Kord spent three days at Tao Berman's home in White Salmon, Washington, mountain biking, trail running and, much to Kord’s unease, cliff jumping. Kord returned with a new perspective on the Michael Jordan of extreme kayaking and a profile that digs deep into the controversy, success and most importantly, mind of Tao Berman. Take a look at Kord's thoughts on the piece and its explosive subject.
What's one moment you'll never forget from your three days with Tao?
One moment would definitely be that moment of jumping in the river and sliding down on my butt down the river. I'll never forget that feeling of being 15 feet under water and being pulled downriver.
Are you planning on doing more cliff-jumping?
He wants me to go down there and do it again. I would love to.
The thing about Tao is that when you're hanging out with him, he has so much confidence in himself that it rubs off on you. He gets you to do these things that you never would have done. I would never have slid down a waterfall into a river like that just because I thought it was a good idea. You see him and how he does it and he's so enthusiastic about it. It only takes a second, the river does the rest.
In your piece, you talk about a hitherto underground controversy surrounding Tao's run of Johnston Falls. Do you think he intentionally psyched Shannon Carroll out of running it right after he did?
That's a good question—and use of the word 'hitherto.' (Laughs) It certainly was implied by some people. No one knows what was going through his mind but Tao. He and I were talking after the article came out he stated pretty adamantly that he was concerned for her safety. Eric Link did, too, so you have to take them at their word.
Did he call you specifically about that part of the article?
Just about the article in general and other things. We've spent a lot of time on the phone.
How does this piece compare with other profiles you've written?
I've never tried to get in someone's head this much before. It was fun because, and I don't mean this in a bad way, Tao is a complicated guy. You can't just look at him and know everything that's going on. He's definitely not one-dimensional. You can talk about anything with him and he'll have an opinion. He can talk to you about kayaking all day but he can also talk to you about politics, or religion, or financial stuff all day. And maybe that's part of the problem that people have with him. People expect him to be nothing more than just a boater – and he's a great one – but he's a lot more than just a boater.
At the end of the piece you muse over whether you're a friend or "another piece in his PR puzzle." So which is it?
Honestly, I hope we are friends. I think we are. He hasn't mentioned it since the story came out, but I think, and I could be wrong, that he read that and he took it to heart. I think he probably paused when he read that, and realized that would be a question in my mind.
People may feel a little bit offended if he doesn't regard them the way that they regard him. He's kind of like that friend from high school who became a movie star. He can't be friends with people that want to be friends with him.
For example, we were down in Hood River, driving around, and we came to a stoplight. This guy came up next to us on his mountain bike and started chatting with Tao. You know, the "good to see you" and "what have you been doing" stuff, and bro brahing with him. The guy says, "dude, we gotta go boating, I'll give you a call." And Tao said, "yeah, sure man." I asked him who it was afterwards, and he said, "I have no idea." He's so polite, I can't imagine him purposely being arrogant to people around him.