The Best Adventure Sports Stories of the Decade

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As our lives have become more wired and interconnected, increasingly Uber-ed and Insta-ed and Amazon Primed over the last 10 years, the need to disconnect is only more amplified. Finding the time to get away, and the means to unplug and test oneself in nature: That’s one battle. Finding the reason why is another. Over the last decade, our partners at the Adventure Sports Network Group toiled to provide that guidance, documenting the worlds of outdoor action and adventure sports by capturing the colorful lives of folks who put their interests outside the box first. We asked the editors from the group’s hallowed collection of titles to pick the long-form features that inspired deep thought and direct action (and impassioned reaction) from their core audiences. And sure enough, it was well-crafted profiles of the most committed characters and the overlooked destinations, the ones thriving on the margins that rose to the surface and provided the most profound revelations about who we are and what we seek outside. Here are the top recommendations for the last decade’s most impactful reads picked by the editors who deliver SURFER, POWDER, BIKE, SNOWBOARDER, Canoe & Kayak, TransWorld SKATEboarding, Newschoolers and SUP.

From SURFER 

Mark Occhilupo at the Coke Classic, Manly Beach, 1987, three years after setting the surf world on fire, though eventually run down in the world title chase by Tom Carroll. When Occ eventually returned to claim the title in 1999, there was a notable absentee on Tour. “Don’t tell anyone,” he whispers, “but the year I won the world title, Kelly wasn’t there.” Courtesy SURFER Magazine/Peter Simons

Looking back at the last decade, SURFER has showcased shifts in the sport’s culture and its defining events, stories that Editor Todd Prodanovich says “helped us make sense of Andy Irons legacy, laugh at ourselves for falling into surf-hipster cliches, contextualize the sweeping changes to competitive surfing and feel genuinely awestruck at the kinds of off-grid adventure some surfers are still able to find in this ever-shrinking world.” However, for Prodanovich, it’s the definitive profile of Australian icon Mark Occhilupo that he ranks as his all-time favorite feature in SURFER‘s storied run, entering its 60th year in 2020.

“It’s unequivocally the greatest comeback story in the history of surfing,” Prodanovich says. “Sean Doherty perfectly captures the strange charisma of Mark Occhilupo and paints a picture of a life truly unlike any other in surfing or otherwise.” Read the 2015 story by Sean Doherty.

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As inviting as Lunada Bay can look during a solid swell with glassy conditions, the notorious localism of the area has kept all but the boldest visitors from paddling out. Courtesy SURFER Magazine / Woodworth

Beyond overlooked corners of surf culture on “the other North Shore” of Lake Superior, to tracking the rise in wave pools, Prodanovich points readers closer to home with a deep look into localism and its discontents with the attention-grabbing lawsuits from 2017 that embroiled Southern California’s Lunada Bay. Prodanovich calls it a “strange story of the downfall of one of California’s most notorious groups of local surfers, and what it could mean for the practice of localism as a whole.” Read the 2017 story by Ashtyn Douglas.


From POWDER

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Deadwood, S.D., would never be considered a ski town, unless you really considered the scene at nearby Torrey Peak. Courtesy Powder Magazine / Robin O’Neill

For POWDER Editor Sierra Shafer, a decade that has divided attention by over-serving stories is best remembered with pieces that cast the spotlight on timeless quality that too often goes under-appreciated. That recognition means odes to tangible symbols of ski culture like the humble wire ticket wicket, or a deeper look at a color-blind Swiss ski photographer who captures mesmerizing drone imagery. In the case of destination coverage, Shafer selected colorful portraiture of ski hills from a private in-holding deep inside the heart of B.C.’s Cathedral Provincial Park to a pair of unlikely U.S. resorts in the Black Hills and the Catskills. Read the 2019 story on a small South Dakota ski community that hitches its wagons to mining, by Clare Menzel.

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Laszlo Vajtayand rips apart one of Plattekill’s signature bump lines. Plattekill, New York. Courtesy Powder Magazine / Dave Reddick

Once the roof of the New World, New York’s Catskill Mountains remain a skier’s escape. Read the 2019 story by Porter Fox

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Courtesy Powder Magazine / Zach Doleac

The other under-appreciated side of skiing that POWDER highlighted over the last 10 years were the undiscussed human ones. That goes for individuals with the launch of the title’s award-winning Human Factor series — exploring the psychological elements involved with decision-making when skiing in avalanche terrain — as well as the collective labor that powers the ski experience. That is, the thousands of J-1 visa workers employed at ski resorts around the U.S. each winter, bussing tables, bumping chairs, checking lift tickets. By shadowing the short-term foreign workers at Lake Tahoe’s Homewood resort, the magazine gave readers a deeper look at what, and who, make ski resorts go round. Read the 2018 story by Megan Michelson


From SNOWBOARDER  

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Courtesy Snowboarder / Gary Land

For SNOWBOARDER Editorial Director Pat Bridges, the choice of a story subject to memorialize was obvious: Jake Burton Carpenter, the man who Bridges says, “impacted the riding life more than any other.” After Burton Carpenter’s recent passing in November, Bridges described his pioneering role not as the first to step on a snowboard or found a company, but as “the first to define himself as a snowboarder,” and a man who made snowboarding his life’s work. In Bridges’ sprawling 2016 interview with Burton on the eve of his company’s 40th anniversary, the two candidly discuss how Burton Carpenter started making boards, being outlawed into bumming snowcat rides at night, his early partnership with Craig Kelly (and its legal fallout with Sims), developing highback bindings, as well as sensitive subjects like his bouts with cancer and Miller Fisher Syndrome and its devastating results: paralysis, suicidal thoughts, and open-heart surgery. Burton Carpenter’s outlook on his recovery and the fire that has sustained his company is certainly worth the longer look. Read the Sept. 2016 interview.


From BIKE

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Courtesy BIKE / Joey Schusler

Uncovering trails has long been a tenet of BIKE‘s destination coverage. With the decade’s shift from print- to digital-first marquee content releases, Editor Nicole Formosa highlights HUAYHUASH as the place where an epic ends-of-the-earth tale successfully met innovative digital-first storytelling formats. The interactive, four-chapter parallax scrolling feature incorporates words, photos, video clips of three Colorado-based friends who set out on a self-supported mountain bike circumnavigation of one of the world’s most wonderful and wicked mountain ranges — the Huayhuash of the Peruvian Andes. And the result is a lasting story (the accompanying film remains one of BIKE‘s most-viewed YouTube films of all time). See the 2014 story by Joey Schusler and Thomas Woodson.

Colin Meagher’s wife Nikki Hollatz on a dawn patrol ride in Washington’s Entiat Mountains, where Meagher made this picture that graced BIKE’s Dec. 2017 cover. Courtesy BIKE / Colin Meagher

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Colin Meagher Courtesy BIKE / Tyler Roemer

Explorations to distant lands aren’t the only BIKE stories that stuck out to Formosa. There’s plenty of inspiration to be plumbed from profiles of eccentric riders — whether it’s Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford and the 12-year-old neighbor who got him into riding mountain bikes; or Peter Donner, a quirky Utah canyon-dweller who does the same seven-hour, 50-mile ride every day of the riding season — and ordinary places, like the football-crazed deep South, where Kristin Butcher documented the lasting impact of high school mountain biking leagues. However, few stories strike as many nerves as the powerful feature on Colin Meagher, one of the sport’s most respected photographers, documenting his gripping battle through ALS that continues after being handed what amounted to a death sentence with the diagnosis. Read Mike Ferrentino’s June 2019 feature.

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Courtesy BIKE / Bruno Long

No BIKE list would be complete without a nod to this feature on Casey Brown and how her wild upbringing (and suspect circumstances surrounding her brother’s death) have shaped her riding career. “She was just coming onto the scene,” Formosa says, “but is now one of the most recognizable women in the sport.” Read Formosa’s 2015 feature.


From Canoe & Kayak

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Illustration by Martin Simpson. Courtesy Canoe & Kayak / Martin Simpson

As a longtime C&K contributor, Tyler Williams is used to penning tales from the annals of whitewater, like his 2018 feature on the life and legacy of Doug Tompkins, or this August 2012 classic on the historic Canoandes expedition by a group of Polish students who slipped the Iron Curtain and changed river-running forever. Two years ago, however, Williams inserted himself, inadvertently, in one of the most gripping tales in Canoe & Kayak‘s 46-year run. He recounts a harrowing run-in with an armed landowner in Arizona that led to shots fired and a 22.5-year prison sentence. Read Williams 2018 account.

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Kelty on the lower Marañon, July 2017. Courtesy Canoe & Kayak / Ariel Diaz

This decade has seen plenty of extraordinary paddling feats, including: Aniol Serrasolses’s 2018 solo one-day run of the Stikine, Aleksander Doba crossing the Atlantic (again) in 2017; Erik Boomer and Jon Turk kayaking around Ellesmere Island in 2011; Freya Hoffmeister’s 2015 circumnavigation of South America; the 2015 first descent on Papua New Guinea’s Beriman River; the 24-Hour distance padding world record speed descent set on Idaho’s Salmon River in 2017; as well as C&K’s exclusive on Knox Hammack and James Shimizu notching the third, fourth attempts on 189-foot Palouse Falls earlier this year (to name just a few).

As far as superlative accomplishment goes, the mighty Amazon saw its share of firsts as well, from Darcy Gaechter becoming the first woman to kayak the entire Amazon in 2013, as well as West Hansen’s 2012 fastest source-to-sea descent from a new, most distant source discovered (and paddled) by exploratory kayaking legend Rocky Contos earlier that year. However, a pair of C&K analysis piece by former editor Jeff Moag: one on an Amazon paddler’s fraudulent world record claim with Guinness; another on the tragedy of Emma Kelty’s murder during a separate crack at “the Everest of source-to-sea descents,” has us asking harder questions about why paddlers undertake long solo endurance expeditions — and what they hope to gain in return. Read Moag’s 2017 story.


From TransWorld SKATEboarding

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Courtesy TransWorld SKATEboarding / Jaime Owens

Beyond their statement film release of last year’s DAEWON, a documentary feature covering the career highlights and uncertain life moments throughout the 30-year-career of skateboarding legend Daewon Song, as well as an interview series tracking skateboarding’s inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics, TransWorld SKATEboarding continues documenting the sport’s next innovators and influencers. TW SKATE Editor Jaime Owens was quick to highlight an opportunity he had last year to capture a potent mix of talent that is the Volcom Skate team taking on New York City. See Owens’ June photo essay here.