Broke Life: Driving the not-so-glamorous road with Stept Productions
After a long flight, I step outside of Boston’s Logan Airport into the harsh early morning wind. Fresh out of knee surgery, I slowly crutch out to the sidewalk, where I immediately notice my ride has already arrived. Three lanes over, my brother Alex is struggling to move a generator to make room in the bed of our overpacked pickup truck. I throw my bag in the back and squeeze into the front of the truck with the other two, “Three Amigos style,” with Alex and ABM [Alex Beaulieu-Marchand]. My feet are planted between countless soda cans and fast food bags as we pull out of the airport and into the snowy city.
Preceding my arrival was the longest break I’d had from the crew in recent history. As sponsor commitments and business engagements stack up nowadays, I often find myself wrenched from our circle of friends. Almost all of us grew up in Boston, so as we fly through the snow covered blocks of the city I begin to feel right at home.
On the road again—Stept does Boston
Our first stop brings us to Lowell, MA, a lower income industrial town north of the city. The crew is held up in a run-down apartment in a unit owned by an old friend, “Jo Jo” Cipriari. The dim hallways smell of cigarettes and urine and I don’t exactly feel comfortable having such expensive equipment with us. As we approach the third floor, loud voices and a familiar Jamaican odor remind me that our comrades are close by.
Alex swings the door open, and we receive a roar of welcome. The interior of the apartment resembles a brothel rather than a living space. I can see at least six or seven pubescent faces sprawled across the floor and couches. I wade through the thick smoke and trash-covered floor to exchange welcomes with the crew. I can’t help chuckling as I settle down on the couch. This wasn’t exactly the glamorous life of professional athletes one would imagine. The boys slowly wake up, and before packing to leave, practice their morning ritual of smoking and ingesting high quantities of pain medicine.
The first stop of every day is Dunkin’ Donuts. I sit down with Cam Riley as he recaps the past few weeks. He explains, “I think I’m going insane, man, I have been on the east coast for nine weeks, I need to go home soon.” Cam has spent his winter directing the new Stept film while also being featured as one of the premier skiers in the film. This fine balance between dictator and stuntman has taken its toll on the twenty-four-year-old over the past two months. He begins to unveil his financial troubles to me. “Can you spot me for coffee?” he asks, “I haven’t had any money in three weeks.” I give him a concerned look as he continues, “I have some travel budget, so I could get reimbursed for my expenses… but I have no money to spend in the first place so I can’t use any of the budget. I’m fucked.”
I begin to realize how bad the crew is struggling financially. Everyone is surrounded by constant borrowing, creating an intricate system of debt grounded by IOU’s and non-cash payments. By my third day in town I have loaned out over five hundred dollars in personal funds to prevent the skiers from heading home. Hotels and traditional meals are not an option. A floor space and the dollar menu are the binding elements of this life. These kids seem to strive off the hunger for success, and these poverty-like conditions are actually conducive to productivity.
When money is not of concern, the riders’ health is. Skiing over 100 days in cities each year is not a safe endeavor. No one comes away unscathed, ever. The inside of an emergency room is becoming a common site for this crew. In just over two months of filming we have already seen torn ACLs, broken ribs, dozens of concussions, a cracked sternum and countless other broken bones and dislocations. Bones are now seen as expendable, and unless an injury is season ending, it is often ignored. This complete disregard for normal health standards has been forged over many years of personal destruction and has placed the fear of injury on the backburner. Most outsiders dismiss this lunatic vantage point as the product of immaturity and insanity. With imminent financial and physical risks on the horizon I attribute the crew’s continued motivation to their primal desire for glory, success and recognition.
As the skiing of our riders is constantly progressing, our talents as filmmakers and storytellers are also developing. We yearn for more complex plot lines to spice up our repetitive winters and by default have begun placing ourselves in more compromising situations. Four days into my east coast adventure I find myself on an old tug boat in the famed Boston Harbor. High winds and spraying water tear away at our sensitive camera equipment. In attempts to access a restricted location via the water, our crew is soaked through and starting to experience symptoms of hypothermia. I abandon my crutches and crawl along the deck, dragging a camera rig behind me in hopes to capture a shot from the bow. I yell to our lighting grip for assistance, but he is out of earshot. I pull myself onto a pile of rope and get into position. I press record and look through the viewfinder. The crew is huddled together in front of the boat’s yellow cabin holding skis, lights, and Budweiser.
I smile. Not only are these the most accomplished urban skiers in the game, they are my family—they are the Stept crew.