What you notice most are her wide, vibrant and strikingly blue eyes—unless, of course, she’s laughing, a full-throated cackle that frequently morphs into a staccato shriek. Embracing her distinctive guffaw, Justine Curgenven named her company Cackle TV. “It’s like the roar of the MGM lion!” she says. Laughing, of course.
Born in a steel town 150 miles north of London, Curgenven spent half of her childhood in Jersey, an island off the coast of Normandy. After graduating from Cambridge and a year spent traveling, she settled into a job as a local television reporter. When asked to do a three-minute segment on a person who became an Internet sensation for having sex covered in baked beans, she filed the story and then went her own way. “I was fed up,” she says. Her goal was to spend more time outdoors and to make documentaries.
Nearly a decade and five DVDs later, the 40-year-old who hangs her favored wool caps in a small town in North Wales has done just that. Whether she’s filming her own trips around Tasmania, Tierra del Fuego, or the Queen Charlotte Islands, or profiling the legends in the sport, Curgenven has captured the excitement of sea kayaking at its most adventurous. No baked beans necessary. —Joe Glickman
There’s something wild and untamable about water that I’m drawn to. I don’t know if I can even analyze it. I’m not able to control the water or its moods and I have grown to love that.
I’ve always been focused, hardworking and competitive. With sea kayaking, I enjoy competing with myself, pushing a little bit harder. ‘Okay, I did a 20-mile crossing, now let’s see if I can do one twice as long.’ I’m always testing my limits I suppose.
Field hockey was my passion for years. I think my love of hockey gives a clue to my nature. I was part of a team but I had very good individual skills—although some of my friends said I didn’t pass enough! I’m independent and enjoy my own company, but not for too long.
Working as a news reporter was the best training for what I do now. It taught me how to tell a story and that’s the key thing in making a film. You can have the most beautiful pictures in the world, but with no story I’m bored after five minutes.
In 2003, I decided to go to Iceland and kayak by myself. I’d been paddling with a lot of good paddlers in northern Wales and thought, ‘The only way I’m going to learn is to do a trip by myself.’ I made some errors in judgment but it was a massive learning experience.
I spent a lot of time thinking of a title for the DVD and came up with This Is The Sea. After the DVD was printed a friend said, ‘Do you realize what the acronym is?’ At first I was worried that people would think I named it TITS on purpose.
I like strong characters; they’re interesting. And I like people who wear their heart on their sleeve and say it as it is.
Paul Caffyn paddled around Australia, Japan, Great Britain, the length of Alaska and all these cool places before anyone else even thought about doing that sort of thing. And he did it for the pure love of it because that’s what he enjoyed doing. I have a lot of respect for that as he did those trips without a GPS or technology, long before people thought such trips were possible.
I love to film emotion. Most times when things go wrong, I think, ‘Quick, get the camera out!’ It’s like: This is crap for the expedition, but good for the movie.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to do a trip without filming. If I didn’t have to record them, I’d have just enjoyed the dolphins jumping out in front of me. But then again, if I didn’t film it, I might not be able to go on the trip.
My partner Barry Shaw is a private person, and it’s been quite difficult for me to point the camera at him when things are going wrong. But he’s gotten better at it and I’ve gotten better at treating him with respect. Sometimes a bit tricky but we’ve worked it out. Some people love the camera, others do not. If you go on a trip with me you’re going to get a camera in your face.
I still want to go out there and do more bold trips. I’d love to go to the Aleutians islands, across the string of islands in the Sea of Cortez, to Antarctica, around Vancouver Island, to the Galapagos. There are just so many places I want to see.
If I can inspire people with my films, fantastic. It’s a real pleasure when I hear that. Recently someone told me, ‘Your films take us along with you.’ I liked that. That’s great. That’s what I strive to do.