Dustin Sousley played soccer, basketball and baseball, just like most of the kids his age. While he enjoyed “traditional” sports, they didn’t thrill him or challenge him athletically.
When Sousley was in sixth grade, he decided to branch out and joined the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team.
“I got pretty bored with the team aspect,” Sousley said. “It was kind of frustrating. I said, ‘Let’s try something else.’ ”
The club gave him an opportunity to compete individually and to travel to various places. In the under-18 category for the sport, he placed 22nd in the world.
Sousley said it not also challenged him as an athlete, it cultivated his creativity. He began to take photographs of his trips and had a thirst to do and see more.
Now 19, Sousley has used his experience to explore other activities such as slacklining, highlining, rock climbing, snowboarding, diving, surfing and more.
“I’m always trying to find new ways to better myself as an athlete without having to be normal,” he said. “I like doing things most people wish they could try.”
As Sousley spent time with friends who had similar interests, they created something out of their fascination with extreme sports. What started out as an Instagram hashtag, #TeamPNW — a nod to the Pacific Northwest — grew into an identity and a family.
The core members of the group are Sousley, Cooper Branham, Brae Hunziker, Danny Youngren, Daniel Barnes, Tyler Dunn, Casey Jenkins, Blake Dukowitz, Sara Armstrong, Ali Sommers and Meaghann Gaffney. Many others a part of the group as well.
While Sousley has traveled to places like Germany, Mexico, Nicaragua and Ecuador, to name a few, he said nowhere compares to the unique opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
“We start to realize, this place (the Pacific Northwest) is really the spot to have everything at once,” Sousley said. “There’s good rock climbing, snowboarding, diving, surf, mountaineering. There’s all these awesome opportunities just sitting there. We were all riding together for a few years, we shred together, hang out and have fun. We said, ‘Let’s just go with the PNW theme.’ ”
The group is loosely organized; there’s no official member list or dues to pay. Sousley said it’s been fun to meet people through the group, as friends of friends often tag along for whatever the day’s activity happens to be. The age group ranges from high-schoolers to adults.
Sousley, an aspiring photographer who is headed to Oahu’s famous North Shore this winter for a surfing photography apprenticeship, said the group is evolving artistically as well.
“A lot of us are into filming,” he said. “Some of the group uses GoPro cams for filming. We’re taking it to a semi-artistic level where we can increase our photography and videography skills. Our good friend Ali made all the logos. It’s just super fun to meet new people as you go along, build relationships and just have fun.”
A good friend of Sousley’s started a clothing company called “Monsters and Sea” along with the slogan “Go Because You Can.” Ten percent of the company’s profits go to families who are battling difficulties with cancer.
Sousley said Team PNW works closely with Monsters and Sea, and has taken the slogan to heart.
“Some people aren’t fortunate to be able to go anymore because of cancer or things that happen in life,” Sousley said. “Go because you can, and go for people that can’t go. It’s about the adventure.”
Sousley’s work ethic and sense of adventure exemplifies the slogan. He dismisses sleeping in and often wakes up before sunrise to hike a mountain, or to skate with his friends. He has put thousands of miles on his car, traveling to different destinations around the region, and he’s always in search of the perfect adventure. He said his favorite spots are Banks Lake in eastern Washington, where he likes to cliff jump, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
“It’s a pretty rugged place (Vancouver Island),” Sousley said. “There’s a lot of wildlife, a lot of black bears running around your campsite. You can see big black bears by your campfire.”
While that might deter most people from camping in that spot again, Sousley’s unconventional approach and spirit allow him to enjoy the scene.
At the end of the day, Sousley doesn’t expect the group to grow into a large-scale phenomenon, but he’s not concerned about that. For now, the group is a fun way to enjoy life and all of nature’s beauty.
“It’s something we invest our time instead of sitting around and watching movies,” he said. “If you’re having fun, that’s great, and that’s all that matters.”
Sousley said people can get involved on Twitter by using the hashtag #TeamPNW or following @teamPNW.Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.