Author: Sea to Summit |
Andrew King, who at just 34 years old, is on his way to becoming the first African-American climber to accomplish the Seven Summits and the world’s seven tallest volcanoes, was recently recognised for his vision, ethics, measurable impact and ability to inspire others.
Named one of Outside Business Journal’s 20 Most Influential People in the Outdoor Industry, we catch-up with our award-winning ambassador as he reflects on his journey raising awareness of climate change and the lack of diversity in the climbing world.
Q: Tell us what got you into outdoor life? Did you grow up with an outdoor-oriented family?
A: Most of my family is in the military. Growing up in Detroit as a kid and being outside meant running up and down the block. I didn't know that climbing mountains or surfing was an activity that was accessible for someone growing up on the west side of Detroit.
My grandparents adopted me so I could have the opportunity to go to college—the first-generation in my family to do that. With that, we then moved to Hawaii where I learned to love the freedom of the outdoors which laid the roots for my love of exploration.
The outdoors is where I found meditation and connection in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. I could hear myself and understand what I wanted to see in this life.
I started climbing volcanoes because it made sense to make it to the top, meditate, and if I had time afterwards, go surf in the ocean.
I love connecting with nature’s many elements of land, water and everything in-between—to me, it’s finding a place to be in peace.
Though no one in my family knew or ever tried climbing, mountaineering, surfing or exploring outside, they understood that it brought me peace and let me learn on my own. I taught myself how to climb, survive, swim, and surf, while exploring what it means to be human in the arms of nature.
Q: Can you remember the first moment you wanted to conquer a bigger expedition?
A: I don't think I ever wanted to conquer a bigger expedition or mountain. I usually say, and truly believe in my heart, that I never have or will conquer any mountain; I just learned to appreciate them for 1) giving me the space and place to meet others, 2) teaching me how to conquer my fears and my insecurities, and 3) gifting me a summit for meditation and reflection on who I have become through my learnings and my love of the outdoors.
Q: Do you have a favourite expedition?
A: Oh, this is a very tough question. I have many, but Denali was very special and always will be. When my great-grandmother passed at the start of the global pandemic, our family was not able to get together and pay our respects. I was able to take her ashes and spread them along the ridge. She now rests and is at peace at the highest mountains in the United States. Though we could not make it to the summit because of the weather, that expedition gave me growth and our family peace—that is all that I could have asked for.
Q: What stands out to you the most in the outdoor world?
A: What heavily sticks out to me is the lack of diversity from a racial and sexual representation on pro-team rosters as well as on-screen features in outdoor films and narratives.
I believe that to see yourself in a place, you must have someone that represents you and encourages you to believe that the path you want to follow is possible. The stories of those that have journeyed to these places as explorers and guardians of nature are just as important as the summits they stand on.
Q: Progressing humanity is the foundation of everything you do. Tell us about the inception of The Between Worlds Project and what you do to inspire and support others as well as spread awareness?
A: The Between Worlds Project highlights an individual or community on their journey to finding their strength through overcoming the barriers and obstacles that impact their community. We are born in this world with no opportunity to pick and choose how we will look, where we will live or who our family is, but we do have a choice on how we treat each other and the planet.
As we walk through life and navigate a world where our place in society is based on skin colour or sexuality, we can learn about the different communities and choose how these moments will impact us.
When I developed and created The Between Worlds Project, it was critical that the communities, individuals, and non-profits were given the ability to ask me for help while I was there.
The current journey of The Between Worlds Project is me talking about how I, an African-American from Detroit, explore what it means to be human; to take every opportunity to speak out against racism, sexism, climate change, and other economic barriers that limit individuals from finding peace and harmony outside and within themselves during their lifetime.
Since I provide the funding from working full-time, and work with them one-on-one, I'm very selective of the non-profits I choose to work with. These people need not just a moment, but a bridge that is stable over time, and I aim to help develop that bridge and lay the foundation.
When I'm done with my journey and sharing my path between these worlds, it will be someone else's turn to tell their story. I will continue to help behind the scenes and help them find their map of peace and exploration.
Q: What is the message you are wanting people to understand the most?
A: All that you seek at the top of a mountain or on a summit is already inside of you. Listen deeply and trust yourself with the validation of your heartbeat. The journey is not easy, but it’s beautiful when you see yourself as the unique person that you are, here and now.
Q: What do you do when you are not conquering mountains? What else do you enjoy?
A: I work full-time in tech and make sure The Between Worlds Project has funding to support the communities. When I'm not training between the calls and duties of work, I review what non-profits are dealing with and ask what they need to move forward on their initiatives.
I focus on climbing six months out of the year and then I switch my focus to big wave surf training for the other six months. When I'm not training, I'm usually working or catching up with family and friends before heading out on the next expedition. I also spend a lot of my time with local companies to develop programs to encourage more diversity and implement strategies they can use to take care of athletes' mental and physical health.
Q: What’s your favourite Sea to Summit product(s)?
A: Hands down the 130L Duffel Bag. I live out of that bag on the road, and I can’t travel without it on my shoulders. Dry bags are also awesome for keeping all my gear dry and compact. And I love every sleeping bag that Sea to Summit has made. They’re perfect for any of my adventures from a two-day lightweight alpine strike, a month-long expedition or just a weekend camping in Joshua Tree, and everything in between—I always feel like I'm in my bed when I zip up a Sea to Summit sleeping bag.
Q: If you could give your 12-year-old self advice, what would it be?
A: It's ok to be scared, to be brave, to feel alone, to feel overwhelmed, to ask for help, to feel happy, to feel sad, to feel hopeful. These are all things that make you human and being human is a beautiful gift. Unwrap that gift with each moment and surround yourself with people who love you because they’ll encourage you to love yourself more and they’ll always want to see you grow.
Also, buy stock in Google...
Q: What’s next?
A: I'm currently training in the Alps for alpinism and more technical climbs for expeditions like Matterhorn and Eiger. Additionally, I took the funds that I was going to use to climb Russia’s Elbrus and donated them to refugees and the displaced.
I am also taking time to understand the impact of climate change happening in the glaciers within the Alps. My goal is to learn from those who will take the time to enlighten me and to share my newly obtained knowledge with those who are open to listening.
During my preparation to surf one of the biggest waves in Europe, I will stand with my fellow people, learn and share the impact climate change has on the ocean. Next year will be very interesting as the continent will change and the initiative will be different, but I hope those reading this become inspired, and have a deeper desire to find peace outside and help others.
I have grown and continue to grow in discovering a deepening meaning of being human while exploring life with the time I have.
Thanks Andrew—for sharing your experience and insights. We're honoured to partner with you on your impactful journey.
Connect with and follow Andrew's inspiring accomplishments at https://www.instagram.com/andrew_alexander_king/