The Demons Within
In life, and in mountain biking, temptations linger to distract us from our purpose. If you lose focus, if let your eyes wander, you risk squandering it all. Graham Agassiz knows this perhaps better than anyone.
Agassiz is a pro freeride mountain biker, an up-and-coming rider teeming with raw talent from the woodsy town of Kamloops, British Columbia. He's the star of the new film, "Ashes to Agassiz," a freeride mountain bike movie from Sherpas Cinema that premiered earlier this month in Whistler, British Columbia. The film debuts on iTunes on Aug. 25.
The film captures high-definition mountain biking in all its glory, with stunning cinematography of Agassiz bombing through misty forests in British Columbia and descending rocky, emerald peaks in Iceland. But it also tells a larger story, of one man's struggle to concentrate amid the constant distractions and complications of life.
Three years ago, Agassiz was dropping a high-speed line he'd ridden many times before, a steep descent near his hometown that bottomed out in a field of sagebrush. His pedal clipped a bush and sent him tomahawking over his handlebars. He broke his C6 vertebra in two places, and soon after he underwent surgery to fuse his neck back together.
"They said if you're going to break your neck, this is the way to do it," Agassiz, now 25, says. "I was in a neck brace for three months and back on my bike pretty soon after that."
At the time, he had just started a film project with Sherpas Cinemas for a short season edit. But after his crash, Agassiz and the filmmakers realized the injury and his resounding comeback made for a compelling story. They decided to turn the edit into a full-fledged feature film and then spent the next two and a half years creating it.
'Ashes to Agassiz' behind the scenes
A film project 2 years in the making, "Ashes to Agassiz" is a new mountain bike movie from Sherpas Cinemas starring pro freeride mountain biker Graham Agassiz. The film debuts on iTunes this week. In this gallery we take a look behind the scenes at the making of the movie.
"We knew we had a unique story, but we also knew it would take a lot more time and effort than we originally planned," Agassiz says.
Agassiz -- who goes by "Aggy" and has shaggy, long hair and a full beard -- has the full-throttle demeanor of a guy who thrives on speed. He grew up racing BMX bikes, inspired by the cult favorite '80s BMX movie, "Rad." In his teens, he got into racing motocross, but around age 15, after watching a mountain bike film, he sold his motorcycle and BMX bike and bought a mountain bike instead.
Fast-forward a decade, and Agassiz started winning qualifiers at Red Bull Rampage, filming with multiple production companies, and making a name for himself in the ever-changing world of freeride mountain biking.
After his injury, he slowed down just enough to realize how fortunate he truly was. "I felt really lucky to be given a second chance," he says. "Every day I get to ride my bike is that much more gratifying, and I enjoy every minute of it."
His new film takes that sentiment and turns it into abstract art, with flashes of fireworks, partying, and strange and beautiful women roaming free in the hills. At one point, the narrator says ominously, "You either kill your demons or you let them kill you."
"It's about me coming back from injury and not being focused and having all these struggles, and then breaking away from these things and getting back to what's important," Agassiz says. "It's about getting back on the bike and enjoying the simple things in life."
"Ashes to Agassiz" may be a film about one man's quest, but in many ways it's a story we all share. Says Agassiz, "We want people to create their own idea of what's going on in the film and have their own visions of what it means."