Richard Wiese was a speaker at BOAT International's Explorer Yachts Summit 2023, held on 9 November in Monaco. Ahead of the event, Lucy Dunn sat down with him to talk about his life and career. The only event dedicated to the explorer yacht sector, the summit will also include talks and presentations from owners, captains and adventurers.
Richard Wiese loves adventure so much he has made it his life and career. He has been elected its president of The Explorers Club no less than seven times – more than anyone else in its 118-year history – and his ABC series Born To Explore has won multiple Emmys.
When it comes to adventure, there are few places in the world he's not visited; he’s cross-country skied the North Pole, tracked wild camels in Australia, conquered the Seven Summits, tagged jaguars in Yucatan jungles, discovered 29 new life forms on Kilimanjaro and participated in the largest ever medical expedition on Mount Everest.
In this exclusive interview with BOAT’s content director Lucy Dunn, which is available via Apple podcasts and Spotify, he talks about the ups and downs of expeditions, and where’s left to explore in the world.
Wiese never intentionally set out to be an explorer. “I don't know if anybody does. My father was an airline pilot, a 747 captain, and he was the first man to solo the Pacific Ocean in an aeroplane.”
This was never really a big deal in his house growing up, though. “My father was a very modest person,” he recalls. “But I think that where I was extremely lucky was that I had two parents that really let their children engage in their dreams. And at a very young age, I was just always outside doing stuff.”
As a young boy, Wiese looked up to heroes like Sir Edmund Hillary and anthropologist Jane Goodall. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would eventually meet those people, let alone host lunches with them and ride in cars with them.”
But he did, years later, when he became president of The Explorers Club, the historical organisation established in 1904 that brings together explorers with the goal of promoting scientific exploration and field study. “I've had so many pinch me moments, where I've seen people who've really written the pages of history.”
While the New York headquarters has seen many luminaries and heads of states walk through its doors, one particular occasion sticks in his memory: an annual dinner where he ended up eating fried tarantula with Jeff Bezos. The trick, he says, is to eat them slowly or "the hairs will get stuck in the back of your throat."
The idea for his TV series came when filming another series and thinking what he would do differently. “So I pitched the show to ABC, assembled a team who were socially conscious, super smart and into the subject matter, and we made 208 episodes of this show.” In their first year, they were nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
The series changed his view of exploration, he says. “It became more about the culture of the people we met along the way than about me pounding my chest and saying, 'Aren't I a superhero?'"
There were many people who struck a chord. "I met this Zulu woman in South Africa, who at age 12, ran away because she was meant to marry an older man. She went to this other village and even though she didn't have a formal education, vowed that she would start a school there for other kids, so they could have that opportunity."
With no funding behind her, her idea was to get the smartest first grader to teach kindergarten, the smartest second grader to teach the first grade, and so on. "I thought, if this woman were a CEO, in the UK, or in America, she would be a giant...She was such a force of nature."
Wiese says the mark of a really great explorer is mitigating risk. “Risk is inherent, but I try to avoid it. I'll use a sailing analogy: if you're a great sailor, you don't wait until a thunderstorm is on top of you to show your survival skills. You see those dark clouds on the horizon, and you leave.”
He pays respects to good friend Hamish Harding, the explorer who died in this year’s Titan submarine tragedy. “To me, the worst death would be sitting in a chair, thinking about all the things they should have done in their life. I was not happy about his death, of course – he was a close friend – but I recognise that humans have that innate curiosity to see beyond their own backyard.”
Exploration is vital for us to understand the world, he says, and there is still so much to learn, even on our own front doorstep. He points to a ‘bioblitz’ (nature census) that he attended in New York’s Central Park a few years ago. Conducted by over 500 scientists and volunteers, over 200 new life forms were discovered in just a few days. “In one of the most urban, walked-across parks in the world, we found new life. And so if you extrapolate that out to the world of extremophiles (organisms that live in extreme environments), there are still so many things yet to discover.”
The full interview is now available to stream below.LISTEN ON SPOTIFYLISTEN ON APPLE