GrindTV - How snowboarder Zeppelin Zeerip found positivity in tragedy

A few weeks ago, snowboarder/filmmaker Zeppelin Zeerip released a new documentary.

But unlike most short videos released by sponsored snowboarders (Zeerip is sponsored by Nitro Snowboards and Zeal Optics), Zeerip’s new film isn’t a compilation of him charging massive backcountry kickers set over a thumping soundtrack.

No, his autobiographical film Fly High, Go Far deals with heavier topics, like alcoholism, loss and mental wellbeing:

The movie profiles how Zeerip dealt with the alcoholic tendencies that took the life of his father nine years ago (his dad died of alcohol poisoning) and how he overcame the adversity of breaking his femur and having his home burn down in 2011 while he was in the midst of pursuing a professional snowboarding career.

GrindTV got the 24-year-old Zeerip on the phone to talk about Fly High, Go Far, and what Zeerip is hoping to accomplish with the film.

Zeerip says that he hopes that by expressing his story on film, he’ll encourage others to be honest about the hardships they’ve gone through. Photo: Courtesy of Zeppelin Zeerip

So why did you decide to tell your story now?

My partners at WZRD Media (the production company Zeerip helped found) are all about finding the stories of people in our industry that we feel resonate with the largest audience. We work with brands in our industry a lot, but this story was obviously not marketing focused and pretty darn heavy.

But ultimately, I think it was just bout getting my team’s backing at the start. I’ve been writing a book about my life (Don’t Call Me Gypsy which is currently on Kickstarter) and I think having their interest in turning it into a film gave me a kick in the ass to finish the book.

And I think writing the book and making the movie are helping me come to terms with everything I’ve been through. You know, my dad died from drinking nine years ago now, and not that many of my friends even know about it.

Zeerip says that while it wasn’t easy to open up in his memoir and film, it was ultimately cathartic. Photo: Courtesy of Zeppelin Zeerip

Why did you feel telling the story of your life beyond snowboarding is so important?

Because people don’t talk about what they’re going through.

Nobody wears their heart on their sleeves; we hide it, and that’s not healthy.

For a long time I resented my own drinking and was hyperconscious anytime I had a beer because of my father’s problem. And I didn’t want to constantly live under this fear — this obsession — of thinking it could become this huge problem for me and my family like it did for him.

Zeerip says in the years that he stopped obsessing about turning pro, his snowboarding has gotten better. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Girardi

Speaking of obsession, one of the interesting aspects about the film is that you note that snowboarding has been the thing that helped you through tragedy. But at the same time you say that obsessing over the sport was unhealthy for you, can you elaborate on that?

Snowboarding, for me, started when I was young as a passion: I just loved to snowboard. And I still do.

But as I got better I began taking it too seriously.

I became hellbent on turning pro, and I ended up breaking 14 or 15 bones in the pursuit of riding professionally. It took me breaking my femur to step back and realize how important the pursuit of snowboarding was, regardless of the end goal.

That’s something I want the movie to express: If you have something you’re passionate about, you shouldn’t do it because you want to prove something, you should just pursue it in a way that makes you happy for your own mental wellbeing.

That being said, where do you think you would be today had you not found snowboarding?

I don’t know where I would be without snowboarding; everything I have is related to or attributed to snowboarding. It’s brought me to the lowest and highest points of my life.

After my dad died, I was a pretty angry kid.

But at least, if everything else was changing in my life, snowboarding was still there for me. Snowboarding was the outlet for that angst and anger, because I didn’t have the emotional capabilities to acknowledge the pain I was going through.

In the past two years I’ve begun to realize there are other mechanisms to deal with those emotions, but without snowboarding, I don’t know what track I would be on.

Anything else you want to add about the movie and book?

I just hope it’s larger than my story. We all go through hardships and we don’t need to keep it pent up and to ourselves.

It’s all about finding a welcoming community, and knowing you won’t be judged negatively on showing emotion to the world. I want people to be aware of their circumstances and work to move beyond them. To use their hardships to be a better person.

That’s the biggest message of the film: You can be a victor or a victim.