I have a great amount of respect for Substantial Media House. I think Evan and Fred are both great guys, amazing paddlers, and fantastic behind the camera. They have done so much for the sport and media behind whitewater paddling for the last 5 years. They have developed a language all of their own that has permeated across the sport and defined the genre on to itself through the culture that has influenced so many young paddlers coming up and hoping to follow in their path. However, with all they have done for the whitewater media world that is positive, I also feel they have had a negative impact as well.
Let me explain:
Taking the story all the way back to the Bomb Flow days I feel this story and path of whitewater media coincides with the popularity of whitewater content and video production to the popularity and growth of social media in the sport. Bomb Flow, in a manner of speaking, picked up where Lunch Video Magazine left off.
To those who remember that far back; LVM was a subscription based DVD series that followed the adventures of the top shelf South East crew around the continent on some pretty incredible adventures. Staged like a video magazine there were also event reports, gear reviews, etc. The influence on this series had major impact on my generation of paddlers coming up and exploring what are now the new classics much like Substantial is doing now.
I feel this was a great time for the growth of the sport and there was money to be made if you were putting the work in.
Where Bomb Flow failed in my opinion was that they had video juggernauts like Evan Garcia and Fred Norquist producing 30+ minutes of content per month that rivalled the best of kayak porn videos and letting it loose on the internet for free. The onslaught of relentless free content really changed the scope of those who were out there making a go of it on the video side. I feel that having followed in the LVM subscription formula that Bomb Flow would still be around today and relevant.
As time went on the people producing high end content one by one died off leaving only really a Facebook timeline of endless kayak porn edits, brown claws, and ear dips.
What Bomb Flow also did was set the standard of what high quality film work is in whitewater. Not a story, not an adventure but an all out assault on the adrenaline senses. Now, I want to clarify at this point that there is a place for this in all sports and I am happy to let Fred & Evan carry that torch. However, in my opinion, where the business model failed was to just give it away and do so as often as they did.
For many up and comers, the path to pro kayaking was on display for all those to see and it meant flashing a few sponsors at the beginning of the edit and increasing the frame rate when the dubstep drop hit.
Again, this isn’t a criticism of Fred & Evan. As time went on, their content got even better and they were able to really hone in their style. It is hard to deny the work and effort these guys put into getting some unreal footage of the best places on earth. As the years passed, it seemed that the endless travel and work would have caught up with them but despite the work and effort for the video work, they kept at it.
Now with a new generation of paddlers coming up and trying to find a way to make the video side of things work we have an endless supply of similar content that is keeping the whitewater media supply alive. The Substantial model has left it’s mark and those following the trail of the waterfall hunt now want to see themselves on the screen much like the videos that made them pick up a paddle. A prime example is the work the Serrasolses Brothers are putting together. It is amazing footage but to me it all blends in together and I rarely finish the viewing.
What does this mean? First off, it is a great that Fred & Evan have inspired so many to get out there and experience this sport. Second, same goes for documenting it. However, finding more substance and story are the kinds of films I love to watch.
With two full length whitewater films starting to do premieres (The Wells Bros’ For the Love & Rush Sturges’ Chasing Niagara) I am looking forward to seeing how these films explore into the soul of whitewater a little more than just getting vertical.