An epic filmmaker, adventurer, and environmentalist, Captain Potter creator Sam Potter spends his days bringing to life his curiosities for diverse cultures and the great outdoors. Dubbed “a modern-day Tarzan with a camera”, we first spoke to Sam in early 2017 – where he was already making his mark on the world as a travel influencer to watch.
Almost two years later, we pull Sam aside once more – this time to chat all things travel. Here, he opens up about everything from how he picks which country to explore to his authentic and raw views on destination hunting.
When you’re looking to go to new destinations, how do you decide where to go next?
I tend to latch on to other people’s trips and invites, I’m really bad at planning things. Out of that trip, they might be like: “We’re going to do this…” or a company or person reaches out and says they’re going somewhere, and from that I try and plan out [my trip]. I like to pack in as many things as I can, for example, if I’m in Greece – I’ll go check out Italy or Spain. I leave and go on these long trips and then I come back and stay home for a little bit. I know a lot of people who do little sporadic trips, like week long ones – my trips are usually 1-3 months long. I like it that way… to go to a place and not know where I’m going next and then just wing it.
An example of this was when I was in Italy. My friend called me and told me there was a swell coming and that he wanted to go to Mentawai. He asked me: “Do you want to come with me?” and I was like: “Hell yeah!” – and that’s how I had one of the best trips of my life. I definitely tend to pull the trigger.
What’s been your craziest trip?
I think my craziest mission I did was with the Smith brothers, they’re professional surfers and then one of them is a model – Alex, Koa, and Travis Smith. They called me on the day of the trip. It was a few years ago now, I was sick at my house trying to finish up my edit. I’d had a job in the morning, one of the bigger jobs I’d ever had – I was going to film a wedding and I was busier than I’d ever been at the time. And then one of the Smith brothers calls me and tells me he is going to Namibia in four hours and asks: “Do you want to come?” And I said, “Did you just say you’re going to Namibia in Africa in four hours and you want me to come?!”, and he’s like “Yeah!”.
I was so mind blown by this proposition and told him I couldn’t – that I had a job tomorrow and I was sick, and there were just so many reasons not to go. I hung up the phone and I was sitting in the driveway in the rain and was just trying to make this decision, thinking to myself: ‘If I wasn’t sick, would I say yes?’ Or ‘Let’s say I didn’t have a job tomorrow, would I say ‘yes’?’ The smallest details in my life were driving me to say ‘no’ to this opportunity and this call that I’d been waiting for my entire life. My entire life I’d dreamed of professional surfers calling me and saying “Hey, we’re going to this crazy remote location to surf one of the best waves in the world, do you want to come?” and I’m saying no because I have something I have to shoot and I have the flu? You know, f*ck it I’m going!
So I called them back and I said “Hey, I can’t do four hours” because that would be my first time shooting a surf film and I needed to collect gear and figure out what to bring… four hours was too short. But I said I’d go if they figured out how to book me a ticket and flight schedules for tomorrow, I’d get all the gear together, cancel everything I needed to do, and somehow take some miracle medication and get over this flu and I was coming! He said “Okay” and we went and it was one of the most insane trips of my life.
We were in Namibia for a total of 3 days, that’s it. Just for the craziest wave in the world. It was insane, murky water and it was always foggy, the wave break lasted forever, and you could just see this wave coming out of the fog. We were in the middle of the desert. I flew all the way there by myself, and I’d never flown that far before in my life – it was 38 hours of flying to get there. And then my last destination, I literally landed in this mini jaggedy plane flying over the desert. I’m looking down wondering where we were going to land, and as we got closer, the sand started to part and brush off the airstrip and we landed on it. I was like “Oh my god!”. You couldn’t even see the airstrip because it was covered in sand. And I get to the airport and it was literally unpainted plywood with barb wire around the top and the Namibian flag, and I’m like: “Wow this is epic”. I could not have asked for anymore of an entrance.
Has it been your favourite trip?
It’s hard to pick a favourite trip. There are just so many amazing moments, everywhere you go. There is no such thing as a bad trip, even if it ends up being terrible – there’s still an amazing story and memory and you learn a lot from it. I encourage anyone to travel anywhere whenever they get the opportunity, just do it!
So you don’t have a favourite trip, but what about a favourite destination?
Wow, that is a really hard one. Before I answer, I want to say that I don’t believe in there being a bad destination. I feel like a lot of people are like: “Oh I didn’t like it there, it was dirty or I didn’t feel safe…”, everywhere I’ve gone has been absolutely beautiful. Even if I’ve had a bad experience, I never blame the location. I think it’s ridiculous to mark off a country because you’ve been there once and you didn’t have the best time of your life. I just think that’s naive – if you didn’t have a good time, it’s probably your fault. I don’t like the idea of there being a bad place. I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve gone to and tried to make the best of it, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for or things weren’t working out. But it’s hard to say which one’s the best – because in that same sense, I feel like everywhere is special and I find something that I love so much in every place I go. It’s just all so different and diverse.
I think the most important thing is having an epic crew. It’s also really nice to travel by yourself and meet people – that’s a great way to do it, that works too.. But I think it depends on the people you meet along the way and the people you go with, if you decide to go with people – that’s what really makes the trip. Anywhere is special if you’re around special people, it just makes everything so much better.
If I’m going to pick a favourite place that I’ve been, it has to be the Mentawai in Indonesia. I stayed at Pitstop Hill and that was just gorgeous, the people were so amazing and we had this little surf break right outside of where we were staying. So pretty much you have to take a boat across the Mentawai’s which is 4-6 hours. You’re in the middle of nowhere and you get to this little ground of islands and every island is so picture perfect with coconut trees and wildlife and it’s just insanely beautiful. The ocean goes from white sand beach, to a green, to a light blue, to a dark blue. It’s a rainbow wherever the sand meets the ocean, it’s so amazing.
My favourite things in the world are surfing, spearfishing, and exploring new locations – so the fact that every day we took a boat out and we’d go spearfishing and shoot some of my favourite fish, which we call ‘Mu’ here in Hawaii, made it amazing. I would go out and get my dinner, then we’d go and surf these epic waves all by ourselves, and just have such a good time with a super awesome crew. We met up with my friend Alex Smith, and Owen and Riley, who are from Australia, over there and we were just all in heaven.
We would go to these islands and start chopping open coconuts – climb trees, grab a coconut, chop them open, and hang out on the beach. You’re in these beautiful, untouched islands, and there’s no one there. One day we were chopping open coconuts and this family of pigs came up to us and we were feeding these baby pigs and they were eating out of our hands. It was amazing. It was one of the best moments of my life. The surprises are the best thing about it… it’s all about the unplanned events and the surprises because you have no expectations.
All images: Captain Potter