Interview with Jesse St Louis (@infamousjsl
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I faced a challenging turning point in my acting career that led me to a midlife crisis in Southern California. A moment of clarity came to me after getting lost hunting hidden waterfalls in Malibu. I realized that I would have to free climb back up a waterfall in order to get back to my car. The interesting part was that it was 45 minutes after sunset and so I had to climb that waterfall in the dark. After I reached the top of the waterfall, I felt so alive, focused and energized. I’d ever felt that way before and it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my time on this Earth living the most adventurous life that I could. I also wanted to share my journey with others to inspire them to do the same thing.
Can you share the most interest in exciting happened to you since you started doing this?
My wife and I just spent 26 months living in a van in New Zealand. We traveled all over the country and documented all of our adventures in over 130 videos on my YouTube channel and countless other short form videos on other platforms. One terrifying adventure sticks out though, and that is when Wharariki Beach nearly killed me.
Have you ever had that experience of firing up your laptop only to have instant FOMO as the Windows screensaver blasts a stunning image of a remote far-off land into your visual cortex? The archway islands of New Zealandâ€™s Wharariki Beach are one of those exotic places that you wish you could instantly transport yourself to. Thereâ€™s just one small detail that isnâ€™t easily communicated through the beautiful pictures of this location. Wharariki Beach is deadly!
The West Coast of New Zealand is notorious for its massive waves, chaotic riptides, and unpredictable conditions. Itâ€™s not surprising to learn that the indigenous Maori people consider it a sacred place as a doorway or portal between the worlds of the living and the dead. Despite posted warning signs, countless, unsuspecting tourists have attempted the swim out to those picturesque Archway Islands. The lucky ones have been rescued by helicopter. Many others have perished.
Armed with this knowledge, I was excited to explore the rocky coast of this beach for sea caves last year on my birthday. Little did I know that Iâ€™d be lulled into a false sense of security by the relative â€œcalmâ€ waves lapping against the massive stone arch islands. It looked totally doable. Iâ€™m a competent ocean swimmer with a slew of coasteering, freediving, and coastal cliff jumping experience. Certainly, the quick swim to the islands was well within my skillset. As I began, I noticed a slight rip current pulling me Southwesterly, but since it was moving me closer to my desired destination, I casually brushed it off.
â€œThatâ€™ll be tough on the way back. Is this still a good idea?â€ I calmly thought to myself.
â€œIâ€™m almost there, just keep pushing. You got this!â€
After a hard 10â€“15 minute swim sprint, I finally arrived on the edge of the first rock island. I was already exhausted and sat there recovering for a few minutes. It was tough, but certainly not something that would kill me or require a rescue.
An important side note is that I have a â€œZero Rescue Policyâ€ when I go on adventures. I often tell other people in my group about it in a half joking manner. Iâ€™ve never had a rescue and donâ€™t ever plan on using one.
â€œI donâ€™t care if both my legs are broken, Iâ€™m crawling out of here.â€
This mentality has served me well on solo adventures to keep me sharp and constantly focused on every challenge, risk, and hazard. Iâ€™ve seen how others sometimes can use a rescue as a safety net to fall back on, even if maybe they didnâ€™t actually require it. This mentality forces me to be accountable to myself and also serves as a foundation for my mantra â€œnobody is dying today!â€
The islands of arches were absolutely beautiful. Despite perhaps living up to a certain stereotype of a jackass running around doing dangerous stuff while filming with a GoPro, I took the opportunity to document this magical place as best as my adrenaline pumped, trembling hands could. It was when I left the safety of the rocks to jump back in and check out the backside of these islands that I started to get an inkling of the danger that I was in.
I jumped in the channel under one of the iconic, massive arches and was swiftly carried through the â€œarch ride,â€ as I call it. A common coasteering technique is to use the energy of swells, currents and waves to move through coastal features. Once I reached the area between the two islands, I understood the treacherous nature of the situation that I was in. There wasnâ€™t just one rip current, there were several. I counted at least six different rips moving in all different directions, which I should have accounted for due to the unique shapes of these islands.
The next few decisions I made were crucial. I saw massive waves pushing through the smaller arch and so I thought that I could ride those back through the arch to bring me back to the tip of the closest island, where I had previously been resting. After timing the sets of the waves, I jumped in fully expecting to be pushed through the arch channel by a wave.
This was the closest that Iâ€™ve ever been to death while swimming in the ocean. The force of the waves was not strong enough to counter the powerful West Coast rip that was pulling me in the opposite direction. If I had given in to panic or hesitated in that moment, my chances of survival would have dropped exponentially. I quickly realized that my only hope was to grab the jagged rock face on the underside of the arch to prevent being sucked out into the depths of the Tasman Sea. That stopped me from moving backward, but I still had to figure out a way through the passage. Every time a wave rolled through, I tried to inch my way across the rock face fighting the rip current with every ounce of muscle in my body. I dragged myself inch by inch, by force of sheer will.
â€œNobodyâ€™s dying today!â€ I thought, as I mentally focused on my my mantra.
It was an exhausting traverse that occasionally caused me to get slammed or sliced by a random rock outcrop. The tenuous hand holds and footholds would sometimes give way causing me to lose progress on every other move.
After what felt like hours, but was probably more like 20 minutes, I managed to swim, scrape and scratch my way back through the 150′ passage of that smaller arch. Exhausted both physically and mentally, I collapsed on the dry spit of rock just outside the archway channel. I felt immense joy and relief until I remembered that I had to swim back to shore.
The task of returning to shore seemed daunting, but there was no way that it could be as difficult as what I just endured. When I began the the swim back, I was pleasantly surprised to round the corner of the island and catch a current that was pulling me vaguely in the direction of the shore. Did passing through the Maoriâ€™s sacred portal between life and death grant me some sort of protection? Or was I just the lucky beneficiary of a changing tide? Either way, it was a much easier journey back to shore than I had originally expected.
I learned a lot about myself that day. Often you will hear adventurers talk about needing to push themselves to find out what their limits are. And although I agree with that sentiment, I also feel that it is a responsibility to communicate the dangers of such activities so the average Joe doesnâ€™t just think â€œif he can do it, so can I.â€ I had previously made a video about that day, but did not fully explain all the details that Iâ€™ve described here.
So the next time these islands pop up on your Windows screensaver, you might have a better appreciation for their deadly beauty. Much like the tigerâ€™s pretty stripes or the brilliant red of the amanita muscaria mushroom, these picturesque islands hide a deadly secret behind their gleeming smile. The beautiful portal to the land of the dead.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
If you’re going to be documenting your adventures, it’s important to find balance with the content creation. After my 24 day trek in Nepal to Kanchenjunga in 2019, I was so exhausted physically from the trek, documenting it and then another week of editing that I was just totally burnt out. It’s imperative to make time for self care, which for me often includes micro adventures that don’t get filmed. I have to continue to do what I love and take a break from making content so that I can continue to enjoy the journey with the same passion I had initially.
None of us can succeed without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story? *
I absolutely could not be where I am without the support of my adventure partner, my wife Samantha. When we first started dating she mentioned that if we ever got married, she’d love to have the ceremony in a rainforest next to a waterfall. And I casually replied, “yeah and then we could jump off the waterfall!” I had forgotten about that conversation until years later, when we were engaged, getting ready to plan the wedding and she said “Are we still jumping off a waterfall in the rainforest for our wedding?”
The wedding planning turned into a series of trips over a 3 year period to find the perfect spot and began our life of adventure (and cliff jumping) together. We’ve continued to expand our training and experiences in multiple adventure disciplines including: canyoneering, technical caving and coasteering to name a few.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Like Gandhi said, we should BE the change that we want to see in the world. I do my best to inspire and educate others about our natural world so that they realize they don’t need to let fear control their lives. I look around and a lot of bad things happening in this world that are driven by fear. I get comments all the time on my videos about how people could never do this or that because they have claustrophobia, thalassophobia, a fear of heights or some other fear. I really hope to show people that they can live a more satisfying, adventurous life if they just try a little to get out of their comfort zone once in awhile.
Do you have a favorites “written Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
The most difficult experiences are the ones that benefit us the most. We can’t know what it truly means to live unless we push ourselves to learn and experience as much as possible. I feel like living an adventurous life is the ultimate expression of gratitude. If you’re grateful for the breath in your lungs and your functioning limbs, you should go run, jump, climb, swim and explore for as long as you can. Because one day, sooner than you think, this precious gift will all be over.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Anything specific you’d like to have mentioned in the article?
I recently won the first runner up of Outside TV’s “Spirit of Adventure” video contest and am currently in talks with a few different interested parties to host my own adventure travel TV show.