Living the Dream: Adventure Photographer Skip Brown

For more than two decades, Skip Brown has been taking pictures for adventure magazines like Outside, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, Runner’s World, and Blue Ridge Outdoors. Along the way, he’s mountain biked Copper Canyon, Mexico; kiteboarded the Columbia River Gorge; paddled the Congo River; and boarded the British Columbia backcountry—all while balancing family life in his Maryland home. BRO caught up with Brown in between adventures to find out what it’s like to live the good life.

A self-portrait of Brown paddleboarding the Potomac.How did you get into adventure photography?
It just sort of evolved. I didn’t even do any of these sports until I was in my mid-20s. I was a music major and into really arty stuff, shooting people and food and things. Then I got into hang gliding. At the same time, mountain biking was just getting popular, so I got into that.  All of a sudden, adventure sports were huge. In my mid-20s, I realized it made sense to focus on the things I enjoy doing. This was about the same time that adventure sports were getting popular, so the timing worked out.

You’re known for actually participating in the adventures you’re filming. Do you have any new outdoor passions?
I spend more time than I should participating in the sports I shoot. But it’s helped me make a decent living. For a while, my son thought I was a pro kayaker because technically, I get paid to kayak. But right now, I’m really passionate about backcountry skate skiing, which very few people do. West Virginia is actually a good place for that, because there are so many freeze-thaw cycles, leaving the snow icy in the woods. When the backcountry is frozen like that, you can skate anywhere. I’ve skated all the way across Dolly Sods before. It’s like you’re flying through the landscape.

Ever get tired of traveling to the Dominican Republic or British Columbia to work?
No. With kids, it’s tough to arrange time to do the big adventures, so I appreciate the opportunities when they come along. Most of my adventures are close to home now, but I’m getting into some pretty cool stuff. I’ve started standup paddleboarding the Potomac River below the falls. Stand up paddling class III is as hard as it gets. Surfing river waves too. If you’re in the ocean, how long is your ride? 10 seconds? On a river, you can surf a wave as long as you can stand.

Any of your assignments stick out in your memory?
The last big trip to the Congo. I got invited by some paddlers to paddle and shoot the first descent of this particular section of the lower Congo River. We paddled the biggest whitewater ever recorded and measured the deepest known section of any river. It was 750 feet deep at one point. And the river was running 1.5 million cubic feet per second. Imagine the Mississippi River, but bigger, with whitewater. It was a “you swim, you die,” situation. We also got held up at gunpoint, but that’s a different story.

What’s your next big trip?
I don’t know. Mostly I stay closer to home these days because we have a three-month-old girl. Right now, I’m going to head off to do some kiteboarding on the Potomac before I have to pick up the kids after school. That’s the biggest adventure right now. Surviving three kids. I’m 53, so the recovery is slower.

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