“Our time there taught us some simple lessons that we often forget in the rush of life…”
I first meet Andrew King – aka “GI” for rather complicated reasons that will be explained – in 2013, when a group of us went to play in the snowy cliffs of the Matroosberg. This quiet soul with a big heart for adventure has travelled far and wide across the globe, bringing fascinating stories to life on our screens. He’s tackled a fair share of daring adventures himself (not least of which includes hiking to the top of Kilimajaro barefoot) but his quiet-spoken nature sees him preferring to be out of the limelight. Always happy to talk photography and videography though, Andrew “GI” King gave me some insight into the crazy life of capturing stories.
© Andrew King
LD: Tell us a bit about you – your age, where you grew up, and where the nickname GI came from!
AK: I’m turning the big Four Zero this year, which is crazy because I still feel like I’m 25 and have a whole life of experiences still ahead of me. I grew up in Johannesburg, studied at WITS for two years, before transferring to UKZN for a final three years. I moved away from team sports during my time in Durban, and that’s when my love for adventure and endurance sports really started. I always say I have 20 years of ‘outdoorness’ to catch up on and that’s why I’m still loving it. After 14 years in Durban I moved with my girlfriend to Cape Town to find new places to explore, and as part of my commitment to moving on from TV sports broadcast productions to bigger and better documentary stories. We’ve been in Cape Town for five years now and have never looked back.
The nickname GI came from my university days. It was Gironkey for many years… (looks like a giraffe, runs like a donkey) but when my mates on the sports council committee at varsity didn’t know my real name to mark me down as absent, they just wrote G.I.Ronkey on the minutes.
The Richterveld has to be one of my favourite South African locations, with the gigantic boulders of the Tatasberg providing the most bizarre moonlike landscape. After filming day two of the Richtersveld Wildrun, Owen Middleton, my mate Brundle and I hopped in a car and missioned hard to reach the Tatasberg to watch the sunset. We jumped out the car and ran up as fast as we could to get to a decent height to catch the final setting of the sun. After a few moments, I climbed down from the boulder and onto another further away to take a picture of them. There was no shouting instructions or communicating to them – it was simple: I lifted the camera, they both did a quiet countdown and leapt in the air. And this photo was the first one I took. Another magical life-moment caught on camera © Andrew King
LD: Did you always want to be a photographer/cinematographer, or did you drop another career for these adventures?
At UKZN I started river paddling, surfski paddling and I joined the mountain club. Before that I had been mountain biking in Johannesburg, but it wasn’t until I found adventure racing that everything blew up. I finished my engineering degree in Construction Project Management and worked on construction projects for three years, and during that time I spent every cent I earned on new gear, entering and travelling to multiday adventure races all around the country. After three years I resigned from my permanent job to participate in the first ever Freedom Challenge
in 2004 (in those early years you could only do the full triathlon: run the Comrades, ride across South Africa, and then paddle the Berg River Canoe Marathon – all from east coast to west coast in 30 days. After that I continued with various contract construction projects, and in between took two-to-three-month gaps to travel and adventure around the world. At some point a mate and I started filming ourselves ramping our bikes and paddling our boats down rapids for fun, until one of the adventure racing series organisers asked: “I hear you guys are making TV shows, can you get us on Supersport?” We confidently told him that of course we could… and then promptly phoned Supersport to enquire how we would go about it. And so began the figuring out of a whole new industry that neither of us had any formal training in. It all snowballed from there and in just three short years we were the biggest independent supplier of content to Supersport in South Africa, travelling and filming events every weekend all around the country.
The portrait of Gaëtan and his dog Pépite sitting out the rain on a mountain top in the French Alps on our first day of filming for Trail Dog © Andrew King
LD: You’re certainly not one to blow his own trumpet, and I don’t think many people know you’re an endurance athlete of note. You’ve climbed Kili barefoot, you’ve done the Freedom Challenge, you’ve run the Comrades for charity wearing jeans, and done a host of other crazy feats. What drives Andrew King?
In those early days we spent as much time living the adventure lifestyle as we did filming and working. We tried to put a spin on every mainstream event we did, just to encourage people to not take themselves or their sport too seriously. Wrong-way Dusi’s, Double Dusi’s, mountain summits and cycle to the coast, 120km valley runs, long distance ocean paddles, beach boy bonanzas – all of which included a great deal of beer at the finish line. Since then I’ve become a lot more dedicated to learning and improving my documentary storytelling skills and travelling more, and so there is far less time for such antics, but occasionally I still find time for something left-field.
In 2013 I helped document Anne-Marie Flammersfeld’s journey on foot from the lowest point to highest point of Switzerland. Being picked up in the Air Zermatt helicopter from near the Monte Rosa summit and filming her on the peak of the Matterhorn is still one of the most badass filming moments of my career © Andrew King
LD: I know you cover loads of adventure sports, and trail running isn’t the most dramatic of them. Tell us a bit about what you film, and the incredible places you’ve been and seen.
In our TV Supersport heyday, we had a 4×4 Hilux loaded with two dirt bikes, GPS’s and cameras in backpacks, and with a young crew of adventure filmmakers. We missioned to countless mountain bike, river paddling, trail running, ocean paddling, adventure racing, multi-sport, road cycling, mountain running and triathlon races around southern Africa. It was amazing seeing so much of the country and we lived a wild life. From there things developed into documenting international expeditions and adventures, switching me from simple sports broadcasting (showing and telling people what happened) to focus more on the why. This lead us into the big wide world of documentary-style stories. Over the last six years, I’ve probably filmed in more than 40 countries around the world, and have seen and learned so much.
My first outing to the Cederberg and Wolfberg Cracks was memorable to say the least. After a day of running/hiking in the rain and scuttling into our tents at 6pm, I woke up at 3am for a wee. The clouds had cleared and I was treated to this most amazing sky. I had no tripod and everyone was sleeping, so I balanced my camera on a rock and ran back and forth barefoot in the freezing cold to star in my own photo. The camera stoke was so high and no one was awake to share it with me. I was so wired afterwards, it took me ages to get back to sleep! © Andrew King
LD: There must be a few hair-raising moments in your memory bank. Any cliffhangers or near-misses you can tell us about? Lost/smashed equipment? Extreme weather conditions?
Thankfully there haven’t been too many broken equipment situations (except a camera being ridden over by a golf cart on a cricket pitch at the Drak Challenge Canoe Race
), but we have certainly endured our fair share of filming through cold nights, in mud, hailstorms and torrential rain. I guess what stands out for me is how many times I’ve looked around and seen the risky situations we are in, but released that I feel totally comfortable managing that risk. I’m sure it just comes from experience, and learning that you can manage your way out of a situation if something goes wrong. It has been a great privilege to learn about my comfort levels and how to look after myself. There’ve been times in more recent years when I’ve found myself alone or with one other camera guy somewhere out in the middle of the Gobi Desert in China, or on a remote coastline of Madagascar, or on the vast uninhabited planes of Mongolia waiting for our runners / adventurers, and realising that even though we’re so way out there, we’re just as comfortable being there. I often think back to the days missioning around South Africa at races, and how that prepared us for the more remote global adventuring we do now.
The final day shooting on Trail Dog took us up to the famous La Croix de Belladonne peak in the Alps. It was another incredible day that capped off a great week. This time Gaëtan was running only with Jolyn, as Pépite was feeling her age and struggled to keep up with our intense week. Sadly she died a few months later and I remember feeling so proud that we had produced such a fitting tribute to the dog that Gaëtan loved so much and had shared so many experiences with © Andrew King
LD: What’s the most extreme shoot you’ve done?
In 2017 I think I had over 30 international flights, with my most audacious connection going from Tanzania (after filming and summiting Kilimanjaro) via Dubai to Eritrea (one of the most closed state countries on the planet) along with North Korea for a cycling documentary, and then via Hong Kong, Ulanbataar and onto Ulgii, the most remote town in Mongolia, to film the start of two friends hitting a golf ball and walking 2 000km across that country. It was a wild back-to-back three project mission, and I was stoked I could fit them all in. Amazingly, I came home energised and hugely motivated for more. A week later we were on a propeller plane in the Serengeti, telling the story of a poacher-turned-ranger who is turning the tide on elephant poaching in that area. Those few months have been the pinnacle of my camera career so far, and I hope there are many more of those type of projects to come.
Another memorable shoot from the Trail Dog film was a wintery sunset mission up to another peak. We’d hiked for about 2 hours through the mist, past these icicles thinking we were out of luck. About 30 mins before sunset we finally broke through above the clouds and began panic shooting in the short time before sunset which ultimately produced most of best shots from the film. It was a great lesson in giving ourselves the opportunity for success, sure it could have been a lemon mission but on this occasion, we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts. © Andrew King
LD: What has been your most memorable trail running shoot and why?
Definitely being the cinematographer on the Trail Dog
episode of Salomon Running TV
. We had just been in China filming a 400km footrace through the Gobi Desert and came home on such a high, had one day turn-around before heading to the Alps to film with Gaëtan Ugnon-Fleury and his amazing dogs Pépite and Jolyn for a week on all of his favourite mountain trails (read more about Trail Dog here
). To be welcomed like family and be shown around to all the best mountain top locations in all weather conditions was amazing. The cherry on the top was obviously Christian Denslow
and Dean Leslie
’s amazing talent that turned it into the iconic film it has become. To have those memories live on in such a big way is truly special.
This one’s maybe the oldest pic in my selection – it’s from 2013, and of Rockhoppin’ Trail’s writer Linda Doke. (It’s my personal tribute of thanks for recognising the efforts of adventure camera people in SA.) A large group of us had hiked up to the top of Matroosberg on a training recce run a few weeks before the Matroosberg Skymarathon. I was new to Cape Town and was totally unaware that the Matroosberg is a well known spot for snow in the Western Cape. It was a whole new dynamic for me and I went bounding from bush to bush filling my memory card with weird and wonderful ice flower formations © Andrew King
LD: What has been the most compromising position you’ve had to be in for a shoot?
The most “out there” I have been to film anything has to be for the Mongolia expedition I filmed solo last year, The Longest Hole
. I flew in and out of Mongolia three times to meet Adam and Ron as they whacked a golf ball and pulled a cart for three months across Mongolia to set a world record for the longest hole of golf ever played – dubbed “1 country, 1 golfer, 1 caddie, 82 days, 2 000km, par 14 000, and 1 extreme charity golf adventure”. For the first session, I hiked with them with all my camping, clothing and camera gear for 10 days, in the most remote mountains of Mongolia near the border of China, Russia and Kazakhstan. For 10 days we were completely self-sufficient and without cell reception in that most incredible but unforgiving landscape. For the second trip we purchased a brand new 200cc taxi bike in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, and I rode 15 hours cross country and then into the desert in the hope of finding Adam and Ron using a Google Earth pin location screenshot that Ron had sent me before they lost reception, showing the place they expected to reach in time for my arrival there. There was much whooping and hollering when I found them camping next to a river within a 3km radius of the pin. From there we headed north through the remote Khangai mountains
, where I had to cross about 100 rivers on my little taxi bike. The final trip was for their last stretch, which took them into the capital, which meant we were closer to civilisation, making it a more relaxed way to end a great story.
Kane Reilly and I made our way up to the Helderberg Dome to shoot some product shots for the new Salomon XA Enduros. I think we both spotted this ridge line at the same time and knew it just had to be done © Andrew King
LD: What piece of equipment do you rely on the most when you’re shooting?
AK: Without hesitation, my running shoes. If you want to take good photos, you have to get to the places where good photos happen, you have to go out and find the stories, or at least give yourself the opportunity to find the stories. For inspiring photographers out there, don’t sweat too much about the gear or finding clients, rather focus on getting out there and taking photos. Everything else will come.
I seldom take my camera on non-work-related missions these days, as I like to keep some moments for myself. On this occasion I agreed to bring my camera to document my girlfriend Bryony attempting Knife-Edge Traverse just below Devils Peak. In the end it wasn’t as bad as she’d feared, and she handled it like a pro, but when we stopped shortly afterwards for some water I could see that the whole occasion had gotten to her. I was so proud to see her conquer her fears © Andrew King
Another great moment from the Trail Dog shoot in the mountain hut that Christiaan (the director), Gaetan, the dogs and I used as an overnight base while filming © Andrew King
In 2017 I was back at the Otter Trail Run taking photos after a 7 year absence. Robbie Rorich (R) is loved for his unassuming appearance and total lack of recognised technical running kit. To see what it meant to him to come out of nowhere and achieve a podium finish was beautiful to watch © Andrew King