it was all about piling on the stoke and firing up the shred testosterone.

Despite that much of the snowboard industry was based in the US, Europe still had it good. Indeed, names of Scandinavian snowboarders were a struggle to pronounce for some, but the level of snowboarding on show was adorned worldwide – partly proved by Haakonsen. Still, there were some crews in the 1990’s whose snowboarding was hardly seen; particularly in northern Norway.

Thomaz Autran Garcia from Method Magazine explains, “The northern Norwegian scene could arguably be called the most progressive scene in the world in the late 90’s, despite the fact that very few people were aware of what was going on back then. This is mostly because those dudes were focused on living hard and riding harder, so no one really documented anything.” Or so it seemed.

Tucked up in the Arctic regions of Norway, the small city of Tromsø was home to a thriving underground crew. It was 1997, and local rippers Stian Tapani Gundersen, Roy Olsen, Daniel Mikkelsen, Stian Skjærvik and many others, along with then-14 year old director Carl Christian Lein Størmer, had the ambition to make a film. Under the moniker of Badlands, their intention was simply to document themselves snowboarding.

As Lein Størmer puts it, “We were part of a global revolution. And the film we were making was our contribution. A way out and into the international snowboarding scene.”

However, it didn’t quite work out that way. Over time, life happened and the crew had gradually dispersed around the world. The film they dreamed of making was postponed indefinitely.

But the ambition remained, and almost 20 years on the crew regrouped to tell the story of their younger days up until the present moment. This time it wouldn’t be about finishing the film they once wanted, but instead, as Lein Størmer says, “it’s about finishing a story that started a long time ago.”

That story is There’s Always Next Season – a documentary, now by Original Film, about the film that was never made, including interviews with professional Norwegian snowboarders and industry insiders. Although, in parallel with TANS, the “main work” wasn’t forgotten and has materialised into a unique film all of its own.

1997 Forever brings together footage from the crew’s early days and chronicles each snowboarder’s later experiences with new material. Played exclusively on “the big screen”, entertaining narration by Jerry Dugan between each chapter (or part, as it were), played over archive Super-8 film, tells the story before the next round of snowboarding starts. It’s 40 minutes of brilliance that pulls at the nostalgic heart strings. Everything about it screams 90’s snowboarding; from the roughly cut edits, the bold serif typography, the relatable level of snowboarding and an appearance from Mr. Haakonsen; with one other awesome factor…

The musical soundtrack is played live on-stage by the band 1997, as they simultaneously thrash out their energetic garage-style punk along to the film. Silhouettes of the band’s heads bob up and down in front of the screen, like a replacement for squiggly VHS lines. It works incredibly well and is immensely enjoyable. Each element of the production compliments one-another, but it’s the musical element that makes this live-concert-snowboard-movie the amazing trip it is.

Sat in a cinema seat with a beer in hand is definitely a different experience from what I had as a kid, but the whole thing took me back to those VHS memories in a simple and wonderful way, reminding me of everything that made snowboard films so great.

The next screening/performance of 1997 Forever is on 29th August in Tromsø

Check out:
TANS on Facebook
1997 (the band) on Facebook

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Tom is Co-Founder, Editorial & Brand Director at Hja! Originally from the Lake District, England, he moved to Oslo in 2010. Tom works as a freelance graphic designer at Brenneriveien and is co-creator of Fresh off the Hill. He loves to snowboard and speaks really terrible Norwegian. Follow him on Twitter @thrilly and his Instagram.