There is much, much more to David de Rothschild than Plastiki, but that’s where the conversation usually starts. In 2010, de Rothschild and a crew sailed a catamaran that they built entirely from recycled, reclaimed, and sustainable materials, primarily 12,500 used plastic bottles, from California to Australia. Named in honor of Kon-Tiki, Plastiki’s voyage brought worldwide attention to the issues of plastics and the Pacific garbage patch — an issue to which de Rothschild has devoted considerable time and resources.
But the 35-year-old Brit also has legitimate on-the-ground adventure chops. In 2005, he traversed Antarctica on skis. A few months later, he set the record for fastest crossing of the Greenland Icecap. In 2006, he walked from Russia to Canada via the North Pole.
“Never one to turn a challenge down, whether it be skydiving, bungee jumping, paragliding, you could always count on Dave to be the first to put his hand up to do the craziest, most dangerous thing possible,” his brother, Anthony, told Outside.
In his words, here are David’s heroes:
Kevin Pearce, snowboarder
I was fortunate to meet Kevin in the summer of 2009, when he had or was winning everything there was to win. From being the first man to earn two Air & Style rings in one season, grabbing the TTR World Tour Champion title in 07/08, notching up three more medals 2008 in the Winter X Games XII, not to mention also becoming the first athlete in X-Games history to compete in three medal events in one day, he was a hero to snowboarders all over the world. Then on December 31, 2009, during a training run, Pearce was critically injured when striking his head on the edge of the halfpipe while attempting a cab double cork, a trick he had lined up to steal the gold from Shaun White. KP suffered a traumatic brain injury. His life and the lives of his loved ones were irreversibly changed. After months of intensive critical care and now years of recovery, KP has had to come to terms with being unable to compete again, to do what he loves the most.
While some might focus on the winning or being the best as an indicator of hero status, for me the sign of a true hero is not only the ability to pick oneself up against all odds but also the ability to take adversity and move beyond. KP’s remarkable story of recovery, his ability to forge a new life adventure, and to keep dream bigger and bolder than before, has set the benchmark for anyone wanting to try and achieve the lofty status of “hero.”
Buckminster Fuller, architect
Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller was the epitome of a true renaissance man: an architect, author, designer, inventor, artist, engineer, system’s theorist, humanitarian, hero. Between writing more than 30 books, holding the presidency of Mensa, coining the phrase Spaceship Earth five years prior to the Apollo 8 mission that confirmed this statement as visionary, he had the time to design many structures, including one of most of iconic and now replicated of last century, the geodesic dome. However, what not many people know is that before he reached his global status as hero, by 32 Fuller was bankrupt, jobless, living in low-income public housing, and grieving from the death his daughter Alexandra. Drinking heavily and on the verge of committing suicide, he finally chose to embark on “an experiment” that would lead him to ask a single question: What could a single individual contribute to changing the world?
His resolve and determination took this question and turned it into a lifelong mission to find ways of “doing more with less” in order to benefit all humanity. From that point forward, his selfless dream drove a hero’s quest, to help advance the evolution of humanity. His ability to stick closely to and never waiver from his value system sculpted a thought leader that’s rarely been rivaled since.
Over the last decade of giving lectures on the state of our planet and our relationship to nature, I can’t remember a time when I have not included one of Bucky’s quotes or theories. From daring myself to be naive or using my work to contribute to spaceship earth’s elusive “instruction manual,” I have to thank Fuller for letting me stand on his shoulders.
Yves Behar, designer
I have always thought the environmental movement got it wrong by calling it environmentalism when what’s really needed is less green and more design. For most normal mortals, myself included, being able to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary is a skill very few possess. That’s why the first thing that came out of my mouth when I met Yves was “when I grow up, I want to be just like you.” His ability to effortlessly unlock potential in everything he comes across has always firmly placed him into the hero category. While he maybe known for the usual design projects that you might expect for someone of his stature, he has also managed to blend his commercial work with selfless designs that continued to have a profoundly positive effect on society. From being the chief industrial designer of the One Laptop per child program in 2008 to designed eyeglasses for the “See Better to Learn Better” program that provides free pairs to students throughout Mexico, in years to come we may look back and call him Bucky 2.0.
Bruce Parry, documentarian
I will never forget when I first watched Bruce in his series Tribes, I was truly captivated. He so easily managed to do what so many people before him had failed (and still try) to do — articulate the complex issue of remote indigenous peoples and the important challenges they all face, and he did it in a natural, honest, and entertaining way. He put anthropology and the plight of indigenous rights into the homes and hearts of millions of everyday people. And by fully immersing himself into every situation, his open and honest approach and deep respect for their ways of life and culture comes across more authentically than anyone else I know. Whenever I am planning an adventure, he is the first person I call. If I manage to achieve 1/1000 of his skill in communicating some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues, I consider my adventures to be a success. As I’m writing this, I just spoke to Bruce, who was chasing adventure in India, filming for a new feature film called Quest, the importance of which I know will have a profound effect of how we view our position as a human tribe on this planet.
Graham Hill, founder, Treehugger
Apart from being a crew member and a key component to the success of the Plastiki adventure, Graham has always been so far in front of the curve some people would argue that he created the curve. When he launched Treehugger, his sustainability blog, there was barely even a hint of environmental communication as entertaining and impactful as his. It was no surprise to me that within a few years of its launch Treehugger was included in Time Magazine’s 2009 blog index as one of the top 25 blogs in the world. I would go even as far to say that it spawned the main wave of environmental journalism that we see today. Being a hero and visionary means being able to keep evolving, which is exactly what Graham did. When others were trying to replicate the path he had blazed, Graham had already moved forward to launch Life Edited, again kickstarting the conversation on the shared economy and open source innovation. A conversation that had barely been raised outside of the realm of academia. He is a living, breathing example of his ideology that no one is as smart as everybody and to that end has managed to drive forward a modern twist on Buckminister Fuller’s dream of doing more with less. I am proud and honored to call him a friend.
Photo by Luca Babini