C California Style

At the northern end of Greenland’s coast, an iceberg offers a visual break from the monotony of the ice sheet.
Black-legged kittiwakes rest on an iceberg on a Greenland night.
Hurricane-strength winds pinned down Copeland and McNair-Landry in their tent for six consecutive days and seven nights.
Even with 250 pounds of gear in tow, Copeland’s kite-skiing speeds could top 40 mph.
Copeland on a break during his record-setting day of kite-skiing.
Documentarian Sebastian Copeland.

Breaking The Ice

by C California Style

California-based environmentalist and documentarian Sebastian Copeland travels to Greenland to raise a red flag on climate change.

Only eight days into Sebastian Copeland’s 2010 voyage through the inner ice shelves of Greenland, the shit hit the proverbial fan. Or, to put a finer point on it, the gusting punch of an 80-plus-mph Arctic hurricane collided with his nylon tent, and refused to relent for nearly a week. “If the tent rips in that type of environment, you won’t last a day if you don’t have a plan B,” says the West Hollywood-based explorer, filmmaker and photographer, who dug an ice hole with partner Eric McNair-Landry as a backup shelter in the catastrophic event that their enclosure should tear, or fly off into the frozen skies. “There’s nothing quite like the vulnerability of being a speck of nothing in this white desert,” adds Copeland. “After all, absolutely no one’s coming to rescue you on an ice sheet in Greenland.”

Set for a 2015 release, the documentary Across the Ice: The Greenland Victory March records the duo’s 1,400-mile adventure across the tundra, during which they traversed some of the most harrowing terrain known to man—each carting 250 pounds of gear behind them—to set a world record for the longest distance traveled kite-skiing (369.72 miles, beating the previous record of 315.35 miles) over a single 24-hour period.

The feature is Copeland’s follow-up to 2010’s Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul, a documentary tracing his and partner Keith Heger’s mission to the geographic North Pole, and rounds out a body of work (including Antarctica: The Global Warning, the book that prompted the International Photography Awards to name Copeland their 2007 Professional Photographer of the Year) that has won praise from such like-minded progressives as Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, Sting, Orlando Bloom (his cousin) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Whenever you beat a record, you get a sense that there’s gonna be a Russian masseuse, a sauna and a bottle of Champagne waiting for you,” says Copeland of the anticlimactic nature of reaching his latest endurance goal. “But, in reality, you just get in your sleeping bag because you’re so exhausted—and have an extra chocolate cocoa to celebrate. At the very least, you have a great story to tell.”

The real story the University of California, Los Angeles, film school grad wishes to tell—and the motivation guiding all of his creative endeavors—is one of climate change, a hot-button topic in Copeland’s adopted home of California. “The environmental challenges here are a fair representation of the global crisis requiring focus in three major areas: water conservation, emissions reduction and food production,” explains Copeland, who also sits on the board of Santa Monica-based NGO Global Green USA. “If you want to know what will happen to California and the rest of the world in the coming decades, you need look no further than the poles; temperature there has a direct and physical relationship with ice, which yields a visceral response. Making the link from those systems to ours is at the core of the ‘think globally, act locally’ philosophy which I try to promote.” And far from being a doomsayer, Copeland (who got his start as a music video and commercials director) sees hope—crediting the Golden State for leading the way toward some sort of ecological homeostasis. “It’s a very forward-thinking state with a lot of dreamers, and in the context of the 21st century, those dreamers are creating the path to the next level of society,” he says. “In many ways, California captures the best of the new world.”

By Nicolas Stecher.
Photographed by Sebastian Copeland.