Values Over ValueTBOP2017 ⋅ 50:44 ⋅ Filmed May 11, 2017
Extreme sport writer and photographer and “Pro Adventurer” for Patagonia, Jeff Johnson is a self-proclaimed delinquent, whose life story is one of taking chances, pursuing his passion, and following the winding and wild road that has led to his extreme career. From jungles to mountains, skate parks to ocean waves, Jeff tells the story of his life and work, explaining how his career took hold, little by little, rather than following some grand master plan.
He describes one of the defining moments of his life: discovering the skateboard. Today, skateboarding is a multimillion dollar industry, but in the 70s and 80s when Jeff was growing up, it was an underground sport for outcasts and punks. Stealing wood to DIY skate ramps with this underground community opened the doors and sparked the connections that spurred Jeff’s move into surfing and eventually extreme sport journalism and photography.
In this whale of a tale keynote, Jeff shares the secret his father told him about how to tackle what you want to achieve, and how to choose employment that affords you the lifestyle to pursue your passions. This one’s for every bold dreamer and adventurer who’s wondering if it’s possible to make a living doing what you love — and if a non-linear road can bring you to fantastic places.
I got this quote (references screen) from Yvon Chouinard's book Let My People Go Surfing, if you haven't read it, you should, it'll change the way you think about business and possibly change the way you think about life. I wouldn't consider myself a big entrepreneur, but I am a delinquent, and I will spell that out through a few slides here.
The Early Years
[00:26] Like he said, I grew up in a town called Danville. It's inland of San Francisco, about 45 minutes inland. When I moved there as a child in the early 70s, it was basically, a cattle town, cattle ranches, and mixed with old school money. There were some country clubs and whatnot, but it was a very quiet place. I was kind of like any kid, I played all of the ball sports, soccer, football, baseball, and all that. When I got to around 12 years old I was tired of that. It seemed like organized sports was part of a system that I didn't want to be part of. It wasn't creative, it felt very sterile, and I was just bored of the whole idea.
Skateboard Culture[01:12] I then got a skateboard when I was about 12 or 13 years old. It sounds funny, but that changed my life forever. It changed the whole trajectory of my entire life from there on out. I was totally independent, super creative. There wasn't any winners or losers — you could just go out and change it every day — it was a blank canvas. It changed the way I thought about things. It changed the way I viewed the world. [01:40] I then got a haircut and started listening to punk rock. This was the early 80's and I'm sure you all know about the punk rock movement of the early 80s, but when you're a kid, 12 years old and you're trying to figure out your life and whatnot, you hear this new music and it really resonates with you. It was like the hippy movement of the 60s. It wasn't so great for my parents. I got in a lot of trouble and I was kind of an outcast, but for me it formed the way I looked at the world. I fell in with a bunch of like-minded individuals that were also disenchanted with the town that we lived in. It was a beautiful place, but we felt like we all lived in this bubble. We all wanted to see something different, something outside of our little town. We had to fend for ourselves. We had to build our ramps, and as you can tell they were pretty bad. We would just go around these scrap piles and build these little junkie things, and they were sketchy and dangerous, but that's what we had to do.
[02:42] That's us as little kids. This is around ‘79, ‘80 maybe ‘81.
[02:49] We had to sneak into places to go skate, there wasn't skate parks at the time. They were all closed. So we had a fishing pole and tackle box, we had to fake it like we were fishermen to sneak into this place to skate. We would sneak into abandoned houses that had backyard pools and run a muck.
[03:09] This was one of our favourite pools that we would sneak into and have parties and stuff.
[03:15] I got to reiterate that this was the early 80s. Skateboarding is now a big industry, it's a multimillion dollar industry. At this time, all the magazines were shut down. All the skateparks has closed down. Skateboarding was totally underground and it wasn't cool, you were an outcast if you were skating. So, we had to fend for ourselves. We had to steal our own wood to make our ramps to skate. There wasn't anything to skate. We didn't have a lot of support, and I don't think we really wanted support, we wanted to figure things out by ourselves. Although we had to steal to do it. That's a friend of mine with some freshly stolen wood. The statute of limitations are up now, so (laughing).
[03:59] Our ramps got a lot bigger, they got bigger and better. We would just build them in the backyards. This one took up a whole tennis court. Looking back I'm amazed that we were able to do this at 16-17 years old. Our parents weren't helping us and we had to build these things by ourselves. We had to figure out the plans. There weren't any videos on YouTube that we had to figure out. We had to really do it ourselves and it gave us a sense of independence — that we can accomplish something, that we can do something on our own. It really affected the way, all of our lives went after that. Now it's a buzzword, the DIY selling point for a lot of brands, but it really was a DIY situation back then.
[04:43] As skaters we got better. This is probably a few years later, ‘87 or ‘88. We started skating better, we were taking better photographs and our ramps were big. Some of the photography was as good as anything that was running in the magazines at the time. Around this time, when I got my license and I could finally drive, because I could drive, I could go to the ocean. The next step after skateboarding seemed to be surfing and I got into surfing.
Surfing Into A Perspective on Life
[05:12] My friends and I would do all these trips along the northern coast where I lived in California. This is us on our first surf trip to Baja. We were seniors in high school and this was our first trip away from home, super excited. It was also a time [when] everybody was getting ready to go to college and move on with their lives.
[05:32] My dad had a big talk with me around this time, the 'what are you going to do with your life?' talk and I really had no plans. I had been kicked out of high school. I was wandering around surfing, I was hanging with my friends and he said 'you know, if you want, you can make millions of dollars if you put your mind to it' and I believe that that was true, but I also know what it takes to make a million dollars and I didn't want to slave my life away just to make money. I told my dad that I thought things were backwards. We work our whole lives and we retire when we're old, and then we're old and we can't do anything. I told him, I'm going to play when I'm young, and work when I'm old. Of course, he just rolled his eyes and said 'yeah, kids know everything' (laughing).
[06:19] I did what any surfer in his right mind would do, I moved to Hawaii. Luckily, my parents were pretty supportive of that. They told me they wished they had done the same thing when they were young. I moved there and I got into surfing tenfold. I moved to the North Shore of Oahu, it's the epicenter of the surf world. The waves were much bigger than I had at home so I had to teach myself how to surf and how to get along in these big waves. It was a huge learning curve for me. This was at the famous Banzai pipeline, one of the most photographed waves in the world.
Working to Live
[07:00] What I wanted to do was I wanted to become a fireman, because a fireman, at least in the States, I'm not sure how it is here, but firemen only work about 10 days a month. I wanted a schedule that would afford me a lifestyle where I could surf a lot. I wanted to be a fireman, but I took a little more macho route, and I became a flight attendant. It wasn't the job that I was attracted to, it was the lifestyle. It was basically firemen hours, I only worked 5 or 10 days a month, but now I could travel the world for free on my days off, and that's just what I did.
[07:36] Then I got a job as a North Shore lifeguard right there on Oahu. What this afforded me to do was, when I wasn't working as a flight attendant or travelling, I could be paid to be on the beach all day and also save lives, because I wanted to be a fireman, and now I could. This was some of the most rewarding work I have ever had, to be able to save lives on a daily basis. For 12 years, I juggled both these jobs as a flight attendant and as a lifeguard.
[08:08] I just started travelling around, here I'm in Australia on a 6 week road trip around the country. There's some climbing that we were doing in Mount Acropolis there.
[08:22] That's me surfing in mainland Mexico.
[08:26] This is Tavarua island in Fiji. I got a job there as a boatman and a lifeguard. I stayed in these tree forts for about 30 days, about a month.
[08:37] That's on my friend's boat in Greece.
[08:40] I was travelling a ton, and I was a horrible student. Like I said, I was kicked out of high school, but I had a teacher that really encouraged me to read. So, I became an avid reader. I was a very slow reader and she told me 'don't speed up, stay slow, you'll retain much more if you just read slow'. She would send me journals and I kept writing in these journals. I would travel, and I would keep these journals and I was meeting all sorts of characters and people on the way and taking notes, and writing all these stories.
The Surfer’s Journal
[09:09] My favourite magazine was The Surfer's Journal, still is. To be in the The Surfer's Journal to me was like the Holy Grail. To get your stuff published in that was the pinnacle of either surf photography or surf journalism and I really wanted to get something published in that magazine. Then I thought, they are getting submissions from all over the world, some of the best photographers and writers from all over the world, how was I going to just, out of the blue, get published in this magazine.
[09:38] My dad always told me that when you really wanted something you just have to show up. My dad was a general contractor, he had a construction business. He said this kid used to come by everyday and would ask for work and they would always turn him away. Finally, they hired him because they just got sick of him asking. They hired him for about a week and he did a terrible job, and he came by again and he bugged them again, and they hired him again. He just kept on getting hired because he was so persistent.
[10:08] I took it upon myself and flew to California and knocked on The Surfer's Journal's door. No one does that. They said. ‘what are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I want to talk to you guys. I have all these photos and some writing and this is my deal’. I was able to sit down the the Editor and the Publisher, and talk awhile and get to know them. As I was driving away, they called me and they said they were going to publish this article. I can't tell you how excited I was to hear that my favourite publication was going to publish something that I wrote. To me, it's like winning the lottery or something. It really sparked something in me that I could do something, I had a talent, I could write, I can tell stories and people will want to, hopefully, hear them or read them. This started a relationship that continues on to this day. This first publication was in 1999 and I've written probably a dozen articles for them since.
Meeting The Malloys
[11:11] Around this time, I met these three brothers called the Malloy Brothers. They are a powerhouse trio in the surf world. They are three brothers that were travelling the world and they were pretty prominent in the surf world, pretty famous. Not just for the surfing, it was the way they created this lifestyle. The oldest brother Chris Malloy, started making surf movies in the mid 90s and him and a few guys changed how surf documentation was being done. They used old 16mm footage. We met around the mid 90s and we hit it off so we all moved into a house together.
[11:49] This is where we lived, it was right on the North Shore of Oahu. There's rocky point, famous surf spot right out front of our house and we held up there for about 10 years. We also started climbing around that time. We had a climbing wall in our garage. We weren't real serious, but we messed around on the climbing wall and we'd surf out front. We had this cool lifestyle going on.
[12:18] We discovered a climbing spot on the North Shore, here's a friend of mine, Hetty Talket climbing on the North Shore there.
[12:26] We found out there's this bay called Waimea Bay. It's famous for some of the biggest waves in the world, it also had some rocks to boulder on. So we'd go down to Waimea Bay and we'd climb on the rocks at the bay. You'd never know, this is a flat day, and when it was flat we would go down and climb, and on big days we would go out there and surf. It was this perfect little thing where we had a climbing wall at our house, we had surf in front of our house and we had Waimea Bay, where we would boulder and surf.
Developing A Passion for Photography
[12:59] Around this time, around 2000, I got my first camera. It was the next step to storytelling. If I was going to write I might as well take pictures. I got into photography and I asked a lot of questions. This was back in the film days, you had to buy film and get good lenses and stuff. Here I was living in the epicenter of the surf world, the North Shore, I was surrounded by some of the biggest, best waves in the world and I had some of the best talent in the world, but I had no inclinations of shooting the surf, because everyone else was doing that. I've always had a thing where I look at what everyone else is doing and instead of imitating I just go and do something different, because that's how you're going to stand out. What are you going to bring to the table that's going to make you stand out? Everyone was shooting the surf and I wasn't into the surf.
[13:51] I love shooting photos that in years are going to mean something. They are selling rocks. This is on the North Shore, there's a bunch of lava rocks all over the place. John John, the kid in the back, is probably one of the biggest, most famous surfers in the world, but this was when he was about 6 years old.
[14:11] I was into street photography. I was into capturing moments beyond the high tide mark. I wasn't interested in the actual surf action, though I did start to shoot that later, I was more interested in what happened beyond surfing, and what was going on. Here, you can think for yourself what's going on there. I was into lifestyle.
Photography for Patagonia
[14:32] Lifestyle was a big thing to me and I was starting to submit to different places. All my friends were shooting surf and submitting to the surf magazines and surf brands. I was shooting lifestyle, and something different. I started sending photos to Patagonia, which was my favourite brand at the time. I didn't even wear a lot of Patagonia gear at the time, I was just fascinated with their brand and what they stood for and I started submitting photos there, and this is one of my first submissions.
[15:06] The first time I ever shot underwater I borrowed my friend’s camera. We went out to this diving place and I shot my friends diving, and submitted it. Patagonia wrote back that they were going to buy one of my slides, for $3,000 for 3 years usage. $3,000 was a ton of money back then, and something clicked, because editorial was fun to do, but I couldn't make any money out of it, so I was thinking maybe photography, there's something there. Maybe I can do this as a profession, but I didn't take it very serious. The photo editor there, obviously, saw something because she started to pay for my film and processing, which was a lot of money back then. Sometimes you can shoot $200 to $300 worth of film a day. She started fostering my photography and pushing me in that direction.
[15:58] Also, around that time, I was getting a reputation for surfing and living that lifestyle on the North Shore, and Patagonia started sending me clothes not just to shoot, but to test. They would send me board shorts and a lot of the surf gear they were working on, and I'd take notes and send them back to their product team and it was a relationship that started and went on forever.
[16:24] This is an ad that they ran of me as a test tube pilot, back in the day.
[16:32] One day, out of the blue, around 2003, I had been getting stuff published with Patagonia, I had been doing articles for The Surfer's Journal, and I get a call from Yvon Chouinard. I thought it was one of my friends messing with me, this is one of my biggest heroes. I look up to this guy and all of a sudden he was talking to me on the phone and I thought it was my buddy just messing with me. He said he was going on a surf trip with him and his son on two of the Motu Islands, just north of Tahiti. He asked if I'd go, maybe write an article, and take some photos. I said, let me check my schedule. Of course, I dropped everything to go.
[17:14] I asked him if he wanted to go live on a pearl farm for about a week before the trip, there was this place I heard of that you could go work for your room and board, it's kind of wolfing. I didn't know if he would be into it, but he was stoked on the idea. We went to this island to work on the pearl farm and we lived in little plywood shacks for about a week, and we dove for pearls. Those are grafting pearls right there.
[17:46] It was rigorous work, you dove all day with the guys and you slept on a plywood shack, so Yvon and I just hit it off. He loves that kind of stuff. He really is a true blue adventurer, dirtbag that he seems like. He's really that kind of guy. He didn't mind sleeping on a floor in a plywood shack and diving all day, in fact, he loved it.
The Birth of Patagonia’s Surf Category
[18:11] During that trip he tells me that him and his son are going to relaunch the surfing component of the Patagonia brand. I've been paying close attention to Patagonia for years. I know that they’ve tried to do this four time years, and it's failed every time. It never stuck. They've done ads in The Surfer's Journal, they've put out product, but it never really took hold. I was a huge fan of Patagonia, but in the surf category they were missing the mark. They told me they were going to launch this whole thing, and I felt they were going to fail again. They were going about it the same way. Of course, I didn't tell them they were going to fail, I just thought about that and it got the wheels turning for me.
[18:56] These are the Malloy brothers that I was living with on the North Shore. That's Keith on the right, Dan, the youngest in the middle, and Chris on the end. I knew the Malloy brothers were looking for something different. They were surfing for Hurley, they had been pro surfers since they were about 15. They'd been peddling surf gear, for their whole lives, that they didn't totally support. It was just selling t-shirts for brands with that whole model 'you're a pro surfer so go out and buy some t shirts'. I knew they were looking for something different. I was too, I was still working as a flight attendant and a lifeguard, but I was starting to take pictures and write, and I was looking to do something different in my life too. The wheels started turning. Without talking to the brothers, I put together this whole plan that I was going to, eventually, pitch to Patagonia.
[19:51] I was in Ventura, one time, staying at one of the Malloy's family house, and I was hanging out with Yvon Chouinard a lot and having coffee. One day I was telling Yvon little snippets of what I thought about the whole surf program. One day I was over at his house, and he said, there was a friend there, why don't you tell my friend here what you're thinking. I unleashed this whole thing, I said, ‘you're going to launch the surf thing, it's going to fail, I've seen you do it 4 times in a row, you're going to do the same thing again’, this is 2003. I said Patagonia, ‘they have the best team, the best athletes, the best story, how come I don't know about the story, you guys don't do books, you don't do films, you have 3 t-shirts, t-shirts can be a huge part of your brand’. I just went off of everything I felt. Little did I know that the guy I was telling this to was the CEO of Patagonia, but he was just in flip flops and a t shirt, I had no idea this was a CEO. He asked, ‘what do you do’? I said, ‘I'm a lifeguard and flight attendant, taking photos’. That started a little buzz, and I went and told Chris about it, the oldest brother, and I told him what I was thinking and he said, ‘how long have you been working on this?’. I said, ‘a couple months, I've been poking around Patagonia, seeing who's who, and what's what’ and I told the CEO that you guys might be interested, are you interested? He said, ‘hell yeah, that sounds great’. Long story short, the Malloys got hired. They quit Hurley and they went onto Patagonia in 2004. It was a huge shockwave through the surf industry, because the Malloys had been with Hurley since they were 15, and they could have run the gravy train for the rest of their lives, and why would they quit that to go with an obscure, outdoor brand in Ventura?
[21:48] It was great. Now these guys, and I'm going to backtrack a little bit, they all got hired. It was a big buzz, they all got hired with Patagonia and I went back to Hawaii. I was thinking, ‘what am I doing?’, that's great, I brokered the whole deal, but now I'm just back home. I called Chris after a flight from Japan, for my flight attendant gig and I said, ‘I want that to be the last flight I ever do’ and he said, ‘get over here’. I went over there, I took a walk with the CEO, and I wrote him a letter. I said, ‘hey, I'm here, and I'm ready to work. You're going to need someone who wears many hats during this thing. You're going to launch the surf category. I can wear many hats, just my photography alone will be enough to justify my salary’. He hired me too.
[22:39] All four of us got hired to launch the Patagonia surf component. It was a huge endeavour, because at this point, no other brand had ever broken into the surf industry that didn't begin as a surf brand. There's a lot of other brands that have tried to get into surf but they’ve all failed, at this point. We had a lot of work ahead of us. I give Patagonia a lot of props for hiring a bunch of guys. None of us have a degree in Marketing. We’re not Accountants. We just have a lot of experience. That's what we were bringing to the table. I think that's what the Chouinard's recognized is that these guys know what they're talking about and they can bring a lot to the table, more than anybody else can.
Bend To Baja
[23:26] To launch this, we got hired in 2004, we worked on designing clothing, and wetsuits. We worked on developing a line for 2 years. On the marketing plan, the photos, the product. We were involved in everything — merchandising the catalogues, creating the ads, I was shooting the photos, we were working with the designers on product. Super exciting for us.
[23:59] We hit the road and we created a website called 'Bend To Baja'. We did a road trip from all the way up to Oregon, down to the tip of Baja on a truck that only runs on vegetable oil. This is Keith filling it up with veggie oil.
[24:16] It was a 40 day road trip where we worked our way down, this is Keith surfing Mavericks. Climbing in Smith Rock, Oregon. We were really into the idea of mixing climbing and surfing together. This is driving down through Oregon, Northern California, camping out in Baja, surfing in Baja, some more surfing down there.
[24:04] We were taking pictures, testing product and we were meeting people — just getting to know our backyard again — because we had been travelling all over the world at this point. Now, we were finally in our backyard where we grew up, rediscovering our homelands, so to speak. We found some climbing at the tip of Cabo San Lucas.
[25:03] What I didn't realize at the time, until years later was that in doing this, I had created the first Staff Photographer position, which is really cool. I thought Patagonia always had staff photographers, but the deal I set up and what I had been doing over the last couple years was basically the first staff photographer position, and I held that for the next 13 years or so.
Mountain of Storms
[25:36] Around 2006, we had a new plan, a new idea. There's this film called 'Mountain of Storms', and if I go back maybe 6 years, around ‘99 to 2000, Chris Malloy and I were visiting his parents in Ventura. This girl walked up to me that I knew, this was in 2000. She handed me this old dusty VHS tape and said, ‘I think you guys would really appreciate this film. You guys should watch it. It's been sitting in the Patagonia vault for 40 years and no one's supposed to watch it outside the company, so I snuck it out and I'm giving it to you guys to watch’.
[26:14] It's an old VHS tape, we brought it to his parents house and we turned it on. It was basically a trip that Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins did in 1968, they drove a van from Ventura, California all the way down to the tip of Patagonia to climb Mount Fitz Roy and they made this whole movie about it. It's scored to original music, it has blank spots for commercials. It's an hour and 20 mins long. It's a beautiful film. It's been sitting in a vault for 40 years. We looked at each other and wondered, how is this sitting in a vault? How come no one seen this? It's basically the story of their brand right under their noses.
[26:52] It was a trip, this is before they left, that's Doug Tompkins on the left and that's Yvon Chouinard, the second from the right. This is the trip that formed these guy's life, this is what changed their lives forever. This is 1968, Doug Tompkins had already started The North Face, and he'd already sold it by 1968. Yvon Chouinard had Yvon Chouinard equipment, but he hadn't started Patagonia yet.
[27:18] This was the trip that he went down to Patagonia and came back and decided I'm going to start making gear that can last in Patagonia, and I'm going to call it Patagonia. We're looking at each other like, this is the trip that defined these guy's characters, that defined the brand. We couldn't believe that no one had seen this, and no one had done anything with it. Immediately, we wanted to set out on our own and do a trip just like this. Chris had made, at that point a ton of surf movies.
180° South Documentary
[27:47] We talked about it for years, this was in 2000 when we saw it. Now it was 2006, and we talked about it, we said, ‘let's do that trip, now that we work for these guys, let's set out on our own and do something, either our own trip or in the spirit of these guys’. So we did. We convinced them that we could do this. We got the plan together to make this movie called 180° South, some of you may have seen it, I think these guys played it last night. In that movie one of the main things, there's a thing with climbers they call it sandbagging, when you tell someone it's really easy and it's super hard, or you take someone who's not a skier, skiing.
[28:35] On the way down to Fitz Roy, they go skiing and climbing, doing all this stuff, they are basically, sandbagging each other. The first part of the trip we wanted to climb El Capitan in Yosemite. It's a 3000ft wall, the dark shadowed area, over to the right, Yvon Chouinard did the first ascent in 1964, it's called The North American Wall. We said, ‘hey, let's climb the North American Wall in the spirit of Yvon. Let's take someone up there that's never climbed before, so we took Chris' middle brother, Keith. Keith is afraid of heights and he's only climbed a couple times in his life so we decided ‘hey, we're going to take you up that thing’. The poor guy didn't walk for days. We ended up getting caught in a storm, we were up there for 7 days.
[29:27] That's Keith in a sleeping bag, and poor guy, he barely even spoke the whole time. It was a great way to start out the trip, a big climb. This is a cave that's kind of a famous cave that Yvon slept in with his buddies when they did the first ascent, years and years ago. They got caught in a storm too, which is kind of ironic.
[29:51] I went down, I got a ride with a guy. I found a guy that was driving down to Mexico, because I needed to jump on a boat to Chile, so I went through Mexico. I got on the boat and sailed out between Cocos Island and The Galápagos. We had a little trouble out there, if you see the movie, we broke a mast, all kinds of stuff went wrong. We ended up in Easter Island, which they call Rapa Nui, for about a month kind of shipwrecked and then made it down to Chile.
[30:28] This is a mountain called Cerro Corcovado. It's down in Patagonia region, where Doug Tompkins has all these parks. I'm going to backtrack a little bit here. That trip that Doug and Yvon went on, Yvon came back and started Patagonia because of that trip. Doug went on to start Esprit. He sold his shares in the late 80s for billions of dollars and he took all his money down to Patagonia and he started buying up all this land and restoring it and giving it back to Chile as National Parks. Corcovado is a mountain inside his park. Right now they are being released into National Parks out there. We went down to hang out with Doug and to do a little climbing inside the park. The first thing we want to do is stand on top of Corcovado. The only person who had ever climbed this before was Doug Tompkins and he did it all by himself, back in the 80s or something.
[31:36] We hung out with Yvon, he came on the climb with us, and I'm telling you the guy really walks the walk. We were down there with some other Chilean climbers and one of the climbers said, are you Yvon Chouinard? He said ‘yeah’. And he goes, ‘no, you're not. you can't be, why don't you have any new Patagonia stuff? Your stuff's really old’. That jacket is from ‘99 or something, his pants are the same age. His boots are really old. His crampons and ice axe he forged himself in the 70s. He's really humble. They said, ‘why don't you have anything new’? And he said, ‘because I don't need anything new, if I'm making good product it should last forever’, he really said that. He really walks the walk.
[32:25] It took us about 3 days to circumnavigate that whole mountain and get through the jungle, and get to a place where we could actually make a bid for the summit. This is a place where they had a mudslide that came through all these trees, it's a beautiful, unique area.
[32:41] It was great to see Yvon climbing again, he hadn't climbed for a long time. At this time, I think he was around 69, 70 years old. He was having a blast. We took a friend of ours that we met on Easter Island, her name’s Micohay, and here's more of the sandbagging part. She'd never seen snow in her life and she's never been on any mountains like this so we took her climbing to Corcovado and she loved it. She was climbing glaciers and everything, just a little island girl.
[33:14] We get about 200ft from the summit and we get shut down, it just gets too dangerous. As you can see, the rock was like kitty litter, if you just touched it, like this, it would just crumble off. I'm standing on the edge of a 500ft drop and usually you have an anchor in there or something, but there's nothing to anchor it. Timmy's tied to me, my friend Timmy O'Neill and if he falls, he's tied to me, and we're just going to whip over the edge, 500ft onto a glacier. It is at this moment where he backed off and said it's too dangerous to go any further. It's a pretty heavy thing. You've come all this way and you've been thinking about it for years and we get right close to the summit and we get shut down. We had to back off.
[34:00] Here's Chris Malloy goofing around on the glacier. He's down below. He's not a climber. He didn't go but he's one of my best friends. It's so fun, this was a dream of ours. Here we are, and he's made about 10 of these so far, here we are working with our biggest heroes, best friends, and we're making a movie. It's just one of the greatest times of our lives. He's yelling at us through the CB, he just loves CBs and radios and stuff, he's just goofing up, but he's totally kidding, he says, ‘hey guys come down, I don't want you guys getting hurt’.
[34:34] The whole thing about climbing is it's about the climb, not about the summit, and if you're concentrating on the summit then something's wrong. Some of the best climbs, if you talk to any climbers, some of their best climbs are the ones that they failed on. Those are the ones you learn from. Those are the ones you usually have the best stories. If everything goes right, it's kind of boring and you just reached the summit, big deal. Climbing is all about the actual climb and your relationship with others and it's a good metaphor for life. I try to treat life as the same, it's not out here, it's in the moment that counts. It's something that was really prevalent in this climb, too. This is what we were doing, and who cares if we don't stand on the top of that.
[35:22] We came back down, this is Doug Tompkins, him and his wife Kristine (Kris) Tompkins, they have put their life’s work into developing this land for parks. Yvon and Patagonia, they've been putting a bunch of money into it as well. They've devoted everything into making these parks, and it's so great to hang out with him. He's such an interesting character. He just past away last year, and it's so sad. We're all going to miss him. Him and Yvon have been climbing together and they've been friends for 50 years at this point. That movie that Chris and I watched way back in 99, or 2000, it was these guys and they were climbing together, they were probably 25, 28 years old. To see him now, we went back down to the park and he said, ‘hey, there's another mountain here that we tried to climb that one time. We should give that a go’. Him and Yvon asked me if I wanted to go climb this mountain with him. I'm a climber, but alpine climbing is a bit scarier. You have a lot of things that can go against you. If things go wrong it can go really bad, I've read a lot of alpine books and they're all horrible stories.
[36:42] I had Gore-Tex gear and all kinds of stuff on me and I show up and look at Doug. He's in actual tennis shoes, that you play tennis in, his impressed slacks, he has a cashmere sweater on and a pressed shirt and a golf hat. That's his whole attire, he's like, ‘hey we're ready to go’, but he's so casual.
[37:08] The mountain is behind him, that peak up there. It's an unnamed peak and it's in one of his parks, that him and Yvon years later tried to climb. Yvon showed up, of course, in mountain climbing boots over 40 years old and they shattered to pieces 10 steps in, so they got shut down. They never made it up it, and this was going to be the second try.
[37:34] These guys are great. It's like the Turtle and the Hare. Yvon is probably 69 at this time, and he's just the turtle, he just walks forever, he's really slow, but consistent, and Doug was so fast I couldn't even keep up with him, he's 65. He had just had something put in his heart, he had a heart condition and he was like lightening, I couldn't even keep up with the guy, it was amazing.
[38:04] He used to deal with heavy politics down there in Chile. What he was doing, he wasn't the best communicator, so a lot of Chileans were a little suspicious of what he was doing. Here was this American coming down here and buying millions of acres, and what was he up to? So he had a lot of adversaries. He can be a very serious person, he deals with a lot of politics. It's not until recently that the Chilean people got behind what he's doing, because now he's giving these back as parks, and they're some of the biggest parks in the world. I think the biggest land preservations in the world.
[38:40] Getting Doug and Yvon out of their world and into what they do best, which is being climber, was so fun. The guards come down and they are the real true blue, they are just climbers, like every day guys. Such great guys to hang out with.
[39:02] This is where, it's classic. This is what these guys have been doing their whole lives, and as soon as you get them out onto the trail and they are out doing this they just turn into these kids. They have such a blast.
[39:15] This is early morning making our bid for the summit. This is a proud moment for me as a photographer. It was a difficult trip for me. I was in front of the camera, I was the main protagonist in the film, so I was being shot a lot, so a lot of times when this light is this beautiful I can't shoot, because I can't have my camera out while they're filming me. I was walking with my ice axe and I had a point shoot camera here and I clicked off 3 shots. I was trying to hold it in the right position and I ended up getting one of my favourite shots of the whole trip right here. We made it, we got to the top.
[39:57] It was the coolest thing, I've never done a first ascent before. Right before we get to the summit blocks, Doug steps aside, and he goes like this to me, go ahead, it's yours. I was standing there, and this was the summit, he said you've never done a first ascent, this is all yours. I looked at him and I said, ‘I can't, this is your mountain and your park, you guys have tried this once already, you have to be the first’. He went and stood up on it and it was beautiful, you can see all the peaks around and I said, ‘what are you going to name it?’ and he said, ‘Kristine’, after his wife. It was the coolest thing.
[40:39] That capped off the end of the movie. Looking back it's just, to be able to spend time with these guys that I've looked up to for so long, and to meet them on a real level and see what they're all about. You have your heroes, and sometimes you meet your heroes, and maybe it's not the best thing, you're disappointed. Sometimes your heroes are better if you don't meet them. Meeting these guys, they far exceeded my expectations. They were true blue legends.
Words to Live By
[41:11] The adventure goes on. My career evolved into this, I never set out to do this. It was something that took hold little by little. I just picked away at it. It was a lot of work, and it has just organically taken place. If I can give one bit advice it would be, whatever you're getting into, whatever it may be, just pour your entire life into it and have it become you, that's what these guys have done. What they do is, it's not just something they do, it's their whole life, it's who they are. Now, I'm getting a bit older and I can look back and if I have a little success it has to do with me just pouring myself into this whether I was going to make money or not. That was never the goal for me. I think if you really pour your heart into it, that's a success. If you're pouring your heart into something, it's not going to be the money, or any monetary reward in the end. I think that will come, if you believe in it.
[42:15] The adventure continues! I've been shooting now for about 17 years, professionally for about 15 years, and I just keep picking away at it (Jeff shows photo reel).
[42:29] Here's New York, we snuck onto the Brooklyn Bridge at 2 in the morning, shot some photos up there.
[42:38] The New York Public Library.This didn't happen by the way, this did not happen.
[42:47] That's on El Capitan, in Yosemite. Same guys, exhausted.
[42:56] Ramón Navarro, he's a famous surfer from Chile. He's an environmentalist also.
[43:01] On top of El Capitan.
[43:14] And there's Yvon. I love to do portraits. To me this says it all. I got to spend time with Yvon in a place where it all began for him. We're on a boat down in remote Patagonia. He's drinking Mate, that he loves, and I got this shot. It's what I believe a portrait should be, it's somebody really in their element. It shows a lot of history here.
[43:38] I'm going to leave you guys with the video here. Just to give you a little backstory on this. When we made the movie 180° South, we had about 200 hours of footage to make an hour and a half film, so you can imagine the stuff that was on the cutting floor. Chris Malloy, the Director, started putting these short movies together. They are all about 5 minutes, just some leftover film. Hopefully, we can hear this. This is Yvon talking about, what he calls the 'roadtrip from hell', and it's about hitchhiking through the United States and it goes back to being a delinquent. Yvon was a delinquent when he was young too and I think he still thinks like a delinquent. That's how he's done business, he just breaks all the rules and does whatever he wants.
I really appreciate the time here. Thank you very much, I'm going to leave you with a great film.
(Clip from 180° South)