Where did Ignite Life begin? What Is Ignite Life? How Can I Be “Ignite Life”?
Ignite Life began on a giant pile of sand. The largest living sand dune on the entire East Coast, in fact. The dune I’m speaking of is located within Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, North Carolina. It’s as far east as you can travel in the continental United States before dipping your toes into the Atlantic Ocean.
In the state park lies one of the most magical organizations that I, Alex Brewer, have ever had the honor of being a part of: the hang gliding instructor team that oversees the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School.
A chance encounter in the mountains of Colorado with a charismatic young soul, who taught hang gliding in North Carolina by summer and snowboarding in Colorado by winter, sent my life into a tailspin from which I thought it’d never recover.
Zach and I worked the lifts together at Winter Park Ski Resort for just a couple of weeks before he departed (as he was swinging back to the East Coast to gear up for the coming summer, teaching hang gliding in North Carolina). But a couple of weeks was all he needed to convince me to hurry home to Texas and pack my girlfriend – now wife, Sarah – and the few belongings we thought we needed into the back of her 2001 Ford Ranger (Old Red) and drive the short 30 hours to Nags Head.
Had I ever heard of hang gliding? Had I ever heard of Nags Head? Kill Devil Hills? Kitty Hawk? How about the Outer Banks? No, no, no, no, and no.
Did I even know that North Carolina had beaches and sand dunes? Heck no!
Zach captured me with one sentence. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to instill in him just how impactful this sentence and our powerful but brief interactions in those mountains would be on the rest of my life, as he would tragically pass away just a couple of years later.
The sentence? While discussing the – at the time – far-flung possibility of myself becoming a hang gliding instructor and pilot, he mused, “You’ll never look at those the same.”
“Look at what the same?” I asked, as Zach and I were peering up toward the snow-covered spruce trees awaiting our early morning ski lift passengers.
“Birds… You’ll never look at birds the same.”
Being a lifelong groundling, I hadn’t even noticed the birds circling – riding what I’d later learn is called a thermal, or a rising cylinder of warm air – just over the top of the spruce trees I thought we were both looking at. I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I was intrigued. Zach, whether he knew it or not, had just changed the entire trajectory of my life.
The First Summer
I’d love to tell you that upon arrival on the Outer Banks in late May 2011, Sarah and I had the best summer of our entire lives and resided happily ever after. But, as with most things, it wasn’t quite that easy.
To sum up three months in one sentence: The summer of 2011 was awful. The largest snafu in my plan was purely physical. In short, teaching hang gliding on the largest living sand dunes on the East Coast is… hard.
How do you think I, the instructor, stayed under the flying hang glider to instruct my student? And how do you think the hang glider then got back to the top of the 75- to 100-foot dune for the next student to fly? The answers: I ran, and I carried the hang glider back up the dune on my back. That’s how.
Sarah and I had envisioned cushy, fun summer jobs at the beach before receding to the “real world” to get office jobs utilizing our recently acquired college degrees. It didn’t quite work out that way, as we returned to our college town of San Marcos, Texas, in August of that year, and I vowed never, EVER to set foot on that sand pile again.
The Comfort Zone
Needless to say, this arrangement didn’t last long. I found graduate school to be extremely unfulfilling. Returning to my old job waiting tables with my tail between my legs – after declaring just months prior to all who’d listen that I was off on a grand adventure into the skies above, never to return – didn’t do much to inflate my ego.
Just a few months later, I dropped out of graduate school, and I was caught in the same endless cycle of waiting tables all day and drinking cheap beers all night that I’d attempted to escape just months earlier. I knew I needed a change (again).
In my mind, I had one opportunity in the world. Although I’d struggled mightily the summer before, I had done the work to become a full-fledged hang gliding instructor at the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School.
I made the call in January of 2012. It took my fellow instructor, and now my friend, Brian, a few moments to remember who I was, as my first summer didn’t leave much of an impression on the rest of the instructor team. But as I mentioned previously, this job was hard and everybody knew it. So because I’d proven I could do the job (not well), they agreed to take me back for the summer of 2012. This… this is really where it all begins.
Back on the Dunes
I knew the physical struggles I was in for this time around, and I really wanted to do well. I’m one of those people who had never been good at anything before, at least anything I wanted to be good at. So between January and May of 2012, I adopted a workout regimen and fine-tuned my diet so I could return to Jockey’s Ridge ready to conquer. And I did.
I embarked on what would become a successful career as a professional hang gliding instructor – over the course of which I would have the opportunity to teach over 5,000 students how to fly hang gliders. During my career, I was lucky enough to fly hang gliders and paragliders in seven states and at countless different launch sites. I literally got to fly with those birds Zach had been talking about. In case you were wondering, he was right. You never do look at birds the same once you’ve flown alongside them.
It was in the midst of these five years that Ignite Life came about.
During my time running up and down these sand dunes, an older gentleman started a program where myself and the other instructors would attach GoPro cameras to the hang gliders as we taught lessons. He’d then edit the footage, and we would sell it to the vacationers who we’d just taught. It was a fledgling program in its infancy but had potential.
After just a few months, this gentleman got a job opportunity he couldn’t refuse, and he left town. My friend and fellow instructor Mike and I purchased the program from the gentleman. In what was a pretty bold move, looking back, Mike and I had just purchased a video editing company, and neither he nor I had ever, EVER touched a piece of video editing software or even a video camera for that matter. Trial by fire, much?
As part of the Kitty Hawk Kites hang gliding instructor team, we were rewarded every summer with a trip to New Hampshire to fly off the mountains at Morningside Flight Park. As with most “flying” trips, the flying was only half of the fun.
A typical flying trip with five or six 18- to 24-year old males consisted of more than just flying hang gliders, as you can imagine. There was also camping, hiking, swimming, waterfall diving, grilling, four-wheeler riding, stargazing, partying, and more. We’ll stop on partying. This, believe it or not, is where what would become Ignite Life began.
One particular night, after a full day of flying and, I’m sure, other shenanigans, we began our food preparation well post-sunset. It was getting hard to see whether we were cutting a carrot, a mushroom, or someone’s finger with that sharp knife.
Because we were a bunch of young, dumb males, we typically embarked on these mountain flying trips wholly unprepared, and this one was no different. It turns out I was the only one who’d thought to bring a working light of any kind. I’d brought one single headlamp. This headlamp would serve as our only source of light outside of the campfire for the entire weeklong trip.
So this particular night, as we prepared our meats and vegetables to wrap in tin foil and then toss into the hot coals – I’d learn this was called a hobo burrito, or at least that’s what Donny called them – I became the source, nay BRINGER, of light. My fellow instructors took turns shouting, “Brewer, shine your light over here!” So I spent the hour-long food preparation session craning my head and neck around the picnic table attempting to ensure that all of my friends stayed attached to their fingers and such.
This continued well into the night, only rather than shedding light on food preparation, I was shedding light on beer bottle opening, bagged wine slapping, and beer can puncturing (to shotgun, of course). Rather than, “Shine your light,” the phrase became, “Ignite the light.” And rather than Brewer, I became Brewclops, due to the placement of the headlamp being like a single eye.
By all rights, this entire story should have been lost to the spirit of alcohol and just become another blurry night on the side of a New Hampshire mountain. But thankfully, the following day I overshot the landing zone (LZ) in my paraglider and flew directly into the swamp to find myself in shin-deep standing water.
My friend Robert exclaimed to our head instructor, TJ, “Uh oh, Brewclops flew into the weeds,” in his patented monotone. That was all we needed: Robert bringing back the name Brewclops to remember some of the fun happenings of the night prior, though many of them were more nausea-inducing than fun.
These uncovered memories would become a blur in time as we repeated this wake up, fly, build fire, eat (maybe), drink alcohol (for sure) regimen four or five more times in the coming days. But three little words had seared themselves into my mind whether I knew it or not: Ignite the light.
3, 2, 1…
Cut to a few weeks later. We’ve now returned to North Carolina, and we’re back on that old sand pile teaching a hang gliding lesson to a group of 20-plus wide-eyed tourists. On this particular lesson, I was the head instructor, and two of my cohorts from the trip were my assistant instructors: Robert and Danny “Dune Legs.”
I had adopted the habit of doing a little breakdown with my instructor team before every class – a holdover from my unsuccessful youth football career. On this particular day, Robert, Dune Legs, and I weren’t really sure what to say after the 3, 2, 1 countdown. We typically said something like “Fly, fly, fly” or “Fly your face off.” You know, something really creative. But on this day, those same old sayings weren’t really doing it for us.
We needed something more to get stoked about running up and down the sand dune 50-plus times on this 90-plus-degree North Carolina July day. I’ll never forget the way Robert turned to me and, again in his monotone, asked, “What do we say today, Brewer?” In an instant, I answered, “Ignite the light within you.”
What followed? “3! 2! 1! IGNITE THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU!”
I wasn’t really sure where it had come from. We hadn’t discussed that fateful night in New Hampshire in weeks. But those words leapt from me: Ignite the light within you.
For the rest of that summer, this became my “thing.” We developed a logo, a hand sign, a secret handshake, and some other offshoot sayings. You know, everything expected of a bunch of kids having fun while unknowingly building the beginnings of a brand. When it came time for Mike and his wife to move on, I bought out his half of the GoPro business and was looking to rebrand and to grow.
The business we had purchased was called Express Camera Rentals. How boring is that? I saw this as the perfect opportunity to give my little business a new face. After weeks of back and forth between my now wife Sarah and I, we hadn’t come to any conclusions about what to call what had once been Express Camera Rentals.
But then – the way Sarah tells the story – she brought up that word I was always spouting about, that weird hand sign and handshake thing. Ignite Films was born.
If you’re still with me, I’m much closer to getting to the point here: What is Ignite Life? But there’s a little more to the story. I consider the birth of Ignite Films to be myself walking unknowingly into living my Ignite Life.
The first thing on the agenda when creating a marketing company in the 21st century is to get an Instagram account, of course. So early in the Ignite Films life cycle, I adopted the Instagram and Facebook monikers @ignitefilmsobx. The second thing on the agenda? Adopting a hashtag! And thus, #ignitelife came to be. This, somewhere in 2014, is where I initially began to use those two little words.
Here’s the moral of this whole winding tale. Ignite Films was my videography operation that specialized in event video, preferably involving live music, beer, and flying. See a pattern here? After a couple of years running Ignite Films, I simply wanted a way for friends and family and anyone else who was interested to show us some support and push our message of igniting the light within themselves and the world around them.
After a couple of initial hat and t-shirt runs using my first company’s name, Ignite Films, I felt people weren’t really able to connect with supporting a film company who may make a kickass music video one day but a boring dentist commercial the next. I began to rack my brain again.
What could I possibly call this little clothing brand? The name needed to be cool, but not too cool. Hot to the touch, but not too hot. ‘Round and ‘round I went, until one day Sarah said, “What about that hashtag you always use? What is it? #ignitelife?”
Boom! Ignite Life was born.
So, what is an Ignite Life? There isn’t just one. What I try to convey with Ignite Life is that everyone has their own. Whether they’ve found one or not, they have one. Ignite Life is the never-ending quest we’re all on to reach that higher plane, to achieve our goals, to DO the things we set out to do.
As we all strive, as we climb toward our Ignite Life, we must constantly look left and look right (and ahead AND behind) and pull our brothers and sisters up with us as we rise. For they will be the same brothers and sisters who pull us up when we inevitably falter.
Realize that every action you have can alter the current state of the world around you. Wherever you may find yourself, be the light in the room. The glass IS half full. If not now, when? If not you, who? Tomorrow is too late!
How can you be “Ignite Life”?