Words By Joel Muzzey

Applied Automation

By the time the teaser for Afterbang hit late last winter, the first Robot Food project was on fire. With a driven, eclectic lineup of riders merging their athletics and creativity, the Robot Food crew truly took the documentation of snowboarding into their own hands. Backed by strong film and production support and one hell of a name, the newly formed unit began the experiment.
The buzz started buzzing before the first snowstorm, due mainly to the ridiculous robot roster: Travis Parker, Chris Engelsman, Jussi Oksanen, Wille Yli-Luoma, David Benedek, Joni Makinen, Bobby Meeks, Louie Fountain, Joni Malmi, Jaako Sepp l , JP Solberg, etc. These riders came together with a collective aim-to do things their way and share with other shreds a truer, more personal view of progressive snow-stunt action-I think they used to call it soul (man).

Winter Command Center

The high-tech science research lab is tucked into a quiet neighborhood in Truckee, California. This is where the boys can be found when snow is flying in Tahoe. Amid stink, noise, and scattered clothing, Jess Gibson, Robot Food’s founding filmmaker, stares at a pair of monitors logging in footage of the day’s mission. His enthusiasm is beyond genuine-he’s living this project and in a lot ways living with it. Snowmobiling, digging, and filming all day, going through footage each night … it’s definitely on. Pierre Wikberg, the Swedish half of the film/edit equation, is back, and in the space of just a few sentences, speaks English, German, Finnish, and other broken tongues to the living room full of “guests.” He’s just arrived from Stockholm and is ready to get busy.
Travis, Jussi, Benedek, and any number of random Euros call this place home right now, too-it’s hard to tell how many. In the middle of the night a half-dozen people arrive-in the morning there are foreign dudes in sleeping bags all over the house.

Jussi eats his breakfast wearing a skateboard helmet. Travis is sick (literally). He shows me a piece of paper with hundreds of odd phrases listed on it-this is where the name came from … random?
Snow in the backyard is deep, and the handrail training facility is well groomed; there’re a couple flat rails and a slippery picnic table for that real ghetto-tech. Gray skies mean an afternoon of handrail hunting in nearby (sorry, can’t tell ya!). We go to this 60-something-stair wooden handrail-which looks gross and soft. Benedek and Wille both step to it-these guys really egg each other on. Wille rides away clean from a boardslide, but afterward says, “I forgot about the bang.” It could have been a day when nothing got done-but these guys broke out the cameras and made it happen. The work ethic is for real.

Secret Outpost

In trucks with trailers full of sleds, we ride a few hours farther into the middle of nowhere-there are literally tumbleweeds. It’s about the closest thing to a “one-horse town” left in California’s Wild West, but the shredders know it well. You’re wondering where “here” is, but I’m not saying. There’s only one place to get breakfast, and seeing Terje Haakonsen, Scotty Wittlake, and Josh Dirksen a few tables over in the diner is pretty damn strange-Hey, Crawford, pass the syrup. Apparently this is the place to be.

Any talk of rivalry or static between the various film crews who come here to shoot is bullshit. Sure, everyone’s jumps and zones are their own, but they’re guarded with little more than good humor and mutual respect. Our first morning at the trailhead, Kingpin, Standard, and Mack Dawg troops were there, too. Through the unloading of sleds, casual greetings, and last sips of coffee, everyone’s just hyper to ride-no signs of chapping anywhere. Once the various riders and filmers are geared up and roup-off, we won’t see them again until sundown.
It sucks to ride double on a snowmobile. Spine crunches and nut-smashers are even worse aring a hundred-pound camera pack-thanks, Jess. It’s a short but bumpy half-hour ride out to the jump zone, and it looks a little firm when we get there. Jussi, Makinen, and Benedek trim a fresh runway and lip into a previously shovelled-and-shaped booter. The landing looks filled in and smooth-but Makinen makes his way to an adjacent rock outcropping to test it. He fires a snowball down and it bounces-”Powder!” he yells out, and I’m thinking, Finnish humor? The jump looks pretty damn big from down here.
Witnessing these riders in their element is a real treat. To anyone who’s never stood right there and seen it-the live intensity is lost to print. Jackets rippling in the wind on the in-run, a spray of snow at the lip, and the long silence of the aerial-amazing.
Wille takes a break from ripping around on his sled and runs Benedek up to hit it. Jussi and Makinen are ready to go, too, and start nailing the thing in turn. It’s not long before Jussi reels in a corked frontside seven. Benedek drifts big backside 180s, then matches switch ones of equal size. A whole slew of other trickery goes down …
The following day we wake early and head back out. Through some convincing-a flat-out lie-about my abilities on a snowmobile, I’m able to trick Dirksen into lending me his sled-sweet. It’s another sunny day spent observing shred action, the caliber of which, despite my exposure to it, continues to baffle and impress me. For all the hiking, digging, setup, and tumbling spills, the crew never seems to really be “working” even though the cameras are rolling. Pierre and Jess encourage the guys, reposition occasionally, and take turns rouping them back to the top. Photographer Jeff Curtes is hunkered down in the trees for the misty angle.
The sun is a giant fireball scorching our skin, while birds twist and wheel in the bright sky. It occurs to me that this energy out here in the backcountry is what the Robot Food buzz is all about. A long and (I think) fruitful day of shooting and riding ends with dinner back in town. The only restaurant open after dark is filled with shredders exchanging details from the day, shooting pool, and shooting the shit. There’s a noticeable ease and contentment with the group-today was good, but what’ll happen tomorrow? No one seems to be really sweating it.

Experimental Index Lab

The fierce work ethic that applies on the snow is the same, if not stronger, when it comes time to piece together the movie. A rented workspace in Portland, Oregon houses the Robot Food summer headquarters. Only ten pushes from the legendary Burnside skatepark and right in the thick of the city, this spot lends a bit of grit and grime to the project-plus it’s a choice locale for robots on summer holiday.
Jess and Pierre glue themselves to the humming computers-sometimes working together, later working in shifts. Pierre keeps a weird schedule (as he’s just back from Scandinavia again), working from middays to the following mornings. Jess is a morning person and gets up from the computer only for coffee and random errands, so there’s work being done pretty much nonstop.
Benedek is hunched over his computer designing the video and DVD packaging. Bobby Meeks walks around with an acoustic guitar, breaking out impromptu blues jams and looking over shoulders. Wille is flying in tonight. Does anyone know where Jussi is? The average onlooker would never guess what these guys were up to-hot-rodded computers, weird music, shred dudes lounging around, and always someone laughing or walking in charged up.
For the same reasons that filming in the backcountry doesn’t seem like “work” for the robots, neither does the editing and production process. It comes down to energy and enthusiasm-these guys have taken the fire that pushes their on-snow progression and applied it to the making of Afterbang. Never taking it too seriously, yet leaving nothing undone, the crew hit its mark. From early ideas to the final edits, this undertaking remains firmly in the hands of the riders-right where it belongs.
l edits, this undertaking remains firmly in the hands of the riders-right where it belongs.