Travis Rice, the snowboarder, filmmaker, and one of Men's Journal's 50 Most Adventurous Men, just dropped perhaps the most conceptualized action sports films ever. While The Fourth Phase sets new standards for action cinematography — flight and carves in some of the most harrowing locations on the globe — it’s much more than powder porn. In the doc Rice and crew follow the North Pacific hydrologic patterns, water and energy cycling from the ocean to the mountains and back, for four years and incorporate the atmospheric sciences into the action. We checked in with Rice during his September world premiere at the Shrine Theatre in L.A. The film debuts to the world on Red Bull TV on October 2.
Tell us about the concept behind The Fourth Phase.
Four years ago we decided to immerse ourselves in the hydrological cycle as it pertains to the North Pacific, where our weather comes from. This certainly isn’t the first time people have wanted to take a more introspective and geographical look at how these things work. I know in surfing, people have followed swells across the planet. But we live in Wyoming, on the continental divide. We are at the furthest reaches of that reciprocal loop that water makes coming from the North Pacific. It’s probably the greatest solar engine on the planet when you look at energy distribution through the tropics and the westward currents. All the energy stored is heat and the currents on the south side of that North Pacific Gyre. It fuels the storms that hit Japan, which is probably one of the snowiest places on the planet. That heat energy spills into the North Pacific that fuels the superstorms that bring us the winter that we get to ride. The deeper you look, the more interconnected everything becomes. The Pacific Gyre takes roughly three years to complete one rotation. And that was essentially our shoot schedule.
The film is full of insane natural phenomena and equally wild cinematography. What was the hardest shot to get?
There’s one shot in the film that holds for a long time, like 20 seconds. Hardly anyone is going to know what it is. It looks like a breaking wave that doesn’t make sense. It’s actually a tidal bore in Alaska. There’s a strange natural event that happens with such huge tides, and it’s like a little tsunami that travels 17 miles up a river. Something happens in the film and I had this epiphany that we had to go capture this tidal bore to compliment the scene that comes next. We had to wait for the right cycle of the moon and go out with a Shotover camera — this big, cumbersome remote-controlled vehicle — and track it with a truck. It took three weeks, but it went in where we felt it was necessary. Greg Wheeler captured it. That evening, watching back the footage, we knew we needed something special because we were putting it to this original score by Kishi Bashi, a talented composer and symphony musician.
Talk about your drift away from traditional snowboarding competitions.
The truth of the matter is, for me to say anything negative about competitive snowboarding would be if I was a tree that had outgrown my roots and said, “You know what? Cut those things off, because I’m up here now with my branches. I don’t need those things anymore.” I love competing. I grew so much and pushed my snowboarding harder than I do filming. But snowboarding is so multifaceted and that’s why it’s kept my attention over the years. For me, it’s bringing everything I’ve learned and applying it to natural terrain and features. That’s my favorite aspect and a part of snowboarding that I will never get tired of.
So, ten years and three films into this, what do you think you’re the most proud of?
Well, with everything that we’ve put ourselves through, that we’re all still here. Every single production person, every single rider, we’ve all come back out of the field. And that’s a testament to everyone involved honoring the safe protocol. You can do it sustainably.