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The Heart Of Adventure

Tim Zimmermann admires Sarah Hebert's goal to windsurf across the Atlantic, but questions the marketing angles of modern-day adventures.

February 28, 2012
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I’m trying to figure out what I think about the fact that Sarah Hebert, a highly accomplished windsurfer who happens to have a defibrillator implanted in her chest, is currently windsurfing across the Atlantic.

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I’d be the last to disparage or criticize anyone for undertaking such a massive sailing challenge, so I want to emphasize that I admire the fact that she is out there. But in an era of hype and contrived adventure I also find myself analyzing where this sort of adventure fits in the big picture.

Her windsurfing journey is not at all contrived. She is out here. She is putting in the miles. It is very hard work. No, my thoughts are more about the marketing, and what it takes to get sponsorship for sailing adventure. Every adventure these days, it seems, has to have a marketing angle. So Hebert’s Atlantic adventure is being built around the fact that she has a defibrillator, and Boston Scientific is heavily featured in the messaging. “I want to especially send a strong message: all dreams are possible despite the difficulties of life, because ‘With the heart anything is possible!'” Hebert says on her website.

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I am all for defibrillators. My daughter’s heart has an extra beat, and maybe she will need one some day. But I am not sure how much it adds to the adventure or my appreciation of the adventure to know that she has one. I find myself wishing Hebert just set out to windsurf the Atlantic, and focused the presentation of the adventure on the fact that windsurfing the Atlantic, while not at all unprecedented, is pretty damn challenging (go to the 1:20 mark of the video below for some great footage).

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Underneath that thought is the grudging awareness that we live in an age of marketing, in which messaging and product placement seemingly infect, I mean permeate, almost every public endeavor. I don’t know why but I prefer the idea of adventure for adventure’s sake. For the experience, for the inner journey, for the sheer thrill, and inner satisfaction, that comes from doing something hard. It doesn’t feel authentic to me when it is about something else, particularly when that something else is something which fans can buy, or the burnishing of a corporate brand. I know this is a theme that I tend to harp on, but it is an important one for anyone who loves the idea of adventure because the perceived need to sell adventure, and raise money to undertake adventure, is undermining the purity of adventure.

Yes, any adventurer who spurned marketing opportunities would have a harder time setting sail. And maybe there would be fewer adventures to impress and distract us. But scrapping to go because the goal is irresistible, and somehow finding a way, is part of a pure adventure, and part of any great journey. That’s why Matt Rutherford’s epic circumnavigation of the Americas is such a compelling story.

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Equipment does cost money, but, hey, it’s the era of Craigslist. And social media, which allows adventure to be shared widely, which is a revolution, costs very little. So while I root for Hebert to have a very successful crossing (follow her journey LIVE, here), and while I hope she finds whatever she is seeking by sailing a windsurfer across an ocean, I am also on the lookout for the sailors and dreamers who are out there doing something special and interesting, with whatever boats and equipment they can lay their hands on, and doing it for one reason and one reason alone: the experience of it. No deeper theme, no marketing, no contrivances.

And if you know of any, send them my way. I want to write about them, too.

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