Isle photographer chronicles global journey
By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
Local filmmaker and surfer Alison Teal credits her “wild and daring” parents, David Blehert and Deborah Koehn, for inspiring her to live adventurously. Without hesitation, they took her, then just 2 months old, skiing on Ausangate, the highest peak in Southern Peru. Teal, now 28, said her life has been “a continuous whirlwind of high adventure” ever since.
Teal was homeschooled until high school, when she attended Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea. Growing up, she enjoyed the rough-and-tumble pleasures of childhood, along with its endless perils and possibilities. The only difference, according to Teal, was she did this while living in some of the most amazing remote, primitive, inaccessible and uncharted places — her parents’ job assignments and exploits.
Blehert is a renowned photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Patagonia, Outside, Eagle Creek and Teva. Koehn is a naturalist, as well as an acclaimed yoga devotee and teacher.
The family later built a “magnificent Robinson Crusoe-style grass shack home/eco retreat center,” which is almost entirely off the grid, in Hookena.
From her parents, Teal said she discovered the passion and delight of discovery that comes with embarking for a destination that’s open-ended, as well as the importance of being a part of an ever-growing global family and leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible on the world.
“My parents were always more afraid of taking me to Disneyland than they were to whisking me way to the flanks of Everest to do climbs,” she said. “They felt the best education was taking me traveling and learning about the world. Every day is an adventure, and I’ve been fortunate to have the world as my classroom and the people I meet traveling as my teachers. I’ve also had more incredible experiences before the age 7 than most people get to experience in their entire life.”
That lifetime of epic journeys, as well as “finally being old enough to drive a camel,” inspired Teal to create her own film series, “Alison’s Adventures,” which officially launches next month on her website, www.alisonsadventures.com. Previews and short clips of some films can already be viewed online. Among the places featured are Nepal, the Peruvian Andes, New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, Fiji, Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.
Carrying film equipment, her backpack and a pink soy-based surfboard, Teal took off on her own adventure, visiting “communities living off the beaten path to unearth customs and curious traditions, investigate ancient myths and legends, and showcase the importance of family to inspire eco-lifestyles.” Helping her are numerous volunteers, including her friends, travel partners and cinematographers Sarah Lee and Tamara Rosenfeld, as well as her parents. Other team members are mentor Ron Friendman, motion graphics designer Emy Dossett, supervising sound editor Vickie Sampson, attorney Joslyn Wood and communications and content strategist Janetti Chon. Teal said she appreciates all who have offered their talents, time and even their home. She also expressed gratitude to the many donors and sponsors.
Teal insists the trips are “by no means glamorous living” or “fun frolicking in a bikini.” It’s hard work that lasts hours. Oftentimes, Teal said she feels as if “the great and powerful Wizard of Oz” is on her side as serendipity abounds frequently. For instance, when Teal set out to explore Australia’s famous outback and hang out with Aborigines, her plans changed because of the presence of too many crocodiles. By luck, she ran into “an incredible survivalist who took her under his wing.” Open-mindedness to uncertainty, change and newness, along with perseverance, are key the adventure, according to Teal. “And the no money involved allows for passions to overflow and plans to take their own course,” she added.
Because this is a volunteer-based effort, Teal is adamant about providing free access to the series, believing it’s important to give back to those who gave and pay it forward. She also enjoys the openness of the Internet and the ability it provides people to connect, learn and collaborate. Through this digital outlet, she hopes to grow her global family and inspire viewers to take action, whether it’s embracing change, following a dream or supporting a cause.
Teal believes “Alison’s Adventures” can serve as a fun, inspirational and educational tool for children and the kid in everyone. The stories told are not preachy or filled with hype. Instead, the stories, none of which are pre-scripted, are rich with humor, quirkiness, a spirited sense of adventure, irony and compassion. Teal lets the story speak for itself.
As much as she wants people to discover the sugar-coated lessons and support the featured causes, such as coral planting or helping New Zealand’s endangered blue duck, Teal also hopes they also find the luminous promise of magic and the enchantment that still exists in the world.
Teal described the film series as “an eight-year labor of love and lifelong dream.” She said it offers viewers “a passport” into the world of the characters that make up her global family. In each film, she finds local companions who are willing to guide her around a special place for a day or month, as well as share their traditions, culture and ancient wisdom that are on the verge of vanishing. Teal strives to uncover secrets to survival, sustainability and happiness.
By imparting this wisdom, Teal hopes to preserve this knowledge for the younger generations and future leaders of our planet so that they will make well-informed decisions and be agents of change. Teal is available to do presentations and film showings for schools and community events. Those interested should contact her via the “Alison’s Adventures” website.
Another ambitious plan of Teal’s is to someday provide children of all walks of life the opportunity to explore the places featured and meet the characters. “I would love to be the Oprah of adventures, granting wishes to these incredible destinations,” she said.
This film series hasn’t been Teal’s only daring enterprise. She recently returned from an “intense” stint on an isolated island in the Maldives. She was participating in “Naked and Afraid,” Discovery Channel’s new series involving two strangers tasked with surviving “21 days in some of the world’s harshest environments with no food, no water, no tools … and no clothes. As their extreme survival skills are put to test, each couple must battle the elements, each other and their own inner weakness to triumph over the terrain and their predicament,” according to the show’s online description.
“Naked and Afraid” premieres Sunday and will air every Sunday after for six weeks. Teal said her episode is scheduled to air at 6:20 p.m. July 7. She described the survival challenge as “the real deal and gnarly.” While she’s not allowed to divulge too many details, Teal did reveal two days into the challenge her partner got sick, which only intensified the situation and left a lot of the hunting and gathering responsibilities up to her. An hour or so into the challenge, Teal said she pretty much forgot about being in the buff. Still, she was stoked when they found clothing, adding “one man’s trash is another’s treasure.”
When producers first approached Teal about being on the show, she had her reservations, especially because of her “conservative, old-fashioned family values.” With “Alison’s Adventures” in the works, she wanted to make sure her participation with “Naked and Afraid” would in fact be educational, not sensational or sexual, as well as showcase the importance of survival skills and being connected to nature. It was important to her that she remained a good role model, especially for young women.
Teal found out about her location only a week before leaving. To prepare, she got valuable help from her neighbors in the South Kona community, as well as Ina Tagaloa, a friend from Maui. Because she already knew wilderness survival basics, Teal spent a lot time weaving baskets, ropes, blankets and hats. She brushed up on her fishing skills and learned how to make a proper imu. She is thankful for everyone’s manao and said her success on the show belongs to the community.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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