The Outside Blog

Climbing : Media

Is Consumerism The Climate's Enemy?

Recently, the National Climate Assessment revealed myriad ways climate change is already altering our daily lives. And more recently, a NASA study revealed that a significant chunk of the Antarctic is in "irreversible retreat" and that the resulting sea-level rise during this century will force the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to revise upward its already daunting prediction of one to three feet. What do we do? Once we pick our jaws off the floor, most of us have little choice but to continue on with our day. Oh, and of course drive less, buy organic, and eschew plastic bags. If that hardly seems like it's enough, you're right. It's not.

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In his new book, The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World, Andrew Winston—author of the 2009 bestseller Green to Gold, and an expert on green business strategy—argues that environmental changes are forcing companies that make our cars, our food, our plastic bags, and everything else we choose to buy or not buy, to sink or swim. Consumers play a major role in their fates.

We talked to Winston about what consumers really care about, how environmentalism is like the gay rights movement, and whether it's okay for clothier Patagonia to cash in on its good intensions. 

OUTSIDE: You write in your book about how our increasingly connected world is forcing businesses to be "radically" transparent about the types of ingredients and manufacturing processes they use. Yet, when I go shopping I see a lot of overworked, harried people who seem to want to fill their carts and get on with their day.
WINSTON: We've had 44 years of Earth Day, and the percentage of people who really changed what they buy, how they live, in a way that is really deeply based on the environment is very low. That said, studies show things are changing. One study found that 40 percent of consumers will buy better, lower-footprint products when given the choice.

For years people did not buy energy-efficient light bulbs because they cost more upfront. But, over the years, as Walmart, Home Depot, and others started really pushing compact florescent bulbs, people started buying them. Now they're selling LED blubs. They also cost more upfront, but over time people started to understand the larger picture: that if they use this more expensive bulb over a number of years it's actually not more expensive (thanks to energy savings).

Still, we have not seen a giant movement in American consumers. I think, to be kind, it's because we are busy and we can't know everything about every purchase we make. For some categories we pay attention, personal care products and food—things we put on our bodies and in our bodies. There is more attention paid to those products than, say, asking where the wood in our bookcase came from.

So, what are the roles for consumers, versus government and business, in righting the ship?
To deal with something as serious as climate change and to address resource scarcity, all three (consumers, government, and business) need to shift the way we live. Consider a region dealing with drought: everyone has to act and sometimes you hear about people reporting on their neighbors who wash their cars (in violation of water restrictions). You have to have a sense of the common good.

Unfortunately, I think we're in the midst of a pretty big pendulum swing away from common good, thanks to political partisanship and Libertarian every-man-for-himself ideology. I get that, but as much as you want to say every man is an island, it's just not true. You have to think about how you affect other people. I don’t think that's so radical. 

These pivot points in society happen seemingly fast. Look at the gay rights movement. That happened seemingly very quickly in this country, but it was actually after decades of work. There is always a lead-up for many years and then some things (like discriminating based on sexual preference) become socially unacceptable. For another example, look at what happened with Clippers owner Don Sterling (and his remarks about African Americans). I think there is going to be a time when it's unacceptable to be a profligate user of natural resources or to be unaware of your impact or to habitually waste a lot of food. There will be increasing peer pressure not to do those things.

But I don’t rely on consumers to lead the charge. I think business and government need to work together to change the way we make energy, how we make products. That said, it would be a heck of a lot easier to get business and government to change if people made more noise and showed a clear preference in the things that they bought. Retailers care, but not as much as they would if consumers were walking in and clearly picking the greener stuff.

Patagonia, through its Worn Wear program and Eileen Fisher, through its Green Eileen stores, are buying clothes back from consumers and then reselling them. That really starts to subvert the retail paradigm. But in the end, consumers who sell their clothes back to those retailers get store credit… with which they have no choice but to buy more stuff. So at the end of the day, can retailers—even if they're super green standouts like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia—actually not be about consumerism?
It's a profound question. I think a company can grow and sell more stuff if it is taking (market) share—if it is selling more at the expense of other companies that are making less sustainable stuff.

So if the Patagonias of the world are selling something that lasts longer, that is made of recycled content, can be recycled, and so on, you want them to grow. Yet the total pie of resource use has to be in control.

Another way to look at this is through the work of Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart and the Cradle to Cradle movement. If things can be made in such a way that they can be cycled, almost endlessly, while using renewable energy, then consumption is less and less the problem. If a company, by its existence, makes things better, then you want more of them. It's a [positive] abundance thing, rather than saying, 'Oh, population is a problem, every new person and every new product is a problem.' But obviously we're still a long, long way from that.

It is a fair question to ask can public companies lead this charge? By their nature they need to keep shoveling growth and that is a problem. The math does not work to grow forever. But I think a (private) company like Patagonia, they are a $600 million company. They could still grow a lot and be selling more and more stuff, because theirs' are better products that last longer (than their competition). That is not different than the way businesses have always worked. The best ones survive and the worst don't.

We're going to be 9 billion people (by 2050), we're going to need things—but clearly they need to be made differently. The power that we use to make them needs to be renewable. We need fundamental changes. 

In the book I use the example of Kingfisher, a European home-improvement store, which has a goal of being net positive—they want to help people build homes that generate more energy than they use. Let's say you built a home and all the materials were recycled and/or local, and then home made more energy than it needed so that over time I actually netted out the energy it took to make. Don't you want more of those homes?

Climate is a big problem. Resources are a big problem. There isn’t an easy answer. People should take a hard look at their consumption habits, absolutely, but we still need things. No one is going to do well by telling everyone to just sit in a dark cave. But if, through our choices, things get better, then consumption isn't necessarily the problem.

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The Epic Failures of Ambition

The reliably volatile mashup of American hubris and untrammeled wilderness has kept adventure writers on the bestseller list for decades. As two excellent new nonfiction works by Outside contributors demonstrate, the formula is as bankable as ever. Peter Stark's Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire ($27, Ecco) chronicles John Jacob Astor's plan to monopolize the global fur trade in 1810, when he launched an elaborate scheme that, Stark writes, "would probably dwarf even the largest mergers of our era." It all hinged on establishing a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, where Astor sent two expeditions: one by sea and the other overland, on the route established two years earlier by Lewis and Clark. Astor was a poor judge of leaders, and both parties were almost comically doomed from the beginning. "Americans love heroes and winners," writes Stark, explaining why the remarkable story has been lost to history. "In Astoria, there are few clear-cut winners and no unblemished heroes." Indeed. The seagoing vessel Tonquin, led by Captain Jonathan Thorn, was in a state of near mutiny for its entire voyage. Then a group of raiding Native Americans came aboard, and somebody lit a fuse, incinerating the vessel in a cloud of gunpowder sure to get Michael Bay's attention. The overland voyage, led by a Jersey boy named Wilson Price Hunt, hardly fared better. But with so much infighting, paranoia, double-crossing, madness, and starvation, the two expeditions supply plenty of action to fuel Stark's dueling narratives.

In Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art ($27, William Morrow), Carl Hoffman reexamines the final days of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller's 23-year-old son Michael, who was on an expedition to collect primitive art in New Guinea in 1961 when his catamaran capsized. Rockefeller disappeared while attempting a 12-mile swim to shore, leaving behind one of the modern era's great unsolved mysteries. Had he drowned? Was he eaten by sharks? Or was he consumed by the local Asmat, known cannibals who made their home in the region's labyrinth of coastal rivers?

The answer, according to Hoffman's exhaustive and utterly convincing research: (C) Cannibals. I'm not spoiling anything; Hoffman gives away this plot twist on page ten, describing Rockefeller's demise at the hands of a tribesman in jarring detail: "Fin made a deep cut from Michael's anus to his neck." Smart move. By dispatching with the gruesome ending early on, Hoffman makes room to unspool the more remarkable tale at the heart of the book: his own obsessive quest to discover the truth.

The journey starts in the Netherlands—New Guinea was in part a Dutch-colony—where Hoffman unearths documents that detail Asmat accounts of Rockefeller's killing at the hands of men from the village of Otsjanep. The reports were initially covered up by Dutch officials trying to avoid international scandal. He also reveals a motive: in 1958, a violent raid by Dutch government commander Max Lapré killed five Otsjanep villagers. In a culture where headhunting was the primary means for restoring spiritual balance, Rockefeller's killing four years later, writes Hoffman,"fit tightly and seamlessly into Asmat cultural logic."

To prove it, Hoffman needs a confession or physical evidence, so he heads to Otsja-nep in early 2012. His first trip is a disaster. When he brazenly offers $1,000—a fortune in Asmat—for Rockefeller's glasses, men come forward with "a pair of 1990s-style wrap-around sunglasses." Fortunately, he's his own toughest critic. "I'd been guilty of the same sins for which I was critical of Michael," Hoffman writes, "assuming I was so important that I could pepper them with questions and out would pour their deepest secrets." Humbled, he goes back home, learns their language, and returns nearly a year later to live among the locals and gain their trust. If I told you the stunning way that Rockefeller's fate was finally revealed, well, then I really would be spoiling the book.

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When An Explorer's Body Begins to Eat Itself

When an explorer is dying of starvation in the wild, his voice takes on a peculiar deep tone.

“We were all shocked at beholding the emaciated countenances of the Doctor and Hepburn,” wrote 19th century Arctic explorer John Franklin. “The alteration in our appearance was equally distressing to them... we were little more than skin and bone. The Doctor particularly remarked the sepulchral tone of our voices, which he requested us to make more cheerful if possible, unconscious that his own partook of the same key.”

Other strange physiological phenomena occur when the body is totally deprived of food, some that might be considered desirable, others not. The eyesight of one subject in a 1915 study improved dramatically on day 14 during a carefully monitored 31-day fast and was twice as acute at fast’s end as at the beginning. Others reported a peculiar lightness in their bearing. Heart rates can drop to 35 beats per minute. And there’s the nasty breath—breath that smells like a solvent such as acetone. 

These observations came from controlled studies of fasting. But the members of the expedition that I’m writing about, the Overland Party of John Jacob Astor attempt to found the first American colony on the West Coast, a kind of Pacific version of Jamestown, were not fasting. Rather, they were starving—they simply couldn’t find food—while traveling hard in winter’s cold, like Franklin’s party quoted above. Their caloric needs were enormous—as I wrote in my last blog posting, the energy demands of traveling hard on foot in winter can amount to an extraordinary 6,000 calories—or nine square meals—per day.

After abandoning their canoes, which had smashed among the waterfalls and rapids of a canyon, the 50-person Overland Party, led by Wilson Price Hunt, a young New Jersey businessman with no experience in the wilderness, split into two main groups in November, 1811. Trekking on foot, they followed the unknown river downstream toward what they hoped was the Pacific. Barren lava plains spread on both sides of the river gorge. With no game, and no fish appearing in their nets, they managed to trade with scattered bands of Shoshone Indians for a few dogs and horses. Consuming these—a group of 50 people trekking in winter could demolish the caloric equivalent of a large animal every few days, thus they traveled in two smaller groups—they chewed on bits of beaverskin and spare moccasins. Hunt stayed with the slower group, which included the family of the Indian interpreter, his pregnant wife, and their two toddler boys. 

For a month, Hunt’s group struggled onward along the river. Then the river poured into a massive canyon—now known as Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River, the deepest canyon in North America. One snowy December day, as Hunt’s slow party struggled downstream over rocky outcrops, they spotted the other main party staggering back upstream on the opposite bank! This was the worst kind of news. Led by Scottish fur trader Ramsay Crooks, it had been stopped by the extreme depth and ruggedness of the canyon and the onset of winter’s deepening snows. Still worse, Crooks and his party verged on collapse from starvation and exhaustion due to the tremendous exertion and caloric needs.

Hunt had a small boat crafted from a horsehide and brought Crooks and a voyageur, Le Clerc, across the river from the starving party on the opposite bank. Crooks told him there was no way forward down the canyon on foot or boat. Hunt knew he now had to retreat upstream in hopes of finding Shoshone villages and food. They were at least ten days or two weeks away. Even after Hunt fed Crooks and Le Clerc the last of his horsemeat, however, they were still too weak to walk and became feebler with every moment. Hunt, loyal to a fault, trying to lead by consensus, wanted to stay with the dying men. Crooks was his friend and partner. But the 20 other members of his party, the voyageurs especially, harangued him to abandon Crooks and Le Clerc and retreat as hastily as possibly to the Shoshone villages and the hope of distant food.

“They said that we would all die from starvation,” wrote Hunt in his journal, “and urged me by all means to go on.”

The process had now begun for everyone. 

The human body has a special mechanism to deal with starvation in these dangerous circumstances. A fascinating account on the physiology of human fasting can be found on the website derangedphysiology.com. Drawing on the classic 1970 study “Starvation in Man” by George F. Cahill, the website tells us that the human body, even when starving, wants to continue to feed nutrients to the brain, despite all else. The starving human body also tries to hold onto a certain reserve of ready energy for “fight or flight” or other emergencies.

Normally, the fuel driving our bodies is glucose (a simple sugar) and glycogen (glucose transformed and stored in the muscles). We constantly drain this fuel supply to power our muscle movements and metabolism. We refill this fuel supply through eating.

But under fasting conditions—starvation—the body makes a peculiar switch. The muscles and heart stop using up all the ready fuel—glucose and glycogen—saving some of it for emergencies, and start to draw on fuel made from the breakdown of the body’s fat reserves and what’s called “ketone metabolism.”

“The glycogen reserves in humans never get completely depleted,” according to the website. “There is at all times a hepatic [liver] reserve, waiting to mobilize and rescue the organism from some sort of horrible situation.”

But the brain has to function, too, in order to save the starving human from “some horrible situation.” The human body is remarkable among animals in that the human brain can function with alternative energy supplies to glucose. Some of the body’s fats are converted to what’s known as “ketone bodies,” which, only in humans, have the ability to enter the brain and power it. (The human brain of a 150-pound male requires about 325 calories a day, or the equivalent of about one-and-a-half energy bars, to keep the lights on.) Thus by switching over to alternative energy supplies like ketone bodies, the brain, too, helps save the body’s glucose reserves (as well as the body’s muscle mass) for emergency “fight or flight” situations like a kind of human rocket fuel.

The “acetone breath” of starvation or fasting comes from the metabolism of these ketone bodies into byproducts like acetone, which is then dissipated through urine and through exhalation from the lungs.

Eventually, however, as the fats are used up, the body will begin to break down its own proteins—its muscles and tissues—and convert them to fuel. (None of the physiology of starvation or fasting that I’ve read explains the deep voices such as Franklin’s, but I wonder if it has something to do with the proteins of the vocal cords breaking down. Maybe a reader will know the answer.)

“An organism which is consuming its own protein is truly struggling,” according to derangedphysiology.com. “That said, if your [human] organism is struggling it has some 6kg or so of protein to get through before it dies.”

Ramsay Crooks and the voyageur Le Clerc had clearly entered this protein-consuming phase of starvation, and had finally used up whatever rocket-fuel reserves they had possessed.

Hunt, deeply conflicted, profoundly troubled—were his loyalties to his good but dying men, or to his leadership of the group as a whole?—finally abandoned the starving pair in the canyon depths. But he didn’t forsake them entirely. He left them two beaverskins to chew on, and promised that as soon as he found food, he would send it back to feed them.

Peter Stark is a full-time freelance writer of non-fiction books and articles specializing in adventure and exploration history. His most recent book, Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire; a Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival, tells the harrowing tale of the quest to settle a Jamestown-like colony on the Pacific Coast and will be published in March 2014 by Ecco/HarperCollins.

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7 Questions with Mountaineer Mom Sophie Helenek

You can call Sophie Helenek many things: a recovering investment banker, the youngest French woman to climb Mount Everest, and—as of 2013—a mother. But having her daughter wasn't going to terminate Helenek's six-year love affair with climbing. We caught up with Helenek via email to talk about staying active during pregnancy, exploring with babies, and her book series written for infants.

How did you make the decision to start a family?
I was a mountain climber on my way to realizing my goal of climbing the 14 highest peaks in the world. Being pregnant came as a wonderful surprise, which I embraced from day one. I switched gears to enjoy the wonder of motherhood. Raising our baby girl is now our new Everest.

How did you stay active and fit during your pregnancy?
I had lots energy when I was pregnant. I enjoyed climbing Mount Washington (the highest peak in New Hampshire), Mount Madison, and Mount Mansfield (the highest peak in Vermont). The panoramic view at the top of Mount Mansfield was outstanding. I could see the Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks at my left and at my right. I could see Mount Washington with its top in the clouds.
As I entered in the third trimester, my doctor strongly recommended me to walk instead of trek. So I switched to kayaking. My belly was relatively small, so kayaking on smooth water while watching birds was very relaxing.

Has it been difficult to get back into shape since having the baby?
When the winter was over, I went walking at a local park next to the river. I was alone at first, then I met some other moms, and I started building a walking/running mom group. I met them three times a week. It was great because we were sharing our stories, our struggles, and our good times with our babies.

When the weather was too hot for our babies, the mom groups stopped. But I stayed active; I did some landscaping on our property while my daughter was napping, and I water-skied in the evening with my husband. During the winter, I ice climbed and skied.

I did not struggle or fight to get back in shape. I enjoy being active, as well sharing the outside activities with my daughter. I think it is excellent for her to be outside when the weather allows it.

Describe the process of writing your books.
It was an emotional roller coaster. You go all over the map. I started confidently, drafting a few things, but then I hit the wall. I had doubted and questioned myself: Is it any good? What am I doing? Then I was able to put myself together, had a second breath, and kept writing. Hit the wall again, and I almost gave up. But I stayed strong. With lots of courage and resilience, I finished and published My First Book series, which includes four books: Fruits, Sky Wonders, Shapes, and Musical Instruments.

My inspiration was my daughter. When she was a small baby, I showed her an M.C. Escher book. She seemed to like the black and white spiral drawings. When I say "like," I understand you don't really know what is going on in an infant's head, but I could tell that something happened. I was surprised and started reading about how babies' eyes work, what they see, and why.

At birth, babies are very nearsighted; that is why they are interested in bold black and white shapes and high contrast patterns. Eager to learn more, I read bunch of studies on speech development, child temperament, and babies' milestones. Gathering all this information, I developed and designed My First Books series from a baby's perspective. I wanted to write an engaging book that promotes bonding and supports an infant's developmental growth milestones: vision, memory, speech, and social skills.

They are not just picture books or bedtime stories but rather activity books conceived to stimulate a baby's senses.

Here how it works:

  • At first, a baby will enjoy simple illustrations with black-and-white and high-contrast patterns designed especially for the very young to focus on.
  • As babies gets older, their brains learn to distinguish bright primary colors and will start identifying the illustrations with the words you read, which triggers their memory process.
  • Each picture is accompanied by a simple word that babies will love repeating and which helps their speech development.
  • The last pages show all the illustrations together, which also helps the baby's memory process.
  • My First Book series offers a special feature for toddlers, as they can write on the book with a white board pen, wipe it, and write again!

How do you incorporate books into parenting?
My daughter absolutely loves books. She enjoys being read to or just playing with them. Her favorite game is flipping pages one by one. Books seem soothing for her.

I incorporate several type books into my parenting: nighttime stories, which are mainly soft pastel drawing books that are calming; nursery rhyme books, which are more wordy and playful; and activity baby board books like My First Book series, which are placed with all other toys.

My First Book books can be a great medium to bond and interact with a baby, as well as being perceived by the baby as an accessible toy to play with or without an adult. Babies enjoy turning My First Book pages, which are extra thick, easy to grab, and they are captivated by the illustrations.

Reading is essential in your baby's development. For instance, reading aloud to a baby stimulates developing senses and builds listening and memory skills that can help a baby grow up to be a reader. Reading aloud to a child:

  • Promotes listening skills
  • Increases the number of vocabulary words babies hear
  • Develops attention span and memory
  • Helps babies learn to understand the meanings of words
  • Promotes bonding and calmness for both baby and parent
  • Instills the love of books and learning

As an adult, what books do you enjoy?
I'm reading mainly French novels that my mom send me. They are my connection to my French. I'm also magazine savvy. I am currently subscribed to a dozen of magazines from American Scientist to Climbing to Fast Company to Time.

Do you encourage your daughter to lead an active, adventurous life?
My daughter is one year old. She is a very happy baby and nothing seems to bother her. She is content with herself, which makes life very easy for us. I let her explore, and warn her when it is dangerous. Being kind but firm seems to be the key.

 

 

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Devin Super Tramp: The Boy King of YouTube Huck Shots

It's just past dawn in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’m on the set of YouTube filmmaker Devin Graham’s latest video project, at EverBank Field, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The action is unfolding at the tippy-top of one of eight towers that support the lighting arrays, 350 feet above the playing surface, from which various members of Graham’s crew and the Jaguar squad will zip-line across the field. 

Graham, 30, is based out of Provo, Utah, and happens to be the world’s most bankable action-sports video maker, as measured by the Internet’s global reserve currency: the click. He’s polite and affable, Mormon like the rest of his team, and a tad husky, with his trademark plaid baseball cap turned backward over a floppy mop of brown hair that makes him look half his age. “I’m scared of heights,” he readily acknowledges as he steps out into a crow’s nest, where a crew is rigging the massive zip line. 

Though you may not be familiar with Graham, you’re almost certainly familiar with his work. His YouTube channel, Devin Super Tramp—the name is taken from Chris McCandless’s moniker in Into the Wild—has 1.7 million subscribers and falls a few rungs below Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube channel and a few above Coldplay’s in popularity. Graham has uploaded 106 catchy, watchable videos in the past three years, and they’ve been viewed a combined 288 million times. These days, he’s uploading a video every week. Highlights include a 140-foot rope swing at Corona Arch, near Moab, Utah, that has netted 22 million views. And the dubstep music video he shot for former America’s Got Talent contestant Lindsey “Epic Violin Girl” Stirling, where she dances while playing in an ice palace, which topped 77 million views last year. There was the Australia grass-kart-racing video, where millennials caromed down a ski hill in open soapbox racers. And then there’s the second Moab rope-swing video, in which Creighton Baird, 25, a reality-show-worthy wild man and a frequent star in Graham’s movies, pushes his then girlfriend over the edge of a 400-foot precipice. Seconds later, her tiny voice shouts from the distance, “I’m breaking up with you!” 

“If we’re being honest, she deserved it,” jokes Seth Jones, 26, a crew member and high school friend of Baird’s, during a pause in the action. The incident made Baird “as undatable as Chris Brown” for several months. (In truth, she’d asked him to push her if she couldn’t bring herself to jump.) 

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Ever since the share button became the driving force in media consumption, debate has raged over whether viral content is an animal spirit that can’t be captured or a wild horse simply in need of a harness. In 2013, the tamers declared victory. BuzzFeed has generated billions of clicks through its sharable-content model, and more recently, sites like Upworthy have exploded by tapping into our willingness to pass along anything fresh and uplifting, no matter how banal. (Example: “This supercut of animals yawning might kill you with cuteness.”)

But as far as one-man viral-video auteurs go, Graham is in a league of his own, and Corporate America has taken notice. Graham now gets paid tens of thousands of dollars on top of production costs to place products, from Ford to Kellogg’s to Mountain Dew, in his videos. Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube, says Graham is emblematic “of a big change that’s happened in the gatekeeping system of media. A guy like Devin can set up shop in a place like Utah and become a mogul in the entertainment space without needing a giant studio.” Graham is in such demand that when one sponsor dropped out of the Jacksonville zip-line-party shoot, Panasonic replaced it within hours, sending Graham a GoPro-like action cam and a set of headphones that he had his talent wear while he filmed them. Though not a client, the Jaguars also understand the value of Graham’s mojo and are more than willing to give him the run of the place.

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At 9 a.m., Graham’s hired riggers are ready to stress-test their creation, built by 53-year-old Tom Andrews, a sun-worn Gunks climber. The contraption consists of a bungee-jumping cord attached by pulleys to an 850-foot zip line that spans the width of the stadium, terminating at the top of the opposite lighting tower. A rigger named Paul kicks a pair of 100-pound disc weights over the edge. The weights rocket briefly toward the nosebleed seats 80 feet below us, clank together dully, and arc cleanly toward the 50-yard line, all of it in near silence. “That’s what we like,” says Andrews.

They reset the apparatus and get ready for the day’s action. The Jaguars’ furry mascot, Jaxson de Ville, along with Baird, Jones, and a half-dozen of the team’s cheerleaders, clad in booty shorts and high-heeled boots, will leap, dive, and somersault off the stadium lights using the bungee-zip-line rig.

Graham shouts to his crew, positioned with cameras around the tower: “Everyone good? Creighton? Good?” He signals for another cameraman to launch a drone that will record the action from above and begins the jump countdown. Then comes a shout from Jones down on the field: “Hey, where’s the record button on this one?”

“I like to hire guys who don’t know the rules, so they aren’t worried about breaking them,” says Graham.

Despite what his videos might imply, Graham is less a visionary than a diligent researcher. He gets ideas from his fans and from videos on Facebook that have performed decently but could really catch fire if they were shot and edited a little more strategically. Climbers had been swinging at Corona Arch well before Baird first showed Graham a clip of the action. And Graham’s video of slow-motion underwater dogs, uploaded in October 2012, arrived shortly after similar still photos became a brief Internet meme. Says Graham: “The whole game is looking at what other people are sharing, what’s viral, and doing my own rendition of it.”

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His rendition is his secret. Graham’s signature is in making short videos in which attractive people are having crazy fun and don’t say much, and (it appears) somebody happened to bring along a camera. They’re the sort of thing you’d like to imagine you and your friends doing—mud fights, being pulled in a cardboard box behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., getting flung from a human slingshot. “I watch his stuff online on my TV when I get home at night all the time,” says Allocca. “Devin’s friends are having way more fun than whatever I’m doing.” That it looks like a low-budget production is another big part of the formula. The goal is for it to seem attainable. (Warning: It isn’t. Last March, a copycat who attempted to re-create the rope swing died.) And while the rest of the action-sports world has adopted Hollywood production values, Graham shoots mostly with a Canon DSLR. “I realized that people would connect with me better if I did everything on a camera they could afford,” he says. 

Graham’s journey to mogulhood began in 2009, when he made his first video, a tutorial on how to beat halitosis for a company called Orabrush, which was launching a breath-freshening tongue cleaner. The clip killed it (18 million views and counting) because there hadn’t yet been a really good video on how to combat bad breath. He quickly dropped out of Brigham Young University’s film school. A series of cliff-jumping videos he shot in Hawaii went viral in December 2010 and were his first product-placement gigs. Business has grown quickly from there, with enough money rolling in to allow Graham to keep a small crew working consistently and to hire his father, who handles communications in addition to running his own drywalling business. Graham’s got an agent in Los Angeles who’s there largely to make his old-media clients feel comfortable about doing business with a guy who seems to shoot from the hip. “The fight for creative control is one of my least favorite things,” says Graham. “But they’re starting to trust me.” 

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Occasionally, safety has been an issue. A guy broke his collarbone and a girl coughed up blood in Lake Powell in October 2012, both either leaping onto or being launched from a giant inflatable air bladder called the Blob. And several participants have been knocked unconscious by hitting the water at high speed after being launched by a slingshot.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/human-slingshot_fe.jpg","caption":""Human Slingshot Slip and Slide", 12.9 million clicks."}%}

Graham has taken extra precautions in Jacksonville. He hired the riggers from Aerial Concepts, a stunt-safety-management firm, to set up the zip line. Then each jump requires about an hour to prepare. By 9 P.M., the crew has executed seven jumps. Baird pulled a double backflip and Jones a gainer. A cheerleader named Caitlin swan-dived with a pom-pom in one hand and a GoPro camera on a stick in the other. The riggers are exhausted and need to quit, but Graham has other ideas. 

“Maybe we can just shoot the intro with Jaxson,” he offers. Parker Walbeck, another cameraman, is playing catch on the sidelines with Baird, and Jones is dozing in a folding chair in the tunnel to the locker rooms. Graham keeps rolling, shot after shot. He’s got no time to waste. In a few weeks is Zorb bowling (with those inflatable hamster balls people ride inside) in Mammoth, California, and after that, the Island of Aruba needs him and his friends to stage an epic pirate battle using two tall sailing ships.

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