Mike McEntire is onstage. He is excitedly nervous and understandably so-in moments, his movie Decade premieres. He smiles humbly, not used to the spotlight he and former partner/longtime friend Mike Hatchett share. Behind the camera is where he finds comfort, in the backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas, or maybe on location somewhere in the world-but tonight, San Diego’s Spreckels Theater becomes home to snowboarding’s most progressive freestyle film of the year in front of riders, sponsors, parents, and friends. The crowded house howls throughout the 36 minutes of what McEntire considers the best riding-period. Not only does it culminate his past year’s work, but it pays tribute to the ten years he’s spent filming the best riders in snowboarding. He-along with Kurt Heine, Ross Steffy, and Lory Paulding-are Mack Dawg Productions. Known to the masses as Mack Dawg, Mike’s commitment and contributions to the sport of snowboarding are felt worldwide.
Not bad for an ex-tennis instructor/surfer who never wanted to snowboard, much less respect it.
He first witnessed snowboarding in the mid 80s, when it wasn’t exactly aesthetically pure. “I thought snowboarding was completely lame-a bunch of neon-clad, six-inch-out-of-the-pipe, nasty-grab, skate-wannabe dudes with headbands and Oakley Blades.”
But a girl he was seeing at the time coaxed him up the hill, a day Mike humorously describes as, “The worst experience of my life.”
“It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco to Tahoe, but she didn’t know the way up because she always slept in the back. Basically, we went up to Redding and back, went to the south shore, and back down to Sacramento. We finally ended up at Boreal around 6:00 p.m.-we left at six in the morning, so it was a twelve-hour drive. When we got there, I realized you had to have snowboard boots-I didn’t even know that. So I had to drive down to Long’s drugstore to get some Sorrel-type felt boots. Then, when I made it up there, I didn’t have any snowboard clothes or anything. It started raining super hard. I took like three runs-was completely drenched. It was freezing cold at night, but I had a good time. Once I finally got a couple turns in there, it was kind of fun.”
And that was it.
Many trips to Tahoe followed with Noah Salasnek, another Marin, California resident. Dawger had been filming Noah skating for H-Street, so it was only natural to move it to the mountains.
“We went up to the hill, and he took me through some gnarly icy chutes, made me fall on my head, bounce through some rocks. He thought that was really funny. After that, we found some good jumps and I started filming him. We had one shot in H-Street’s Hokus Pokus-Noah is doing a slob air.”
Before long, things for Mack Dawg started falling into place. Snowboarding began to grow in Tahoe, and he became eager to document it.
“Noah was doing really well, and then I met Chris and Monty Roach and John Biaocchi-they were ripping it up. We went out and shot a bunch of stuff off some jumps at Squaw Valley. At that point I met up with Artie and Jerry at Fall Line, and they had a bunch of footage left over from one of their early films. I had super-good shots, so we just put it together, and called it New Kids On The Twock. It was about 65-percent my freestyle footage and 35-percent leftovers from their film.”
As snowboarding grew, so did Mack Dawg’s filming career. In 1991 Pocahontas came out-his first full snowboard feature as Mack Dawg Productions, shot entirely in High-8 and Super-8. He picked up a 16mm camera and helped start Standard Films with The Hatchetts and Mike King while working on TB2, continuing to film the riders he deemed most progressive. After TB4, he left Standard Films to pursue a larger focus on the freestyle aspect of snowboarding-back to the roots of Mack Dawg Productions.
His volume of work is vast-from 1988’s skateboard movie Sick Boys, to his aforementioned first few films, Upping the Ante, his works at Standard, founding the TransWorld SNOWboarding Video Magazine, Stomping Grounds, The Meltdown Project, to his present snowboard film-some sixteen projects in total.
Though Mack Dawg’s career has had many highlights, he still seems to be constantly looking forward, addicted to progression of every kind. Freestyle snowboarding, his ideas, his filmmaking talents-they’re all relative to him.
“Filming is more of an expression session where riders can try new things because they can go out and hit a jump they’ll never hit again and try a new move. It may take ten times to land it, but when they finally do, they’re stoked-they just learned something new and it was documented. So filming goes hand in hand with progression-more than the competition scene.”
The catalyst effect is the thing that has always kept snowboarding interesting-where new talent or established riders are doing new moves that change the way people see the mountain, examples being Peter’s rodeo 7, Jamie’s Cab 5, Daniel’s rodeo, etc.
Snowboarding will never stop progressing. Mack Dawg believes nothing ever does. But it slows down. The big outside corporate money, the competition schedules-he views them all as distractions from the sport. Endless bullshit pulling the brakes of forward motion. “People aren’t that pumped anymore. It’s just business at this point. To me, that’s really sad to see.” Not a new sentiment, when you think about it, but he speaks of it logically and passionately-Mack Dawg’s reasons make sense:
“Nowadays, it’s 'Here’s a contest, 100,000 if you win it, and here’s a contest, 50,000 if you win it, here’s another for 60,000,’ blah, blah, blah-all year long there’s some kind of bullshit. Instead of going out and freeriding and learning stuff, they’re at these contests 70 percent of the year, and then when they go out to film, they haven’t even got anything new lined out, so they film the same old stuff. It’s totally ruining the progression, in my opinion.”
So what keeps Mack Dawg going? The challenge of it all. He loves going out and watching riders do their thing. He loves watching innovation unfold in his viewfinder day in, day out. He loves learning more every day about computers and editing. It’s all such a good time for him.
“We’re a documentary company-that’s what we do-we document the sport of snowboarding. We’re not out there trying to put candy coating on anything-for us it’s just about going out with some super-talented riders, and filming the best riding possible.”
It’s that easy. Or at least it sounds that easy. Ten years of documented snowboarding in the can.
“First, I’d like to thank my parents for helping me out when the company was getting started and for teaching me right. I’d like to thank Noah Salasnek for getting me into snowboard filming, as well as the riders who have kept me inspired over the years; the catalyst of the sport, guys like Terje Haakonsen, Peter Line, Jamie Lynn, Roan Rogers, Daniel Franck, Ingemar Backman, and Devun Walsh for keeping the world stoked on snowboarding. The whole MDP crew, Kurt, Ross, and Lory. My sister Lesley for helping me start the business, and Liberty O’Toole for helping me build it. To Mike King for amazing editing, and Jon Malvino for teaching me a lot about filming. To Bob Hurley and Paul Gomez for continued support. To Raul Ries, Jr. and Steve Ruff and the whole Four Star crew. To Jake Burton, TransWorld SNOWboarding, and all the sponsors who have supported us over the years. To every rider and musician who has ever contributed to the films. Thanks to the Forum team, The Goon Squad, and CBS, and especially to my girlfriend Shauna Logan for the best of times.”
“Every filmer has their opinion of what’s good and what they’re going to film, and all the riders have their opinions of what’s good and what they’re going to do when they go riding. So over the years it’s been like what each film company has deemed 'good snowboarding’ and proceeded to document. So the group of people I work with are who I believe to be the most progressive group of riders at that time.”
“There’re a lot of other people going in different directions who are definitely progressive, it’s just a matter of taste. It’s all relative. A lot of people think the Hatchetts’ films, where guys are doing stuff in Alaska, is the most progressive and gnarly thing. Those guys are gnarly, and I have full respect for that, but that’s not what I want to see when I watch a snowboarding film. So I film something else.”what they’re going to do when they go riding. So over the years it’s been like what each film company has deemed 'good snowboarding’ and proceeded to document. So the group of people I work with are who I believe to be the most progressive group of riders at that time.”
“There’re a lot of other people going in different directions who are definitely progressive, it’s just a matter of taste. It’s all relative. A lot of people think the Hatchetts’ films, where guys are doing stuff in Alaska, is the most progressive and gnarly thing. Those guys are gnarly, and I have full respect for that, but that’s not what I want to see when I watch a snowboarding film. So I film something else.”