When Passion is Turned into Purpose: Robin Van Gyn’s Documentary Series, Fabric

When passion is turned into purpose.


words: Julia Spadaro

There’s a certain undertone within snowboard culture that isn’t easy to articulate, but it’s the reason we’re all in this thing. I got my first taste of it when I was 15 and went to High Cascade Snowboard Camp. Arriving in the mountain town microcosm of Government Camp, the dissonance I felt as a teenager trying to find my place in an Irish Catholic suburb dwindled as I was now among a group of people who were brought together by not only a common interest, but a shared way of going about life. The friends I met at camp, many others in the following years, and most decisions I made from that point forward were all because of snowboarding.

We’re all kind of…connected. Cut from the same cloth, spun from the same silk. Adventure, nature, whatever your reason may be, we’re all in this together and somehow, without really ever saying it and without always showing it, there’s an unspoken bond between people who share the same space. A recognition of spirit, we’ll say.

Big-mountain snowboarder, backcountry guide, and inaugural 2021 Natural Selection Tour winner Robin Van Gyn felt like this was easy to lose sight of as snowboarding can, at times, feel inherently selfish. “The things we celebrate are always linked to athletic performance,” she explains. “I just think we could get a little bit more diverse in what we’re covering and who is a part of it. Are we celebrating your 1440 or are we celebrating this person who has created a space for other skateboarders to come to be themselves? To me, that’s a much better purpose. But who am I to judge?” Robin grew tired of the mold and aspired to create something with a bit more fortitude than the traditional snowboard movie that is based solely around action without telling more of the story. With her new documentary series, FABRIC, Robin’s chosen to look at what is celebrated within snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing, and why, and for what. “We celebrate these elite athletes for being good AT something, but what about being FOR good something?” she continues. “The things they do outside of their craft. The things that they dedicate their entire lives to. Snowboarding or skateboarding or surfing is a vessel for them for something bigger.”

Things like activism, cultural heritage, and community. Things that elevate us as humans. Each episode in this five-part series focuses on a specific theme: knowledge, adaptation, cultural heritage, and community. Bridging across snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding, the series highlights women who create change within their respective communities, who are dedicated to a cause that goes beyond just themselves and even beyond their chosen subcultures. In surf, this includes Paige Alms, Izzi Gomez, Leah Dawson, Suay Sew Shop, Hanna Scott, Sanoa Olin, Mainei Kinimaka, and the Black female collective Textured Waves. In snow, Estelle Pensiero, Robin Van Gyn, Jessa Gilbert, Marie- France Roy, Ireland Smith, Spencer O’Brien, Sandy Ward, Leanne Pelosi. And in skate, Kristin Ebeling, Alexa Berriochoa, Rose Archie, Juliette Pelchat, and Hannah Eddy.

I asked Robin what her motivation was behind creating the project. “I think in filming skating, snowboarding, and surfing, it’s always been about the glory, and I think that if we can kind of recognize that there is so much more going on, then people can be inspired to do something on their own. I feel that in general, it’s just trying to be better at being human, whether it’s environmentalism or trying to create space for other folks to join in and have a voice in this space, or whether it’s just adapting to your reality. It’s really just the forward progress that we need. It’s not just snowboarding or getting better at skating or surfing, but it’s getting better as a culture.”

When you are a badass chick yourself, as Robin is, and you’re surrounded by other badass chicks, perhaps it is inevitable for magnum opus like this to cultivate. It seems that it happened naturally; Robin noticed a gaping hole in what was being consumed by action sports spectators and because she already had so many friends who were filling that gap, she took their efforts and put it towards the big screen.

For Emily Lea, the lead editor of the series who worked alongside Robin and Justin Taylor Smith to put the pieces of FABRIC together, editing this project truly meant something to her. “I was just consuming all this wisdom, wishing I could include it all, and so much of it really changed me,” she says. “These women amplify their impact by lifting up newcomers and outsiders, so that the whole community benefits in unimaginable ways.

They build supportive teams to make themselves stronger athletes, and they offer genuine wisdom, advice, encouragement, and inspiration that pros, newcomers, and onlookers can all benefit from. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of teaming up with smart, motivated women, you know the transformative power they possess.”

The hard work and the good tricks need to be commemorated, but aren’t we all sort of doing this for more than that? Hannah Eddy uses art as a way to share messages about sustainability and positivity. The crew at Skate Like a Girl creates a space for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC skaters to use skateboarding as an outlet. The ladies at Textured Waves increase visibility in surfing for women of color. Marie-France Roy’s successful career as a pro snowboarder has given her a platform to speak out about the climate crisis.

For Robin, it’s all of these themes that inspired her to create this project: knowledge, adaptation, cultural heritage, community, and activism. “It is all connected. It’s all the same,” she emphasizes. “The thing I think is funny is that we think that they’re so dissimilar and really we’re all just part of this bigger whole. Every theme affects another. It’s not really that separated. The reason we’re all here is just to have a really good time but at the same time, some people use it as a place to go where they feel they have a community.”

FABRIC is a bunch of threads woven together to create a whole and that, to Robin, is what this project represents. A lot of little pieces that together form a FABRIC. That form a culture. And maybe that’s the real beauty of a culture; that it creates an entire world for those involved— friendship, a perspective, a purpose, a lifestyle— so that the best of us will be inspired to give back to it someday, even a fraction of what it gave to us. The moments are fleeting and what we hold on to, what transcends cultures in themselves, is the impact we have on the community, the memories we make, and the lifelong friendships we’ll carry along the way.

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