A world record-holder with his 98-food descent of Upper Johnston Falls in Canada, extreme kayaker Tao Berman will thrill you with the riveting story of pushing himself to the unthinkable edge. He also shares tales of a childhood spent running wild in the mountains of eastern Washington, which ultimately led to his becoming a whitewater wunderkind — a reputation forged on guts, training, persona and maybe even a little luck.
His parents were genuine back-to-the-earth hippies; he grew up on a mountain in Washington state without electricity or any other niceties of life. His entertainment was jumping from tree to tree, or tearing down the mountain on a junker bike. He loved those growing-up years.
That’s Tao Berman (http://taoberman.com/), an extreme kayaker who broke world records and learned the art of self-marketing to the point that he managed to live off the proceeds of roaming around the world jumping off waterfalls in his whitewater kayak. My favorite photograph in our book is of Tao in his kayak, leaping out of a helicopter into a rapid that feeds into a waterfall. Don’t try it, kids, but feel free to vicariously live the life of an extreme sports athlete by reading Tao’s life story.
Why did I agree to ghost-write his autobiography? Because it was fun, and it fit in well with my novels on extreme sports for teenagers.
The whitewater kayaking world is small, and as a longtime kayaker, I knew of Tao long before I met him. My pre-teen son idolized him, as did many young kayakers at the time. When I contacted him through a friend to ask if he’d do a testimonial for my first novel, Raging River, he agreed. Then we started chatting about publishing, and he said he was looking for someone to help him with his autobiography. I said I’d be happy to be that person.
We emailed, phoned and skyped for a couple of weeks to establish the outline and do some interviews for the first chapters. Then we got a contract and I flew down to spend a few days with him in White Salmon, Washington (near Portland, Oregon). We put in long hours doing interviews, me typing at high speed on my laptap as he spoke. In fact, after each session, before hitting the town to find tacos or burritos, we’d both guess how many words I’d captured during the session, and whoever got closest had their lunch paid for by the other. By the end of several days, I had 40,000 words.
Of course, it was his autobiography, so as ghostwriter I had to take his word for everything. Once he was telling me about how he rarely got drunk at parties, when the doorbell rang. A very cute young blonde was at the door. As she greeted him with enthusiastic hugs, she exclaimed, “Hey Tao, haven’t seen you since you got really wasted at that party!”
He looked at me with an embarrassed smirk, and I teased the young woman, “Do tell me more.”
Finally, I flew home and started writing, and he edited or embellished on the chapters as I finished them. It was a treat interviewing his family members, especially his lovely, athletic and personable mother. I also interviewed his sister, brother, father, grandmother and several friends.
Again, it was pure fun because he was fun and easy-going; he gave me a lot of latitude in the writing, and was very open in his story-telling. He has certainly led an unusual and adventurous life, and I hope readers have enjoyed getting immersed in it.
He has since announced his retirement, but here is a YouTube of his last stunt: https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A2KIo9UofR1VcC8Au2UsnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByZWc0dGJtBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQDBGdwb3MDMQ–?p=tao+berman+youtube+2012&vid=78e97c33a7a9f563f1a74541169fa9bd&l=5%3A35&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DVN.608004474404143534%26pid%3D15.1&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DgxSDdaHzTJM&tit=Big+wave+kayaking+-+Tao+Berman+2012&c=0&sigr=11b8qc7vb&sigt=1131vd3sl&sigi=11r6ci7fh&age=1331056191&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Av&hsimp=yhs-004&hspart=mozilla&tt=b