Prior to the experiment outlined in the previous post I had made a drastic change with my whitewater kayaking. I had gone from just running everything that I would now consider class 3/4 to investing in a creek boat/river runner and taking steps to move up to class 5.
It helped getting hooked up with a crew where I was not the most advanced but rather the least. It helped me see totally different rivers and paddle much harder stuff.
The reason I am bringing this up is because around the time of my change in work patterns I also was on a massive ramp in my kayaking skills and soon thereafter I discovered shooting video.
After getting a first video out of what we affectionately call ‘kayak porn’ I quickly moved to a more documentary style web series called CURRENTS. This is key in my progression because with little or no training in making this project I jumped in head first and eventually delivered 20 episodes over 3 years, each one building on the next in terms of scale, story, ambition, technicality and overall quality. I still look back on some of these and wonder how I did it all.
In hindsight I don’t necessarily equate this project to incredible filmmaking but I would say, no one has committed to a project like this in paddlesports since. The closest I saw was the Wells brothers (which I thought was incredible).
CURRENTS was incredible timing. No one was doing web series in whitewater and immediately it filled a void that I think people were looking for. It was a different landscape on the web. Facebook was still trying to figure out the ‘social’ vs ‘corporate’ aspect of it’s business model and it was incredibly easy to develop an audience vs. today. If I were doing this series today I firmly believe I would have not gathered the audience I did at that time.
I quickly snatched up sponsors that I wanted to work with, spoke with nearly everyone in the industry, and quickly made a name for myself. This wouldn’t happen today and, while I really put in the time and effort needed to network and develop the model for the project (literally it was on my mind 24/7). CURRENTS essentially became a way to hack an industry that I wanted to be a part of and base my life around.
As I worked on the project I found ways to subsidize all the things I wanted to do as an individual. I got to see rivers around the world that I would not have otherwise. I got this VIP pass to work with the best in the industry. It was a fun time and as a kayaker that eventually became sponsored based on my individual merits, I can still talk to people around the world that know of and remember CURRENTS.
I still get people constantly asking me how to make it in whitewater and make it a viable lifestyle. I often will joke around and say something about rich parents, lottery, etc. However, it is really tough. Whitewater kayaking is one of the smallest sports out there and there is very little money in it. Paddle sports companies are not putting money into whitewater and it is barely (if at all) a growing sport. It is not getting easier.
I do think that people who want that lifestyle are not thinking out of the box. Kayak porn videos are a dime a dozen and most of the paying market are not interested in that. People on the media side that move from the hobbyist to the pro status need to understand the market and that in a sport like this you need to make compromises knowing that some kid will do your job for free and the pay is usually not good.
Often I will get one paying contract and layer it with multiple smaller contracts to make it work. And, I never forget that the lifestyle and the amazing places, people, and adventures I get to go on are a big part of it.
When those big contracts come in it all pays off. The key thing is: know your market, adapt to it and have fun. I have since branched out into other sports but the fact remains: my heart lies with whitewater kayaking and my mind is constantly thinking of the next CURRENTS or other story I can tell from a river. I have accepted this fate until I find another sport or activity that gives me as much passion.