McConkey: the most amazing person I knew

Rob Bruce was one of five 'McConkey' directors. Here, he explains why the legend was one of a kind.
Director Rob Bruce poses for a portrait before the World Premiere of "McConkey" at Tribeca in the Hotel on Rivington in New York, USA on April 21st 2013
Rob Bruce at the 'McConkey' premiere in NYC. © Olugbenro Ogunsemore/Red Bull Content Pool
By Josh Sampiero

Now that 'McConkey' has had its world-wide release, we caught up with Rob Bruce – director and personal friend of Shane McConkey for a quick chat on one of the most amazing people he ever knew.

I knew Shane since high school. I ski-raced against him – we were both on the US Skiing development team. We both liked free-skiing, probably more than training, and we both quit at the same time. We reconnected when he skied in a story I filmed for MTV Sports in South America.

Director Scott Gaffney, JT Holmes, Sherry Mcconkey, Director Steven Winter (f.l.t.r.) and Directors Murray Wais, Rob Bruce, David Zieff (back f.l.t.r.)  pose for a portrait before the World Premiere of "McConkey" at Tribeca in the Hotel on Rivington in New York, USA on April 21st 2013
Rob Bruce and the 'McConkey' crew. © Olugbenro Ogunsemore/Red Bull Content Pool

If Shane was alive today… He'd be doing the same things – but spending more time with his family. He'd be the same person. Sports-wise, I think he'd be into speed riding. [Skiing with a small, high-performance paragliding rig.] He wouldn't be fully retired as an athlete, just semi-retired, with more focus on being a great dad and husband to Sherry.

It was easy to make a film with five directors. None of us were making the movie for ourselves – we were making it for Ayla and Sherry. Egos are checked at the door when you are trying to make a tribute film for a daughter and widow. It worked because we all cared about him so much, and we knew Shane wouldn't tolerate egos getting in the way of a great film. We had to honour Shane's way of life: honesty, no ego, respect, professionalism, preparation and always a sense of humour.

John Berry and Shane McConkey, wingsuit BASE jump. © Graeme Murray/Red Bull Content Pool

Shane lived the lives of 50 people! His story was massive and he filmed all of it. Managing all that content – over 1,000 hours of footage – was cumbersome. The way it worked was that each of us took a section of Shane's story and focused on it, while also being mindful of the whole story.

I don't want to ruin the magic by saying there's stuff missing. But the part we didn't really focus on deeply was Shane's incredible contributions to the ski industry. He forced brands to pay attention to free-skiing and pay athletes. He forced fat skis to be made.

Then he introduced rockered skis. He formed the International Free Ski Association and got free-skiing contests organised and formatted. He helped open ski industry eyes and made them start moving money around to get behind free skiing.

He helped make skiing cool again at a time when snowboarding was sucking the life out of the ski industry. He did so much for the ski industry, but we only lightly touched on it – because that's a ski industry story, not Shane's story.

Shane McConkey shows off during one of the training runs at Red Bull Snow Thrill of Alaska in Haines, USA on March 26th 2002.
Shane McConkey - Action © Ulrich Grill / Red Bull Content Pool

Skiing was dead. It needed someone relentless like him – with a vision – to come in and change it. But in some ways the lack of funding was a blessing for Shane because he could do what he wanted. He revamped the big mountain contest scene. He was there when park skiing kicked off. He won skier-cross races. Skiing in the 90s was so wide open for a mind like Shane's.

JT Holmes is carrying the torch. He's doing the things Shane would be doing if he were still around – speed riding, ski-BASEing, and now in his transition to stunt-coordinating. But I don't know if we'll ever see another Shane again. You only get so many people like that in a lifetime.

'McConkey' is being received as we hoped and intended. For me personally, it was most important for the film to be relatable to all audiences, and to shed a light into this lifestyle, and let someone live like Shane for two hours – to see what it means to base your life around what you love. People from all walks of life are coming away inspired and are reminded of the importance of basing your life around what you love and makes you happy, regardless of society’s rules. If everyone lived a little bit more like Shane, the world would be a better place.

Shane McConkey poses for a portrait during Red Bull Uncharted at the Fiordland National Park in New Zealand on February 6, 2009.
Shane McConkey portrait © Graeme Murray/Red Bull Content Pool

Sherry is happy with the film. This process hasn't been easy for Sherry and she entrusted her husband's legacy to us. We all hit bumps in the road and now Ayla can refer back to this film throughout her life and find inspiration when she needs it. I'm so thankful Sherry allowed us to give this gift to Ayla and the rest of the world. It's the most rewarding project I've ever been a part of.

Shane McConkey and his family.
Shane McConkey and His Family © McConkey Family Album / Red Bull Content Pool
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