Extreme kayaker and National Geographic grantee Trip Jennings takes a harrowing journey that almost ends in tragedy during his source-to-sea first descent of the Pandi River in Papua New Guinea.
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia
Current City: Portland, Oregon
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was growing up-from about sixth grade until high school-all I wanted to be was a climbing bum. I read all of the stories about Yosemite and the climbers living in Camp 4, climbing every day, pushing the limits of the sport, and that's what I wanted to do. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, there wasn't much rock to climb but there is a river flowing right through the city and a thriving whitewater kayaking scene, so the climbing thing didn't last.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I got started shooting video when I was maybe 14, after watching whitewater kayaking videos over and over and over again. I decided that what I really wanted to do was exactly what my heroes of these videos were doing. So, I borrowed my high school sweetheart's parents' video camera and started shooting.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to the environment?
After years of kayaking and producing whitewater videos all around the world, I realized that I was missing something. Every filming trip, I would paddle my kayak through some of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world, but to get there I would have to travel through some of the most destroyed. Clear cuts, mines, megadams, and many other examples of environmental degradation line the banks of rivers. Seeing this beauty and destruction motivated me to devote my life to protecting the wild places that remain.
What's a normal day like for you?
I spend a fair amount of my time wishing for normal days, trying to find balance. I'm out and about for around half the year, traveling, filming, and working on conservation projects. In 2011 that led me to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Canada three times, Mexico, and a number of trips within the U.S. The rest of the year I spend editing, fund-raising, and planning, all of the office work that makes the fieldwork possible and useful.
So, half the year I'm waking up at sunrise in the wilderness, getting dirty, carrying cameras into the backcountry, and documenting beauty and destruction. The other half I'm waking up and walking to my Portland office to click and drag most of the day.
Do you have a hero?
For years I've said my hero is Mike Fay. Now that I've worked with him a bit ... it's still true. Mike is dedicated, and guided by the wild, not society or ladder climbing. He's a little crazy and willing to do things few others will to accomplish giant conservation success.
What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
The most amazing experience I've had in the field was shooting the final scene in the documentary Spoil. Photographer Paul Nicklen and Gitga'at first nation guide Marven Robinson were searching for the illusive spirit bear in northern British Columbia. They had searched for weeks and weeks over the course of two years, and I was there to document some of their search. We had been invited there by the Gitga'at people because their culture is under attack by the oil industry. They felt if we could document this special place and this special bear, people would be inspired to protect it from the proposed oil pipeline from the tar sands in Alberta ports on the coast of British Columbia.
Finally, at the end of the film, Marven and Paul get just what they had searched for and the most amazing experience I've ever had in the field was documenting it. Check the film out at www.BalanceMedia.TV.
What are your other passions?
I love to paddle rivers. Sometimes that means in a raft, sometimes in a kayak. I also love gardening, birding, and enjoying the forest around Portland.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend almost all my time these days, when I'm not working on documentary production, doing environmental and social justice organizing. I also try hard to stay balanced, to make time to play outside and remember why it's so important to win these environmental battles we're fighting!