Snowboarding in Academia | A Study of 'View From Nowhere'

Sometimes, worlds collide in ways one would never expect. This collision often comes out of left field, so to speak, and sets the tone for either a surprisingly positive collaboration or a startling negative one. When Benji Zacharias, a student at the University of Winnipeg, reached out to share a paper he wrote about our last full length film View From Nowhere, we weren't sure what to expect. Snowboarding and post-secondary education don't exactly go hand-in-hand, so it could easily have gone either way. Upon taking the time to give his work a read-through, we were pleasantly surprised. Benji thoughtfully conceptualizes snowboarding through an academic lens, and we're grateful to be able to share the following piece with you.

In my four years at the University of Winnipeg I fell in love with a branch of Geography called “Human Geography”. Human Geography does not concern itself so much with maps or “latitude and longitude” which maybe came to mind when the subject was mentioned. It is more concerned, however, with the way in which people exist in different spaces and how individuals or groups view the world around them. As my professor began to lecture one class about subjective and objective views of the world, the title of a video flashed in my memory: “View From Nowhere”. As I researched the meaning of this phrase, it became clear that I was going to be able to write an academic paper on a snowboard video, and it was not even going to be a stretch. I am immensely pleased and still slightly shocked that I was able to watch snowboarding in class and call it “studying” for a couple of special weeks.- Benji Zacharias

A Study of View From Nowhere: Perspective, Nature, Place, Identity, and Power in Urban Snowboarding

What is the nature of “place”? Is the way that we interact and experience the world around us unique to each individual person and their experiences, or is there one underlying, objective view of the world?  As my professor at the University of Winnipeg communicated, “Subjectivity argues that reality is out there, but our knowledge will always be our own subjective perception of it. We can understand most about the world by asking how we perceive and represent it.” (Dyce, 2022) This then leads us to understand that knowledge is both specific and relative. Thomas Nagel tackles this topic in his book The View From Nowhere. The concept of a “view from nowhere” deals with the push and pull between a subjective and objective view of reality and how these two ideas can be reconciled practically, morally, and intellectually (Oxford University Press).  I stumbled upon this concept while watching Finn Westbury’s snowboard film View From Nowhere. Westbury has been an influential figure in urban snowboarding for some time now and has accumulated a heaping catalog of work over his many years in the industry. His vision for this video stemmed from the realization that the many talented and dedicated crews of snowboarders across Canada have not united together to create a project that encapsulates the Canadian scene in its entirety for far too long. Maybe this was due to unspoken rivalry, or simply busy schedules and a vast landscape between them. Nonetheless, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to dwindle in the winter of 2021, it seemed as though the Canadian scene was hungrier than ever and finally ready to shake things up (Westbury, 2022). This prompted the beginning of what would become View From Nowhere.  As the project took form and crews began to step out of their comfort zone and work on a collective video, Finn noticed Nagel’s philosophy taking place in real time. He described it like this,  “The view from nowhere doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s detached from singular experience yet connected. This name rang true when reflecting on what brought many of us together. We all may be looking at the same thing, but we see it differently.” (Westbury, 2022) This project is one communal experience between each individual involved, yet as different riders and filmers collect footage, battle for tricks, and express themselves through their craft, they possess their own subjective view of the piece. Furthermore, I would strongly argue that Nagel’s concept is equally as relevant when looking at the way Westbury and company see the world through an “urban snowboarding lens”, in comparison to the rest of the population who would never consider the world around them in this way.  A description of Nagal’s book from Oxford University ties these thoughts together and delves into the idea that people have a special ability to view the world in a disconnected way. We can choose to view the world around us in an objective fashion, that is disconnected from ourselves, or look at our surroundings from our own vantage point that Nagal refers to as “nowhere in particular” (Oxford University Press) (Nagel, 1989). 

Manu Calvo, Toronto, ON [o] Liam Glass

An urban snowboarder’s view on nature is drastically different from that of the larger population. Not only do these athletes and videographers embrace the cold as a means to push their craft forward, but they truly view the world around them through a different lens. Where most human beings see a handrail as a means to help them up a set of stairs, they see a beautifully placed piece of metal ready to be conquered. Where a “regular” person would see a roof, they see an artfully crafted piece of architecture begging to be ridden, no matter the consequences. Even something as simple as a properly placed pile of snow or a blizzard that yields the perfect consistency of slush can bring so much joy to this niche and passionate group. Furthermore, this urban landscape they are utilizing is not always technically “natural”, but I would argue that the way that the natural conditions around them are being utilized to use various urban features in unorthodox ways speaks to their view on “nature” extending further than what is purely organic in a scientific sense. Maybe the moment that you rethink a simple object like a handrail, a stair set, or a roof and use it in an uncharacteristic fashion, it becomes a piece of nature for that moment. Maybe acting upon a synthetic object in a new and fresh way that you are not “supposed to” can lead the individuals involved into a new view of nature. Just as more trees will grow and rain will fall by no doing of these snowboarders, more rails will be crafted and more buildings formed. This is all nature from their vantage point. It is all fair game. The streets are their jungle. 

Quin Ellul
Quin Ellul, Toronto, ON [o] Liam Glass

This peculiar and nuanced view of nature creates a strong sense of place for those involved. I would consider myself part of this community, and know first hand how specific locations and obstacles can evoke powerful emotions. After putting your heart and soul into capturing a moment behind the camera, or putting their well being on the line battling a maneuver that will last a mere five seconds in the final project, these places become immeasurably important. Where some people would associate a particular handrail with guiding their tired body up the stairs to work every morning, a snowboarder could associate the same obstacle with physical and emotional battle, and when they return be flooded with memories of turmoil, resilience, and victory.  Individual's different views on a simple piece of metal is a beautiful example of the view from nowhere and illuminates the idea that the idea of “absolute space '' is no longer as relevant as it once was. As my professor expressed, “The environment is best thought of as a lived and perceived set of meanings attached to place.” (Dyce, 2022) The push and pull between an objective and subjective view of the world is never ending and depends solely on individual experience. This tension between two views of place can be seen just shy of the nineteen-minute mark of the film. We see the camera pan to a man in a high-visibility jacket about to enter what we can assume is his place of work. He turns before he enters the building, caught off guard by Westbury and friends. setting up their shot. The following frame captures a similar moment while a second worker gazes out his office window to catch a glimpse of the snowboard session as he sips his morning coffee (King Snow Snowboard Magazine, 18:45). Their curiosity and confusion simply puts on display the contrast between two different views of the world based on circumstance and personal experience. 

18:45, View From Nowhere

This unorthodox view of urban infrastructure comes with its fair share of trials however. A power dynamic can arise between those who see a piece of architecture as purely a piece of architecture, the group in question who are intent on pushing it past mundane uses. This perpetual struggle is documented in several moments of the project and is demonstrated around the one minute point of the project as the camera captures a “no trespassing” sign on a building (King Snow Snowboard Magazine, 1:23). In the same vein, near the halfway point this struggle is documented as Westbury soars past a security guard who appears less than pleased with their being there (King Snow Snowboard Magazine, 12:31). This view of their surroundings is so powerful that it justifies the conflict that it occasionally invokes. 

1:23 + 12:31, View From Nowhere

The only way to understand this fully is to dive into the identity and passion that come along with this view of the world. In Westbury’s description on the video on King Snow’s website, he describes the Canadian snowboard scene as feeling like a “big ol’ family” (Westbury, 2022) . In contrast, he alludes to the unspoken rivalries between different facets or “crews'' in the Canadian scene. Part of these individuals’ identities are found in the fact that they snowboard, who they snowboard with, and where they snowboard. So much so, that the process of banding together for View From Nowhere took a conscious effort from those involved. Thus, creating a unique moment in Canadian snowboarding. Once this process was underway, the stakes were higher than ever. They were no longer doing this for themselves or for their crew, they were now doing this for Canada. This is symbolized powerfully nearing the four minute mark as featured rider, Gregor Zed, glides down a large leaf-shaped structure at the displeasure of a suit-clad man (King Snow Snowboard Magazine, 3:14). Gregor, atop the leaf, acts as a powerful illustration of how deeply he and his contemporaries identify with the Canadian scene and how they have set their differences aside in order to make this project a national spectacle.

3:14, View From Nowhere

Westbury voiced his pleasure with how widely encompassing the video was in an email exchange we had. He mentioned how fondly he remembers past projects he would watch as he grew up in the snowboard community and recalls how unifying it felt to see riders being represented from all over the Great White North.  He concluded by speaking on how he hoped View From Nowhere would evoke a similar feeling in young riders today (Westbury, 2022). Finn is a testament to how nature can contribute to building a unique sense of place in a person, which in turn, can become a deeply rooted part of their identity. From this position of power within the community, he can work to further push this view of the world to a wider audience. His specific vantage point, however, can only be communicated to a certain degree. As discussed previously, even within View From Nowhere each and every person posesses a slightly different view of what they have created. This is Nagal’s concept playing out in real time. The world around us is an objective physical entity, yet the way that each and every person perceives the world is equally as important as the real, physical world (Dyce, 2022). 

Written by Benji Zacharias. 

Rewatch View From Nowhere:

Back to blog