From Vans Warped Tour pit reporter to CNN fact checker, to freelance writer, Shelby Stanger has had some amazing job experiences. Following your dreams can be exciting and scary all at the same time. Take some time and get to know Shelby and her life adventures.
1. I heard you interned at CNN, What was that like? What news was breaking at that time?
I was really lucky and ended up with the top internship working for the executive producer at “The Row,” which at the time was literally the row of news desks behind the anchor desk where stories are fact-checked and edited before going live on air. I would often call my mom and tell her to turn on the news so she could see the back of my head, and that I really did have a job.
While at CNN, I attended the sacred 9am morning meetings where a handful of people decided the news for the world that day. Then we used systems like Lexus Nexus, and some crazy pre-Google search operations to fact check stories. I became good at being resourceful, finding facts and cold calling reporters and witnesses across the world.
Two of my most memorable personal interviews were with Atlanta-based Congressman John Lewis who spoke with me about racial tensions, and former President Jimmy Carter who gave a speech at Emory University (where I was studying journalism) in reaction to September 11th that I published for CNN.com.
*Update: Check out Shelby’s latest project Wild Ideas Worth Living. Totally cool!
2. How did you get the awesome gig as pit reporter for the Van Warped Tour?
Short story is that I lied and said I had an inappropriate tattoo on my rear. Long story is that it involved a little perseverance, a bit of bravado and a lot of luck, plus a bunch of years in high school and college interning and writing for newspapers and magazines from San Diego to Atlanta.
Shelby on the road
I met the PR Director for Vans when I was covering a Vans Skatepark Opening in Atlanta writing for a local newspaper (no one else in the Atlanta newsroom understood skateboarding and assumed since I surfed, I knew skateboarding).
He offered me a job on the spot, but I was only a sophomore in college so I contacted him again after graduation and he told me there might be a position as a reporter for the Vans Warped tour. The only catch was that previous reporters were guys, and they weren’t sure a girl could hang on a tour bus for 60 days straight, and they were making a decision asap.
I told him on the phone I was his person, and twenty minutes later drove from San Diego to Santa Fe Springs in North Orange County with nothing but a portfolio of clips to show and a giant smile. One of my interviewers asked how I was going to deal with a bunch of punk rockers and tattooed guys with Mohawks.
I was wearing a polo shirt and a Roxy jean skirt with my nerdy glasses. I don’t know where it came from but I busted out a line about a tattoo on my bootay that said “This Side up.” They rolled out of their chairs in laughter, and I was on the tour.
3. What was that like? What is one of your best/worst/funniest memories? (Pick one, I’m sure you have a couple 😉
It was the best job a 22 year old could ever have. It also ruined me for the rest of my life. My bar for all jobs going forward was impossibly high.
Every day I woke up in a new city on a tour bus; had to find a place to shower, eat, and sometimes I snuck in a run. Then I took a hundred plus pictures with a Cannon Elph, wrote two stories a day: one about the tour and one about something on the tour that I had to come up with by myself.
Getting the story, fighting my way through a mosh pit to take a photo and then writing was the easy part. Sending the stories and 80 pictures through a slow dial-up connection that took two minutes a photo on a phone that was always being used by some tour manager in a dirt parking lot was a daily challenge.
At least a dozen times I hitchhiked with the most non-axe murderer-looking teenager I could find and traded him or her VIP passes to the after tour party (which happened every night) in exchange for a ride to a Kinko’s or their own house. I had to make it back before the bus left for the next stop in a new city the next day.
Best moments were many: Shopping for books in Montreal with Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, surfing in New Jersey with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Use for a Name; hitching a ride back to San Diego with the band Pepper, hanging out with Something Corporate (they surfed), seeing friends at stops along the way, and most of all spending time with Kristy Van Doren and her dad Steve – two of the most genuine and authentic people in action sports.
Steve was my bunk-mate who I will forever be grateful to. I remember stopping at a McDonalds in a remote town in Canada and some kid recognized Steve (this was pre-social media) and did an ollie over a trashcan for him. Steve had a pair of shoes sent to him the next day. He and Kristy worked every day all day and still do… barbequing for fans and selling tee-shirts — for the love of kids and what they do. I learned a lot from both of them.
I also learned some of the scariest looking guys with the most intense Mohawks and tattoos are the nicest. The roadies on that tour are legends. So is the creator and every one involved. Every other story I have is too inappropriate for print. But I will tell you this: I made it to 35 still tattoo and Mohawk free!
4. As your career evolved, you got pretty high up there on the corporate ladder, but then you decided to let it all go one day to follow your passion of writing. Some would say you’re crazy for giving up such a high level career job. Can you explain why you made that decision and what that felt like?
That’s sweet of you to say, but I wasn’t exactly buying my own jet and surfboards to hang on my wall. But I was really lucky that I got in at the right time at a company I cared about and in a job I was pretty good at. I was travelling to three countries a month, freelancing on the side and running myself ragged though towards my late twenties.
All I really wanted to do was write and surf. I wanted to write about athletes who inspired me, entrepreneurs going for their dreams, and I also wanted to go on adventures that didn’t involve going to the mall or a shoe shop. I quit at the height of the recession in 2009, during the worst time to be a journalist as newspapers and magazines were folding daily.
It was the hardest decision I ever made, mostly because besides not knowing if I would be able to support myself, I really loved Vans and my boss there. The people there weren’t just co-workers; they were friends who I spent a lot of time with during my formative twenties. The day I quit, I talked myself into a job travelling to Indonesia on the Indies Trader III surfboat with ten men for a story assignment. Sometimes you have to jump to realize there’s actually a sea underneath to catch you. In my case it was an incredibly blue sea full of gorgeous men and empty waves.
5. What are some of the best dream jobs you’ve ever worked? Surf Diva? Vans? Freelancing?
That first gig after quitting and travelling with a legendary crew of watermen to Indonesia was pretty incredible. Vans was amazing, so were many of the people I have interviewed. I think the best job I’ve ever had was the most simple. Pushing people into waves actually changed lives.
Women who I taught to surf, just simply standing on a block of foam on water – changed their lives. They lost weight, quit smoking, dumped their deadbeat spouses, reinvigorated relationships, changed careers, moved cities, and pursued passions.
Izzy at Surf Diva was on to something when she and her twin sister, Coco, founded Surf Diva in 1996. Learning to surf literally changes lives. I still teach – at least when they host camps in Costa Rica or Tavarua. And now I am teaching yoga to surf campers too.
6. You have a love for New Zealand, why is that? Tell us about your trips there.
New Zealand is stunning. It has every geological wonder you would ever want to see condensed into two islands. The people there are also amazing, some of the kindest, funniest and intelligent humans I have met. And they are all brutally honest. I went to the grocery store to get cotton balls and the woman told me they were cheaper next store. They have a word called “Aroha,” which is like Aloha but means Love in the best way possible and more. They live by that Aroha spirit, and are very connected to their land.
7. A couple of years ago you came out publicly about your battle with depression. What was that like for you? What are you up to now to raise awareness?
I felt like throwing up the minute I published it. But I was desperate to share my story. I have always been really smiley and outgoing, but depression and addiction runs deep in my family. I thought because I was an athlete, I was exempt from experiencing any mental illness. When I turned 29, depression hit me like a ton of bricks. Everything I did – running, yoga, drinking Kombucha by the crate, chugging green juice – wasn’t working. I thought I could just “will” it away. I thought that depressed people were weak and just needed to get over themselves, and then I was one of them. I had to get help. And I even took a white pill. I was really embarrassed by it all and didn’t tell many people for years.
I spent the next few years writing a book about my journey, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it. One day I just busted something out in twenty minutes and put it out there. I regretted it the second I did it, but then my phone started dinging like crazy. A few people were afraid I was suicidal (which luckily I was far from) but then others just wanted to tell me thanks for sharing. They also had a similar story. About one in four people have suffered from a mental illness. Not many people talk about it. There are so many stigmas still out there. Today I am in a great place.
I had five years working on my own and carving time to cut through all the bullshit and stories I used to tell myself. I also learned a lot of great techniques to deal with depression, including yoga and eating certain foods, avoiding others, and making time to just be. The biggest technique is gratitude.
That stuff is a game changer and it works exponentially. I actually don’t take medicine anymore, but I feel really strongly about continuing the conversation about depression and getting help as well as ways to deal with mental illness. I also no longer think it’s weak to get help – in fact it’s the bravest thing someone can do. I just got certified to teach yoga (even though I used to make fun of yoga chicks all the time and still think the ones that talk about their chakras are kinda’ silly), and I don’t beat myself up anymore. I laugh a lot, and most of all I realize how lucky I am and what amazing people I have chosen to be in my life.
I really want to write more about mental illness. There’s a crew of guys I met in Australia who started an organization where they surf in fluorescent colors to raise awareness about depression and mental health. The do sessions on Fridays called “Free the Funk Fluro Fridays.”
These guys are total hotties and their movement has spread to Bali, New Zealand and I am helping lead Fluro Friday surf sessions in Cardiff and La Jolla. Talking about depression can be depressing, so they go surf and crazy bright costumes and it brings some light to the conversation and it also gets people to open up and ask questions. It makes people smile. It’s simple and a genius concept. I hope to do more with them. Check out http://onewaveisallittakes.com/.
8. One of you clients is Body Glove? What do you love about this job? Can you recommend a good Body Glove video to watch?
Body Glove is one of the coolest original surf brands that most people don’t know the story behind. My job is to help tell their story better. No day is the same. Some days it’s responding to a Jenner who wore your swimsuit and ended up on the cover of US Weekly. Others its telling magazines about our team riders, revising or creating a marketing plan, doing the morning TV show with KTLA news, cold pitching media, writing bios, running meetings, or paddling out at Pipeline when your boss tells you that he will fire you if you don’t (I did and paddled right back in, but was stoked).
Everyone who works at that company is a true waterman. They surf, scuba dive and love the water. Even our President is a badass; he’s in his seventies, drives a Volkswagen Thing, was the former mayor of Manhattan Beach and is the lead singer in a band! Like the Vans family, the Meistrells and Body Glove crew are in it for life. They love what they do. Body Glove is a private, family –owned company and does not have to report to Wall Street so it gives them a lot of room to be free and authentic. It also ensures that there’s a focus on quality of life and enjoying the moment. When there are waves, everyone surfs, when there are whales off the Harbor in Redondo Beach, we take the boat out and enjoy the day. They make really great products and then give heaps back to the community.
As for videos check out what’s going on with Tatiana Weston-Webb. This young woman has a bright future. The new yoga line is also pretty amazing.
Tatiana Weston-Webb “The Beginning” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNIRdDeiHoM
Body Glove Breathe https://vimeo.com/133584503
9. What’s next? Any story ideas? Travel destinations?
Well, if you got this far, congrats. I owe you a beer, a coffee, or maybe a green juice. I took a year off from writing – from publishing at least four stories a week to maybe four a month. I really want to go back to writing good stories. I thought I was done with adventures forever after being sent down a portion of the Peruvian Amazon River on a standup paddleboard four years ago.
The other day I saw a video with this guy who used breathing techniques to climb Mt. Everest in shorts. I am trying to book a trip with my fiancé to train with him. It’s not exactly romantic, but we love doing things that make us healthier humans.
Life is big.
There’s a lot more to go. And a lot more stories to write. I find most ordinary humans extraordinary, so hopefully you’ll start seeing my name helping tell more stories very soon.