by Erin Kirkland
Award-winning adventure film producer Bryan Smith has probably logged more travel hours than most – exploring on, over, under, and within the planet Earth. He?s hung suspended above sheer rock cliffs, crawled across slippery logs, and faced wild weather situations. It wasn?t until his wife was expecting their first child, however, that Smith came face-to-face with the reality most new parents discover as soon as two become three: His life was about to change. Smith lives in Squamish, British Columbia, and owns Reel Water Productions, an independent adventure film company he manages in addition to his work with National Geographic as producer and director of photography.
Both businesses take him on the road for days and sometimes weeks at a time, filming, interviewing, editing, and talking to people from all edges of humanity. Communication is often sparse, if available at all. It is a lifestyle of hardcore opportunity, but Smith and his wife Lise-Anne Beyries have woven a tapestry of travel and adventure that fits both their active lifestyles and that of son and budding adventurer, Nelson, now five.
I talked with Smith in January after he spoke at a National Geographic Live! event in Anchorage, Alaska. Smith was one of several speakers traveling the globe on behalf of National Geographic, sharing his craft and inspiration for would-be adventurers, including families. ?In the few minutes I had via cellphone, I asked how Smith manages to incorporate a sense of exploration in his own family, and to share some ideas for other outdoor-minded parents who may be unsure how, or where, to begin their own adventures.
OFM: Bryan, you led a pretty amazing life before your son was born. In fact, your bio on the Reel Water website talks about an “insane work ethic.” Did you ever have a moment of ?Oh my gosh, now I have to slow down because I have a kid? How did you handle that??
Smith: Initially, I was scared, probably like a lot of guys. I thought, ?I?m never going to be able to do or be what I was.? I had led a pretty indie sort of lifestyle. But I think that thought evolved from realizing whether or not I wanted this change to happen, it was going to happen, and then it morphed into the framework of, ?This is a pretty incredible opportunity I have, to get out and explore with my family.”
OFM: So many parents want to try something new with their kids in the outdoors, whether it?s travel or recreation, but there can be roadblocks; fear, finances, lack of knowledge; what would you say to those just starting to worry?
Smith: I think we (as parents) tend to overcomplicate stuff; that is, think we need to drive 10 hours to call an experience an ?adventure.? If it?s hard for you, it?ll end up being no fun for anyone, so my suggestion is to start small. Camp in the back yard, take advantage of opportunities in front of you. There?s plenty of time for big adventures. The important thing is to simply go.
OFM: What about trying new things, things with, perhaps, more risk?
Smith: Look, each family has to find out what adventuring will fit them, best. It is OK if you never climb a mountain, but you have to start, somewhere. Adventure and risk can be a basic as taking a different route home at night. As parents, we should be clear where our limits lie, and those will translate to our children. My wife and I take trips without our son sometimes, and that?s OK. It means we have time together for more risky experiences, and time with Nelson as a family. Nelson is, though, growing up with opportunities to stretch his own limits, but it’s up to him to ultimately decide where those limits are.
OFM: Any final thoughts? Smith: I?m lucky to be surrounded by a community of like-minded people; that?s my life. Find the balance, take your family adventuring, wherever that might be.
Postscript: Smith is currently on location in New Britain, Papua New Guinea, shooting footage of the narrow, twisting Bairiman River.
Erin Kirkland is editor of Outdoor Families Magazine, author of Alaska on the Go: exploring the 49th state with children, and publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska’s family travel resource. She lives with her family in Anchorage, Alaska.