Q: What are some of the most dangerous places you have climbed, skied, etc.? What are some of the most exciting?
A: It’s still right in my back yard. It’s still Yosemite. Shooting on El Capitan is always an eye opener. It’s just so exposed. Everything counts. It’s just such a compelling location and backdrop. Then you combine that with an athlete performing at the highest level, and it becomes an amazing place for storytelling. I also love the fact that 3,000 feet away there are families sitting down for a picnic, looking through binoculars and drinking beer. I still love those extremes. Telling a compelling story doesn’t always mean going to Nepal or Peru.
Q: What’s a bigger thrill, the sport itself or photographing the sport?
A: I’d have to say that they’re probably equal. The sports that I’m closest to – climbing, skiing, surfing – they are so rewarding. I get an incredible physical satisfaction from them. When I capture a real compelling moment, that’s mentally rewarding. They’re equal in my mind. I think it almost needs to be that way. If it gets out of balance, I think it can become an issue.
Q: You once hopped freight trains in the American West. Why did you do this, and how far did you travel?
A: It was about a month-long trip. A year earlier, I had bumped into this guy named Kevin Swift in a canyon at the Red Rocks of Las Vegas. He’d just dropped out of school to climb, didn’t have a car and didn’t have a lot of money. He hopped trains from Wyoming to get to climbing areas. We talked about doing a story, spent a week climbing and going to hot springs. A year later I called him out of the blue. He quit his job at a flower shop. A day later we met in Salt Lake City. We ended up going to Las Vegas, then to Los Angeles, where we hitchhiked back to Joshua Tree National Monument and eventually ended up in Tucson to climb at Mt. Lemmon. When we couldn’t hop a train, we hitchhiked or walked. It was about three weeks of traveling and one week of climbing. It was pretty painful. Almost 10 years later though, Kevin and I are still close friends.
It was such a neat story. We didn’t pitch it to anyone. We just went and did it. When we sent it to Climbing Magazine; they were blown away. They’d never seen anything like it.
Q: What was the most interesting country you have visited while on assignment?
A: Definitely Morocco. I spent a while in the Sahara Desert. It’s about as wild a place as it gets. There’s nobody around for hundreds of miles. There were 100 mile-an-hour winds, sand storms. It’s what I imagine being on the moon would be like.
On the flipside, I love Sierra Nevada. We have incredible light, amazing mountains. When I come back from being abroad, it’s a lesson in appreciation.
Q: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to go into extreme journalism?
A: As soon as I started climbing as a teenager, I began documenting my adventures. When I was looking for a college internship with a paper, I picked the Modesto Bee because it was closest to Yosemite. I used to work the whole week, drive to Yosemite Friday night, wake up early Monday morning, hop in the Merced River to wash up and drive to work.
After two years of saving money while working at the Bee, I wanted to see if I could make this work. I wanted to apply what I had learned covering the Fourth of July parade to climbing. I took 100 rolls of slide film, outfitted a Civic hatchback with a bed and set out through the Southwest. When I got back, I edited my film down to 40 images and sent it out. I figured if it didn’t work, I would just go back to newspapers.
Q: What advice would you give to young people interested in adventure photography?
A: Working at a paper is a great way to get that experience. Learning how to tell a story is vital.
There are a few things. First, you have to be passionate about an activity. In a sense you have to be an expert in a specific sport. You don’t have to be the best, but you have to know what you love. If you wanted to cover chess, you’d probably have to be pretty good at chess to tell compelling stories. It’s the same with adventure sports. You have to go out and do it. Beyond that, you need a little raw talent. You have to work hard, and you have to be a good person. In the end, if you aren’t a good person, no one is going to want to work with you.
In the world of journalism – in anything creative – there’s no substitute for experience. You can spend all your time with your head in books trying to learn about it, but there’s a difference in thinking about it and doing it.
Q: Name some of the publications you have shot pictures for?
A: Outside, National Geographic Adventure, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated
Q: Do you have plans to marry and settle down with a family, or would that crimp your career?
A: I definitely have plans to settle and have kids. It’s going to change the way I operate. Right now, my life is my work. My work is my life. I’d have to evolve, and that’s something I’d be willing to do. I’d have to commit to being a father. I don’t want to use the phrase “budgeting time,” but I’d definitely have to think about what’s important.
Q: What has been your proudest journalistic moment?
A: It’s definitely this photo of this guy, Tom Bulowd, getting a shot in the butt. We were in Costa Rica on a surf trip and the local cantina turned out to be the local clinic. It’s not a Pulitzer Prize winning photo. It didn’t change the world, but that’s really the essence of what I do. I’m on this trip capturing lives, events as they unfold. This photo is a great example of how I combine storytelling with adventure.
Q: Have you ever been seriously injured while shooting?
A: I knock on wood. I take risks, but they’re very calculated.
It can be surprising though. I was on a surf trip in Panama shooting for Patagonia. We’re walking down a dirt road. I’m in flip-flops and surf trunks with my camera bag. It’s a beautiful sunset. I’m with some good friends laughing. Over the horizon comes this huge bull with a cowboy right behind it whipping it with a bullwhip. I started fiddling with my camera gear. I look up, my friends are diving off the road. There was this thousand-pound bull with three-foot horns five feet away from me. There was just enough time to realize, “Wow, I could die right now,” and turn my body to the side.
I ended up getting hit right between the horns, flying 15 feet away. When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t breath, I was bleeding, and the bull was still coming toward me. I curled into a fetal position and got kicked again. The cowboy’s horse jumped over me. When I got up my flip-flops were still in the place where I had been standing. My camera was 25 feet away. Later on, we learned that it was the National Prize Fighting bull.
Q: To the average American, climbing mountains and glaciers might seem like a fringe activity. Even crazy. What do you consider crazy?
A: (Recently) I was shooting these BMX bikers for Sports Illustrated in Reno. I’m watching these guys in this concrete pool and skate park. They’re doing back flips without helmets on. To me that’s crazy. I don’t understand how they do it. I’d end up in the E.R. with a concussion on my first go. It’s just these kids though, hanging out after school. It’s totally normal to them. To me it’s crazy. They’d probably think climbing is nuts. … It comes down to understanding the details of sport. Otherwise, it’s just hard to understand.