073: Vernon Deck/Learning By Doing

“You’re better off giving it a try, because you can only fail. If you don’t succeed, then at least you’ll have learned something from it”.

I reconnected with an old friend for episode 073 when I met up with Vernon Deck in Laax. Vernon is a snowboard photographer who has been working in the industry for two decades. Today, he works as Volcom’s main Snowboard Photographer, travelling the world and working with riders like Arthur Longo, Cheryl Maas and Jamie Lynn.

Vernon, happily off grid.

That’s a great gig that would probably warrant an episode on its own. But there’s another side to Vernon’s life that meant I was determined to get him on the show. Because when he isn’t shooting snowboarding, Vernon lives on a sailboat and is slowly making his way around the world, documenting the entire thing through his fantastic YouTube series Learning by Doing.

A shot from the day job with Volcom

I’ve been hooked on Learning by Doing for a while now, especially given how multi-layered it is. Because as well as being a fantastically droll account of Vernon’s adventures and life on the road, it is also a really sensitive series of documentaries about some of the world’s lesser-known corners.

Wide blue yonder

So when I realised we would both be in Laax for the Sudden Rush Banked Slalom in March 2019, I decided to sit Vernon down to find out more. Naturally, we covered his career as a snowboard photographer at the top of his game. But we also dug deep into his lifestyle choices, and chatted about exactly how he has ended up living this truly peripatetic, off-the-grid existence.

It’s a story of living your life as simply, honestly and possession-free as possible; and about using your talents and platform positively. I found this conversation hugely enjoyable and inspiring, and I hope you do too.

Connect with Vernon

Show Notes

  • Catching up again.
  • Checking out the artists at the Tidal Art Show.
  • Vernon’s 13th year shooting for Volcom as in-house Snow Photographer.
  • Learning to snowboard in Laax.
  • The appeal of riding banked slaloms.
  • Racing and taking photos at the same time – and why it’s best to focus on one thing.
  • Vernon’s big sailing adventure.
  • Brought up doing water-sports.
  • The impracticalities of a fixed abode: “You don’t need a home base if you’t can take the home with you”.
  • Deciding to live on a boat and sail the world – despite having no sailing experience. 
  • The decline of snowboarding print media.
  • His ‘learning by doing’ philosophy, and manifesto on Patreon.
  • Never a fan of traditional education.
  • “If you don’t give it a try then you can only really fail”.
  • Starting photography during a gap year. 
  • Photographing the Formula 1.
  • Shooting the 1997 ISF World Cup Halfpipe in Laax.
  • Taking shots of snowboarding compared to other sports.
  • The photographer’s key role in a pro’s career.
  • Snowboarding injuries.
  • Our first encounter at the European Open in 2001.
  • Vernon’s heavy presence in the UK snowboard scene.
  • Doings covers for the likes of Snowboard UK and Document.
  • The business model of syndicating shots.
  • His gnarly motorbike accident in 2005.
  • His first contract with Volcom – and the artistic freedom he’s had with them since.
  • The solitude of sailing.
  • Making the most of your talent.
  • Sailing’s low carbon footprint.
  • How he documents his sailing adventures.
  • The humbling connections with local communities he makes.
  • Going to places tourist can’t get to.
  • Living the simple, good life.
  • The disconnectedness of western culture.
  • Learning to sail via YouTube. 
  • His first sailing adventure – and being stranded 3 days from anywhere.
  • Exploring Indonesia and his sailing route to date.
  • “It’s about documenting the people, not places”.
  • Travelling around your home country.
  • Luxury in the West is that “we can jump on a plane to wherever we want”.
  • Where next in Vernon’s sailing adventure.
  • The Raj Ampat coral reefs. 
  • Building real connections through online communities.
  • Funding through Patreon.
  • His lifestyle fusing snowboard photography and sailing.
  • The physical shelf life of snowboarding careers.
  • His show in Chamonix earlier this year.
  • Snowboarding today. 
  • The decline of sponsorship.
  • The podcast renaissance.

People Mentioned

  • Schoph
  • Jamie Lynn
  • Mike Mailman
  • Danny Larsen
  • Travis Rice
  • Sian Leigh
  • Bryan Iguchi
  • Peter-John de Villiers 
  • Ryosuke Horii
  • Terje Håkonsen
  • Nicolas Müller
  • GimbalGod
  • Shaun Palmer
  • Jamie Phillp
  • Alex Schalvecker
  • Wille-Yi Luoma
  • David Benedek
  • Joni Malmi
  • Mikkel Bang
  • Olivier Gittler
  • Freddie Austbø
  • Ed Blomfield
  • Chris Moran
  • Cheryl Maas
  • Markus Keller
  • Bryan Iguchi
  • Gigi Ruff
  • Jeremy Jones
  • Billy Morgan
  • Bjorn Leines
  • Stale Sandbech
  • Charles Beckinsale
  • Aaron Schwartz

Place Mentioned

Companies/Brands/Organisations Mentioned