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Base Camp

Mountain guide, photographer, producer, surfer, collector, guitar player.


Sine Qua Non (Si-Ni-ˌKwa-'Nan) : noun

1. Absolutely indispensable or essential.
2. The absolutely needed.

Sine qua non can be translated literally as "Without which, not” – a reference to the people, places, and things that are inherently necessary – the crucial elements required to create something else.

At James, we find inspiration in the idea of the indispensable. The people that make it all happen, and the tools they rely on. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Everyday.

In Sine Qua Non – Volume 2.2 we catch up with indispensable mountain guide and producer Clark Fyans. Without Clark, there would be no “Art of Flight” as we know it. There would be fewer photographs, not nearly as many guitar riffs, and less people with amazing stories.

Check out the story below to dig into Clark's transition from Alaska to Marina Del Rey, where he works at Red Bull Media House, and fills his spare time soaking in the vibes of the cultural melting pot of Venice Beach.

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Room with a view.

33.975° N, -118.463°

Clark has been living in ski towns since he was 4, so when the transition to Red Bull was first put to him, it seemed to be a bit of a stretch because he'd never imagined himself as the type to live in Southern California.

Initially after he wrapped The Art of Flight his intention wasn’t to go full time, but to continue working in the guiding world, spending about six months a year with Red Bull while still maintaining his winters in the guiding program. It wasn't until meeting some pro snowboarders who made their home base in Encinitas – then do strike missions to avoid living full time in the mountains – that he decided he had accomplished what he wanted to as far as being a full-time guide in the mountains.

Looking back, this was the point Clark realized that at some point you want to kind of slow down a little bit – get away from the controlled chaos of the mountains, where you are always playing with fire and things can take a turn at a moment's notice – no matter how well prepared you are.

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The transition forced him to turn a new leaf, to become more creative and in many ways work smarter and not harder. Eventually, he started to find a little bit of a tribe in SoCal, a crew that inspires him even to this day. He began to grow fond of the ability to do trips from warm temperatures, go guide and ride, and then come home and throw on a pair of board shorts and a t-shirt.

Clark had been all over the world, including the Seven Summits circuit, sometimes spending weeks at a time in temperatures as low as -40º F, but those environments were beginning to affect him a lot more now. He found himself drawn to the warm climate and laid back mentality, and felt that it was better for his overall health, both mentally and physically. When you’re cold you use so much more energy just to be alive, all the way down to a molecular level – now he felt much looser and healthier.

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Venice Beach.

When he was younger Clark had traveled through SoCal, mainly to San Diego and those type of spots, but they had always seemed to him to be kind of fake with their aura of pretentiousness, plastic surgery, and flashy style that felt almost like some kind of sci-fi movie.

Yet the more time he spent around the crew at Red Bull the more he grew comfortable with the pace and the vibe of life at the edge of the ocean. He began to discover that there was a whole culture of people that was unique compared to the rest of the US – laid back but also very driven at the same time.

Venice emerged as an ideal home base primarily because of its close proximity to LAX, which offered the ability to strike out on trips with relatively little notice, but also was really quiet and relaxed. He realized that once he got past the superficial sheen, people were super motivated and creatively inspiring.

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Now Clark resides just off the beach in Marina Del Rey. A typical day involves waking up naturally – no alarm necessary – and immediately looking out the window to check the surf. According to Clark, once you become a surfer, you learn that the best surf is always in the morning, before the wind affects the lineup, and you know right away if you should pop in for a surf.

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After that, he starts his day much the same way he did as a guide, with a cup of coffee and a planning session to structure the day, figure out tasks, and what he wants to accomplish. The Red Bull office is about 20 minutes away, so on the drive he listens to NPR to find out how crazy things are in the outside world.

Once he's in the office it's full-steam ahead working on projects, collaborating on creative, planning trips and shoots, and balancing budget and marketing plans. He finishes each day up on the balcony, shifting gears into other parts of life, focusing on a number of side projects going on at any given time.

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"Ever since I can remember, I've always enjoyed photography. I initially started shooting film as a kid, but the drive was always the idea of capturing the experience of being in an environment – more like journalistic and documentary type photography – kind of a take the camera out, capture a moment, put it back in the bag kind of a photographer."

When he came down to California, he started to find a drive to get more creative. Venice is one of most highly photographed places on the planet, and Clark challenged himself to look at things with a different perspective – to find something that no one else would see. He found that it was nice to get home from work and shift gears and start using his brain in a different way.

"There's so much stuff to shoot; the ocean, the boardwalk, the skatepark, the marina. It's a challenge to take something that’s so saturated and over-photographed and do it differently. At any given time there's 10 to 100 cameras around the skatepark, and I challenge myself to find the most creative shots – to take the opportunity to compose, and wait on shadows, light, and the moment to align."

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The long haul.

Now Clark spends his days making movies as opposed to making content at Red Bull, a process that he compares more to writing a novel – a long haul production that can take years. But when you’re done the reward is different, an experience of seeing it all come together that may only happen once a year.

His latest production, due out next month, is one that he first started talking about bringing to life almost 4 years ago – the 3rd installment of a series titled The Unrideables. The first movie focused on speed riding up in Alaska Range; the second, Distance Between Dreams, documents a historic year in big wave surfing; and the upcoming film, North of Nightfall, documents a group of mountain bikers exploring the Arctic summer.

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For Clark, it is essential that he keep cranking and moving, to always be working on things, to have something in the pipeline nonstop. In addition it's crucial for him to have time and places to recharge, which lately has been the house he built from the ground up in Baja – where there is no connectivity, no one is on their cell phone, and he can go around everywhere barefoot.

Clark Fyans carries the Chapter + Damascus. If you haven't had an opportunity to explore the first chapter of Clark's story, Sine Qua Non Volume 2.0 : The Right Hand, follow the jump below and make sure to stay tuned as we dig into Clark's lighter side in SQN Volume 2.3 : Crystal Vibrations.

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The Right Hand
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