Matt Niswonger

A wild person’s guide to the four pillars of adventure

The Richmaster checking the waves during a recent trip to Rincon.

One of the main benefits of outdoor adventure is how it connects us to all kinds of really cool, wild people. Personally I’ve always felt that outdoor adventure is way better when shared with others. The process of planning and executing a group adventure, whether it’s a two-hour surf session with a friend in Santa Cruz, a three-day guided raft journey with your extended family on the American River, a mountain bike weekend in Downieville with a dozen friends, an odyssey up the PCT with someone you just met while hiking the trail, or a few hours spent at your favorite ski resort doing tree runs with your kids, the shared rituals are pretty much sacred to me.

Building a lifestyle around the rituals of shared adventure has been my focus for about twenty years now. When I’m not working my other job (yes I work outside), I’m constantly planning or executing some sort of group adventure in the outdoors. I call this lifestyle the “four pillars of adventure.” For me the four pillars are surfing, climbing, mountain biking, and snowboarding. You may want to substitute kayaking or SUP for surfing, and you may want to substitute road biking for mountain biking or skiing for snowboarding, but you get the point. The idea is to pursue multiple adventure sports instead of just calling yourself a surfer, or a climber, or a mountain biker and doing one thing all year long.

Mixing it up keeps things fresh, and more importantly keeps me connected with all kinds of people I care about. For example, this morning I went surfing with my brother, AKA the Richmaster, AKA Churchie, AKA Chard, AKA Bruno. I mention all these nicknames because we have so much shared adventure history that the memories reach all the way to our childhood. There were some fun, powerful waves rolling through but I wasn’t having much luck. Breathing hard, I took a break and sat up on my board outside the lineup to have a look around and rest. Just then the Richmaster dropped in on a nice wave and started carving his way in my direction. As he got closer I could tell he was going fast because his board was making that rapid whipping sound that only happens when you are really blasting through the water. After making a wide bottom turn he shot back up the wave face right towards me until he was so close we almost could have high-fived.

As the wave rose beneath us, Richmaster turned again, this time rocketing down the face and gaining more speed as the wave exploded right behind him. He was so locked in and perfectly in tune with the wave it was like everything had been choreographed. Watching him carve down the line, all I could do was sit there and smile as I realized he would probably be in a good mood for the rest of the day. Driving home we both celebrated his stellar ride and how great it feels to be locked in on a big, gnarly wave when everything comes together like it was meant to be.

When we first started ASJ nearly twenty years ago, the idea of pursuing more than one adventure sport seemed like a novel concept. Given the unique terrain of California and Nevada, we always thought it was more natural to be an outdoor jack-of-all-trades, but back then you called yourself a surfer or a climber or a cyclist or a runner and you specialized in one thing. Since that time I like to think we have had a positive influence on the outdoor culture and inspired many people in California and Nevada to pursue the four pillars of adventure. After all, surfing is amazing but sometimes there are no waves. Likewise, mountain biking is a blast but sometimes the trails are wet and muddy. Climbing in Yosemite is spectacular but sometimes it’s too cold and snowy. I say adapt with the conditions, pursue togetherness using shared outdoor rituals, and achieve primal bliss with the four pillars of adventure.

All of that said, what are your thoughts? If you pursue multiple adventure sports, what are they and how do you make it work? We’d love to hear your story and we print as many emails as we can in every issue. Feel free to share a story or two by emailing me at

—Matt Niswonger