Episode 82: Adam Ü – Snow big deal


All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

Imagine landing not one but two dream jobs – what would that feel like? Adam Ü is making it happen, so we asked him.

From the ski slopes of Myoko, Japan, to tropical waters of the Caribbean and beyond, Adam’s double life as a semi-professional skier and marine biologist is an enviable one. Inspired early in life to follow his love of outdoors and the ocean, Adam has put in the time and effort required to make his dream a reality.  

“There's been a lot of luck, but it's also hell of a lot of work,” Adam told (his sister!) Elizabeth. “This is my dream and I'll do whatever I can do to make it happen.”

Tune in to learn about the sacrifices that no one ever talks about. That plus how to juggle two jobs at once, and why work isn’t always about the money. Be inspired by Xero Gravity #82.  

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[Photo: Adam Ü at Geto Kogen, Japan courtesy of Rene Crawshaw]

Episode transcript

Host:  Elizabeth Ü [EU]

Guest:  Adam Ü [AU]

EU: Okay, so let's start with the obvious. If you're thinking that this guest's name sounds awfully familiar, you're right. Adam Ü is in fact my brother, but don't worry we didn't book him for the show out of nepotism or desperation. You'll see. He's definitely figured out how to work the system in his favour, making him the favourite storyteller at family gatherings.

Seriously though, in addition to being my brother, Adam's one of those enviable, or annoying, depending on how you look at it, people who's managed to pull off not one dream job, but two. Depending on the season he's either a semi-professional skier or a marine biologist. Yeah, thanks bro for making my dream job sound boring. Like any big sister would, I tried to catch Adam off-guard throughout this podcast. Bring him down a notch or two, but of course I failed miserably. He's just so passionate and articulate about the work he does and so I couldn't trip him up.

But before I get too big sister-y and spoil all his stories, I'll let him speak for himself.

AU: My job as a professional skier is to go out there and I create media content for various magazines. We do some filming. We did some stuff with OutsideTV and things like that. They pay to get their product in the spotlight. I'm a marketing tool.

EU: You're a photo slut.

AU: Yes. I'm a photo slut.

EU: But you developed some pretty amazing relationships with journalists and photographers around the world. Tell us a little bit about that.

AU: Yeah. The main guy I work with is a photographer named Grant Gunderson and I've known him for over 15 years now, we've been working together. We met in undergraduate. We were both students and we both like to ski and we both like to take photos. It just kind of blossomed into this, "Wait a minute, we're both getting good at this." He's getting good at taking the photos. I'm good at being in the photos and all of a sudden people are offering us, "Hey, do you want to come on to these trips and do these things and go to these places?"

EU: Like what?

AU: First it was like, "Hey, do you want to come to the neighbouring ski area and you get free lift tickets," and we're like, "Oh yeah." Then it kind of went into things like, "Hey, do you want to come up, maybe go into Canada and do like a three day shoot for our marketing department?" "Oh, yeah." Then it's like, "Hey, do you want to have a free trip to Japan to go to work for the Japanese government tourism department?" "Yeah." Then eventually it's like, "Hey, do want to get paid to do some of this stuff?" "Yeah."

The experience is kind of the most valuable part for me, because I realised long ago that I was never going to be making a living. I'm not losing money, but I'm gaining amazing experience travels and why wouldn't you want to go on a free trip to heli-skiing in British Columbia with your best friends? Have it all expenses covered and maybe get a little money on top of it. Yeah, no one would say no to that.

EU: What's the actual work that's involved? Is it all fun or is there actually some work? If you were going on a ski trip with your friends, I imagine you wouldn't have to slog up the same whatever it is a million times to get that perfect shot.

AU: There is a lot of work and that's one thing that a lot of people don't realise is that at the end of the day they see the pretty pictures and they're like, "Oh my god, that's so amazing." They don't realise that, yeah, you know how many times we tried to get that pretty picture? We spent hours setting up for this one shot and then if the light wasn't good enough or the snow wasn't good enough or if say, I blew the turn or crashed on the landing or if the photographer or filmer didn't have their settings right and they blew the shot ...

EU: Wait, so you mentioned crashing on the landing. Is there a big ethical thing like there is in climbing where like, "They didn't actually send the climb, we can't use the photo in the magazine." Is that true in skiing, too? If you totally botch the landing and crash and burn, like, "We can't use that photo."

AU: Thankfully, no. With filming for sure. In the last ten or so years it's been a pretty big pushback from ... People know if you cut right before or right during the landing, then clearly that guy or gal didn't stomp the landing and ski away.

EU: You said for the most part all of your expenses are covered, so that would be, what? The Turkey tourism industry or whatever, they want you guys to... What are they hiring you to do?

AU: They're hiring us to attract people to come to their country or their ski area or their whatever and go skiing. I've been on trips to India, Turkey, all throughout Europe, Japan, North America, South America. All in the name of basically tourism. I'm a marketing tool. That's what we're doing. We're there for marketing.

EU: For them, what would a big win be?

AU: Say we go to Japan, we work with the tourism people, we end up having these magazine articles published in the US and Canada, in Europe. We have all these images published all over the place that say, "Adam Ü skiing in wherever. Skiing in Myoko, Japan." That photo goes all around the world and then the article that goes along with it goes all around the world. Occasionally, we've had little film shorts go all around the world. Then, the whole world comes to Myoko, which has happened.

We first went to this place called Myoko and it's safe now, I can blow it up because we already did. It's one of the best places in the world to ski. When we first went there about six years ago, six or seven winters ago now, they were like, "Hey, we really need you to come here. Our tourism is struggling. All the hotels are empty. We might have to shut the ski area down." We're like, "Oh, well, let's check it out." We go there, we had our minds blown. But we asked them on the very first day when we got there, we said, "Hey look, this is what we're offering. We can do all this stuff and hopefully get you in the magazines. If we open this door, we crack open the door for ... If we let the secret out, there's no way we can stop it. Are you sure you want this?" We actually asked them, "Look, are you sure you want this?" They're like, "Yes, we need this." So, okay. So we did it and it blew up.

Now, a couple years ago we were trying to go back and they say, "Look dude, I don't know if you can handle this because all of our hotels are booked and you got the word out and now everyone's coming here." Well, most people are happy. Some of the locals aren't that stoked, but it's like, "Tough. Sorry."

EU: Well, what about you? You asked them, "Are you sure you want this? Are you sure you want this?" Looking back, are you sure that you wanted that?

AU: That's always tough, because it's always nice to have the little secret spot that's your own little paradise. It's either going to be everyone's going to love it or it was going to close type of thing. It would be a real drag if no one could experience it. Now, millions of people are experiencing it. I can't really fault them for wanting to go there, because it's awesome.

EU: How often have people been really pissed at you for, as you said, blowing a place up? Suddenly it's super popular and the spot that they could have all to themselves is crawling with grommets.

AU: A couple of years we were again back in Myoko and we were doing some photo and a local Japanese guy saw us with our cameras out and he got really in our face, saying, "Hey, no, dame dame, stop, no photo here, no photo here. Not for photos." It was like, "Sorry, man." Clearly he was pissed off that all these gaijin had shown up and were skiing all over the place. Even some of the local ex-pat types that had been living there were like, "It kind of sucks, but whatever man. It's inevitable." I think most people kind of understand that they had something special and maybe it's a little bit of paradise lost for them, but it's paradise found for a whole bunch of other people.

EU: What's the weirdest thing, or the worst, horrible that's happened to you on one of these ski trips where you're like, "Alright, I'm just over it."?

AU: Generally speaking, I've had pretty good experiences on almost all of my ski trips. I will say that I've had some bouts. I had really bad Delhi Belly when I was in India. That was kind of gnarly. To the point where... Now, that was a fun trip when it was... That was 11 years ago now, but I think about it all the time because it was so hilarious. We were up in Kashmir, which is in the northwest portion of India and it's a pretty hot area. Actually, it's really hot right now. We were in Srinagar, which is the summer capital of Kashmir. It's kind of a sketchy zone. It was then. It is certainly now. In the news today, there's all sorts of drama happening there.

EU: I remember when you were going on that trip. I was really upset. I dropped you off at the airport and I was crying. I'm like, "I'm sending my brother into a war-torn country."

AU: Yeah, and it was fine. It was definitely ... You noticed that there was a military presence, but I wasn't super worried about that. I was mostly worried about, say, bacterial or parasites or whatever we had eaten. But it was interesting. I remember getting really sick and as we were trying to fly out of Srinagar on our way back to Delhi, there was high drama in the airport where they confiscated my photographer friends apple, because it was round and it could have been a bomb. We were like, "Are these guys watching cartoons for their training videos, because- "

EU: Wait, wait. You're talking about a fruit?

AU: An apple. Like you bite into it. It's an apple. Grows on a tree.

EU: Yeah, yeah.

AU: They were like, "You must take ... This cannot come back with you." We're like, "Why not?" It was like, "Because it is round. It could be a bomb." We're like, "Dude." Yeah, it's not like you lit the fuse like you're Felix the Cat or something like that. This isn't ... But anyways, "Okay, whatever, you can have the apple. Just take it." We were late for the plane, so the aeroplane manager guy was trying to push us towards the thing, "Go towards the security gates." There's like four or five, at least at the time, I don't know what they have now, but at the time then there were four or five little security arches that you have to go through and checkpoints and things like that. It's not like there's one TSA thing, like if you fly in and out of any normal airport. There's one. But there, there were about a handful. Even before you got to the airport, there were security checkpoints.

So this manager of the airlines was trying to hurry us along to get to the flight. Meanwhile, the army guy, and these are full-on army dudes with fatigues and AK-47s and they're yelling at us to stop and slow down. They point their guns at us and they're yelling us to stop. I'm sitting there going, "Oh god. Oh geez. This airline manager guy is pushing me towards the armed guards who's yelling at me to stop. I could just have major gut blast at any moment and I feel really sick and they confiscated my friend's apple and I'm going to get shot and then I'm going to shit my pants. The manager guy's really mad at me and he's yelling at me.

Eventually, I was like, "Oh my god. This is so stupid. I can't believe it. Do you not realise that ... " I actually turned around and yelled at the manager guys. I was like, "Look, the guy has a gun and he's telling me to stop and you're pushing me towards him." Not down. This is not my happy place. But then we got to... We got on the plane and everything was fine. We get to Delhi and we look on the news and they're like, "Oh, apparently there was a gunfight in Srinagar today and like five people were killed." Oh, wow. We were just there.

But so we were in the safety of Delhi, enjoying ourselves there, but the parasites were still there. We actually had to... We were staying at some pretty bad, not a nice hotel, a pretty cheap hotel. We called down to, "Can we order some more toilet paper with room services please?" And they're like, "Nope. Nope, sorry. You can't have any more," and it's like, "Well, that's fine. We'll just have to start using the sheets." They brought up more toilet paper.

This is like ... There's four or five of us in this room and we're just basically a rotating circuit into the bathroom trying to maintain ourselves. It was gnarly.

EU: Oh my god.

AU: That's bad. That's pretty bad.

EU: I'm sorry I'm laughing at your discomfort, but that's horrible.

AU: No, that's fine. It's pretty bad, but at the same time I'm not sure I'm itching to go back to Srinagar, but I'm super glad I went. It was one of the most awesome and powerful experiences I've ever had. I'm not going to trade that in. I'm super glad I went, but I don't need... I don't like to go into war-torn countries. It's not really my MO these days.

EU: Alright, so you've already established for us that you don't actually pay the bills skiing, although it sounds like you're having quite the skiing lifestyle without having to pay for it so that's a good deal. But how do you pay the bills?

AU: I'm a marine biologist and I study whales and dolphins and dabble in seabirds every once in a while.

EU: We were actually talking to someone recently who said that they had this policy at work of encouraging people to really follow their passions. They kind of took it too far and someone actually quit to pursue their dream of being a marine biologist. How often do you get approached by people who want to do that same kind of marine research work that you do and what do you tell them?

AU: It happens on a fairly regular basis. I would say more people are interested in being a marine biologist then a pro skier. I get more questions about that. I tell them, whatever, follow your dreams. If that is your dream, do it. Again, realise that it takes a lot of effort and dedication and you may not get there next week, next month, next year or even to five to ten years. There's a lot of groundwork you have to do. Everyone wants to be a marine biologist. It's not just going out and cuddling dolphins and petting seals or whatever. There's a lot of time behind a computer. There's a lot of analysis work you got to do. There's a lot of writing, reading. People think, "Oh, great, I'm out of school. I never have to write another paper again." Well, if you want to be a scientist ...

EU: Yeah, okay, so I realise for me it's become normal that my brother is both a semi-professional skier and professional marine biologist, but that's actually totally mind-blowing. Do you ever want to pinch yourself, like "Whoa, I'm living this life that most people would dream of doing just one of those things," and you're doing both?

AU: Yeah, part of me thinks, "Yeah, this is super lucky, it's amazing, it's awesome." But then the other part of me, I guess, grounded in reality is like, there's been a lot of luck, but it's also hell of a lot of work. I haven't just kind of cruised through any of it. I've busted my ass. This is my dream and I'll do whatever I can do to make it happen and people don't realise that you sacrifice a lot and certain things to follow your dream. In this case I'm trying to follow two dreams and juggle them and it's a challenge. Luck has a little bit to do with it, but mostly it's just hard work.

EU: Right. One of the things that I've always admired about you is that you have always known immediately exactly what you wanted to do. I've love for you to tell the story of how you actually got into the whole whale research world to begin with, because unless you're in your late teens or early 20s, there's no way that anyone else is going to be able to follow that path. But I think it was quite indicative of your commitment to doing what you loved at a very early age.

AU: Yeah, well, you were there. It was on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was an Earth Watch volunteer thing. We were... Thanks Dad, for sending us up there and getting rid of us for, whatever, ten days or two weeks while we camped in a swamp and helped some grad students chase whales around. I think I was 16. At that point I already had been... I loved being on the water. I loved fishing and being on the boats and things like that. I realised that, wait a minute, this could be a really way to maintain being on the water, do something that's honourable, I guess. Though I wasn't really thinking about that at the time. But I could do something that is meaningful. It's super fun. At this point, "Oh, it's raining and we're in a little tiny zodiac getting pounded by big, cold, freezing waves. Awesome. Let's go back for more. And there's big whales swimming around and there's birds everywhere and it's all nature and amazing and wonderful. Yeah, let's do this."

I didn't realise that that was even an option, but once I did it was like, "Hey, let's just see if I can pull this off." So I had to do some more research and figure out, "Okay, who is doing this stuff? Where is it being done? How can I get involved? I guess I need to do some volunteering. I need to do some background reading. I need to do some... If I want to do this, I have to figure out how to do it." There wasn't any sort of... At least I didn't know of any, "You do this, which follows that, which leads to this and then you are a marine biologist." I didn't know any of that stuff. I just kind of wung it, I guess. That's where the luck came in. I guess I wung it in the right direction, but I think if you care enough and do enough research you'll figure it out. The right direction will become clear.

EU: When did you actually start camping out on the lawn of the Centre For Whale Research on San Juan Island? That to me always stands out.

AU: My senior year of high school, I did a... My senior project was with the Centre For Whale Research in the Bahamas and they were working... At this point they had a lighthouse that they had just acquired from the Bahamian government, I think in January or February. I was pestering these people. I was sending them faxes, because this is before email. Field researchers, being notoriously hard to track down, I know this now, but I didn't know that then, that I was really lucky to even get a response back. Basically I was like, "Hi, I'm a high school student. Want to do this senior project thing?" They said, "Okay, sure. Come on down. But we're not in Washington State. We're in the Bahamas now, because it's the winter time and that's where we are in the winter time. If you get down here, yeah, we can put you up and you have to ... "

Basically, I was there to be manual labour. I scraped a lot of paint. I painted. I did a lot of ... They got this lighthouse and they're like, "All of a sudden we need twice the staff that we had before, because we have our original field station, then we have this new one. We need to get the new one set-up and here's this random high school kid, who's willing to do anything just to be here. Let's put him in this place that needs all this rehab stuff and we'll give him a scraper and a paintbrush and put him to work."

I went down there and it was amazing and hilarious and awesome. Again, this is one further step towards this goal. At the end of that month, the director asked me if I wanted to come up to Washington and work with him that summer. I said, "Yes." That's when I... After high school, we drove to San Juan Island and I camped out in the lawn, because the staff stayed in the yard in tents and stuff. The Earth Watch volunteers would stay in the house.

EU: Okay, so you're saying this whole story so casually, but I just want to point out that at this same time I was doing some research project. I was in northern Quebec doing some research project on mime-tailing piles getting eaten alive by black flies and I was ready to shoot myself. I was so miserable. You just sort of happened upon this amazing lighthouse job in the Bahamas. Then suddenly you're out on small boats chasing after orcas in San Juan Island. This is not a normal person's life.

AU: I don't know what to say. If any number of the other people that hadn't answered those faxes and phone calls that I had sent had responded, who knows. Maybe I could have been living somewhere else doing something else. It just so happened that these were the people that responded and it worked out well for, I'd like to say all involved. It was awesome.

There are certain aspects of fieldwork that can get challenging. There are definitely those times when you're facing another forecast of like, "Oh, great. More 30 knot winds. Hopeless." Or those times where you're in Alaska where, "Oh, great another field site infested with mosquitos. Awesome." It's not all peaches and cream. It's all not waterfront on San Juan Island, but luckily for me I guess, those people were the first to respond/the only people to respond.

EU: I know that you are super persistent. We definitely get this from dad. We don't necessarily take no for an answer, but there are tonnes of people out there who make excuses in their head about why they didn't go for that thing that they really wanted to do. Do you think that it's never too late for them to just go for it? Like if you know what you want to do, just go for it, or are you like, "Look it's not worth the paperwork. Stick with what you're doing?"

AU: I don't know, there are times. It depends. You get a lot of starry-eyed people that are like, "Oh, I just want to do all this wonderful... I want to go out and save the whales," and it's like, "Oh, okay, well have fun with that." People, when they see National Geographic stuff, that is the top, again, it's like 1% of your time that you're living the dream and the rest of the time is maintaining the dream. All the behind the scenes stuff like, "Oh, maybe I have to write a bunch of grants now. Maybe I have to... "

For every hour I spend in the field collecting data, I have to spend ten hours or ten weeks or however many large amounts of time crunching those numbers and sitting behind my computer going cross-eyed looking at dorsal fin pictures or coding some statistical whatever. There's all kinds of stuff. It's not just going out in the water in a sunny day and chasing whales around. There's a lot of other stuff. That's just the fun part.

EU: Yeah, well, I wanted you to describe a typical job. Where are you for how long? What do your days actually look like?

AU: Okay, so it kind of depends on the project. I work a lot on ships, NOAA ships. We got out and do-

EU: What's NOAA?

AU: NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

EU: Right, so the federal organisation.

AU: Federal, it's a government organisation. We go out ... Say for instance there have been ... I've worked on the west coast of Washington, Oregon and California to try and basically get a catalogue of what species of marine mammal and seabird are out here from the 200 nautical mile limit of the United States. That's important to know for fisheries management things. You can't just go out and set a bunch of gill nets out there because you might catch x amount of whales or porpoises or whatever. You have to know where one stock of what species begins, where it ends, how many are in these areas.

Yeah, any given day, say on a ship, we go out. We're out for maybe three, four weeks at a time. We work from... I'm more of a visual observer, so I work from sunrise to sunset and we have kind of two hours on, two hours off, so we can give out eyes a rest. When we're on effort, we're up on the top of the ship looking through giant binoculars out to the horizon. If we find something, "Hey look, there's a spout over there." Depending on where exactly it is, we have criteria for whatnot, but anyways, we'll turn. Okay, we see an animal or a group of animals. We'll turn the ship, go over to the animal, try and get species ID. Then we'll try and get a count of how many are there in this group. We'll try and get photographs. Maybe we'll try and get biopsy samples for genetic studies and stable isotope studies and things like that.

There's all kinds of things. Depending on what it is, we'll try and do any number of different ancillary projects related to that species.

EU: You're out for four or ... What's the longest you've ever had where you're out at sea?

AU: I guess, I've gone on a couple hundred, 120 day cruise. This isn't like 120 days at sea on a boat. It's like three weeks on, then a couple days off, then three weeks on, then a couple days off. That one we started in San Diego and we went to Mazatlan, Costa Rico, Guatemala and then Acapulco and Manzanillo  and then back to San Diego. In four and a half months, I got basically a tour of the eastern tropical Pacific, which is pretty amazing.

EU: With shore leave at all these ports of call.

AU: We shore leave, yeah. We pull into Acapulco and we have a couple days. I brought my surfboard on the boat and I just surfed every day that I got off. Then a couple days later you get back on the boat and sail away. 120 days I guess was the longest and I've gone on a couple three weeks, months, two months. Anywhere along those lines.

EU: What's hard about that? It definitely sounds fun. You have described the work. You're sitting, trying to look at thousands and thousands of dorsal fin photos to ID individual animals and whatnot. What else about that particular lifestyle is hard?

AU: Well, being away from home. Away from your friends and family. When you're hundreds of miles off-shore, there's no cell phone service. You can't call anyone. That particular trip was back in the day before we had regular internet on board. Now we have satellite internet, but that was back in the day when we would have one email drop and don't send attachments and you can only send one-liners out. You're basically cut off from the rest of the world. Nowadays, you're more connected because there is, at least on most ships, there's more regular internet, so you can kind of at least keep up with your emails and stuff like that.

Once you get on this boat you can't just, "Oh, you know, okay I'm done for the day. I'm going to the bar. I'm going to go for a hike." No. You're going to go below decks or maybe you're going to ... You go for a walk, which means ... You can walk for miles if you just walk around the deck of the ship for a thousand laps, which we'll do because you get stir crazy and you want to do stuff. But you can't. You're basically on-board this ship with 30 people and that is your world for the next x amount of months, days, weeks, whatever. It's tough leaving everyone behind and it's hard to realise that the rest of the world keeps going when you just peace out into the middle of the ocean for two months. You come back and things have happened, like "Oh wait, my friend got married. Oh wait, they had babies. Oh what, someone died."

That's hard, to be disconnected or at least now that we are connected, it's hard to be kind of removed from all of that. You can't go to your friends house for dinner, because you’re just going to have to go downstairs during the dinner time hour and that's what you do.

EU: Right. I think it is interesting, especially as somebody who has to kind of keep a presence in the skiing world, for that side of your work. You have been totally nailing social media and you haven't even had a smartphone for that long and I will take credit for giving you your first smartphone. One of my cast-offs. But what is it like when you have to turn your hobbies into work or these things your are really passionate about. Do you feel like you have to come up with other hobbies on the side, so it doesn't all feel like work?

AU: Yeah, I guess. It's kind of tough when what you love to do gets kind of wrapped up with what you have to do. Definitely in the skiing side of things, because it's such a hustle. Nothing is ever a slam dunk. Sponsors are always like, "Oh, I don't know, maybe we're going to drop you," or, "Oh, maybe we can't do anything for you this year or whatever." I don't know what more I can do for any less support. They always seem to want tonnes and aren't really willing to help out as much as I would like. Which makes it challenging to stay motivated. It just so happens that I love to do it anyways, so I continue because I love to do it.

Again, who wouldn't want to go on these trips and go skiing and hang out with your friends. I don't consider them work trips in that sense, because they're super fun and I'm with my friends, but there's a lot of the behind the scenes, like working with people that maybe I don't know the people in the business, the companies ... There's a lot of turnover there, so if some new guy comes in that's now in charge of the budget and I have to sell myself to him all over again, like, "Okay, this is what I can do. This is what I have done. This is what I'm hoping to do this year. Can you please support me?" They're like, "Oh, no, I'm going to hook up my friend over here."

EU: That's the same thing too with whale research work. You are independent freelancers, so you're pitching jobs or pitching yourself to these trips that are going out. How does that work?

AU: It's not quite the same. Luckily by now, in the whale research world, I would like to think I'm kind of respected as a marine mammal observer. I guess to be fair, I'm more of a field than I am an analytical guy, although I do do a little bit of data stuff from home. But I would say my strengths are definitely in the field and people know that. People also know that hey, this guy is willing to put himself out there for two to four months. A lot of people aren't and a lot of people that I've worked with have maybe gone on a couple cruises and been like, "Oh wow, that was awesome, but I can't sustain that. I have a family at home or I can't just be gone all this time." Whereas I still enjoy being away. I don't enjoy being away, but I enjoy the work that we're doing. I enjoy being in the field.

EU: It's funny. It seems like you could go anywhere for fun and just sort of accidentally end up working like, "Oh, here's my friend who's the marine mammal expert down in Argentina," or like, "Here I am skiing and someone wants to snap a picture, here I am working again."

AU: Yeah, there's always kind of that like, "Oh, I'm never really off," but I guess I am. Currently I'm pretty ... I'm not doing any marine mammal stuff right now. I'm not doing any skiing stuff right now, but I'm definitely doing a lot of the behind the scenes stuff for both. I actually am reviewing a draught of a manuscript that my colleagues and I are putting together on pilot whales in Marianas. I'm going through a bunch of photographs of dorsal fins of different species from our work in the field. I'm talking with my ski sponsors to try and set up the coming winter. I am doing a lot of behind the scenes stuff, a lot of groundwork. That's like the not fun part, but you have to do it to get up to the fun part.

EU: Well, I am super stoked that in the midst of all this crazy business you had time to come and hang out with us in San Francisco so we get some family time before I move to Auckland and I also hope you'll come visit and maybe we can goof off and go surfing when you're down there.

AU: Well, there's plenty of whale stuff down in New Zealand. There's plenty of skiing down in New Zealand. I have another very good excuse to go down there.

EU: All right, we're going to finish up with our question countdown, which is five quick questions and five quick answers. Are you ready?

AU: Yes. Go.

EU: What book has made the biggest impact on your life and why?

AU: Off the top of my head, probably The Log From The Sea of Cortez by Steinbeck just because it was an amazing exploration kind of a marine biology mission down to the Sea of Cortez. I think it happened like 1940 or something like that. That was kind of a, "Wow, these guys are out there doing this fun stuff." It wasn't written in a stuffy way, it's Steinbeck, it's an amazing story.

EU: I'm going to take credit for giving you that book also. Yes.

AU: That book, I've probably bought that book and given it away four or five times to various people that are inspired, like, "You want to be inspired? Read this book. It helped me."

EU: Okay, so next. What's the one thing you can't live without?

AU: Music. There.

EU: Nice, nice. Yep. What's the most useful app on your phone right now?

AU: I am the worst smartphone person. I guess probably at this point, Instagram. At first I was very anti-Instagram and I'm now I'm kind of like, "This is kind of fun." Not to mention it's very important for all your sponsors to know what you're doing and be able to blah, blah, blah, social media.

EU: Right, and you're totally working the hashtags. I actually miss your hashtag. Adam used to do hashtag social media, hashtag bonanza. Wait, what was it?

AU: Yeah, that was it. That was when I first started, because everyone, all the brands that I worked with have their own little hashtags that they want us to do and I was like, "This is so cornball. I can't believe I'm doing this." I had to do my little social media resistance thing. Anyways.

EU: All right. In one sentence, what's the greatest lesson you've learned throughout your freelance journey?

AU: Oh god. Lesson I've learned. If you don't look out for yourself, no one else is going to, so look out for yourself.

EU: Not even your big sister?

AU: Well, you big sister will too, but you're not the one that's gonna... You're doing your own stuff. You have your own dreams and if you can't figure out what you want for yourself and figure out a way to make it happen... It's up to you basically to do what you want to do. That's the biggest lesson I've learned. Because no one's going to... On very occasions do you get spoon-fed stuff. You have to put the time in and make it happen.

EU: Right, and you have to put in the time in the first place to figure out what it is that you really love. That's to me the biggest heartbreak is that most people don't take that time. What is it that really turns me on? Okay, now I'm going to go do it. Those are two pretty critical steps.

AU: Yeah, so that's what I think you need to do. Figure out what you want to do and then do it.

EU: Okay, finally, what skill do you want to enhance this year?

AU: Duck-diving. I've been working on it. Like I said... That's probably one skill that I need to definitely work on, because I really want to surf, but I don't know. Otherwise, patience. Patience is another huge one. I find I can be impatient at times.

EU: Yeah, that's another thing we get from Dad.

AU: Probably.

EU: Anything you want to plug? Yeah, how do we find you on Instagram? How do we find you on social media? Anything else, your website.

AU: Okay. Instagram, you can find me @adamcu280. A-D-A-M-C-U-280. That is me. But yeah, that's where you can find me.

EU: We'll include links for all of that on our website so you can check out Adam out on social media and in the world. Thanks again for joining us. It's been super fun to have you on the show.

AU: Yeah, that was fun. Thank you very much.

EU: That was Adam Ü, skier, marine biologist, musician and my brother. I'm Elizabeth Ü, producer and host of Xero Gravity and Alice Brine is creative director. Thanks also to Megan Wright, technical producer and Daniel Marr and Jonny McNee, technical editors. If you've got any questions, comments or suggestions for the show, you can find me on Twitter @smallbizwithliz. Thanks for subscribing to Xero Gravity via iTunes or Soundcloud and we'll see you next time.

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