The Nomad: Kayaker Erik Boomer

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This week marks the debut of a new series of short films by Forge Motion Pictures, the production company that created the highly acclaimed “Cold.” “Of SOULS+WATER” centers around five people who’ve devoted themselves to water and takes a less conventional approach to adventure storytelling, exploring what it means to live for adventure, what drives these folks, and who they become because it. Adventure Journal is partnering with Forge to tell more about these five people than will fit into the short film format, and in this first of the five stories we talk to the “nomad.”

Erik Boomer isn’t afraid to try new things, that’s for sure. The 27-year-old Idahoan has dropped some 30 first descents down rivers and waterfalls. For a photography project, he spent a week living homeless in Washington, D.C. And last year, long with Jon Turk, he spent 104 days circumnavigating Canada’s Ellesmere Island, a feat that not only had never been done, it had never been attempted. For this last accomplishment, he (along with Turk) was named National Geographic Adventure’s Adventurer of the Year.

In “The Nomad,” which you can watch below, Boomer says, “I’ve been wandering a lot lately. I guess I’m searching.” It was with that theme that we started our conversation.

You’re searching. For what? When you’re driven to test your physical and emotional limits in the outdoors, is it possible to put into words what you’re seeking? Or what drives you?
I am driven by what I feel in my heart. When I am following my heart and listening to my gut I usually find myself in challenging situations that ultimately teach me how to be a better person. Overcoming uncomfortable situations in rivers or adventures shows me what I am capable of. Doug Ammons once told me “the best line in any rapid is the one that takes you through the rapid and continues into the rest of your life.”

Boomer, right, with Turk on Ellesmere

What does solitude teach you?
I actually love being around people. In every adventure that was portrayed in The Nomad I was actually sharing these experiences with friends. Although, I do enjoy spending some alone time to clear my mind and contemplate life. I find that alone time helps me get familiar with the way my mind operates.

You spent a week living on the streets in Washington, D.C. What did you learn from it?
In the homeless shelters I observed people in the midst of massive life changes. Some who had spent 20-plus years in jail and ruined every relationship they had yet decided to commit to making steps to living a better life. These people all had a focused look in their eyes that reminded me of how I felt when I was going to run a large waterfall. I think it has something to do with the process of taking a risk and embracing scary situations. It was also good practice at being content and happy without anything. I had no wallet, cell phone, or anything except the clothes I was wearing.

Is it possible to find meaning externally? Can you find it in adventure? Or does it have to come from within?
Lately I find meaning by following my heart and by trying to be the best person I can be.

Why is silence important to you?
We live in busy times; it is easy to let your senses become dull. When I take time to cultivate inner silence and stillness, I feel more awake and alive.

You say your limits keep moving. What is a limit and is it really a limit if you go past it?
I think we set our own limits, we can always choose to raise the bar. Whitewater has taught me this when I have decided to paddle a waterfall that I once thought was too dangerous or was impossible to paddle. It felt amazing to confront the fear and risk in doing so. The cool thing is this mindset is also applicable to other areas of your life

You said were a better person after paddling around Ellesmere. In what way?
I came home with a better appreciation and love for my family and friends. Traveling around Ellesmere Island required watching and engaging with the arctic environment for 104 days, this experience taught me about listening and paying attention.

What does it mean to be named Adventurer of the Year?
It feels good to be honored by an organization as prestigious as National Geographic. For me it confirms that I made the right choice by following my heart even though it seemed crazy at times.

How do you define adventure?
Adventures should be fun. But if everything is all planned out and goes as expected I would define it as a “trip” or “expedition.” I think a true adventure must include some aspect of uncertainty or an unknown challenge.

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