‘(People) of water,’ featuring Vail-area paddlers, wins award at 5Point film festival
The 23-minute piece was met with praise in the world of adventure film and accepted into numerous festivals around the country
The U.S. Men’s Raft Team is an adventuresome group, but their recent foray into the world of film has been a different kind of quest.
The revolving cast of six to eight paddlers, most of whom live in Eagle County, first saw themselves on the silver screen in 2017 when they partnered with film production company Gnarly Bay to create a film about the team’s attempt to set a new speed record paddling through the Grand Canyon.
The 23-minute piece was met with praise in the world of adventure film and accepted into numerous festivals around the country.
Since then, the rafting team has continued to work with Gnarly Bay, and the group debuted their latest work “(People) of water” in April at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, where it received the festival’s award for creative excellence.
“(People) of water” tells the story of the rafting team as they attempt to broaden their paddling skills by learning the art of outrigger canoeing from Hawaiian legend Johnny Puakea and his father, a man known as Uncle Bobby.
The team enters the Na Pali Challenge in Kauai, where — with a little help from the women’s half of their team — they finish third. Along the way, the newest member of the raft team, Vail local Robbie Prechtl, has a life-changing experience.
Dan Riordan with Gnarly Bay said like their 2017 project, “(People) of water” was centered around a paddling race, but ended up telling an altogether different story.
“The Time Travelers was about a speed record, but ultimately the film didn’t turn out to be about a speed record, it turned out to be about doing the thing — setting these pursuits for yourself,” Riordan said. “And then (‘(People) of water’) is not about this race in Kauai, it’s about connecting across cultures, and learning from people along the way, and finding teachers in life who make you better, and sculpt you, like a koa boat.”
While the film feels like a documentary, Riordan said it’s actually part of a new genre called “branded content,” where the documentary form is brought to you by a company who sponsors the effort.
The idea behind branded content is companies know many of the users of their products have interesting stories to tell, so the company enlists in the help of a high-quality production team to tell their customers’ stories.
Footware company Chaco was the main sponsor of both “The Time Travelers” and “(People) of water,” and Riordan said they were a dream to work with.
“They were super hands off,” Riordan said. “They’re just looking to tell an authentic story in a space they want to be in.”
On Chaco’s YouTube page, where you can currently find “The Time Travelers” and where “(People) of water” is expected to eventually appear, an exchange in the comments section sums up branded content pretty well.
“What does this have to do with sandals?” asks YouTube user bigeve223.
“This isn’t an ad, it’s a nod to the talented athletes and adventurers that use Chacos,” responds YouTube user Grayson Ridge. “The backbone of why any piece of gear is made.”
Training for World Champs
U.S. Men’s Raft Team captain John Mark Seelig said learning the art of outrigger canoeing has helped the team’s whitewater rafting skills.
“Last year was a good year to do it, since the water on the rivers was so low,” Seelig said. “We spent a lot of time at Lake Dillon, in Hood River, Oregon, and in Hawaii … it helped tremendously to make us better paddlers.”
Johnny Puakea traveled to Colorado to help them first in the Dillon Reservoir.
“We had some deficiencies in our paddle stroke,” Seelig said.
In working more with Puakea, they were able to overcome their weaknesses.
“We dialed our technique in, figured out how to be better and more efficient,” Seelig said. “The instruction was priceless.”
The team will see if the outrigger cross training helps to produce better results in the whitewater rafting realm of paddling from May 13-20, when they compete in the International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships on the Tully River in Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
Results aside, Seelig said having Gnarly Bay along during the process of learning outrigger canoeing resulted in a work of art that will serve as a beautiful reminder of their experience.
“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous film,” Seelig said. “It’s been really fun to see.”
The Vail Valley is kicking off the summer season with everything from barbecues and restaurant deals, white water rafting and ceremonies honoring those who fought for our freedoms.