Said Yes More: 2015 in Review
As December’s last days tick by it’s natural to take a look at the last twelve months. Knowing I’m going to put an annual review together is a decent motivation to ensure the year counts, and it’s a good reminder that however much we have to say no in order to get our focus correct, it’s the yeses that count, because they’re the things that happened…
A last-minute decision meant landing in Colorado in board shorts having flown straight in from the British Virgin Islands. At minus 20 this wasn’t the most sensible start to the year, but two weeks with Tikka the Malamute ensured warm cuddles and an unusually stationary fortnight for editing and writing.
A spontaneous event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota gathered together an audience of 150 to listen to five speakers for the first Adventure Stories evening, raising over $600 for Project Origin, my mission to plant 1,000,000 trees through adventure. Speakers included local photographer Wes Eisenhauer and Rob and Robyn Green, who had joined me on a SUP circumnavigation of Martinique the previous month.
The Adventure Travel Show at London Olympia is an annual event in my calendar. It’s not always this random though: the man in the hat during my lecture turned out to be non other than magician Paul Daniels!
The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival provided a fine excuse to do two of my favourite things, visit Scotland, and on a sleeper train! I was lucky enough to be one of two headline speakers alongside National Geographic Photographer Cory Richards. Having a beer with this man is dangerous, watch this space for adventure!
As this year had begun I’d made a decision to switch things up. I felt the nearing of too-much-comfort in my work and wanted to concentrate on a new skillset. So, with ever-shortening nails but not a little excitement, I decided to let go of 95% of my speaking income in order to spend time making films, 52 of them in a year, to be exact.
I figured the only way I’d improve my filming skills would be to get out there and find some cool stories. It wouldn’t have felt right without a challenge though, so it seemed sensible to attempt to exchange my still-progressing filming and editing skills for food, accommodation and travel. Well, the only way we find out these things is to try, right?
Almost immediately I got the most unlikely break. Considering I usually spend over 100 nights a year in a tent or a hammock, making films for a company called Small Luxury Hotels of the World couldn’t have been weirder!
First stop was Helsinki, Finland, where I dogsledded in a suit and in a sad moment of non-concentration saw the final demise of my much-crashed first camera drone, as it tumbled 60ft to the earth below after striking the top of a tree.
I’ve never been a fan of cold water, so this was just a cruel dare. The ice around this swim hole was half a foot thick, and having to rush to this spot from a steaming sauna just prolonged the agony. Man!
Something has been cooking on London’s South Bank this year. It was nothing to do with me, but the brainchild of my friend Danny Bent has proved to be an integral part of London’s new life-positive community. Project Awesome started as a free fitness movement but has become so much more than that. It’s joy, fun, colour and medicine all wrapped into a huge jumping ball of attitude. If you live in London, get involved!
First stop in March was Turkey. Istanbul is a thriving, multicultural city right on the cusp of Europe and Asia.
From steamed chestnuts to visiting private antiques shops with new friends and then wandering off and photographing them from above without them knowing, Turkey wasn’t all that I’d imagined…
And a great deal of this was because of Cappadocia. Slap bang in the middle of the country, it was a relief to just touch down after two aborted landings in treacherous icy conditions. Eventually we flew to another airport, where I had to plead with the pilot to let the passengers off the plane because he was hoping to refuel and then go and try another landing at the original icy death-airport. Madness!
But the adventure was worth it just to see the remarkable landscape of Cappadocia, the legacy of thousands of years of volcaic ash being eroded away by the elements.
This is the world’s biggest commerical hot air balloon site, and another chance to face up to a lack of fondness for heights.
I couldn’t quite believe the control the balloon pilots had over their craft. We dipped down into valleys and rose up again right at the final moment. It’s probably the most exhilarating low-speed activity you can imagine!
Back to making films about ridiculously posh hotels, off I swooped to the west coast of Malaysia and an island called Pangkor Laut, where home was a hut built on stilts over the ocean and monitor lizards crawled the beaches beneath monkeys in the trees.
One downside to filming these places, I found, was the lack of time to go for a dip. So many lovely pools, no swimming!
Next stop: Burma. Another island resort, boasting booze by the pool (no time for this)…
…and thieving monkeys, who waited until I returned to my room and nipped inside when I turned my back in order to dig out my naughty chocolate stash. Cheeky bugger!
I don’t expect any tiny violins in response to this next sentence, but I was realising that it doesn’t matter how picturesque a place, if you’re working and can’t experience it to the full some frustration starts to brew. I was revelling in a brand new challenge (creating a short film in just two days is no easy feat, let alone doing it for weeks on end, time and time again) and seeing big improvements in my eye for a shot and how to tell a story. But little did I know it, but the job was coming to an end.
I’d been expecting to continue filming hotels and their awesome surroundings for two more months (seriously, you make one decision and the world conspires to help you!) but all of a sudden I got an email to say the contract had been cancelled. So there I was in Kuala Lumpur airport wondering what the heck to do next, and decided there was only one option: let’s go epic.
I looked at the departures board and thought, ‘right, where haven’t I been yet?’ And ten minutes later I’d booked a ticket to Bali without a plan in the world. With a cheeky look around the departure lounge I could see only one power socket right next to one of those big, huggy massage chairs. I took a seat and an alarm went off, so I popped a coin in and set to work, all the while being massaged deliciously. Long story short, I emailed every surf camp in Bali that Google could find, offering up my availability as a filmmaker in return for board. Twenty minutes later I received a reply, and six hours later arrived at Rapture Camps, Bali. The next morning, it was time to surf.
The boss at RaptureCamps, Josh, made a great offer the next day. Not only could I stay and eat for free in return for making daily films for the resident surfers (who were of all levels), but I could also charge a small fee for anyone who wanted to take some memories away with them.
This is where my drone came into its own. Imagine finally riding your first ever wave and having the memory caught by a flying camera! I got a couple of hours surfing in myself each day, but my experience in southern Bali was all the better for taking pride in capturing these cool holiday moments for my new friends.
At the end of a day I’d settle in to whichever pile of cushions took my fancy and edit together a film of the day, as well as individual folders of pics and videos for each surfer. Having a job like this was an instant ice-breaker, and those ten days were some of my fondest of the year.
It was a far more relaxed and automonous working routine (there was time for swimming) now I was in charge of my own destiny, andreminded me of that decision I made so many years ago to go live on my own terms. This was a fantastic way to find new determination to create - not wait for - my favoured work in the future.
Every morning Bambu Indah founder John Hardy leads a walk called Spearing Garbage, Talking Trash along local streets and through jungle. Picking up litter along the way to educate walkers and locals alike, John is leading the way in coupling the simplicity of walking with cleaning up the planet.
During my final week in Bali I made a couple of visits to the Green School, voted in 2012 the Greenest School on Earth. With a backdrop of unique, stunning architecture to the laid back, project-oriented education encouraged here, I loved giving a couple of lectures at the school, and the kids seemed to enjoy forming a big YES for my camera drone!
Ever since skateboarding across Australia in 2006 I’d wanted to travel back across the country a different way. The Indian Pacific is one of the world’s best long distance train journeys, and I loved crossing this big, red, empty country once more. This time in a much easier fashion!
As you can imagine, Droney got plenty of attention from my fellow passengers when I sent her skywards over the outback town of Cook, South Australia. Man, I’ll never tire of these Nullarbor views.
I arrived in Sydney not knowing what my next plans were. I stayed for two days with my friend Dov, the founder of Hammock Bliss, and then received a mail from an old friend — another blast from the past.
In September 2006, as I skated my way across Australia’s Nullarbor, a line of 4x4 vehicles pulled over. They were led by a man named Vic Widman, who was about as Australian as you could imagine. They kindly donated some money and rushed off on their way.
These days Vic runs Australia’s leading four wheel drive training centre off in the bushlands of New South Wales, and he extended a couldn’t-be-refused invitation to join him for a long weekend as he put 15 clients through their paces.
It seemed to be the perfect place for me to take my first driving lesson, so I gamely jumped in the front seat and got a taste of what I’d been missing for the first 35 years of my life. Because, I mean, driving is always like this, right?
Following up a dare from someone on Facebook, I returned to the west coast of Australia and took a ferry across to Rottnest Island, the home of the world’s happiest animal: the Quokka. This was a delightful two days in the company of the most friendly, inquisitive and downright cute creatures I’ve ever met.
All that Quokka chasing, not to mention the non-stop nature of the last three months, meant a rest was on the cards. A fine friend made their cabin in Chamonix available but I couldn’t quite put the camera down, the view was just too nice. And I was gently falling in love with making timelapses, too…
May ended in Berlin, at a conference called Alive. My friend Jana had invited me to speak, but I wasn’t expecting to be on stage straight after sex and intimacy expert Kim Anami. Kim is famed for a rather unusual Instagram campaign involving her hobby of vaginal weight lifting (she calls it Vaginal Kung Fu). Sadly Kim didn’t give us a live show, so I started my own performance with an effort to lift the audience’s disappointment!
My first decision in June was to impact the next few months more than I could have imagined. For the first time in a long time, I opted to stay in the UK for the entire Summer to see if my Facebook audience could become real friends by inviting strangers to come and camp under the stars.
This idea of actively creating and bonding a community by organising regular get-togethers - most of them under the stars - gathered pace in June. We did all sorts, from regular campouts to filmmaking workshops in Wales, testing out a brand new form of suspended tent called a Tentsile and leading 20 people in a stand up paddleboard weekend down the Thames. The YesTribe was forming…
When my friend Al told me he’d never been paddleboarding we decided to head to Dorset on a Microadventure, which ended up in the most unlikely of places.
The first weekend of July called for another group paddleboarding adventure. This time we took on the Cornwall coast, so cool seeing so many first-timers take to SUP in not-so-easy conditions…
Really delighted to win a first filmmaking award. It’s not quite Cannes, but this short film about our SUP circumnavigation of Martinique won best Expedition Film at the Wild Film Festival.
And as you can see from the hoards in this film, our campouts were going from strength to strength and now included a unique bonding technique — just how many people can squeeze into a Tentipi Olivin?! I’ll tell you, 25!!!
A lovely little campout on Box Hill in Surrey started off the month in style, and plans were beginning to brew for a slightly larger gathering later in the year.
I’m not going to lie. It was both an honour and also slightly weird to feature in this film as an ambassador for Keen Footwear. At some point in 2016 some lucky bugger is going to get to join me for a night under the stars…
Somehow it took until this year to visit Rome for the first time. Such a cool city, full of energy and action and history.
My last stop in Italy was a spa resort in Lake Garda. I’ve never been able to write sentences like that before and don’t anticipate much similar opportunity in the future, so better make the most of it!
The team at Escape the City have consistently offered opportunities for more inspired work to the people of London (and further afield) and I was super excited to be asked to make a film about their second annual microfestival.
Escape to the Woods was my second favourite weekend of the year (the best is yet to come, below ;)) and brought together an amazing group of people, inspiring speakers, acts, spontaneous dance-offs and a bit of Project Awesome. I think this is probably the best film I’ve made in 2015 and it was all down to the awesomeness of the event, the people who attended and the organisers. I defy you to watch this and not want to go to the next one!
Each year I team up with Ocean Ambassador Emily Penn to run an adventure with a difference called Exploring Mindset. This time around we added a new venture to the list and flew into Memphis, Tennessee.
We made our way down the Mississippi River in two canoes (and with two Stand Up Paddleboards), camping each night on the banks and structuring the week with workshops and activities designed to take everyone present to the next level in their personal and professional lives.
Remember, there’s a superhero hiding inside all of us!
Make sure you don’t miss Exploring Mindset Mississippi in 2016.
Unquestionably the best weekend not just of my year, but my life, October ended with the first festival I’d had the pleasure of organising.
Along with a wonderful team, none of whom I’d known before the Summer began, we took the groundwell of positivity and success of endless campouts and turned it into an event we’ll never forget.
With over 30 speakers and 140 guests, this felt like the beginning of something really special. The culmination of a little dream I had when founding Say Yes More in 2012, finally this was it. The first Yestival.
In November I ticked another item off my YesList, with a first article in the British Airways HiLife magazine. I thoroughly recommend taking on one of these 5 adventures costing £500 or less.
After several months of preparation and planning it was time for another journey to begin. My friend Leon McCarron and I flew to Jerusalem at the end of November to get ready for a 1000 mile walk around the heart of the Middle East. Once complete in the Spring of 2016, this would become the 12th journey of my Expedition1000 project.
Our aim for this trip was to shed some fresh light on what was actually happening in a region we’re so used to hearing about in a negative light on the news. This was my first visit to the Middle East and my first big journey for over a year, it felt great to be getting back into old habits.
Within a day of walking from Jerusalem we’d made it into the wilderness. Through Jericho 260m below sea level and then up to 900m above, we spent two weeks hiking through the West Bank before crossing into Jordan, and the experience left a huge impression on me.
Shortly after crossing into Jordan for the second leg of the trip, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture and ordered by the doc to take weight off my feet for a month. Although frustrating, these things are all part of the story and I write this on the approach to New Year with my foot nicely elevated, tucked inside a very good looking boot.
It has been another incredible year. Not that anything more than ensuring we reach our final day with the ability to look back and think I couldn’t have done more should be needed for motivation, but as with any long journey breaking it down into smaller pieces makes everything seem more achievable.
These reviews not only give me reason to spend my days, weeks and months wisely in order to fill them with new experiences, but also a chance to look back and remember the whats, hows and whys.
Special thanks to so many people for making this another memorable year, nothing worthwhile happens completely alone.
Say Yes More ;)