It was bound to happen. He’s graced every other medium under the sun, so why not a book? Going Vertical: The Life of an extreme kayaker by Menasha Ridge Press, is now out, chronicling the life and times of what’s it like to be Tao Berman, who has more than 50 first descents to his credit and has appeared on everything from Dateline NBC to CNN’s World Sports “Play of the Day.” Ghost-written by Pam Withers, it goes from his days running wild in the mountains of eastern Washington as a child, to his world-record extreme and entrepreneurial exploits, with chapters on everything from “The Tao of Marketing” to “The Tao of Risk.” “Berman is a powerhouse, a living story of pushing envelopes to the unthinkable edge,” says the book’s publisher. “It’s his inspiring life story of adventure prowess, domination of an extreme sport, and personal audacity to go where others fear to tread.”
Okay, so that sounds a little PRish, even for something about Tao. So having paddled with him ourselves, and knowing full well what all’s entailed in publishing a book, we had to get it straight from him. Herein, then, is our special Q&A with the myth, the legend, the Tao.
PL: What was it like to write it?
Tao:I couldn’t have done it without my ghost writer. Everyone is great at something, and for me it’s not writing.
PL: How did it go with having a ghost writer?
Tao:Pam was great. We would spend a lot of time talking and then she would write each chapter based on our conversations. Then I would go over everything and make changes so it sounded like the words where mine.
PL: How long have you been working on it?
Tao:About a year.
PL: Any parts of the process that were more difficult than others?
Tao:The publisher gave us deadlines for parts of the book to be done by. I was trying to finish a chapter the evening before leaving for South America to film a show and somehow just after getting it finished I lost all my work. So at about 10:00PM I had to start all over again. I had a flight to catch at 6:00AM the next day. That chapter was by far the worst.
PL: Was it harder than some of the drops you’ve run?
Tao:In some ways it was harder for me because I’m not as good at writing. But the risks obviously aren’t the same.
PL: Ever get writer’s block?
My writer did most of the writing so that wasn’t so much of a problem for me. But sometimes during my editing I would have a difficult time getting across what I was trying write.
PL: You’re probably the only State Rep candidate to have such a title. Think it will help your political aspirations?
Tao:Absolutely. It’s an interesting hook for the media, so there’s been a lot more focus on my campaign than there would otherwise be. There’s also been a fair amount of national attention on my campaign for the same reason. I was recently contacted by someone that wants to film a documentary about me running for office. If I wasn’t an athlete there never would have been that interest. Writing the book also allowed me to have the opportunity to talk about my career the way I wanted to. There’s been so much media throughout the years that have written articles from their view point. This book is very different than what anyone has read about me because it’s directly from me. I talk about my critics from my perspective. I also talk about how I went about trying to make a career as an athlete in a small sport. I really tried to be honest and transparent with the book. I didn’t want to hide anything from the reader.
Can’t get enough? Following is an extra bonus excerpt of a Q&A with Tao from the publisher, Menasha Ridge Press.
What’s more important—drive or confidence?
Tao:They are equals. If you have confidence without drive you’re doomed to mediocrity. But having drive without confidence would be like owning a Porsche without an engine.
Some people think you’re nuts to do what you do. Others admire your abilities to do what you do so well. What makes Tao tick?
Tao:I’m not afraid to try anything. I also don’t give up. I believe those are two very important ingredients to success at anything. Risking my life kayaking doesn’t bother me because, through training, I have built the confidence to believe that there is no outcome possible other than success. Imagine how much more we would all accomplish if doubt and fear were never part of the decision making process. I would rather try and fail than fail by not trying.
You’re going over a 60 foot waterfall, the rushing water is cold, the area you’re shooting for is small, there’s a crowd looking on—what’s going through your mind on your descents?
Tao:The reason I enjoy pushing my sport to new boundaries and risking it all is for the moment that I’m in my kayak knowing I have to be perfect or else… There is a moment where nothing else in life matters. The ultimate test is one where a mistake could mean death. Man has been testing himself in this way forever, but the form of the test has evolved with the times. Success or failure is so easy to define. If I can paddle away from the bottom of the falls I’ve been successful. If I can’t paddle away then I’ve make a big mistake, and or a serious error in judgment. What I do isn’t that different than what a business man does. We each compare the risks to the rewards. The difference is, if the business man is wrong, he looses money; if I’m wrong I may lose my life.
Among your many pursuits, past and present, you studied marketing for a while. How has that come in handy?
Tao:After two years of college, I decided to focus 100 percent of my energy on pursing a career as a professional kayaker. At the time, everyone told me it would be impossible and if I’d listened to them they would have been right. Instead I chose to look at myself as not just an athlete but also as a product. I recognized that I had a shelf life of maybe 15 years with an introduction, incline, maturity, and decline. Part of the art is being able to market myself through each phase of my career. Instead of hiring a manager and publicist, I chose to do all this myself. Most parents wouldn’t let a stranger raise their kids and for the same reason I didn’t want a stranger managing my career.
You grew up with very little, in the material sense, and now you make a very nice living doing what you love. You talk in the book about giving back. Was this instilled in you as a child or has it been a by-product of your success?
Tao:I think this has been a by-product of my success. For the past 10 years, my focus has been on me and my career. Now it’s very rewarding to use my name to be a part of causes that are much bigger than me. I’m an Athlete for a Cure, which is a program of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. My goal has been to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer. I also enjoy speaking to kids about making positive choices, goal setting, perseverance, and finding their passion. If kids find something positive to pursue, you don’t have to give a “don’t do drugs speech.”
You’re running for state representative for the State of Washington? What do you bring to the table that other candidates don’t?
Tao:I’m a pro athlete but it’s not all I want to be remembered for. I want to make my community and country better for everyone, and that is why I’ve chosen to get involved. I don’t think many of our politicians today are making choices that are best for our country. I also think politics are too divisive. As opposed to looking at the person sitting across the isle as an opponent, I want to look at them as a partner. If we start at where we agree, as opposed to where we disagree, there is a better chance of getting things done.
You’ve covered a lot of ground, both personally and professionally in your 29 years. What goals do you have for yourself in the next few years? What about after you retire from the sport?
Tao:There is a lot that interests me. I currently do financial planning for some of my friends and I may choose to pursue that. Helping to create more financial stability for people is very rewarding. I’ve always wanted to go into business with my brother. He has an MBA and is the number one salesman for a multi billion dollar company. Creating a profitable business and taking good care of my employees would be very satisfying.