Elena Hight, the climate change-fighting, X Games gold medal-winning snowboarder (halfpipe) has retired. But the Hawaii native — yes, she’s a snowboarder from the Aloha State — will continue to make her fans “ooh” and “aah” with Tuesday’s opening of “Blank Canvas,” a documentary film that gets inside her new life as a Big Mountain snowboarder.
A busy October schedule promoting the film did not deter Hight from volunteering with Protect Our Winters (POW) to mobilize outdoor sports enthusiasts (“The Outdoor State”) to vote for the climate.
GreenSportsBlog: Elena, what was it like to star in your first documentary?
Elena Hight: Well, Lew, this film was a big leap of faith for me. While I had ridden in a few snowboard films prior, being part of a film from start to finish was completely new challenge for me. Shortly before committing to making this film I had decided to retire from competitive halfpipe snowboarding to pursue freeriding. I dove in headfirst with taking on a film my first year committing to this new avenue, so it was full of surprises.
GSB: What is “Blank Canvas” about?
Elena: “Blank Canvas” is first and foremost a snowboard film. Production company Teton Gravity Research (TGR) and I wanted to make an inspiring snowboard film with my story intertwined. The goal behind the film is to help inspire people to step outside of their comfort zones and pursue what their heart is drawing them towards.
TGR and I ended up filming for over two years on what would become a real, raw story of me stepping away from what I knew well and what I was good at — competitive halfpipe snowboarding at the Olympic level — to pursue a new dream, stepping into freeriding and pursing Big Mountain snowboarding, which was way out of my comfort zone.
Thing is, when you are successful and secure in what you are doing, it’s very tough to step outside of that, to be a beginner again, and suffer the bumps, bruises and embarrassments while making that life transition. I think that this is something that everyone can relate too.
Whether it’s like me learning a new skillset like Big Mountain Snowboarding or pursuing a new hobby or career path. By sharing my story, I hope to make that jump into the unknown a little less scary for someone else.
The “Blank Canvas” trailer
GSB: It sounds like you were going from being a senior in college to a freshman in high school.
Elena: It was a tough adjustment that’s for sure.
I competed in halfpipe for 16 years, with the rigid schedules, and the rhythm of training, recovery, competitions. I really loved and thrived in it.
Leaving that behind and moving towards a life that is much different has been intimidating and not without its challenges. There is so much to learn in the backcountry and the mountains provide this endless school ground. It’s exciting and intimidating but has been an epic adventure every step of the way.
And that was one of the main goals of the film, showing the realness of being in the moment, and of learning along the process, as anyone will have to do when making a big transition in life. Being in nature made that easier. No distractions, roaming wherever the snow would take me, sometimes making the right decision, sometimes not. My hope is that it leaves viewers inspired to at least take a second look at something they may have pushed to the side as a crazy idea or something that they just can’t pursue today.
GSB: …Ah now I think I get why the film is titled “Blank Canvas.” It seems to be a double entendre of sorts: It means that you’re starting something completely new — filling in a metaphorical blank canvas of life — and doing so on virgin, blank snow on remote, rugged mountains.
Elena: You got it, Lew! And that duality is what made it a really exciting film and hopefully one that people will enjoy.
To me I have always looked at the mountains as this blank canvas that we as individuals get to put our mark on. Everyone creates their own lines down the mountains and that leads to that feeling of freedom we feel on our boards. I also feel like I am turning a page to a new chapter in life, and that it is a blank canvas on which to create this next chapter.
GSB: Where did you shoot?
Elena: We shot on location in Japan, Lake Tahoe and British Columbia. All of these places are meccas for snowboarding and we really were just following the snow. The filming kicked off in Japan, which is known to be the snowiest place in the world.
Elena Hight during the shooting of “Blank Canvas” in Japan (Photo credit: Leslie Hittmeier/TGR)
GSB: For real?
Elena: People are always shocked when I mention that fact. We spent about a month traveling around Japan. Then we shot in Lake Tahoe. I was born in Hawaii, but I grew up in Tahoe, so it was very exciting to be able to film in my home mountain range. And we finished shooting up in British Columbia right before COVID hit.
GSB: Sounds like fortuitous timing to say the least. What role does the environment play in “Blank Canvas”
Elena: There isn’t a big overt push behind the environment in this film but it is an important, underlying subtext. Because, while the beautiful places you see are largely untouched by humans, they are being affected by human-caused climate change that’s happening all over the world. So, we want to inspire the people who see the film to want to protect these places, which means getting climate change under control.
Elena Hight generates some serious big air during the filming of “Blank Canvas” in Japan (Photo credit: Leslie Hittmeier/TGR)
GSB: Hopefully some of those viewers were engaged by Protect Our Winters (POW) — the nonprofit that works with elite snowboarders and skiers like yourself to spread the word about the need to preserve the mountains from climate change and other environmental degradation — to vote for the climate in the recent election.
What was it like for you to be a POW Athlete Ambassador during the campaign?
Elena: I am so grateful to have been part of POW’s efforts to speak out to encourage what they call “The Outdoor State”, the 50 million or so Americans who love the outdoors, to go out and vote.
GSB: I love “The Outdoor State” initiative…
Elena: Me too. And the thing is people who love the outdoors don’t always vote at the rate of the general population. The trick is to encourage them to vote for the environment, for the climate, rather than get into the politics of this candidate or that.
I took part in their social media campaigns, some virtual live events and did several talks with college students. Those were great — they were very responsive and hopefully they voted in numbers — and it was important for me to connect with the next generation. And we worked hard in my home state of Nevada, and it paid off, as voters passed an initiative that commits the state to generate 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2030.
GSB: That’s terrific — I hope “The Outdoor State” continues to vote, and that a good chunk of them see “Blank Canvas”!
Blank Canvas is available on TGR’s streaming service, TGR TV, for $5.99. It is now also available for digital download on all major streaming platforms.
Photo at top: Elena Hight and her “Blank Canvas” costars climb up a mountain near Lake Tahoe (Photo credit: Leslie Hittmeier/TGR)