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Beyond and Back: 180° South/Yvon Chouinard

Jeff Johnson  /  April 19, 2011  /  4 Min Read  /  Climbing, Community

Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost. Photo: Tom Frost Collection

Its been over a year since the initial premiere of our film 180°South at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. After that we had a west-coast tour. Then, for the next four months, it played at selected theaters around the country. There were some international shows as well – Spain, Australia, Japan, Canada, to name a few. It was an honor to have the opportunity to present the film at some of these venues and host Q&A’s afterward. I wish I could have been at them all.

Every once in a while Yvon Chouinard would make it to one of these shows. While shooting the film we had spent long days and weeks together in remote Patagonia, climbing around and surfing a bit. It was quite a contrast to meet up with him again in these cities, in theaters, speaking to large audiences. But he has this casual way about him where he seems right at home just about anywhere.

Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard climbing Cerro Geezer, Patagonia. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard climbing Cerro Geezer, Patagonia. Photo: Jeff Johnson

At the shows where Yvon was unable to attend I was often asked: “Is Yvon really like that in real life?” And my first thought was, like what? But I knew what they were asking. It’s a movie and…. you never know.

I didn’t know Yvon when I saw the forgotten film Mountain of Storms (the film that inspired us to make 180° South). It was filmed in 1968, the year I was born, and I saw it roughly 30 years later. Since the making of Mountain of Storms Yvon has done some pretty amazing things with his life, some of which have made him world renown. I too wondered what he is really like.

16mm frame-grab from Mountain of Storms. Photo: Lito Tejada Flores

16mm frame-grab from Mountain of Storms. Photo: Lito Tejada Flores

During the making of 180° South I learned that Yvon is a lot like all of us. Yes, he loves to climb and surf, and he’s obsessed with fly-fishing. But more importantly he really enjoys the in-between times like shooting the shit while waiting for a ferry, talking story around a campfire, telling jokes and getting to know people. He’s funny, witty, sarcastic and irreverent at times. He can also be quite serious and caring. Then you go climbing with him and he has the same old gear he made himself 30 years ago. “Why would I need to go out and buy stuff?” he said. “This works just fine.”

Yvon Chouinard climbing Corcavado, Patagonia. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Yvon Chouinard climbing Corcavado, Patagonia. Photo: Jeff Johnson

A few months ago I was at the Patagonia headquarters in Ventura. I had been gone a lot and hadn’t seen Yvon in a long time. I find him in his office wearing his beat-up jeans, dirty shirt, and sitting at his desk, reading. I say hello and he says with great enthusiasm: “Hey, I’m making these new crampons. Come by the shed later and I’ll show you.”

That afternoon I walk over to the Tin Shed and peak in the door. A blacksmith, surrounded by old forges, anvils, and single-fin surfboards hanging in the rafters. He’s alone in the place where it all began, hammering away with the same hands that made state of the art pitons back in the day, RURPs, carabiners, ice axes, etc. I remember him saying how he loved to get lost in manual labor. He would get so focused some days making pitons that before he’d know it 12 hours had gone by. Watching him work I was struck by the idea that if Patagonia Inc. never got off the ground this is where Yvon would be anyway, working quietly with his hands, patiently waiting for the tide to drop so he can get an evening surf out at the point.

Yvon Chouinard in the Tin Shed, Ventura California. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Yvon Chouinard in the Tin Shed, Ventura California. Photo: Jeff Johnson

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