By Brendan Richards for THE KITEBOARDER, Vol. 13 No. 4, Winter 2016

Staring down a vast mountain face bleeding into a labyrinth of chutes⎯some airing into sheer death drops, others into sizable, but not unmakeable, overhangs littered with wind-loaded landing zones⎯a young Lance Koudele grips his Polaroid as he cinches down his snowboard bindings. With a snapshot of the mountain before him, he studies the instant print of an open face in reverse, chooses his line and drops in.

The relationship between athlete and photographer and the utility of the almighty image as a tool are common themes in the evolution of an action sports career. The study of paths along with the waypoints of decision and experience that connect one’s past with the present and setup some unknown future is a dissection worth undertaking that begs the real question: Is it worth bringing a roadmap and to what extent should one follow it?

As a longtime documentarian of the evolution of freestyle kiteboarding in Hood River, Oregon, and a veteran member of the Triple- S media team, Lance Koudele is a force behind the scenes. His work is prominently featured throughout the print and marketing of our sport, and while kiteboarding is just a small blip on a far larger and lucrative portfolio of action sports corporate clients, Lance is known by many in kiteboarding to bring nothing but pure, positive energy and the epitome of stoke into everything he undertakes.

As a competitor in the big mountain snowboarding scene in the late 90s, Lance understands the body language of boardsports and uses this to his advantage.

Growing up in Dundee, Oregon, a rural pastoral town proverbially known as the ‘sticks’ to urbanized Portlanders, Lance was the son of a social worker and banker⎯both recovering ski bums. Following the family legacy to a school where his mother and older sister both attended, Lance enrolled in the psychology program at PLU in Washington State. Recalling that first decision, Lance said, “I was really interested in the performance aspects of athletics. . . the concept of flow and spirituality are very intertwined for me and I figured that a university founded in spirituality might have some kind of insight into that.” He’s able to laugh about it now, but the heavy religious doctrine and narrow thinking of a private ecclesiastical institution was far too constricting for Lance’s expansive mind, ready to explore the outer bounds. While he initially intended to transfer out, it was the skiing in the Northern Cascades that helped him finish all four years.

Upon the crossroads of graduation, his parents supported his whim to apply for a ski area job in Colorado. Kicking off a quarter life tour of the greater ski towns of North America, Lance bounced from job to job at the best ski areas in the US. While in Vail, Lance won a famed Chinese Downhill which took him into the world of competitive big mountain snowboarding. Lance laughingly recalls the big mountain mantra, “if you could do a trick, it wasn’t steep enough.”

Eventually a series of injuries⎯a broken shoulder, fingers and the longer task of rebuilding his knees⎯ended his competitive big mountain aspirations and Lance began to think about a more sustainable career. As an athlete fascinated with video production, Lance enrolled in the Art Institute of Portland. While his passion was storytelling through video, after graduation in 2003, he found greater opportunity in shooting stills. Driving through Hood River, Lance fixated on learning to kiteboard and began working for a digital agency in town that landed him a number of photoshoots with outdoor brands like Nike and Smartwool. With a solid work ethic and creative drive, Lance developed strong relationships with large companies that would allow him to shoot mountain sports in the most spectacular settings around the world. Looking back on his early success, he admits, “it was the agency that gave me the immediate connection to the inside,” but Lance also believes in a larger sense, “If you follow your path- your true intent... it’s going to work out.”

Kicked back in a coffee shop booth against a wall with a thickly pulled shot of caffeine in hand, Lance talks with the unfettered enthusiasm of a motivational speaker in a perma-positive surfer’s drawl. It’s hard not to like Lance’s laid-back, self-effacing humor.

When asked if he ever had any doubts, his answer is honest: “Hell yeah, it’s been feast and famine at times, but that’s the artist way. You have doubt and you have inspiration⎯those two things go had-in-hand⎯one drives the other. Sometimes you’re not sure about something, but that’s also when creativity happens.”

As Lance begins to talk about a subject for which he has true passion, he tends to roll into the metaphysical, perhaps a subtle nod to his days as a psychology student. Lance explains how the connection between photographer and athlete translates into an image and how he believes it carries a vibe beyond just the face of the action. In his words, “The photo is an opportunity for two people to come together to make an image, but when it is really successful, it actually generates a higher level of consciousness. It actually can resonate positivity- even elevate it. It truly is why I am here doing this.” To Lance, taking photos of action sports is about creating relationships and working with people. “Taking a good photo is easy, but the best work comes out in how you approach the matter. As a professional you connect with someone and bring out something a little more than just a photo⎯that’s what differentiates what I try to do from someone else, I want to make subtle yet powerful positive change from that connection, from that encounter.”

This begins to make more sense once you understand that Lance’s concept of spirituality is rooted in the feeling and sentiment of being outdoors, and the apex of that feeling for Lance is launching off a 30-foot cornice deep with in Wyoming’s backcountry. Lance explains, “It comes back to the foundation of what I try to do with all my imagery, which is create positive change." Lance tries to create images that resonate. “It’s like a communion for like-minded people who love to be outside.”

It’s heavy talk for those who live in more concrete terms of counsciousness, it might be out there, but Lance is a photographer that is concerned about both the physical composition and the emotional, the subconscious message inlaid within his work.

If life came with a Polaroid like the one Lance used to use to scope his downhill lines, an omniscient roadmap for life that could steer us clear of dead ends, fast-track success and get us to our destination with the least amount of blood, sweat and tears⎯Lance Koudele wouldn’t recommend it⎯it’s not a story worth telling without a misstep, setback or struggle.

Former clients, current friends.


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