I felt like writing about it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything more than a list or a short script and I suppose this isn’t really the kind of thing I’d normally be writing about but it feels good so I’m going with it. I think I just want to get some thoughts out there for some clarity.
I’m going to start by talking briefly about how life has been for me over the last 7 or so years, and to give some background on the more significant details of my journey, especially the parts that have now changed. I’ll try to keep the long stories short.
Over a decade ago before YouTube and Instagram, I was a professional athlete, flat water kayak racing for Great Britain on either the marathon or sprint team and often both. Things got serious at age 15 (2001) and I raced competitively every year until I was 25, it’s safe to say that for most of my time I was in my own world, life was relatively simple; I pretty much only did things that make me faster in a kayak.
I started taking an interest in photography when I was 15-16, I bought my first DSLR (Canon 350D) age 18 and produced my first video 11 years ago whilst on a kayak training camp in Hungary (Pimp My Kayak, a spoof of Pimp My Ride) exclusively for the amusement of my team mates. It went down pretty well in the global kayaking community so I made a part two, premiered it at the National Championships and sold Pimp My Kayak merchandise just for fun.
Over the next 3 years a made a couple of other videos and took a lot of photos, until 2010 when I started a small kayak gear company called Race Pace, I sold paddles, t-shirts, stickers and anything else I could sell with PayPal buttons online or at races, of course my boat and paddles had sick branding on them always, that was my favourite part. 2010 was also the year I won the Marathon World Championships, improving on my 2nd place in 2009. At this stage I really started to work on my own brand, creating unique and fun content to please my sponsors and strengthen my value as a professional athlete. Looking back now it was really just me and my GoPro filming the fun times travelling and racing, just working on having more of a platform online to share experiences. Until I met Louis Cole, who introduced me to YouTube & Vlogging.
In 2013 I was still kayaking full time when Louis and YouTube came into my life. I had been dating Nicole for a year since my second trip to South Africa, when I made my first Visual Vibes, before Visual Vibes was even a thing. Nicole was studying in Cape Town and I was chasing my heart as always, ready to do (another) long distance relationship. I was in a pivotal time in my life, feeling free to chose my path and ready to create. I had only visited Cape Town twice, but had fallen in love with Nicole, the city and South Africa, it was one big adventure waiting to happen. Since I had decided to pursue film production, I worked to find clients who needed videos for their company websites, I also spent time emailing and pitching to the brands I actually wanted to make films for. With encouragement from Louis I was finding my feet with a vlog here and there, shot on GoPro Hero 2 much to the disgust of some YouTube vlog fans! I was just making it up as I went along, I knew I wanted to make films, travel & be self employed but I certainly hadn’t considered a career in sharing my whole life online through video.
The next part of this short history involves a friend of mine, Jackson Harries, who completely changed my life. Louis was guiding me with the vlogging, YouNow & Instagram, showing me how the whole thing worked, learning about growth and introducing me to lots of people who helped influence my content, communication and monetisation of my platforms. I had three goals; freedom to go to Cape Town anytime I wanted, financial sustainability and constant progression of my skills in film and photography. YouTube & Instagram facilitated that, and within 10 months I had 100,000 subscribers, I was making $1,000 a month from my views and having the time of my life. This was thanks largely to my incredible audience watching and supporting me through buying my t-shirts, and of course the inspiring friends I was making along the way. Jack Harries is one of the most inspiring young people I know and has had a huge role in my career as a film maker. Louis had shown Jack my South Africa Road Trip ‘Visual Vibes’ (see below), luckily Jack enjoyed it and invited me to help shoot a series in India called ‘The Rickshaw Run’ to be featured on Jack’s YouTube channel. This expedition however, clashed with the Marathon World Championships later in the year, which I had been training very successfully for since November the previous year (see vlog Ep.1). Needless to say there were a few people who were confused to hear that I opted to join the India expedition rather than take another shot at a world championship title, but I knew India was a crazy good opportunity so I followed my gut and chased the dream. India was of course mind blowing, I still need to get the vlog footage and make something with it. The series was just perfect, such a great documentation of a life changing journey for all seven of the team, I love watching it every now and then we were so amped for adventure! I remember on the flight home saying to Louis ‘when I get home I’m going daily with the vlogs’ he was so happy and I couldn’t wait to dive into this crazy online journey.
This is getting way too detailed, so here’s a few years squished into short; I did a lot of daily vlogs, travelled around the world, spent as much time as possible in Cape Town with Nicole, spent a lot of time finding a balance between making a living and not selling out to brands I didn’t like/use/respect, explored Southern Africa, made a lot of friends in Cape Town, figured out I was super thankful that my audience didn’t freak out when they saw me in real life, worked on being more real in my content to maintain their respect, invested all my earnings into camera gear, travel, food, coffee, more coffee (so the vlogs get edited everyday), flew in helicopters over mountains and cities, became brothers with Steve Booker on some of the most epic adventures I’ve ever been on (Canada Visual Vibes), figured out (with the help of Steve) how to work with brands and integrate sponsored content without disrespecting my audience, I made Visual Vibes films which were just a way of expressing the work I was most proud of, I bought a Land Rover Defender, became friends with moved in with and went on tour with a rock star named Jeremy Loops, passed my motorbike test, flew a plane, went down the clickbait route for views and growth, made over 1000 vlogs, started to get tired of editing for 6 hours a day, couldn’t keep up with the demand of consistent high quality vlogs AND continue enjoying it, kept doing it anyway because everyone was telling me I’d be crazy to stop now, realised over time my happiness is actually more important than vlogging, slowly eased off the vlogs whilst hating myself reading comments and feedback about how ungrateful I was and how much I’m letting my audience down, made a 360 VR video thingy, went to the Rio Olympics, joined an astronaut on an Arctic expedition, made the Arctic Visual Vibes film, toured Australia with Jeremy Loops and made Maldives Visual Vibes which brings us to around one year ago from right now.
This time last year Nicole and I were planning our expedition to Kenya. Preparation of Pumba our 110 Defender took a lot of time, money and energy, but we finally managed to hit the road 3 weeks late to start our 3 month 24,000km round trip up to Kenya via Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi. It was the best trip I’ve ever done, we had the time of our lives! We shot a lot and edited a lot of content on the road, but I was often choosing to experience real life instead of editing for hours everyday. In retrospect the lack of internet should’ve been embraced rather than stressed about, a drive through Africa is not so easy, Nicole and I were googling things more frequently than I think we’d like to admit. Not happy with just driving up to Kenya back, I found sponsors to help fund a team of six friends to fly up and join us in Kenya for 3 weeks, shooting an epic Kenya Visual Vibes film ending ending with the great migration of wildebeests through the Masai Mara. Self driving to the migration was the ultimate goal for Nicole and I. Needless to say the whole trip was a life changing challenge, the journey was nothing short of epic. My now close friend Naude Heunis did an incredible job of producing the Kenya film, it’s in the edit and we’re not rushing it. I think it's going to be a game changer but it needs finishing.
So yeah, living the dream!
During these years my life plans were in motion, I worked for myself, I could go see Nicole in Cape Town anytime I wanted, and my film making and photography were improving, it was an amazing lifestyle until I started to resent the amount of work I put into the vlogs, they were my bread and butter and I loved making them but it just wasn’t sustainable and it took me a long time to realise that. People would tell me I was being lazy not uploading everyday, the disappointment from people was so real I never let myself admit that I just didn’t have the energy for it anymore. All I wanted to do was put the energy I had left into working on me. I think a lot of people tuned in for the ‘positive vibes’ in my content, always asking how I stay so positive about life etc etc, I truly had nothing to complain about. Whilst I was figuring out why I was so unhappy with vlogging, I felt guilty for not enjoying it anymore. A lot of my audience would give their big toe to have my lifestyle, how ungrateful of me, I thought. Thankfully I’ve been trying to give less fucks about people’s opinions for many years now, but still it’s been difficult to allow myself time to stop and figure out A. what does all this invested time and work/art mean? B. how do I start working my way towards wherever it is I personally want to go? and C. why isn’t ‘JUST WORK HARDER!’ making me happy anymore?! Now that I’m writing this I can’t believe how much I ignored my body’s cries for change, bad sleep, anger, frustration, stress, mild depression and anxiety caused by either doing my work or not doing my work. ‘I’ll figure it out.’ became my mantra, anyway now I'm figuring it out, it's just taken a long time.
In October last year, the dream job arrived in my inbox; the Audi Sport film. I saw this film as many potential opportunities but mostly I wanted to work with my friends to make something bigger and better, I wanted progress. I threw everything I had at this film with the hope of transitioning towards a ‘less is more’ chapter of my career. It was an ambitious project for me of course but my good friend Jaqueline Stone was producing the film, she really pushed a lot of the challenges over the line to really make that film happen. It was a steep learning curve of communication, trust, persistence, patience, professionalism, team work and creative collaboration. Audi was a big deal for me since I finally had complete creative freedom with a brand I have a lot of respect for. We to create something I know most of my audience would enjoy. A lot of dreams moments came to life with this production, it was both the hardest and most rewarding project I’ve ever undertaken and I’m incredibly proud of everyone involved in the production team for pulling it off. I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Audi project took over 5 weeks to film in November, I also managed to edit the Jeremy Loops music video ‘Waves’ which the team shot in Mozambique in September (forgot about that!) which is why I only managed four vlogs in December. We were all busy resting after a long year and we were trying to make a start to the huge edit; Kenya Visual Vibes.
2018 was different right from the start. I was unrealistic about work, post production projects and trying to line up future productions, all whist getting my fitness back up in an attempt to keep pushing through. I guess I was just hoping there was light at the other end if I could just work hard enough. Then the universe gave me a back hand; I came off my bike and fractured my elbow, requiring me to stop everything I was doing, cancel all my travel/work plans and enjoy my first surgery. I thank my lucky stars I didn’t come off worse, and looking back now I wouldn’t change a thing. One plate and seven screws later at least my arm is back together but fuck the next few day were painful! ‘Pain is only temporary, winning lasts forever!’ - all my coaches ever. But this pain was different, physically I could handle the pain but the whole situation was really getting me down. My new injury was a big let down for many people, work plans were cancelled, people lost money, I lost money, and now I've lost time as well. I was so angry at myself, I was just starting to get my shit together, but in retrospect I was still lying to myself, some big scary changes were needed. I didn’t want to do anything or be seen in this state, I stayed in my bedroom and spent a few days trying to avoid the inevitable conversation with myself, titled; Let’s be honest here.
I wanted to escape the fear of not knowing who I was or who I wanted to be, WHY AM I STILL NOT GETTING IT RIGHT WHY DON’T I LOVE MY LIFE?! Why don’t I love myself? What’s making me unhappy? I’m asking myself these questions whilst wishing I could hit reset on the last year. I’ve never, ever wished I could hit reset on anything. As I contemplated with honesty all the aspects of my life that aren’t hitting the mark or are causing me stress, I cried. I’ve only really cried like that a couple of times before in my life, when I was younger if I’d fucked up a really important kayak race or when I stupidly wrote off my first car (Dad wasn’t stoked and he got the message across) and at my Nana’s funeral where I really let myself cry properly. As I cried I couldn’t move, I could barely breath, tears and a bit of dribble collected on the pillow as a feeling of toxic energy poured out of me, I was scared of this weakness I don’t usually allow myself to embody. I caught myself repeating unhelpful mantras in my head; ‘YOU DON’T GOT THIS’ ‘IT’S SO MUCH WORSE THAN YOU THINK’ I lay in my bed wondering what the fuck was going on?! I’d truly lost the plot. I’d fucked it all up, how did I let my life get so far away from me?
The toughest realisation was that Nicole and I weren’t meant to be together anymore, it was my fears that were actually holding us both back. Pretty real conversation to have after 6 years, we'll always be friends and we really have had an incredible time together, what a great part of my life, I mean we drove to Kenya and back ffs! Nicole is such a legend, mostly for putting up with me for so long, I’ll always love her, I wouldn’t change a thing.
After many days of big hearty, achey, snotty cries, I realised I was fucking soundtracking myself into crying, I was craving it, I was allowing myself to really feel it. After every cry I’d feel a bit better, like I was physically releasing all the pent up toxic bullshit; fear, anger and sadness pouring from my chest. I began to ask myself, who’s business is it to say what I should or should not be crying about, and who gives a fuck anyway? I rejected the popular teachings of ‘man up, boy’ which allowed space for my feelings and took responsibility for them, it felt good to let that shit flow. Oh and half my face stopped working, one morning in February I woke up with a condition called Bell’s Palsy, caused by stress, the left side of my face was non-operational. I had to laugh, my body was making it clear that I need some time to sort my mental health out, you can’t ignore a saggy face in the mirror! Luckily my face recovered in about 3-4 weeks although my left eye blinks a little slower now.
I also put a vlog out since everyone was badgering me for a life update, it's pretty real, but was also the start of something really good; sharing! See vlog -
A lot of different emotions had built up over the last 6 years (or more who knows) that I hadn’t made space for, too busy ‘on my grind’ spouting my ‘positive vibes’ routine, with no time, energy or interest in my mental health. Pushing fears aside to do a bungee jump or build a career on YouTube is one thing, but I was suppressing emotions in order to deliver ‘the best version’ of myself to my online audience. If people were watching my videos I considered it my obligation to bring some positivity to people, in the ways I knew how. I still consider it my obligation, which is part of the reason why I think it’s important to share these awakenings I’ve had recently.
The life of a professional athlete requires ultimate routine, so when I stopped competing and went rogue into the online world I just adapted my routine to suit the development of my work as a travel film maker and photographer. I’ve always been taught to embrace change since it’s often inevitable, and human resistance to it clearly results in anger and fear. But big changes come with a level of uncertainty, that’s the risk I’m usually looking for, I take risks to avoid the scariest scenario of them all; a safe existence. Average is the last thing I want. When it comes to the things I love doing I always push it further each time, risk is required for progress and learning. We’re reminded constantly ‘don’t get comfortable’ ‘work harder’ ’sacrifice it all’ ‘nothing gets in the way of greatness’ etc etc you’ve seen it all on my Twitter and it’s undeniable, it takes a lot of risk and sacrifice to become world class in any aspect of life, there’s a lot of humans out there and we’re raised to be a competitive bunch. It took me 10+ years to win the marathon kayaking world championships and I certainly couldn’t have done it alone.
I guess what I’m getting at is this; none of that bullshit I was concerned with a few months ago even matters, and I should’ve allowed myself to be ME a long time ago. In life, if something makes you feel good and you love it, whatever it is, recognise it and let it feel good, if it makes you FEEL fucking GREAT then follow it. If something makes you FEEL terrible then change/remove/avoid it reconsider your position and communicated about it. Happy or sad, communication of feelings with people also inspires others to drop their guard and be themselves. Do not think that you’ll find happiness by being someone other than you, it just doesn't work that way!
I’d like to add that through all of this I’ve been super lucky, always surrounded by incredible friends. I almost feel bad for how quickly I’ve bounced back from this episode, as far as shit times go I’m aware I was dealt an easy hand but I was also in a good position to recover quickly thanks to friends, who are now family. The key is to communicate, open up and share how you’re really feeling with no holding back, no concern for how weak you might seem, allow yourself to be vulnerable. For me it was such a big release when I finally had a good cry, about how overwhelmed and scared I was that I’d fucked it all up. I really believe that releasing those pent up emotions is maybe the most healthy thing I’ve done lately. I felt physically lighter for sharing. Your vibe attracts your tribe, my advice is just be yourself.
We’re now almost in June and I feel like a completely different person. At my low I asked myself ‘What’s making me unhappy?’ and proceeded to make big changes to many aspects of my life. Putting my mental health first started with familiarising myself with all these feelings and learning how to deal with them. This is maybe the most important thing I’ve ever had to learn. I now have space to understand what it is that really makes me happy, and I'm in no rush. There are (and have always been) many reasons for me to be happy of course, no denying that.
Prioritising communication seems to have changed my life the most, SPEAK ABOUT IT (whatever it is) verbalise that shit, AND LISTEN when people try to open up. I promise it’s the key to avoiding drama in all aspects of life, it helps you be understood by those around you, and frees you from holding onto heavy thoughts and feelings, express yourself for good health. Communication and sharing helps me understand who is and isn't on my wavelength, it helps see and avoid situations I’m not happy with or that could cause unnecessary stress. Communication also helps bring close friends/family closer. My experiences with sharing to my friends and family are helping me become a better listener, especially since I've been really letting myself feel those feelings!
Things that make me happy; to be in/near nature, to be close to my friends and family, to make things that cause emotion in others.(although I get a lot of joy from my friends I must in the end be responsible for my own happiness and an individual) other sources of happiness include but are not limited to; making things to express myself. Listening to my body. Cry heavy tears of both joy and sadness, regardless of who’s watching or what the circumstances are, just feel it, this can be overwhelming, especially joy since we’re not meant to cry when sad let alone when we’re happy! Fuck it, this has been my recent awakening, against the odds I’m a crying feeling man in 2018, maybe I feel things more intensely than you (I am a Pisces) or many not, but one thing is for sure I’ve got both feet on the ground and more clarity in my life than ever before. What a crazy beautiful journey.
Right now I’m still in the process of tidying up my life, work has been crazy and I can’t even imagine how I would’ve coped if I wasn’t working freelance, maybe a lot better actually?! And this writing is all over the place but it feels good to get my thoughts mapped out a bit, I’ll see how this goes down and maybe elaborate on some other lessons I’ve been learning recently. For now just know that I’m feeling powerful, I’m carrying a no BS policy and I feel like I’m closer to finding my purpose.
I’ve learnt that the horrible feeling of anxiety and fear that sits in my chest raising my heart rate, is not normal. I used to think, hey that’s life, that’s work and that’s what happens when you’re committed. As I’m starting to listen to my body I’m also learning to make healthy decisions in all aspects of my life, from relationships, family, business and simply how I spend my time.
Hope this was interesting or insightful, thanks for reading.