Amazing Nomads Podcast: Clive Neeson

Clive Neeson was part of a group of young mavericks that became the pioneers of extreme sports. It's all been documented in Last Paradise, a film 45 years in the making.


Photo © Clive Neeson

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Amazing Nomad: Clive Neeson

Clive Neeson was part of a group of young mavericks that became the pioneers of extreme sports, and it's been documented in Last Paradise, a film 45 years in the making.

What’s in the Episode

00:15 Our guest

00:28 A message from Sarah Davis who is paddling the Nile

01:40 Rafting in Rwanda

02:24 How life used to be

03:34 Live in Africa as a child

04:09 “…I had the idea at the age of 15 to make a movie one day” – Clive Neeson

05:41 The story of adventure travel

07:00 Seeking adventure in New Zealand

08:46 Experimenting with technology

10:21 AJ Hackett breaking the rules in Paris

12:54 Bali before the tourists

13:58 The future of Bali

15:00 The mob mentality

18:12 The fallout from the earthquake in Lombok

19:21 Get in touch with us

Who is in the Episode

Clive Neeson was part of a group of young mavericks that became the pioneers of extreme sports and it's all been documented in a film 45 years in the making, Last Paradise. Amazing original footage which has helped the film win many international awards including, Best Environmental Film at the Indie Spirit Film Festival, USA.

“In the extraordinary wilderness of Australia and New Zealand, a bunch of daredevil kids experimented with something that would change the world of adventure travel. Through 45 years of the most stunning original footage, we join the original extreme sports pioneers in an epic journey of adrenaline seeking. Their global quest for adventure takes us on the road less traveled during the '60s and '70s to witness, first hand, the discovery of amazing paradises that few ever knew of – before they tragically disappeared. Yet the very same pioneering spirit provides the answer to turning it all around.”

Clive: “Inspiring outdoor adventure is the best way to inspire the study of science and address both the obesity crisis and the environmental crisis: Tomorrow’s protectors of the wilderness are those who play in it today”.

Check out Resources and Links to download the full film.

In this episode we also check in with Sarah Davis who is attempting to make history, facing her fears to become the first woman to paddle the length of the Nile, starting at its source in Rwanda.

Sarah was our guest in the very first Amazing Nomad episode and you can take a listen here.

Photo Credit: Sarah Davis

Resources & Links

Download Last Paradise here.

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

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Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides. The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

Next Episode: Albania. 

About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

Intro: The World Nomads Podcast bonus episode. Hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories, and experience of world travel.

Host: Welcome to our latest episode, featuring another amazing nomad, and this guy is particularly exciting. He's one of the pioneers of adventure travel. But, Phil, before we introduce him, we have an update from our very first, amazing nomad guest.

Phil: Yeah, Sarah Davis. She's about to kayak the entire length of the Nile, and she sent us this update.

Sarah Davis: Well, I am now in Uganda and edging ever-closer to starting this expedition off, which is really exciting, definitely, a little bit scary as well. I've been spending the last few weeks pulling the team together. I've got three guys from here in Uganda, Paolo, Peter, and [Koa 00:00:50], who are really experienced rafting guides. Great guys, so I'm so happy to have them on the team.

Then, just been finalizing getting approvals and permits, doing a mega food shop to get the food to take on the trip. That's got to be enough for four of us that will last for a good three weeks, isn't going to go off, will fit on the raft, so that's been kind of interesting. Then, just also enjoying being here, Uganda, it's just beautiful here. I love it.

I'm staying at this stunning place actually overlooking the Nile. It's Explorers River Camp, and it's just gorgeous here. Then, also, went out for a day's rafting, which was so much fun, with Nile River Explorers. It was awesome.

You've got some pretty hectic rapids here, some good grade fives, so it's a kind of get in and hang on. Yeah, I had an absolute ball. Yeah, it's been nice just to get out and do a little bit, as well as a bit of fun, as well as doing all the organizing.

Yeah, with any luck, we're going to be setting off very, very soon and heading to the source in Rwanda to actually start this expedition. Yeah, I will look forward to sharing the updates.

Host: Exciting and scary at the same time. We'll share a link to that episode, the very first one featuring Sarah, in show notes. But, Phil, remember the days before the so-called bubble-wrap generation?

Phil: You mean charging down the hill in a billy cart with no helmet, no knee pads, no elbow protectors, or being driven to the rubbish tip by your dad while you rode in the trailer he was pulling along?

Host: Oh, yes.

Phil: Did you ever do that one? Being taught to swim while being thrown in the deep end? Yeah?

Host: Yes.

Phil: Then, being kicked out of the house and being told you can't come back until the streetlights come on. Is that what you mean?

Host: The good old days.

Phil: The good old days.

Host: The good old days, exactly. Well, this man is part of that generation. Clive Neeson's film, Last Paradise, is his lifetime work, and it chronicles not only how the planet has changed and, remarkably so, in 45 years. But, he and his band of maverick mates are the brains behind things like snowboarding, kitesurfing. You get the picture?

Phil: I get it.

Host: It's all been caught on film.

Clive Neeson: Well, 'til I was eight years old, my parents were fanatical about filming, and when I say filming, that's in celluloid. Of course, those days, it was actually film.

They were filming in Africa on safari. We were traveling a lot of the time filming wild animals in a time when there were about 20 times more of them in Africa than there are now. I was never really allowed to touch their camera.

But, when we came to New Zealand, I suppose I became, I inevitably met these younger kids in New Zealand who were, I suppose pioneering what you call extreme sports, but it was just normal play back then. Then, I found the opportunity there to actually buy a camera for $7.50 and repair it and, actually, started filming my friends doing this. I did have the idea by the age of 15 to make a movie one day.

What I did was I filmed it very, very carefully because it cost about 2 hours of working just for one minute of film, so I wasn't going to press the button 'til I'd get everything perfect. In some senses, we did do spontaneity, but, in some cases, we actually acted, if you like, or set things up.

It was filmed very carefully, and I carefully looked after the film over the years. It wasn't 'til many years later when I'd stopped filming that I had the opportunity to make it during The Lord of the Rings third movie when I was working down there, converting this footage to ...

Oh, there's a really big storm here right now. You can probably hear it-

Phil: Oh, wow, yeah.

Clive Neeson: ... lashing on the windows. It adds to the atmosphere.

Yeah, so there was this opportunity to restore my footage, and, in doing so, the studio just realized how it told a story.

It was probably filmed over 15 years because as we became teenagers, we took these new sports, I suppose, backpacking around the world to various places like to Bali, Mexico, Europe, in the days before tourism. We were able to film the culture of the place at the time well before any kind of other visitors had been there.

Last Paradise not only is the story of, how do you say, adventure travel, but it's also the story of how the world has changed over 45 years. I made a vow at 15 years old to make this movie, so it was fantastic 45 years later, to be invited to complete the movie and tell the story of, I suppose, all of my friends in Australia and New Zealand who pioneered that journey.

Host: It also shows a shift in parenting too, because there's some file footage there of you boys with your parents in Africa. As you said, there were 20 times more wild animals then, and you were sleeping in tents. You guys were just little toddlers, little tots, just running around. I can't see any parent in 2018 doing that.

Clive Neeson: Yeah, it was quite dangerous, because the animals weren't used to humans then. But, also, they were abundant in the general countryside as well as in national parks, so you had nothing else ... The only way you could camp was in your van, and my parents slept outside the van in a lean-to, and we slept inside the van for security.

It was pretty scary, but I think the effect of that was that when we came to New Zealand and Australia ... We toured Australia before New Zealand for a year. We had this real appetite for danger, and there were no wild animals in New Zealand, as such, so we took to the wilderness and the waterfalls and the lakes and the rivers and the mountains, and that's where we met these other kids is that we wanted to taste a bit of danger every day whether it be after school or on the weekends.

Also, parenting was different then in that indoors was a place for the parents. Outdoors was where the kids went to get away from the rules, which were you couldn't make a noise inside. I know that's changed now.

We went, as soon as we could, into the outdoors, and that's where we met these other kids who were, likewise, driven to the outdoors. They all had the same fever, and they wanted to experiment with the forces of nature, and how they could tap the forces of nature for some kind of adrenaline buzz. That's the theme of Last Paradise.

Host: Things like this, when you think about windsurfing, the way I remember it in the film, you'll correct me if I'm wrong, Clive, but, all of a sudden, El Niño or El Niña hits, and the waves weren't as clean as they used to be, so there was a lot of wind coming onshore. The boys still wanted to get out there to have a surf, so they came up with putting a kite on a surfboard, using a loo plunger as the main link.

Phil: The mount, yeah.

Host: Yeah. Can you explain that, Clive?

Clive Neeson: Yeah, it was really basic technology back then, so you just improvised. It's not like we could share technology. The people in Australia and people in New Zealand that were trying to find a way to use this wind that appeared in 1980.

The weather changed. It went through what we call first of the El Niño pattern, and it meant that the surfing was deteriorated for almost a decade. We found a way to use the wind to keep on surfing the waves, and that gave birth to this new sport of wave sailing which West Australia is very famed for now.

It had very humble beginnings and comical beginnings, and, also, what came out of that was, because there were so many forces in taking this board into the air and, then, landing the wrong way on another wave, the boards would just break. What needed to be pioneered then was a new form of surfboard construction.

That you see intercepts with the America's Cup Challenge that West Australia and New Zealand had, and that technology was shared, and it became the state-of-the-art surfboard as we know it today. It came out of that, but it was designed in a cow shed.

I think all these very basic origins are quite comical. You'll see in Last Paradise, in the movie, it's laughable, inherently laughable, and the movie brings out how funny that was, but, then, how significant it was in the long-term.

Host: One of those mavericks too was AJ Hackett, who we know for around the world bungy jumping, and you've got some great footage in there of AJ when he jumped off the Eiffel Tower.

Clive Neeson: Yes, AJ was really involved in the early snowboarding, trying to pioneer a way to surf on snow. But, that, I think it's his vocation. Of course, this happened at the time when all these teenagers had to find a responsible way of earning an income, so they turned their passions into hobbies. For AJ, the break obviously came when he saw this Eiffel Tower.

I remember, as a kid, as you see in Last Paradise, he was a kid who loved climbing trees. His mother encouraged him to do that. When he saw the Eiffel Tower, he thought that was the ultimate tree, so he found a way to be able to sneak up there and jump off it. You see in the movie that particular scene where that's all played out, and I got the original footage.

That led to, well, a global change, not only the birth of bungy, of which he took a lead, but, also, a kind of tourism called adventure tourism where you aim to give the tourist the experience of, as it says in the movie, of madmen but in a safe environment. That's become the theme in Australia and New Zealand. How you give the traveler a taste without breaking their neck, so to speak. That's happened in many sectors now. It's a new form of tourism.

Phil: But, there must have been a few broken necks or broken bones in the beginning. Did you have your run-ins with authorities over that?

Clive Neeson: Well, always. But, in AJ's example which is, I suppose, the most precarious in terms of the tourist experience, track record is zero accidents. But, that was by very heavily researching it and making sure that whenever they put their foot forward, it was safe, so to speak.

Last Paradise is also a scientific glance at all this as well. That's one incident where there was a lot of scientific research done, and many ... The tone of Last Paradise is combining adventure with science as well, so I'd say the bungy pioneered that as well.

Host: There was also something I raved to Phil about the morning I came to work after seeing that movie was Bali, the way it used to be compared to the way it is now. Phil was fortunate enough to have experienced Bali when it was at its rawest or purest.

Phil: Well, just before it turned, I was there. I was on the cusp. I just missed out on the real Bali.

Host: But, that was just an incredible contrast between then and now.

Clive Neeson: Yes, it changes every year. It continues in a certain direction. But, the real beginnings that people will remember of Bali is when Kuta and [Legian 00:13:14] were just two villages, two very quiet villages, and a little grass tract between them.

Now that is unthinkable to most people, but you'll see it in Last Paradise in footage, because the very first surfers that went there took movie cameras, and they recorded that, and, also, the sensation, the feeling of being in a place where they felt that tourism hadn't preceded them and their relationship with the Balinese people.

I think it's good for all visitors to Bali to see that on film and realize what it used to be, and where it's going, see where it's going, because the future of Bali or even the past of Bali could have been different if people had known what the original Bali was.

Host: Are there still those places that you can find, Clive, where you are all alone and able to surf without mass crowds?

Clive Neeson: There are, and that's what this year was about for me, was proving to myself and four friends to go and find another place. I found that actually, the theme of doing that is you need to read the modern mentality. They call it the modern mentality in Indonesia, the places I went to this year, understand what's driving the numbers there and, then, do the opposite.

This year, I was traveling through Indonesia and barely saw another tourist. I had wonderful waves and kitesurfing. It was just like Bali in the old days, I suppose. That was by following that principle, by understanding the modern mentality and double-thinking it.

Phil: I know the Indonesian government, obviously, they get a lot of foreign currency comes in because of Bali, and I know they have a deliberate government policy to build another 10 Balis.

Host: What?

Phil: Yeah, and have nominated places, such as Flores as one of the potential sites, and the Thousand Islands just outside Jakarta is another one off the top of my head as well. Some of those are still quite underdeveloped, but they want 10 more Balis.

Host: Well, how does that make you feel, Clive? That would be heartbreaking.

Clive Neeson: Well, one of the places I went to this year was Lombok. I went there because I never went there way back in the '70s, but my brother did. He said, "Don't bother now, it's just wall-to-wall tourists."

It's been changed, and there are even plans afoot, as you say, to create another Bali there with a lot of concrete and high-rises. Then, they had the earthquake, and everyone left South Lombok and collapsed the economy there.

My friend there who is a kitesurfer said, "Hey, there's nobody here now. They really need people here, and it's not affected like the north is." I did my research and the geological research, and, yeah, sure enough, South Lombok to me would be safe. I went to South Lombok, no tourists.

Now the scene was concrete, looking into the future trying to create another Bali in Lombok is what the plan is now. But, the plan is for a kind of tourist who likes luxury and concrete.

Well, the earthquake's changed all of that. Now, the very few people that did come back to tourism, they wanted bamboo bungalows. They wanted Bali like the old days, and that was a golden goose for Lombok.

The organizers should have seen that there's a huge desire for Bali in the early days rather than create Bali now in, what, six or 10 other places. They should be creating Bali like the early days.

As you will see in Last Paradise, the message is subliminal, but the message is subtle, it's there, is that the reason why people went to Bali in the early days is because the first tourists were content with living in the bamboo bungalow. That was where the family owned the accommodation, and you lived with the family, and you lived in a Balinese-style house.

It didn't need air conditioning. That didn't need all the infrastructure. You enjoyed doing that, because it was close to the culture, and the family got all the money.

Instead of like we have now, people living in Denpasar, mortgaging themselves for life for a motorbike to be able to drive a traffic jam into Bali, into Kuta, sweep the floors in a flash hotel and earn $3 a day. Now that's a terrible outcome for the Balinese people. Now Lombok's headed for that.

But, the answer for Lombok is, this is after the earthquake, is that people no longer want to be housed under concrete. They're the buildings that came down. What they want is bamboo bungalows. They want it the way it was.

If you want to earthquake-proof your future, you will develop in Lombok with bamboo bungalows, i.e., the way Bali used to be.

Host: Ugh, that brings a shiver down my spine. But, what are some of the other reasons, Clive, behind the film?

Clive Neeson: Well, the objective of Last Paradise is to also show not only where we've been, the state of the world, and the science which can solve all these problems which a lot of people are not perhaps aware of it. When you see the past, then you can look into the future with a knowledge of the science and say, "Okay, these are the things we need to fix." Then, that's how they're going to be fixed.

There are solutions and to be positive at the end. It does actually finish with a positive [inaudible 00:19:00], the movie. But, it does reveal things a lot of people are not quite aware of in terms of the scientific fixes.

Phil: Listen, you've got to watch it. It's some awesome file footage in there, and, of course, we'll have a link to it in the show notes.

Hey, listen, if you can think of an amazing nomad that we should be speaking to, then drop us a line on

Host: You can download the episodes from iTunes or the Google Podcast app or ask Alexa and Google Home to play the World Nomads Podcast. Alexa, play the World Nomads Podcast.

Phil: Can't say it too loud, she'll start.

Host: We'll see you next week when we bring you Albania.

Phil: Bye.

Close: Amazing nomads. Be inspired.

1 Comment

  • Yosh Han said

    Great podcast. I enjoyed the insights on Bali. I lived in Indonesia on Gili Air, Lembongan, Amed and Bali for about 6 months before and during the recent earthquakes. It’s true, my favorite aspects were living amongst the local culture in small bungalows. I hope the government listens to this segment and watches the film and understands that people do want the original feeling and somehow retain the charm. I fear there are many tourists who believe erroneously that the new Bali is magical. The enchanting vibe is rooted in its the natural tropical beauty, faraway from the concrete jungle.

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