If you have thumbed through a climbing magazine at some point in the past ten years, there is a very good chance that Matt Maddaloni is in it. Not too long ago Matt was one of the world’s most showcased and celebrated climbers, helping to push the sport to new heights (no pun intended) through his efforts and travels.
Here is a good example of both his climbing ability and his ingenuity, where he created a special part to traverse a route he’d been trying to check off for years, as featured in “the season.”
Matt is enjoying a new chapter in life, juggling a career he has created for himself with raising an 18 month old girl. And he’s loving every minute of it. His new business, Sea to Sky Cable Cam inc. is quickly becoming the go-to crew to call when you want a one-of-a-kind point of view, which suits Matt perfectly, because his own point of view on life is one-of-a-kind and full of wisdom that he was kind enough to share with us.
STEVE ANDREWS: So how did you make the transition between pro climber and rigger extraordinaire, eventually creating your own cable cam?
MATT MADDALONI: Pretty much ever since I started climbing, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to run my own business. As I got into climbing more and more, I got really stoked on the whole “sponsorship” thing. I did the best that I could, but later realized that you can’t really make a living off of it. So I was always doing construction in the background to pay for my climbing and one day, I got hired to do construction for Ziptrek Ecotours — working up in the trees, building aerial platforms, ziplines, and suspension bridges. Ziptrek wanted to take their ziplines to the next level, so they started hiring engineers, but they kept failing time and time again. So I said “well, why don’t you get me to build it?” And they kinda said “well, we’ve got nothing to lose… go ahead.” And time and time again I would solve their problems.
Ziptrek’s came to an end so I started my own business, doing the cable cam. I could use my machine designs, autoCAD, prototyping, rigging skills, and I could also use my climbing and adventure skills. I’d carry this gear to the tops of mountains, across rivers, all these different places.
Actually the first cable cam I ever did was over the Ashlu River for a documentary on a power plant. We set up an actual zipline and two of us rode down it — one guy laying on a port-o-ledge, and me hanging at cable height with my gloves braking our speed down the line as the cameraman hung and shot kayakers below. So that was the first cable cam, and we quickly realized that carrying around all this rigging equipment was a pain in the ass, and was severely limited by the shots we could get. So the boys I was working with said “you should build a robot”. And I was like “ahh, I totally want to do that!”
SA: Sweet! And so where has it taken you?
MM: I’ve been to Taiwan filming a documentary with a British company, next week I’m going to Huntington Beach to film the US Open of Surfing, I’ve been to the Czech Republic shooting the Prague Orchestra. Local, too — I’m shooting the Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival in Whistler, and even feature films. I was recently with the Oprah Winfrey Channel doing a piece on a climber, setting up a vertical cable cam on top of a tower down to the desert. I have to be very diverse and I think the biggest surprise is that most of the work is with live television. I probably have as much fun, as much excitement and adrenaline doing live television as I’ve had on any climbing adventure.
When I go on a climbing expedition there’s a lot of planning involved, a lot of stress, it’s really dynamic. And when you’re shooting cablecam — it’s a fast moving device, there’s up to three guys working on it at one time. I’ve realized between my cable cam career and my climbing career is that it was OK to fail climbing. But as a professional, I can’t fail. A cable cam is one of the most expensive cameras on the set, and the client wants to see you succeed so it’s a whole new level of stress. I’m not going on all these crazy climbing adventures that I used to, but I feel so fulfilled because I’m having these other crazy adventures and it’s just a whole different world.
SA: Can you think of a situation where everything didn’t go so smoothly and you had to think on your feet, yet you came out successful?
MM: In the Grand Canyon, I had to live shoot for NBC and the Discovery Channel with Nick Wallenda, who crossed a 1500 foot gap on a cable across the canyon. It’s pretty intense to get that rope across — we had to deal with 30 mph winds, and these things come off the spool even when things go smoothly. It’s an intense moment, but we pulled it off.
SA: Do you have any recommendations for anyone who might not be doing exactly what you do, but for following their dreams and making an idea in their head a reality?
MM: Well when I was a kid, you know how teachers will tell you to follow your dreams and the rest will follow? I tell you, I didn’t believe it. It seemed like that was the impossible thing. And now, years later looking back, it actually works. You have to work insanely hard, and it takes years and years to get the experience. And a lot of that experience is from things that you have no clue it helps until later. It takes endless mistakes and failures to make your dreams happen. And if you don’t have the natural talent, then you have to learn how to do it, you know?
Whatever it is, there’s going to be some things along the way that you’re going to have to pick up. My advice to people is to just keep working at it. Have a backup plan and other ways to make a living, but keep picking away and it and stay focused. And it will happen.