an exclusive interview with Steph Davis
Steph Davis lives between the x and y axis. After a quick stint in law school, Steph took to the road, living out of a hand-me-down “Olds” and taking odd jobs searching for adventures in the Moab desert. Her dedication to climbing led to sponsorships and partnerships that have followed her to this day. Once Steph realized she wasn’t content being a solely terrestrial being, she took to the skies and continues to explore the growing world of wingsuit BASE jumping.
We talked with Steph about branding, challenges, and the joys of flying.
Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine
Photo by Tommy Chandler
Photo by Christine Bailey Speed
You have a personal brand that is both warm and powerful. How do you curate your life within the scope of your brand?
Thanks, I appreciate that! My brand is just a reflection of my daily life and the things I care about. So that means there’s a pretty even mix between vertical adventure, pictures of my dog and cat, other natural beauty, cooking, traveling, and interacting with people who write to me. I take pictures constantly. I keep my iPhone on a lanyard around my neck. I love to write, play with recipes, and share ideas. So, I’m naturally doing that all the time and I use social media as a way to share it.
Could you tell us a bit about your first contract as a professional climber? How did it come about? What have you had to do to keep that status?
My first sponsor was a climbing shoe company about 18 years ago. a climber who repped for them sent me a pair of shoes after meeting me in Yosemite. Over time I got some paying contracts from a few companies, and that allowed me to climb full time and go on expeditions. While living pretty simply, for the first seven years, in my truck. Now as a brand ambassador, contracts and social media influencing campaigns represent about a half of my overall income. I also run my own climbing clinics in Moab and do speaking engagements.
Adapting to change is one part of climbing that you compare to life. Is there a split between climbing and life for you? Do you ever find yourself taking lessons from one and applying them to the other?
Climbing is a great metaphor for life. As it turns out, so is base jumping. It is basic as it would seem, from climbing I’ve learned how to hold on and how to be a minimalist. From base jumping, I’ve learned how to let go and how to be a very calculated risk taker. I’ve definitely learned all I know about life and business on my own along the way, and there was a real learning curve and lots of big mistakes. For example, I’ve learned that in “real life” it’s very important to take time before acting, but in the mountains “speed is safety” and hesitating can be fatal, so that’s a pretty significant difference. So, above all I’ve learned to evaluate my environment and take action accordingly.
What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced since taking on a career in adventure?
Learning how to evolve and adapt with the changing business climate. The outdoor industry looks very different today than it did 20 years ago, and the role of an athlete and a brand ambassador is also very different. It’s been fun evolving with the industry and learning about business and branding along the way.
Do you have priorities when you are creating content, or interacting with you audience?
I am always guided by my followers, because they let me know exactly what’s interesting and relevant to them through their feedback and comments. They’re the ones I’m posting for, so what they want is what matters most to me.
Can you tell us what you are experiencing when you step away from the Earth while wingsuit jumping?
Flying in a wingsuit feels exactly like you think it would feel, and it’s an incredible experience for a human to fly.
How did public speaking become a part of your resume?
I grew up giving slide shows to hardcore climbers in climbing shops as part of my role as a sponsored athlete. For the last several years, I’ve been working hard at evolving as a speaker, which started when I did an Ignite talk and a Tedx talk in Boulder and fell into some corporate engagements. In the beginning, I found it a huge challenge to step out of that traditional technical climbing type presentation, simply because it was what was most familiar to me for so long. I’m a writer and an avid podcast listener, so it’s a lot of fun for me to write thought-provoking and meaningful talks.
How do you prepare yourself for your listening audience?
I just spoke to a group of forensic engineers and scientists, so I asked a lot of questions of the event organizer about a month ahead. I learned a lot about what forensic engineers and scientists do on a daily basis and what challenges they face, which directly shaped the talk I wrote for them. This is part of what’s really fun for me about speaking--getting to learn about different people and careers and make connections with the things I know about through my own experience with climbing and adventure.
Back to branding. Could you give us a three to five point list of the first things an adventurer should do to establish their brand?
The most important thing is to stay true to yourself, and to be consistent. How can you create value, and how can you demonstrate that value? Don’t expect anything to happen overnight, and remember that your brand is something that will develop and gain value through consistency and longevity.
If you could only go one direction, would it be up or down?
You can never only go one way, that’s the beauty of life.