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Warp Wave’s Aurora Boardealis World Premiere Lights Up Tahoe

Photos: Chris Wellhausen

A movement is defined by the top result in a Google search as a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. And what started with a couple avant garde edits in 2012—featuring Eric Messier’s reinvented approach to snowboarding and a relatively unheard of Gray Thompson—has grown into something which fits that definition, at least in the artistic sense. Warp Wave has figured out a way to snowboard on their own terms, within their means, and document it in a way appealing enough to sell out two show times at the world premiere of their second full-length film, Aurora Boardealis, and Nick Russell and the Stasinos’ brothers’ FREE.

Snowboarding has always fostered a young demographic, and some of today’s up-and-comers may not realize how much has changed in the last decade. The Warp Wave crew is old enough to know things were different not so long ago but young enough to adapt. To say snowboarding is changing would be as obvious as stating the same of media. It’s a conversation overheard at about every industry event. “No one’s buying DVDs; everything is consumed in 15-second bytes.” It’s not inaccurate as much as it is inevitable.

Pulling into the parking lot of the Tahoe Art Haus on a cold, drizzly Thursday evening after driving from sunny Southern California, the success of Warp Wave’s adaptation was apparent, and the line to enter the venue was thick. Gray Thompson looked frantic and happy as he handled the last-minute logistics of premiering a film one year in the making and four years coming.

Snow camping is what made Aurora Boardealis possible. | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan
Snow camping is what made Aurora Boardealis possible. | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan

Inside, damp technical garments dripped and beers were sipped with awareness that the rain outside the window was solidifying at higher elevations, fueling the buzz in the lobby. The crowd funneled into the theater as Nick Russell took the stage and introduced FREE, a 16mm and Super 8 film produced by him and the Stasinos brothers, Wyatt and Cory. Meanwhile in Hawaii, Wyatt was busy hiking to a point break. FREE, Nick explained, was conceived of as a loose experiment—he and the Stasinos wanted to see how long they could travel the world chasing pow without much of the obligation that often subsidizes that dream. The result is a movie made on a shoestring budget, sure to resonate with anyone who has pushed into a pow turn and resurfaced, face caked with snow.

The lo-fi sensibilities of FREE complemented the evening’s feature film well. Aurora Boardealis is a unique combination of retro and polished, of pow turns and air time, of pinched couloir descents and windlip slashes. It’s part attainable, part pretty fuckin’ gnarly. It’s trippy like mushrooms not mescaline. Though I’ve never experienced the latter, the point is Warp Wave’s signature psychedelia is present but doesn’t overpower the riding. It’s a movie that will appeal to a broad range of snowboarders and even those with no ties to wintersports, but simply an appreciation for filmmaking. Gray Thompson and Sam Tuor are a dynamic duo that has created one of the most original snowboard movies of late.

Snowboarding as an industry may be changing, but when your goal is simply to snowboard that change doesn’t matter. And when you successfully document snowboarding how you want to, you influence the change. That’s exactly what Warp Wave’s Sierra Surfers have done with Aurora Boardealis. It’s a standout full-length film in an era of bite-sized content, but it wouldn’t exist without Warp Wave’s web edit heritage. If you do something well enough, people will sit down and watch. They’ll even line up in the rain to do so.