“There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.”
– John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
For anyone who grew up in the Northwest or Lower Mainland, BC, it is hard to look back at the 80s and 90s at Mt. Baker, Whistler, Stevens Pass and elsewhere and not think about the sheer aggression of the era. From beer-fueled Mount Baker Hardcore parties to Boozy the Clown antics in downtown Vancouver, the vibe was punk rock, the volume was loud and the apologies were few. It was as much a reflection of the age itself as well as the collective age of its tribe. Lives ran hot and loose.
At the same time, within the anarchy, there was a great deal of compassion. A couch available for travelling friends, a meal shared, a ride given; all of which contributed to a real and communal ethos among a group of individuals often looked down upon by the ski industry, resort operators and traditional winter sports enthusiasts. The compassion was born of a need to stick together.
It was in this era and community that Garry Pendygrasse grew up. I met his brother, Dano, legendary photographer and a most compassionate man himself, the first time I went to Whistler in 1991. While the localism of the time could easily have caused me to be shunned in the lift line or in the shop, Dano and Whistler luminaries Sean Kearns and Sean Johnson instead led an early season tour of Blackcomb’s pillow lines. While I still remember those runs as among the best in my life, it was the unsolicited friendship and camaraderie which remains most memorable about that day.
I had the opportunity to meet Garry a short time later, and he was clearly cut from the same cloth.
Over the years, I had the chance to have great conversations with Garry, as well as share great runs together. I went on to work as an editor at Snowboarder before launching frequency, and he picked up a film camera, eventually becoming a sought after talent for Volcom, People Films, Mack Dawg, Teton Gravity Research and others. His quality of work grew from the same space as his other qualities — his ability to put himself in others’ shoes and connect in a meaningful way. We respected the same riders, enjoyed similar terrain and it was always a joy to receive the rainforest wireless report from north of the border via Garry Pendygrasse.
He was often at Mt. Baker, and made it to the Banked Slalom nearly every year, investing his own juju into snowboarding’s greatest annual moment. The Banked Slalom now serves as a spiritual cornerstone for a lot of us, and to see Garry’s smiling visage and shimmering energy each February was to take a communion as meaningful as in any church.
When my wife Jessie Lu and I heard he was battling a similar cancer to that which claimed another of our great friends, Chris Brunkhart, the news was especially devastating. But while we shook our heads and wiped back tears, Garry simply put the pedal to his life’s metal, visiting the Banked Slalom again this year and riding amazing conditions just a few months before his passing. He went surfing, went on heli tours, went to Baldface and went anywhere his soul directed him. With his brother, Chris Fulton, Britt Berg, Ken Achenbach and others, Garry made damn sure his last months were a celebration. He continued to give inspiration and compassion even while those around him were paralyzed with sorrow.
While the original punk rock ethos of snowboarding has in many ways been commoditized into a commercial sneer more appropriate for selling energy drinks than building communities, it is important to recognize Garry Pendygrasse and that original esprit de corps which still shines. It is important to remember that it is never about what you can claim: the best line, the steepest aspect, the biggest contract, the most followers, etc; but what you can give: friendship, compassion, love and time. There is nothing more punk rock, more risky or more important than to give love and time to the people around you. And Garry gave this everyday of his life.
To Garry Pendygrasse, a most gentle soul who did not hold back — long may you ride.
Photo: Britt Berg