Kevin Biggar: from couch potato to world beater!

WE TALK to New Zealand television host Kevin Biggar on the accomplishments in his life which include the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race and trekking to the South Pole.

Kevin Biggar

Kevin Biggar is TV host, author and motivational speaker with a passion for adventure.


TODAY Kevin Biggar (www.kevinbiggar.co.nz) is a TV host who also spends a lot of his time as a motivational speaker at events throughout New Zealand and Australia. He is most well know for rowing in the Trans-Atlantic race and trekking to the South Pole.


Before he reached the age of 33, life was very different – he was a strategy consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and in his own words living the life of a ‘couch potato’.


His transformation to someone who has taken on two of the word’s toughest challenges is the subject of this interview in which he tells us where his inspiration comes from and what readers can expect from his books.


Could you describe your life before you decided to embark on the incredible physical goals you have now achieved?


Mostly normal. Except I was working as a management consultant and feeling the hours and the pressure. I reached the age of 33, which for some reason was more of a watershed than 30, and realised I had the ability for the first time to be able to look into the future. I starting asking myself some tough questions about whether or not I was heading the way in life that was going to lead to happiness – or ulcers and burnout!


South Pole

Kevin is a co-host of First Crossing which recreates some of the hardest parts of pioneering adventure stories in New Zealand.


You then took part in the world’s toughest endurance event – the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race. What exactly does the race involve and why did you decide to take part?


The race is just rowing the 5,000km across the Atlantic ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados in a two-seater 7m plywood boat. So you need to survive the storms, rogue waves, sharks and general insanity of the project – your arse being chafed off for example.


I was looking for the race to be a single guiding purpose for me – something that would straighten out all the kinks in my life, something I could pour myself into completely.


You ended up winning the race after it nearly ended in catastrophe. What inspired you to keep going and what was the feeling when you found out you had won?


After a storm on the second day of the race when all the other crews put out their sea anchors we found we had a 25-mile lead on the rest of the fleet – and that was very intoxicating. Suddenly we believed that it was our race to win – even when we lost the lead a couple of weeks afterwards. Chasing another boat for thousands of kilometers was tough, but honestly, after the hardship of the two years of preparation leading up to the start of the race, the race itself wasn’t so bad!


Kevin Biggar

Kevin pictured with Jamie Fitzgerald celebrating winning the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race.


The story of the race is told in The Oarsome Adventures of a Fat Boy Rower. What motivated you to write the book and what can readers expect?


I found the book enormously painful to write, mostly because I didn’t know how to write – and I found it hard to believe that a book about rowing across the ocean could be interesting. Fortunately the reader thinks the same thing and their expectations are quite low! As it happened though I took very good notes in the preparation and in the race itself and a lot of very interesting and surprising things happened. People are pleasantly surprised!


Then came your next challenge which was the first ever unsupported trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. What gave you the idea for the expedition and was it a success?


Actually I wanted to do the South Pole trek before the trans-Atlantic but I did a little bit of research and found that it’s a bit tricky. You really need to have some specialised training – the place isn’t kind to amateur enthusiasts. 


It was only after rowing across the Atlantic that I backed myself some more and rekindled the dream. Turns out that while a lot of incredible treks have been done in Antarctica no one – at that point – had done the really obvious (I didn’t say easy!) and that was to go from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back unsupported and un-resupplied.

Was it a success? You will need to read Escape to the Pole!


Kevin Biggar and cold day in Antarctica

Another of Kevin’s challenges has been trekking from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back.


You are now a co-host of the documentary series First Crossings. How can we watch the show and what’s it all about?


First Crossings and then Intrepid NZ are like Man vs Wild in waistcoasts. In each episode we tell the story about an old school adventure while recreating the hardest parts wearing the clothes and using the tools and techniques of the original pioneers. Now available on DVD! Or I believe they show it on long-haul Air NZ flights!


What other books have you written and what are the constant themes?


After The Oarsome Adventures came Escape to the Pole, and the other book I’ve co-written is the companion book for the First Crossings TV show. I think the common theme is being  a ‘fish out of water’. I’m not a long bearded, grizzled mountain man. I’m a soft palmed office worker who had a dream and followed it through.


Kevin Biggar

Kevin’s life today is very different to the career he left as a strategy consultant.


What advice would you give to someone inspired by your life and who is thinking about setting themselves a physical endurance challenge?


The best piece of advice that I received before taking part in the trans-Atlantic race was “99 per cent of the race is getting to the start line”.


I’m a big fan of looking very carefully at the worst case – typically death I suppose! – and working out how to avoid that. Next thing is looking at what is going to cause discomfort and trying to avoid that too. The only discomfort you want to experience should be from the effort. Everything else is bad planning and preparation. My mentor, in preparing for the South Pole, said: “If you get a single blister you are the world’s biggest idiot.” And it is so true. 


Once you’ve got the downside sorted then it’s all good. And achieving a life long ambition, no matter what it is, is the best feeling in the world!



Visit www.kevinbiggar.co.nz for more info on Kevin’s books, speaking appearances and access to his blog.

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