Nine all-stars tell it like it is
Seven-time Tour de France champion
Outside has been covering me for 16 years, almost half my life. There was that “Lance Who?” thing on your Floyd Landis cover. Earlier, you called me “the greatest athlete in the world.” Then it’s like “Lance Who?” But, hey, you’re the ones who called it.
I get so frustrated. Nobody stands up and says, Wait a minute, these guys are killing themselves to right the ship. The sport is trying really hard. And at the end of the day, the Tour’s still a huge event, and I’m confident that those guys will get it sorted out.
Team Discovery director Johan Bruyneel is a genius. I think many people said, Eh, you’ve got Lance. So to see him put together a team of guys this year that nobody really expected to win, and put two guys on the podium, is pretty special.
I’m still mad about Kelly Slater winning that eighth championship. I text him all the time and tell him that I’m coming back to win an eighth.
It’s not that I try to make music about the outdoors. It’s an organic process, which is why it makes sense. “With My Own Two Hands,” “Excuse Me Mister”—when you comb it, it’s there. But it’s just a natural fit.
To the people who say “What the fuck is he doing on the cover of Outside magazine?” let me say this: First of all, I’ve got four kids. Four kids is an extreme sport, period. So let’s get that straight.
I’ve jet-skied with Laird going on a 40-foot wave. Dave Kalama taught me how to tow-in surf. I’ve seen Kelly Slater compete. I flew with my oldest son to watch Lance Armstrong during his sixth Tour de France victory. These are my homeboys.
The outdoors was always just a huge part of my life. And, you know what, someone’s got to be the soundtrack to all of this. It may as well be me.
First climber to notch a free ascent of El Capitan's Nose
I grew up in Orange County. Climbing was antimaterialism. The first principle was “Do not fall,” and the prevailing style was minimal reliance on gear, leave nothing behind. Boldness was a strong ethic. And I still think that climbing tends to attract people who question authority and question logic.
The Nose was challenging on many levels. It had never been done, it was such a historic route, and a lot of really good climbers had tried it and failed. I had rough times up there—things kept going wrong—but I kept moving forward. I had an underlying sense that this was my fate. Even if it’s not rational, if you believe in yourself enough, that desire can make you rise to the level of whatever you’ve imagined.
Being a woman, being small, being tall—it doesn’t matter. It’s about adapting to the rock in the best way possible with what we’ve been given.
Eight-time world champion surfer
My whole schedule depends on the surf: my plane flights, when I go to bed and wake up, where I’m going next week. I’ve slept on a lot of couches.
Baywatch was a joke and I hated it. All I wanted was to be a world champion and recognized as a true athlete. Now my friends can call me Jimmy Slade and it’s funny.
Being in that competitive headspace for so long—it can kind of take you away. If you get too consumed by it, you don’t always care about people the way you should. It’s kind of ironic, that what’s driving you can also be the thing that you need to heal.
When you really master something competitively, then it becomes fun. Then you don’t need it anymore. Eight titles is a good number. When I’m done this time I’m done for good. I just want to burn that fuse out.
Animal, a Muppet character, with orange hair and a nose ring—that was the mascot for snowboarding back in the day. In the Nagano Olympics, they spelled “snowboarding” wrong on the venue. Stuff like that would make you cringe. But I think you guys figured it out quicker than most, and I give you credit for not just giving it an initial hit and walking away from it. Clearly, there was a commitment to figuring the sport out.
As far as the ski industry was concerned, we didn’t exist. Then we became a nuisance. Then we started getting into resorts, and became a threat. Next thing you know, we were the saviors.
I do feel that snowboarding is still a big brotherhood, or sisterhood, in the sense that when you see someone on a snowboard, you’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt. You just have something in common—there’s a bond there.
Firsterican to summit all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks
I remember buying the first Outside magazine. I was still living in Rockford, Illinois, but had the outdoor-adventure bug. I was pretty blown away when I was on the cover [December 2000]. If you’re an outdoor athlete, it’s like being a musician on the cover of Rolling Stone.
I was tested in 1997 at the University of Washington, and a few doctors basically told me that I was a freak of nature. The genetic twist that I had—my aerobic capacity and larger-than-normal lungs—all those parts and pieces helped me do what I did.
It doesn’t matter to me what people said about what I did or how I did it. Whether people liked it or didn’t like it, I could have cared less. The climbing at 8,000 meters is risky enough as it is. I wanted to be safe and have fun. I’ve been “Steady Ed” for a while.
Olympic swimmer/gold medalist
I always wonder what people are downloading. That’s such a bizarre thing to be thinking about—people on the computer actually looking up pictures of me. I’ve always felt like this big frumpy dork, never a sex symbol.
I take a lot of heat for everything I do. I ride motorcycles and dirt bikes. I snowboard and surf. But as long as I can swim and put together some great times, people shouldn’t have a problem with what I do in my outside life.
I think that my background justifies it for me, makes me more credible. That stuff doesn’t take away my medals or records, which speak for themselves.
Swimming definitely has a lot of trash talking going on. Dirty looks, people spitting in each other’s lanes. Everyone asks me if I try to intimidate my competitors, but I don’t think I have that look about me. Usually, I’m laughing my butt off and joking around before I swim—and I think that actually gets to people more.
What? Oh, yup, that’s wind. I’m in an army tent on the beach, training my daughter Reece how to drive jet skis. She’s three and a half. It looks a little George of the Jungle—when the little monkey drives by in the truck. You shake your head and say, “What?!”
You’ve gone out and ridden those big monsters a bunch of times, and all of a sudden it’s like, Now what is it about? You have to rethink: What really is it for you? Because if that was it, then it’s gonna be a long day. But, you know, it’s always going to be about the big monsters, too.
I’m trying to tell the story to the people that don’t know surfing. That’s really been my challenge and my goal: to be an ambassador. Surfers are guys who just go surfing every day. Me, I’m gonna ride a bike, lift weights, paddle, hike. I’m going in the water as soon as we hang up.
Expedition kayaker who led the first descent of Tibet's Tsangpo Gorge
The first time we scouted the Tsangpo, in late April, the river had already started to rise. We walked away from it. It was much bigger than we’d ever imagined. We just sat there saying, “There’s no way.”
Once we’d figured out it was potentially runnable, we hit the books. The biggest issue was scale. We were looking at aerial photos from the 1920s, some walking expeditions, and a little bit of video. But nothing really translated: What looked like medium-size boulders turned out to be house-size boulders.
Alpha dog? There were a lot of decisions to be made. It takes a strong person who knows what they’re doing and will still be respected. It’s the same as any leadership position.
Now I’m waiting for things to mellow out between Pakistan and India so we can complete the last section of the Indus, the last of the four rivers—I’ve already run the Karnali, the Sutlej, and, of course, the Tsangpo—that flow in the four cardinal directions off of Mount Kailas. The Tsangpo was the most formidable of the bunch, but together they’re the biggest, baddest rivers in the Himalayas.