Playing With Fear

Highline in Manly by Harry Vann

Highline in Manly by Harry Vann

Jack Vitnell and Tom Oliver on paper, are as fearless as they come. To paint a picture… Jack’s a qualified aquarist-and-emergency-shark-rescuer, high-liner, barefoot-skater, and more. And partner-in-crime, Tommy Oliver, the gardening, high-lining, free-climbing fella, who a few years ago rode his pushbike from Alaska to Las Vegas in Birkenstocks. But the one thing I’ve noticed about these boys (@goodwillpunting) is their playful fearlessness towards trying new things. Their ‘punting’ attitude towards life has genuinely rubbed off on a lot of people in our community and has equally helped me moved beyond some self-restricting boundaries I’ve experienced.

Sailing in Pittwater on Saphire One by Guy Williment @gfunk

Sailing in Pittwater on Saphire One by Guy Williment @gfunk

I spoke to Jack about this idea of ‘punting’ and pushing beyond these sometimes imagined and limiting capabilities (and even identities) we place on ourselves.

What is @goodwillpunting? Or your idea of the word ‘punting’?

It is just a silly name for our way of expressing ourselves, a way to share ‘stoke’ and hopefully inspire others to have a punt.

To us punting is just a way of letting go of boundaries and copping some of the lessons along the way.

We’re still unsure when you transition from someone who is punting to someone who knows what they are doing. All I know is when it comes to writing blog articles we are punting.

Americas bay by Alex bog @ale_bog

Americas bay by Alex bog @ale_bog

How did you get into highlining? Any initial fears/challenges?

The physical challenge of slack-lining and its cross-training potential initially got us involved in the fun. And I guess the natural progression was to take it up a bit. We saw a post online of a crew heading to a popular crag in the mountains and decided to ‘have a punt’. We both walked our first line and haven’t looked back since, (sometimes we look out to exposure but that’s scary stuff).  

For sure there are those initial fears that exist, but it’s wild how quickly the human body can normalise itself in these uncomfortable situations.

Once you understand the gear and trust the rig the fear of heights becomes significantly reduced.

It becomes pretty rewarding to string up a 1 inch piece of webbing and walk from one side of the cliff to another. It’s taken us to some pretty beautiful places, both physically and mentally.
Tommy by Nick fraser @Nickjamesfraser

Tommy by Nick fraser @Nickjamesfraser

Why do you think it’s important to recognise unfamiliarity/out of comfort zone experiences and turn it into power?

Unfamiliarity comes to us all in different ways and everyone has their own comfort zones; somewhere to feel safe… and to be honest it’s pretty awesome here. But I think it takes being out of comfort to push the boundaries of your world (in a sustainable way) to achieve any growth and self-betterment. For me, working out my own framework for achieving goals has given me confidence in areas which I have previously lacked.   

Do you think we as a young society are too consumed by fear or judgment?

I think in modern day Australia fear and judgment is definitely on the rise. I don’t think it’s any fault of our own, we are a pretty privileged bunch that hasn’t had to deal with too many serious challenges.

So when life throws challenges at you, its like being a beginner surfer, and being thrown into 10ft surf. We may not be able to control the vices that have led us to be this way, but what we can do, is focus our judgment and blame-energy into becoming better versions of ourselves.
Fluffy the white shark and jack by @surf2summitmedia

Fluffy the white shark and jack by @surf2summitmedia

What would you say to anyone wanting to do something they have neglected or put off due to fear/judgment?

I would ask what it is that has prevented them achieving this goal, come to realistic ways to resolve these issues until there is no excuse not to start working towards it. “We suffer more often in our imagination than we do in reality”… a quote from Seneca a roman stoic referenced in a talk by Tim Ferris on fear setting, which deals with exactly this (highly recommend listening to this if you find yourself in this mindset).

What’s been the most rewarding fearless thing you’ve accomplished?

It’s a hard question because achievements at the time which now seem miniscule were huge notches in the belt at the time. I think in recent times, our three-day sail to Bendalong on a two-man 1970’s Hobie Cat (currently for sale see Sam Gibbins) probably stretched the comfort zone further than any of our combined endeavors. Although at times (like when the wind and swell picked up off the coast of Jervis Bay with no way to retreat) we wondered if we bit off more than we could chew. But already locked in, we kept ‘punting’ and made it to a beach full of mates the next day which made it all worth it.

Day 2 at Chinaman’s Beach in Jervis Bay

Day 2 at Chinaman’s Beach in Jervis Bay

Do you ever get scared? Or even nervous before doing things like high-lining, feeding sharks etc.?

For sure climbing constantly scares me, where Tom has more confidence and less fear, whereas I have greater confidence and less fear swimming with sharks than Tom. Everyone has their strengths and weakness and sometimes fear acts as a boundary preventing us from dangerously exceeding these. Other times our fears can be irrational with it taking just a little bit of education and experience to overcome them.

For me going to the headland for a morning coffee/socialize makes me more nervous than feeding the sharks at work. I have come to realise that we can’t compare ourselves to one another, especially nowadays, where we only tend to portray our strengths.

What’s your view on being jack of all trades and master of none?

Whatever works for you, works. There is so much advice out there on how to live your life but all you can do, is do you. Sticking at something long enough to get great at it doesn’t work for me.

I find diversity to be key, in nearly every context I have come across. Embracing it has given me balance in my young life. Maybe this will change as life changes, but for now it’s working.

It’s been nice to have a diverse quiver of hobbies to suit the prevailing conditions if the swell is up go surfing, too south go for the bod (bodysurfing), too windy go sailing, too flat go high-lining, too out of control go hiking or rest, read or write.

Zane and Jack caught in the inside bodysurfing at Little Avalon by Guy Williment @_gfunk

Zane and Jack caught in the inside bodysurfing at Little Avalon by Guy Williment @_gfunk

Fav quote?

 Getting barrels revs my engines “Lachie Rombouts”.

Tommy climbing at palm beach by Nick Fraser @Nickjamesfraser

Tommy climbing at palm beach by Nick Fraser @Nickjamesfraser

Who are some of your inspirations?

We find a lot of inspiration from each other, constantly surprising each other and way to better each other in different areas. We both have mentors and are inspired by those a far but most of our inspiration comes from those around us, people doing what makes their ‘engines rev’. We’ve been blessed enough to have so much positive support around us to make our dreams come to life and can’t be thankful enough to our lovely community. 

Big love to 180 and all the good work they’re doing in our community. Cheers.

Interview by Lucy Murray


Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.

Leanne Westlake