What becomes prominently clear when you first meet Shelby Stanger is her unreserved drive and passion for all things adventure.
Launching into the industry at age 16, Stanger worked at La Jolla, CA-based surf school Surf Diva. She quickly elevated herself as the first female journalist of the Vans Warped Tour fresh out of college. Between then and now, she has built her voice at a myriad positions both in and outside the action and adventure sports industry.
Lately, she’s been tapping into a different medium to bring her storytelling to life — a podcast series that delves into the lives of those who value adventure above all else.
“Since I first started writing, my favorite stories have been ones about people who have chosen an unconventional path and made their wildest dreams happen – whether in business or adventure,” Stanger said. “I'll never get sick of this topic.”
With guests ranging from photographer Chris Burkard to filmmaker and surfer Cyrus Sutton, Wild Ideas Worth Living has gained a following and some accolades along the way.
Stanger shared with us her take on why podcasts are ramping up in popularity, and how she seeks out and defines a story “worthy” of sharing.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What ultimately led you to launching this podcast?
With the landscape of media shifting from print to digital and now to more audio and video, I wanted to continue to tell stories, but in a podcast format. Not only have I been a huge fan of podcasts, but I love interviewing people and telling their stories. It's always been my biggest strength.
I've also been interested in challenging myself to grow personally and professionally, and I knew I could combine my years as a reporter with my marketing and sales experience, and ultimately create my own media outlet through a podcast. I studied the craft for two years, took an entrepreneurship accelerator program in San Diego to help me with the business plan, put together a production team so I could produce a high-quality show for listeners, and launched last December.
Who has been on the show?
We've had everyone from surfer Bethany Hamilton, photographer Chris Burkard and rock climber Chris Sharma, to surfer and filmmaker Cyrus Sutton, ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, best-selling authors Jaimal Yogis, Caroline Paul and James Nestor, November Project Founder Brogan Graham, Surf Diva Founder Izzy Tihanyi, Oprah Super Session Fitness Star Angela Davis, and David Goldman, a fasting expert who eats every other day.
Explain the criteria you use to bring guests on the show.
I look for people who have pursued a "wild" idea – like running across the country, producing a film that was controversial or hard to pull off, starting a business off a wild idea, writing a best-selling book, or someone who chose an unconventional path. Guests need to be positive, articulate (many have given TED talks), and provide advice that helps listeners. They also have to be comfortable and want to share their whole story – the good and the bad, because the goal is to show people how they did it, even if there was some failure and hard parts along their journey. Ideally, they are also great storytellers who like to have fun, because we aim to make the show informative, but fun for listeners as well.
Who would be your dream interview, and why?
I've already had on many of my dream interviews, but for the future, here's a short list: Oprah, Kelly Slater, Tim Ferriss, Barack Obama, Richard Branson, anyone from Saturday Night Live (because being a comedian is the toughest job in the world and I love comedy), Anthony Bourdain, Jimmy Fallon, Joe Rogan, Howard Stern, Jen Sincero, Andrew Agassi, Steven Pressfield, J.R. Moehringer, Alex Honnold, and swimmer Diana Nyad. This is a diverse list, but many of these people have overcome something, inspired me along my own journey, are hosts of their own shows, defied convention and/or are just amazing storytellers, adventurers and writers.
As a female journalist and professional in the outdoor / adventure sport space, what have been some of the challenges – if there are any – to navigating and earning respect and success?
I don't think I have had a lot of challenges as a female, but I think being a competitive athlete from a young age taught me to have good leadership and teamwork skills. I've always been attracted to strong women from a young age and had good mentors.
My mom was a professor and became an entrepreneur and author recently in her 70s. My two older sisters are both entrepreneurs (one just opened a boxing studio in Santa Monica called Box Union).
Izzy Tihanyi was my surf camp counselor when I was a kid, and Izzy and Coco have been great advisors and friends. I got to work with women like Kristy Van Doren and Tiffany Montgomery from Shop-Eat-Surf. I've also worked with men who were all very supportive of me on the leadership teams at Vans, Body Glove, and prAna, to name a few.
How has being a female given you an advantage in this space?
There are fewer female podcast hosts, especially those who focus on surfing/adventure and business. The time is ripe for strong female voices. REI, for example, is onto it with their #ForceOfNature campaign, which features badass women, and is great to see and be a part of. I think the biggest advantage I have is 20 years of experience as a reporter and an awesome network of guests who have all been willing to share their stories with me on my show and also share the show to their networks.
Talk about the initial feedback from the industry and your audience. What does the future look like for the series?
Just last week we were voted in the 18 Best Outdoor and Adventure Podcasts of 2017. We were also voted the top podcast to listen to in San Diego, and we have been getting good press. The best part are the genuine heart-felt letters I get saying how a show affected someone on a personal level. I've covered everything from depression to Lyme disease, fasting, death, body image, fear, and all sorts of things aside from just adventure, so some of the stories really hit home to certain people.
What doors has the podcast opened for you?
Besides interacting with people on a deeper level and getting to share my own story along the way, I've also been hired to speak and host events and moderate panels. I was invited to be the keynote speaker for REI San Diego's #ForceofNature kickoff Campaign. I hosted a panel of adventurers at GoPro's HQ recently for the San Diego Diplomacy Center, and I just got back from hosting the speaker series for a new three-day outdoor festival in Oregon called OutFound. I am also going to speak at the Outdoor Retail show next month.
Why do you think the popularity of podcasts has skyrocketed so heavily at this time?
People love old-school storytelling. As humans, we love hearing stories of how other people achieved a major feat.
Technology like Audible has made audio books more accessible, and now there are podcast players directly installed into new car stereos and phones. If you commute to work, it's hard to read in a car or on a train, but listening to stories is easy and provides such a rich experience. It's a great alternative to talk shows, music, or news and can make any commute or even a long run more enjoyable.
Brands like podcasts because if you have a good show, people listen to the host's endorsement of their products and it converts. We've been lucky to work with Toad and Co, Suja, GracedByGrit, and prAna. We have Danner and a few more great brands lined up for next season.
Any final words?
As I say at the end of all my shows: Don't forget, some of the best adventures often happen when you follow your wildest ideas.
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