The Fourth Phase is not a perfect film. Travis Rice will be the first to admit that. Since the global premiere on October 2nd, the four-year project from Red Bull Media House has been met with sharp tongues. It has been criticized for not having enough riding, for being sad, or for not meeting expectations after nearly half a decade of development. And that may all be true.

This film is the result of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. For years, Travis has been portrayed as a do-no-wrong, invincible specimen of snowboarding genius. But that’s not him. He’s mortal, he errs, he gets hurt. The Fourth Phase hits us with the reality that Travis is part of the human experience, a fact that many people have chosen to believe otherwise.

He knew that it was time to have an honest conversation, to explore not only the idea of the fourth phase of water set forth by Dr. Gerald Pollack (watch his TED Talk, trust me), but also examine the internal forces that drive him.

Travis is a man in constant search of balance. His unrelenting optimism is checked with a willingness to accept defeat, to adapt and learn from experiences that cannot bend to meet his expectation of reality. It has taken him a long time to accept that. This is the Travis Rice we see in The Fourth Phase, and it’s the flaws that make it a movie worthy of your time. This film is a reflection of an imperfect but incredible person, a person whose depths cannot be measured, and whose most endearing quality we are getting the chance to finally see: humility.

Photography by Tim Zimmerman, unless otherwise noted.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase
Travis at his home in Jackson, Wyoming

How are you feeling? It’s the end of the tour, what has been the response over the past few weeks?

I’m pretty worked right now, but I’m also stoked. Ten countries in 15 days, and sometimes being a one-man band. It takes a toll. It’s very easy to see why rock stars medicate themselves. Early on, it wasn’t even the plan to come to the Ellie Caulkins in Denver, but the first year we did That’s It That’s All, then when we did The Art of FLIGHT, it was by far one of the best venues that we played. It kills me a little to not be going to Portland, Seattle, or Salt Lake City, places where you know the shred community is very alive and well. Being able to show it the way that it’s meant to be seen, I’m stoked to be here in Denver. We have a good crew.

When you started developing the film, organizing the first trip, did you anticipate the difficulty of what would transpire over the next couple of years?

I’m an optimist. As much as I knew that it was going to be a very challenging road, I went in embracing every bit of it. I tend to only see the incredible things that we hoped would come out of it. With the crew we had, the riders, and the locations we were going, I just knew it was going to work out. Through all of the bullshit and all of the tough times in making the project, I was never willing to let go of that idea that we were going to get to the end, and it was going to work out. So many of our previous films, it always seemed to come together at the last moment. It’s the nature of the way things work. But with this project, there were definitely more situations where it just didn’t end up happening, or didn’t come together.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase
Jackson, Wyoming

A lot of people look at that and say something failed. How do you deal with that situation?

I’ve found ways of coping with that over the years. I can feel good when things don’t come together if I have given everything I had. Then it’s just left to things that are outside of my control. Weather, or even what someone else does. When trying to come into alignment with the biorhythms of Gaia, often your plan does not factor into the way things really happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it doesn’t sting, but if I have put my best foot forward and things don’t work out, so be it. Over the years, I’ve learned to turn them into opportunities.

I have found that with man’s search for freedom—if you will. Freedom is taking total, and full responsibility.

You go to school, you’re institutionalized, then you’re let out. You go to college, then all of the sudden it seems like you have all of this freedom. But after some time, it becomes obvious that it’s actually just further distraction. That perceived idea of freedom becomes further and further from what that is. We get to decide how we perceive any situation. We are so quick to put something in the bucket of good or bad, but it’s our choosing what a bad thing is. It’s the idea that you actually do have complete control to translate and define any situation in life. Over the years, I have really begun to love the failures. All of the times when shit doesn’t go well, it’s an opportunity to try to apply this grandiose idea.

Travis Rice Interview Scott Serfas The Fourth Phase
Kamchatka, Russia | Photo: Scott Serfas, Red Bull
Travis Rice Interview Scott Serfas The Fourth Phase
Alaska | Photo: Scott Serfas, Red Bull

Not a lot of people think like that. You’ve been on this film for four years and there have been major setbacks. That mentality might be hard for people to understand.

It’s hard for me to understand. It has taken years. It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, “I’m going to try this.” I’m just a student. But it gets easier over time. We are are all responsible for our own happiness. My girlfriend gave me a good one a long time ago: We have one simple decision that rules the joy of every day. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy? You can’t have both. Look at this film. Often times, things didn’t go to plan. We were working with a big group of people. I could have kicked and screamed that “we should have done it this way.” That’s not the road to happiness. It’s allowing and trying to see beauty in a situation, and redefining what just happened.

When Mark left in Alaska, it seems he couldn’t keep up with that mentality. How did that make you feel, or did it give you any doubt in what you were doing?

Without a doubt, it made me question what it was we were doing. At the end of the day, we still snowboard because it’s fun. In a heavy situation like that, we had been trying so hard and things weren’t working out. Mark ultimately had to leave for personal reasons. For me, it was accepting that and letting him be his own perfect, divine human. For some reason, he knew. He listened to his gut. I think that’s one of the most honorable things that anyone can do. Fuck expectations outside of one’s self. It was a moment when he was embodying the spirit of the film and listening to his gut. That’s probably one of the reasons it made it in, with Lando’s blessing.

Travis Rice Interview Phil Pham The Fourth Phase
Travis and Mark, Germany | Photo: Phil Pham, Red Bull

We did A Constant Evolution with Mark, and everything that he went through, that raw, emotional response that you don’t see from someone like that… The same thing happened with you in a way. There’s an aura about you, it comes from your previous films. It’s the idea that you can do anything, you set your mind to it and you make it happen. So to see the outcome of what happened throughout this process, and how it didn’t really work out, what was it like to share that part of you?

It was heavy. It was explorative, challenging. In the beginning of this film, I made a commitment to have an honest and open dialogue. It’s hard to do. Especially when I’m pseudo, in control of the film as well. I’m really proud of our last films, but they really weren’t an accurate portrayal of me. It was always a little uncomfortable. There are elements of rock and roll, we want having a good time portrayed well, but I think some of the jackassery in our last projects rubbed me a little weird. The Art of FLIGHT was more of Curt Morgan’s film. Curt did not direct [The Fourth Phase], and he was not part of this film in the creative sense. In the beginning, he helped produced some as a cinematographer in one of our Alaska aerial shoots. He’s an amazing aerial operator, one of the best I have ever known or worked with. But it was an explorative film without having him involved in this project. Everyone on board was excited about the notion of trying to do something different, and to tell an honest story. With the nature of the tough conditions in the last three years, the film ended up turning into what it is.

Was Curt’s departure because of creative differences? Or your decision?

It was a combination of many things. Honestly, Curt was really focused on growing Brain Farm’s business and diversifying. Since we had started our film, those guys had done a bunch of commercials, they did We Are Blood, they helped produce John John [Florence]’s film. Curt was really busy. The simple fact that he did not have the time and energy to put into it, for me, it was either you’re all in or you’re not. It was time to try something else. I wanted to work with someone else.

You can absolutely tell. Throughout the film, you can see how the mood changes. I think it really found its stride about halfway through.

I’m glad you point that out, because it was intentional. We wanted to start it off like an older film, and then allow it to become the film that we were trying to make.

You spend a lot of time on your boat, traveling, going to these remote places. What does this do to your state of mind when you have time to yourself to reflect? Is it a reset for you?

Over the years I have been trying to acquire more discipline. Part of my lack of discipline is the fact that I need to isolate myself to get to the place I’m trying to go. Hats off to people that are able to find the discipline in their life to meditate, to take an hour in the morning and not stimulate themselves, to check in with reality. For me, it has been a long road to find that in my life. Through sailing and other types of adventuring, I have been able to put myself in that situation.

Life is really fucking fun. I’m blessed. It has been an amazing ride and I look forward for what’s to come, but there came a point when the biggest questions in life were not being answered. I realized that I was using snowboarding as an escape, and not just a conscious celebration of what it is. Do you want to fucking answer emails and deal with life’s issues, or do you want to go out into the mountains and have a good adventure? It became apparent to me that the linear adventure was a reciprocal loop that didn’t end up taking me anywhere. It was a constant “grass is always greener” journey, which I got a lot out of, and still do, but I found it’s the uncomfortable situations in life where I learn the most about myself.

If you take the word “adventure,” it’s this external seeking; it’s always going someplace outside of yourself. I had a paradigm shift where I realized that adventure is not an accurate word. So I made up the word “inventure.” The more I thought about it, “inventure” is actually a much more accurate description of what adventure really is. It’s the exploration of putting one’s self into situations where you don’t really know how you’re going to react.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase

You don’t know how the forces of nature are going to control you in adventure. It’s taking it as it comes and realizing that in those moments, you are part of it. Reflecting on the adventures I have had, they are very awakening, spiritual things. Would you call yourself a spiritual person in that sense?

Yeah, I would call myself a spiritual person. Labels help us define the world, but even the word spiritual brings preconceived ideas with it. I have found that in taking chances and exploring more of myself, life has become a much more beautiful place.

What have you learned about yourself throughout this? People could make an assumption that you’re not the same person as you were when you started this journey. In a sense, it has been a trial for yourself.

I’m the same person, but I have changed completely. In my early 20s, I was still a positive and compassionate human being, but I was also a fucking rock and roll, party, snowboard animal, living life at volume 11. I wouldn’t change anything. I think I had a lot of help in my youth. There are probably so many close calls when I could have ended my snowboarding career, or who knows, fucking killed somebody. Don’t get me wrong, I fucking partied. But it was also just the way of the land.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase

In my mind, you have two identities. There is a snowboarding Travis, and for us in snowboarding, we recognize you as that. Then there is the public figure, who is Red Bull-backed and just made the biggest snowboarding film ever. What do you think your role is as a public figure, representing yourself and snowboarding?

It’s tricky. The last thing I ever want to do is preach. The only thing I can do when I talk about any of this stuff is just convey my own personal experience, and share the perspective of what I’m going through. Truth is relative. What’s true for me, might not be true for you. Even in the seriousness of our conversation, you have to pair that with, “Don’t take anything in life too seriously.” You need to be able to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself. As for the public figure I am right now, I’m in a place where I’m really excited about truth, sharing our own individuality, and how we all deal with the same challenges. When you boil it all down, you can either put things in the realm of fear and separation, or in the realm of love and compassion. The only messages I am interested in sharing are the ones that fall into the category of love and compassion.

That’s good. More people are seeing this than ever, so that message of being able to set your mind to something and go do it, is super important.

I appreciate that. Fame is a fucking weird thing for me.

Do you have moments where you realize who you are? Like right now, you’re around your friends, or if you’re back in Jackson you’re with your family and people you have grown up with. But you put yourself in these other situations, how do you feel?

You have to remember that this is business. This film was chosen to spearhead the launch of Redbull.tv. So it has been fully embraced and backed by Red Bull, a giant corporation. I will add, a giant corporation that for so long has put more of their profits back into sport, supporting athletes and supporting alternative thinking. That’s why I work with Red Bull, that’s why I’m still doing a film with Red Bull. Because Red Bull Media House, and the company itself, have supported snowboarding for so many years. But I am also uncomfortable. This whole project is insane. This film, the way it’s launching, the tour we just did. It is crazy. The only way I can deal with it, the only way I can keep sane through this whole process is to continually remind myself that it’s an opportunity to share a positive message, to embrace it. To do the best I can do.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Hold no head above your own.” Buddha. Fame is a fucked up thing, but you can use it for something positive and not let it get to you. Any weird interaction with someone is an opportunity to have a real experience. Quite frankly, some of the most beautiful things that come with it is how people totally put their guard down. You can bump into someone on the street and if you’re strangers, it would take awhile to reach any kind of depth in a conversation. But when someone knows what you do or is psyched on your program, the wall is down. You can go straight into a real conversation. I’m really grateful for that side of it.

This is a huge film and it’s going fucking apeshit, but you have to remember there is a machine behind it. Not that it’s a bad thing. Hats off for Red Bull to believe in a project we are putting together, a film with a really positive message—a film about water.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase

With the sense of freedom, with the fame, is part of the reason for spending time on Falcor, spending time in places that are remote, that you need that separation or the need to run? To keep part of yourself?

In this day and age, there is too much rad shit to go do. It’s so easy to fill up your itinerary, or take a second to check the feed. I’m a consumer of media, I love to scroll. But I realize that I need to balance it, because it’s too easy to fall into habit with the day to day insanity that comes with zero perspective. So what I get with spending time away, spending time with other people and having real human interactions and experiences in Mother Nature, it allows me perspective. It allows me a baseline, a zero point.

At least I can have a sense of humor, a sense of my own reality, when it comes to the day to day embrace of the technological immensity of living in the year 2016. It is not a bad thing, it’s amazing. I have the world’s information at my fingertips. It’s a much different world than the one our parents grew up in. It’s a more awake world and a more progressive world. When I was in high school, the cool kids in school, no one was using the “L” word between dudes. That didn’t exist. I hang out with some high school kids in Jackson Hole, the cool kids, and I hear some dude tell his buddy that he loves him. What a fucking beautiful place. These kids are smart, they are amazing. Our future is in good hands. I have full faith in the next generation, and being able to decipher reality from the bullshit. There are too many doomsday predictions about the future.

Travis Rice Interview Tim Zimmerman The Fourth Phase

People are scared.

What sucks is we manifest our own reality! Hollywood pumps out doomsday films where the earth is destroyed every month of the year. Everyone talks about how climate change is going to destroy our planet, the earth is dying, this whole rhetoric. It’s a reality, but I think the better approach is to learn to love it and change the way we operate.

Let’s just lay it out. What is the message that you want to portray in this film?

You just have to balance life, and not take anything too serious. At the end of the day, snowboarding is just fucking fun. That’s why I still do it. That’s why I’m really excited for this coming winter, because I love to snowboard. That’s why I watch all of the new movies that come out in the fall, digest articles. I’m just trying to be honest with myself. The last thing I’m trying to do is preach and send a message out. Life is meant to be enjoyed. I have found through generosity and kindness, it is a much more enjoyable place. It’s all just an opportunity for learning and self expression. Have fun with it.

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