Andy Maser


Young Explorers Grantee

Photo: Andy Maser and a local guide collect an elephant scat

Photograph by Trip Jennings

Birthplace: Maryland

Current City: Portland, Oregon

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I picked up my first video camera when I was 14 and made my first whitewater kayaking adventure film when I was 16. After the 500th VHS copy I made and sold, I pretty much realized that filmmaking was going to be a long-term passion!

I always loved outdoor recreation—kayaking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking—to a point of obsession, so it was inevitable that my career would somehow involve being outside.

How did you get started in your field of work?

Though I'd been on several international exploratory kayak expeditions prior, a project in Papua New Guinea in 2007 solidified my passion for adventure-based science and conservation storytelling. Our team explored, from source to sea, a river that began deep underground in the world's largest cave system and flowed through remote jungle to the Pacific Ocean. The jungle, home to numerous endemic species and subsistence tribes, is under attack by Asian logging interests. It is very likely that much of the land around that river, accessible only by a long caving and kayaking expedition, has since been clear cut and the indigenous tribes forced to leave their land.

Our team shot an episode of Wild Chronicles for National Geographic about the expedition, and I've been doing similar work ever since.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to filmmaking?

Inspiring passion in others to help protect our world is my driving force. I'm fortunate that I get to spend time out in our world exploring and learning about really interesting things. It's through these experiences that I come to really care about places, wildlife, and cultures. Using the stories of my adventures to help others feel what I felt when I was there is how I strive to inspire people to care. When I see excitement on people's faces and motivation to take action to protect a wild place or creature, all the hard days fade away.

What's a normal day like for you?

I spend about half of my year in the field and the other half locked in my basement office in Portland, Oregon. Field days are typically long and often involve some combination of carrying heavy equipment, being really hot or cold, waking up in spectacular places, and learning from incredibly interesting people. Days at home are grounding—a cup of good coffee, a run in the park with my dog, and many hours at my computer either editing video or planning the next project.

Do you have a hero?

My heroes are all of the people that dedicate their lives to following their passions. Life is short, and it's what you make of it. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who have the courage to do what they love. For me it's exploring, learning, telling stories, and helping to protect the planet; for others it could be anything.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

My favorite experiences always involve the people that I collaborate with or meet during a journey. During a recent two-month elephant conservation expedition to the jungle of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the energy and humor of several of our local guides made some of the toughest days enjoyable. Our days were spent crawling under branches, tripping over vines, and wading through creeks in search of elephant dung. No matter how many fire ants were biting at once, no matter how many bees stinging at the same time, or how destroyed our feet got, our guides were always quick to crack a joke in half-Swahili, half-English that we barely understood. By the end of the journey we'd accomplished our goal because of them, and made great friends at the same time.

Looking back on all of my experiences, it always seems like the most challenging experiences later become my favorites. I think it's not so much a masochistic desire for suffering as the raw emotion and strong bonds that can only come from overcoming an incredible challenge with other people. The time I got held up by machine gun-toting rebels was just plain terrible though.

What are your other passions?

My other passions in life are pretty basic: good food and drink, good friends, physical challenge, and a place to call home.

What do you do in your free time?

Admittedly, much of my free time is spent with a camera in my hand. I love to get outside and play though-whether it's backcountry skiing, whitewater kayaking, or mountain biking. I also have a cool old 29-foot sailboat in Baja that is the perfect escape when I need to check out.

If you could have people do one thing to help reduce the human impact on the planet, what would it be?

The easiest way to help protect our world is for us all to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Ask where your food comes from, where the materials for products are sourced, if it's reasonable to get somewhere without driving. If we all internalized some of the sometimes hard-to-grasp consequences of our actions, we might all be able to work together to solve our planet's greatest challenges.

In Their Words

When I see excitement on people's faces and motivation to take action to protect a wild place or creature, all the hard days fade away.

—Andy Maser

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