I’ve asked a lot of people a lot of questions in the course of my ‘career’ as a writer. I’ve always been fascinated by what makes people tick, what motivates them, what is the process of their critical thinking and what defining moments forged them into the people they are and the path that they are on. Sitting down with someone, getting the days questions out of the way and then slowly getting deeper and deeper into someones intellect and spirit is terrifically fascinating. I’m so glad I get to do that from time to time and call it a job.
However, I recently had the tables turned on me when Cam McRae of NSMB.com asked me to be the focus of an episode of Hey Neighbour. Ironically enough I started Hey Neighbour three years ago but stepped aside recently as I had too many other commitments to be able to devote to seeking out the right kind of stories and people for that series. When I originally pitched the idea of Hey Neighbour to NSMB.com I said that I was tired of endless profiles of professional mountain bike riders and racers, instead I wanted to find the people that have made mountain biking their life but perhaps fly under the radar; the people that embody passion, dedication, inspiration and, above all else, have an interesting story about how bikes have become an essential part of their lifestyle.
We met Will Craig, a mountain biker with one arm who rides wilder trails than most riders will ever feel comfortable on; Sterling Lorence talked about capturing some of the photos of the early days on the Shore that communicated with the world the wild things that were happening there and inspired a world wide movement of similar daredevils; Kim Steed was one of those wild riders who also had the brains to start a business that would allow him to keep his passion going even when he wasn’t able to huck giant drops or risk life and limb anymore; Jerry Willows talked about leaving his hometown to move to the North Shore once he heard about the radical movement of riders who were forging their own path in the dank forest above Vancouver; Lee Lau and Sharon Bader discussed how they worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prevent land managers, politicians and bureaucrats (and parts of the local populations) fought to shut mountain biking down on the North Shore; Mark Wood talked about how that process is still ongoing but things are very different and much brighter looking these days; and Cam McRae, the owner and founder of NSMB.com, discussed how a bicycle trip to Italy with his wife inspired him to give up his job as a teacher and make a go at telling stories about the sport and area he was passionate about and how fifteen years later it has given him so much joy and continues to do so.
There’s a fantastic line-up of characters for the upcoming series but they must have dredged too deep because I was also asked to have the camera shone on me.
As I said, I’m usually so inspired to profile other people because I want to know about how they came to be where they are because they have become something that defines them and a story about the journey there. I have never felt I’ve become anything concrete or have a singular narrative that deserves mention (I feel like I’m still working towards that point), so when Cam asked if he could profile me I told him that I didn’t really know what I do so there might not be much of a storyline. After years of making it my job to identify what the story was and finding the narrative arc in other people’s stories I could really see my own. Cam was sure there was a few plot points he could hang a video off so I reluctantly said yes.
Matt Dennison, yet again, shows his real talent as a film-guy extraordinaire by shooting beautifully (in a very short amount of time) and editing this video in a way that it makes me not sound like a total numpty. Thank You Matt. Also, Cam McRae in his written introduction to the video wrote so beautifully and eloquently about things about me that I didn’t even realize about myself. I’ve extremely humbled by Cam’s words, I’m sure he has polished a turd and swept certain things under the carpet to make me sound more than I am, but it has been good for me to see what it is that I do without my own paranoid, distracted, cynical sense of self crowding how I look at what I do and who I am. It has helped me look to where I should be going next on my little adventure down my own storyline. Thanks Cam.
“Who The Hell is Seb Kemp?
Even Seb has trouble answering that question, as you’ll see in his this episode of Hey Neighbour. We tried to sort this out by pointing the camera at him for a change. If you know his name you’ve probably read his words or seen him on video, (Shit Mountain Bikers Say anyone?) but Seb’s roots in mountain biking reach below the media veneer.
Even as his notoriety has grown, Seb has continued to express himself by building trails. In his words: “Writing and filmmaking might be the most explicit ways of doing it, but trail building results in a tangible object which displays a builder’s energy, their will, imagination and philosophy. Every tire that follows a trail is taking the journey or reading the story a trail builder has written.”
Building and riding are simply extensions of the same activity in Seb’s mind: “Trail building also feels more important than riding to me. I think I spent more time building last year than I did riding and I don’t feel like I lost anything, rather I feel like I gained more. Biking doesn’t have to be about the bike, or even biking. It’s about anything that a bike stirs you to be passionate about and sometimes that can appear, to anyone not looking carefully, as something totally unrelated.”
Seb is an inspired teacher and coaching is another outlet for his obsession. Mr. Kemp is one of those rare individuals who always gives you full attention. Turning off the noise in the background and connecting deeply with people seems increasingly rare – but for Seb it’s his default – and it’s part of what makes him a great instructor.
These are the things Seb does; writing, building, teaching, filmmaking. But they are not who Seb is. Most of us are pushed and molded by society into following a certain path. Seb Kemp is one of the few people I know who lives a truly authentic life. Status and trappings are of no interest unless they lead to real experiences. He seems to rage against any predetermined impulse and to depart radically if he finds himself on a route he didn’t choose.
And he’s better than you at everything (except grammar).
Who the hell is Seb Kemp? Whoever the hell he wants to be.” – Cam McRae, NSMB.com