John Cavan’s ability to tell you about the good ol’ days while also making the present time feel just as noteworthy puts him in rarified air… add in his snowboard knowledge and Cavan is a downright legend. There aren’t many people in the world that can go toe-to-toe with John on snowboard lore and working on the film side of it all for over two decades, you can probably count on those aforementioned toes how many people have actually seen more insane riding go down in person. We hit Cavan up last week to chat about the Ride Snowboards documentary that he co-directed last year alongside Tom “T. Bird” Monterosso, and it quickly became apparent that we should probably do a monthly column to get all of their stories down. After a three hour phone call talking with John and an absolute hack job to make it all fit below and make sense in writing (more coming at some point), here are some words about making a snowboard documentary about a brand that has been around longer than most of our Instagram followers have been alive. Enjoy. – Mark Clavin
Alright, give us a brief resume.
Sure. I’m a snowboarder. I live in Oceanside, California. I’m originally from the East Coast. I worked for Grenade back in the day on their movies. Then I made the Rome movies and was the team manager. Then I was the video guy at Snowboarder for like five years… now I work for Ryan Runke and Aaron Blatt’s agency Homestead Creative and I just directed the 30-year documentary for Ride.
How long have you been making snowboard movies? When did your first one come out?
Probably around 2000…Iron Curtain.
What was your favorite part of making that first movie, Iron Curtain?
Probably just driving around the van with Shane Flood, Andrew Mutty, Jamie McLeod, Mike Baker… and everyone. It was really before iPhones and GPS and everything, so the missions in the van when we were starting were crazy. Everything was new.
What about the Rome work? You were there at a pretty big time for that brand?
Yeah, Any Means. For the time, it just felt like a lot of people weren’t expecting that movie. It was special to get to work with like Bjorn Leines, Marius Otterstad, and the Quebec kids who were so young and hungry then. And then obviously LNP got Jibber of the Year from that movie, Marie France Roy got Rider of the Year…I don’t know, there was a bunch of shit that came out of that movie. Everybody was kind of on fire. It was a great crew. It was a really special time to be a part of that brand. There was Any Means and then we went right into No Correct Way, so we get to back-to-back, and then we did the Team Shoot Out stuff. [editor’s note: Rome won the inaugural TWS Team Shoot Out with A Hard Day’s Night shot at Bear.] It’s also where I started working with Ryan Runke, Joel Brinson, and Erik Van Hauer who I still work with to this day. We worked together on this Ride project.
How about the Grenade projects?
Oh, god. The Grenade projects need their own separate interview, haha.
How many director titles is this for you with Rough Around The Edges?
This is probably like around 10 or 11. Maybe 12.
What was your first camera?
I had a Super 8mm camera and then quickly got a VX1000, which was the skate camera of choice back then, as well. Crazy story though about that, which is kind of an insane nod to shops connecting people: I worked at Eastern Boarder back in the day and any skateboarder that’s into videos would know who Preston Maigetter is, P-Stone. Unfortunately he passed away a few years ago, but Preston was, for a long time, the video guy for Thrasher Magazine. Preston was older than me and he had kind of already moved out to California, but when I decided I wanted to film snowboarding, I got in touch with Preston through Eastern Boarder and Preston sent me this list. I still have it. It was referring to certain cameras and certain lenses. You know, like this is what you do, this is how you do this, how you can fake slow-mo, haha–all these tricks to shooting with with the VX1000. That is something I treasure to this day. I can’t say that I was great friends with Preston, but I’d crossed paths with him over the years multiple times, and every time we had this weird, funny connection through Eastern Boarder. He taught me a ton without even knowing he really did it. He showed me what was possible.
No film school?
Nope, I just I had this list from him. God, I sound old saying this, but you couldn’t look shit up online. I would just ask tons of questions to anyone with a camera, like Jared Slater from Grenade. I would also watch every snowboard and skate video I could find and pause them when you could see things like lights or cameras in the shot to try to figure out what they were using
What’s the difference between making a movie and a documentary?
What’s the punchline?
Don’t have one.
Oh, okay, I thought that was a joke. So, it’s a serious question. Well, I was focused on tricks for so long and following riders around that had personalities trying to show them and put together movies that were based on tricks to stoke people out and get people to go snowboarding. You know what I mean? That’s essentially what a snowboard video is supposed to do. A documentary, the tricks and the snowboarders are part of that story, but they aren’t the whole story. That’s the difference between the snowboard videos that I had made up until this point. I made a short documentary that was one of those World of X shows about Ben Ferguson a couple years ago and another one on Luke Winkleman for Red Bull. That’s the first time I’d made an actual documentary, and then I started to film other things that weren’t trick-based. I was lucky enough that when Ride decided they wanted to make this book and movie that they trusted me to tell their story.
How many hours of footage did you go through to make this project?
Absolutely unknown. It’s thirty years. It’s not as simple as just going to a hard drive and pulling stuff off a hard drive. A lot of the early stuff wasn’t on drives, so we had to transfer a lot of footage. That could be its own interview about tracking down some of the older footage, you know? Some people are really organized, some are not. Mack Dawg is incredibly organized and it was honestly a gift to be able to sit with him and go through his stuff. I time-coded what I wanted and I sat with him and we pulled it. So that was great. Whitey McConnaughy was amazing. I’ve worked with Whitey before on a Grenade movie and then on little things here and there over the years, but Whitey opened up the archives to us. Ride did a lot with Whitey over the years. It was such a gift to be able to work with some of these people. They are heroes of mine. Also Justin Meyer and the Vans guys helped me out a ton with whatever I needed and I dug through some old Grenade tapes I had shot with Jared Slater. I also relied really heavy on the current RIDE video guy, Jake Durham, and past filmer, Caz Duffy, for footage of the team.
How long did it take to film Rough Around the Edges?
I think you could say two years, but COVID was in the middle of it, so that threw everything for a loop. It can’t be understated how crazy COVID made things, you know? The original idea was to go to everybody’s houses–people from the past and catch up with them, show what they’re up to now. But COVID just shut down travel and you also couldn’t rely on the fact that everybody was going to invite you into their house then. Before the pandemic, 90% of the people would have been cool with us going to their house and hanging out for a bit. And actually even during it, most people were, but we couldn’t rely on that. So that’s why we did all the interviews on a white background and with the black and white look. Keep it uniform. It was a way for us to deal with wherever we had to do the interview and keep it looking good. And I think when all is said and done, it added a year onto the project.
What’s easier to make in your eyes, a snowboarding action movie or a documentary about a brand after 30 years?
Oh my god, action movie–all day long. There’s so many stories over 30 years. And it’s also like a very iconic brand in snowboarding–a brand that’s gone through extreme highs, extreme lows, a brand that’s had iconic personalities as team riders and employees. Ride is a brand that people are super passionate about. It’s also something that I care about. I was a tech rep for Ride back in the day. Literally, the first day I worked for Ride I had to go in and remove gear for a shop that didn’t pay its bills and I hated it. It was an awful first day, haha. I drove a Ride van around for a season and you know, besides that first day, I loved it. I love the brand. So it’s funny to fast-forward all these years and then come back and be involved in making this thing.
How was it working with T. Bird?
I was so lucky to work with T. Bird on this. He was the key. I’ve worked a lot with him over the years so we can depend on one another pretty well. Together we figured out the most important part about the whole thing, both the book and the movie, is that this is not the definitive story of Ride Snowboards. This is a collection of stories about Ride Snowboards. Ride’s story is continuing to grow and once you get past that, you don’t get so hung up on me making sure you have everything. I lost a lot of sleep on trying for a while.
Other key players?
There’s so many but for me and I’m pretty sure T-Bird would say the same thing… the most important thing was when Tim and Steph Pogue, the original founders of the brand, signed on and started working with us. The original team is so iconic… and Tim and Steph were the glue that held everything together. Even though they left the brand like 25 years ago, it’s still a part of them and they helped us so much. From wrangling riders and employees, to giving us access to their archive… they are friends now. They’re the reason we got such great stuff from Circe, Russell, Ford, Dale… everyone wanted to be involved again for the Pogues.
How many interviews did you do for this one?
So how many hours of footage didn’t make it into the movie?
Oh man. I’ve got so much. I hope we can put some of this stuff out. I mean, there are so many little stories, it would be cool to do like a living capsule somewhere.
Do you have a favorite story that made it into the movie?
All of the stories of the OG team were so good… The full circle story of Russell Winfield is really inspiring as well. Talking about Matt Sickles $15,000 cell phone bill for leaving the GPS on in Europe as the Ride team manager because you know that wouldn’t happen these days, but at that time it was easy to do. Or when we interviewed Shane Flood because T. Bird had a list of rumors he had heard about him. Shane answered everything very cut and dry. Did you sleep in a coffin? “Yes.” Did you ride with a knife? “Of course I did.”
What about a highlight of a story that did not make it in?
I mean Sal the OG team Dog could have had his own part….. there was a wearhouse guy that ended up getting arrested for murdering his wife after being fired…. I wish we could have interviewed Nico Droz because he is such a character. He’s from Europe. Nico kind of fell through the cracks because of the COVID thing. I forget if it’s in the movie or not, but when Mikey does the Ollie up at Bear… the party after at their hotel was so crazy that the pizza delivery kids called their boss and said, “We’re not coming back.” They stayed and partied with Mikey and all the VG guys. That’s a pretty iconic story.
How was interviewing billionaire Jamie Salter?
Haha, pretty funny. There was obviously like no Instagrams going down through a lot of this to keep it all for the movie, but when we got to his office off the elevator, we were looking right at Shaq’s size 22 in a glass case. I looked at Drew Hastings [cameraman] and I was like, “Alright, you can Instagram that.” I mean he’s an intimidating dude. He has a chief of staff! The only other person I know that has a chief of staff is Joe Biden. He’s still really passionate about Ride and was so generous to give us even a little bit of his time.
What about all the photos in the movie? How did that decision come about?
I relied real heavy on like Dawger, Whitey, Meyer, Durham and those guys for archival video. But we got access to Trevor Graves’ photos and Dano Pendygrasse’s photos, Andy Wright, Sean Sullivan, and so many more. I got access to all these iconic photographers and we used them in the doc pretty heavily. And that was such a gift to be able to work with their photos. It’s so nuts to be able to edit with some of these photos from Trevor that are just like some of the most famous snowboard photos, let alone Ride stuff, you know? Then I tried to use all of the portraits and BTS shots T-Bird and I shot to try to give it a connected feel.
How about the emotion behind the Ojo section?
The real thing that kept me awake at night was the Dillon Ojo part. The team is so tight and many were all of a certain age and they were all traveling together. To lose Dillon…we knew it was going to be emotional and it was emotional for everyone to talk about that on camera. It was tough. We spent as much time and tried as best we could on that section. I am just so appreciative to everyone that allowed us to talk to them about such a big loss. Having cameras and lights pointed in your direction is tough, and then talking about losing a close friend the way we all did. It wasn’t an easy part of the movie to be able to tell.
And finally, what is your take on the current state of snowboard videos?
It seems like now, every day it’s like twenty parts get dropped online, you know? Just short clips or whatever on Instagram. There’s just a lot more stuff you gotta see to watch. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. If you love to watch snowboard videos, there’s tons of stuff to watch. But if you’re looking for the very best stuff, there’s a lot of noise out there, too. I would love to sit here and say I don’t watch everything, but I do. I watch probably every video that comes out or at least try to watch as much as I can. There’s always edits where I’m like, holy shit. I love when something surprises me or there’s something new that I haven’t thought of or haven’t seen in a while. It is funny, a ton of video shit that went down back in the day will still hold. The legendary crews are legendary for a reason. There are always arguments about what is better, back in the day when we had to wait for the fall to see stuff or now, but there is absolutely topnotch shit in it all.
Any parting words?
I don’t want to bore you with a lot of thanks but I would like to just say it was really cool of Big Jim from Ride, along with Tanner McCarty and Ryan Runke, to trust T. Bird and I to tell this story. Also all of the riders and people that took time out of their days to sit in front of our lights and cameras and trusted us while they told us amazing stories I really really appreciate it and I don’t take that trust and access for granted it means a lot.
P.S. There is also a 200-page book available filled with stories, historical photos, and plenty more available now on the site.