What I Learnt from the Patagonia Adventure Activists - 8 Key Takeaways

When you find something that you can give some of your soul to, it’s the most fulfilling thing ever – Carmen Kuntz.

Patagonia’s Adventure Activists tour has travelled the country showcasing people who have paired their love of sport and adventure with environmental activism - trying to communicate big, gritty issues in a fun and meaningful way.

But what has adventure got to do with activism? Do we really need to drag these big environmental issues into EVERY single part of our lives? My adventure was my escape OK?! Surely we all have the right to run off somewhere beautiful and just switch off from all of those ‘should do’ thing?! This sounds depressing.

Not true. Their final tour date was at Kendal Mountain Festival. This session showed The Undamaged, the beautiful and invigorating film made by the team at Balkan River Defence, about their annual river conservation action - Balkan Rivers Tour, which has become the largest direct river conservation in Europe. This crew of kayakers are raising awareness and building an active movement to protect the Balkans, an incredible but threatened area. It showed bringing people together, sharing of resources and culture, the added meaning it brought to kayaking, and the crazy level of FUN they had doing it. We heard Zoe Hart - top mountain guide, super-mother, and Patagonia ambassador – talk about the joy of connecting to nature and living simply. We heard from pro kayaker Dan Yates who was one of the founding members of ‘Save Our Rivers’ campaign, and “river protecting gangsta” Alistair Maltby from the UK Rivers Trust. I was super lucky to catch Carmen (on of the Balkan Rivers Defence crew) and Zoe after, and I’ve summarised our chats into 8 Key Things You Need to Know About Adventure Activism.

1. Drop the blame game

Talking about personal environmental impacts, Zoe tells us: “If you say ‘you fly on an aeroplane, so you can’t help at all’ - it doesn’t work. If you start pointing the finger and making people feel guilty, first of all it counteracts the things people are doing, and second of all it keeps people from starting.”

Basically, we’re all in this together, so let’s support each other.

2. It’s unavoidable

I asked Zoe about changing climates.

Zoe: “Summer in the Alps was… it was really obvious, there were huge rockfalls, the high summers, the glacial recession. It’s hard to say, “are the glaciers really going to be there for my kids?” Scientifically it says they’re not. I think Alpinism is going to change in a big way, maybe it’s going to be a sport that’s something that we talked about, that we did as kids… It’s sad in a lot of ways, even my 6 year old thinks it’s sad… but it’s kind of a small part – it's that narcissistic problem of what will alpinism be, vs what will water security be, you know!”

This is something we can’t avoid, no matter who or where we are, so let’s face it.

3. The adventure world needs to change

I interviewed Zoe and Carmen separately and they both came back to this – “just because you spend time in the environment doesn’t make you an environmentalist”.

Zoe explains… “there is kind of a missing link - this thing where people believe in a cause but don’t actually act in it. There’s a lot of adventurers who are empathetic to environmentalism and actions, but they don’t act on it. I do think it’s the responsibility of the adventure community to become more active.”

But what about those far flung dream trips and global exploration…?

4. The ‘backyard’ concept

Zoe says, “This idea of your backyard, doing adventures closer to home and protecting the places you live in, needs to get stronger.”

She admits “I would probably be a guilty actor in the idea that movement and travel becomes a happy place, almost an addiction. But does that have to be an aeroplane? Not necessarily. Liv Sansoz did this huge amazing project in her own backyard – all of the (82!) 4000m peaks through human travel – her whole project from A to Z was about what she believes in.”

Carmen had a similar story: “Rok and I recently hiked from his parents’ house in Slovenia to where we live, as the crow flies from one door to the next. It was this trip that we were blown away by, the fact that we just did a door to door hike – it was super simple, no logistics needed really… it’s thinking out of the box, you can make adventure in spots that feel like home. In the whole world, it’s hard to find a river that hasn’t been paddled yet, so get creative.”

Get inspired by what’s on your doorstep!

5. Be smart about social media…

Is social media making us lazy?!

Zoe: “I think that technology has made people more apathetic in their actions, because you feel like you’re supporting something by liking or sharing, signing a campaign – but is that your action?! I don’t think those are bad things, I just think that it can’t stop there, and if everyone were to engage and initiate what they believed in in a small amount, especially adventurers… it’s kind of our responsibility. If you don’t, it’s like saying “I want those places to be there for my kids in the future, but I don’t want to have to work for it!”

Carmen: “Environmentalism is almost getting highjacked and becoming a bit too trendy. We don’t want this to become something that is cool right now, where everyone’s posting on Instagram like ‘oh look I got my groceries in a cloth bag’ – it’s got to be bigger than that. If you’re out there enjoying something, you also need to be doing something to help protect it.”

6. So, what can we actually do, apart from exploring our own backyards? Protest?

Protests have been a big part of Carmen’s life as a young age, with her parents taking her to street protests portaging canoes in Toronto, Canada, from aged 10. She shares her experience…

C: “For me, protest is really positive. People say ‘you’re anti hydro, you’re anti everything’, but we’re pro-river, we’re pro wilderness – that’s the message. Protests are a way we can gain awareness, and when you’re carrying a kayak and a paddle it changes the dynamic. It’s important to keep protests positive and at the same time have a clear message. It’s one form of activism, but I think the more creative you can get the better.”

7. So what else?

Carmen: “There’s so many ways to get your message across, and for us to go kayak a really beautiful river and show high quality photos – in some ways it acts louder because it’s focusing on the positive and it’s entertaining people while getting the message across.

8. How do I start?

Carmen: “Think of what you’re good at or what you like doing – hopefully those two line up – and figure out a way to make it fun and make a difference. Ultimately that’s what Balkan River Defence is – kayaking which we love, rivers which need some protecting, and we figured out a way to make it fun, because if it’s not fun you’re not going to dedicate your free time to it. When you do find something that you can give some of your soul to, it’s the most fulfilling thing ever.

For more inspiration check out the Adventure Activists website, Kate Rawles recent biodiversity bikeride, and The Adventure Syndicate! For everyday adventures and 'Plogging', check out Joe Mosely’s story. Then get planning!