Think back to your childhood. Do you remember a specific person or experience that inspired your adventurous spirit?
I have to give props to my dad and stepmom, who were always keen to pack up the family for some sort of outdoor adventure—like camping on a Great Barrier Reef island. (Guess I should mention they live in Australia.)
For these trips, we’d pack everything we would need for ten days—including drinking water—and take a barge overnight to a deserted national park island 70 miles off shore. There we’d set up camp, Robinson Crusoe-style. It was a family adventure like no other. These expeditions taught me valuable life lessons and helped make me who I am today.
For starters, I learned to be brave. We’d snorkel—but not tame snorkeling, mind you. We were in the middle of the ocean on a tiny coral cay. There was no kiddie pool. You had to jump off a coral wall to get in the water, which dropped from 30 feet into the ocean pretty quickly. There were pretty little fish, but also huge pelagics—such as six-foot tuna and SHARKS. It was scary. But by challenging myself, I gained confidence.
I learned about teamwork. We all pitched in to set up camp, cook, problem solve, move water barrels, etc.
I learned how special it is to bond with family and friends over shared experiences, free from the distractions of modern life.
I learned to live in the moment. Time slowed down. Everyday tasks became my purpose. Food tasted better simply because we were outdoors.
I gained an appreciation for the natural world, the delicate balance of life in it, and the importance of protecting wild places. We watched baby turtles hatch. We helped an injured bird. We learned about the interconnectedness of life in a coral reef—and all life.
I was lucky. My family is deeply connected to the outdoors. I learned by example. But not everyone is so fortunate. Many kids these days, particularly in cities, don’t have mentors to introduce them to wild places.
That’s why the work of The Outdoor Foundation is so important. Funded by contributions from Outdoor Industry Association-member companies, the foundation is dedicated to inspiring future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. One of their initiatives is the Paddle Nation Project, which awarded grants to 13 youth-developed projects that will get more young people paddling, whether in canoes, kayaks or on stand-up paddleboards. Youth inspiring youth. It’s a magic formula. These projects are underway right now. Learn more.
In addition, this year the foundation’s Outdoor Nation initiative is hosting ten youth summits, with support from presenting sponsors The North Face and REI Foundation, to teach youth to be outdoor leaders. Anyone between the ages of 16 and 28 can apply. It’s free. Those selected will camp overnight, receive leadership training, participate in a service project, and gain valuable skills to help encourage others to seek outdoor adventures.
Do you know someone who should attend a youth summit? Tell them to fill out an application at outdoornation.org.
Ponder your outdoor inspiration, the adventures you’ve enjoyed, and how different your life and perspective would be without them. Outdoor experiences as kids make us better, stronger, more confident people. We should all do everything we can to inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.