4X4: 16 Questions with Justin Kauffman
Hailing from Whitefish, Montana, where pristine nature and adventure lurks around every corner, Justin Kauffman grew up passionate about the outdoors. He quickly discovered how to turn that passion into a successful career capturing epic landscapes and filmmaking. His work has been published in a variety of magazines and his breathtaking cinematography has been recognized in national film festivals. Justin has also travelled extensively internationally with his latest trip taking him to Front Runner’s backyard in South Africa. Front Runner kitted three vehicles for Justin and his travel companions and set them on a two-week overlanding adventure that no one will soon forget.
Best thing you’ve seen while adventuring?
Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland will always be up there but in all seriousness, this trip to South Africa might have taken over the spot at the top of the list. I've never gotten to see or explore a country the way we did on this trip and it was life changing. Without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life!
Sum up your life’s philosophy in 3 words?
Always say yes!
You’re going on a road trip- what three people do you take, dead or alive?
Hmmmm, this is a hard one. I'd probably bring Nelson Mandela, Nikola Tesla, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
What surprised you most about South Africa?
South Africa blew me away. Everything about it was far greater than I ever planned. I knew it was big (3.5 times bigger than my home state of Montana to be exact because I Googled before the trip), but it wasn't until we were driving through it that I actually realized just how big that actually is. The biggest surprise was probably the variety of terrain and climates that exist there. One second we were driving through the plains and the next we were climbing a massive mountain pass where it snows. The scenery changed a lot and made for some really beautiful driving.
You had a packed schedule - what sticks out about the whole trip?
There were way too many highlights to keep track of let alone pick just one overall! Some of my favorite moments were camping at the waterfall in Lesotho, seeing a wingsuiter fly 5 feet by my head at 200 miles per hour, get to see and walk with lions up close and personal, and explore Cape Town. We all quickly fell in love with the Cape Town area and were shocked with how much there was to do around there.
What was the piece of Front Runner gear you used the most?
The Stainless Steel Camp Tables were probably the piece of gear that we used the most. It was so handy to be able to slide out from under the rack and set up quickly. We used it to hold our food, camera gear, luggage, etc. It had so many uses and came in clutch a lot. A couple of other crucial pieces of gear that are worth mentioning are the Jerry Cans, Camp Kitchen Utensil Set, and Roof Top Tent. Without these the trip would have been almost impossible and way less enjoyable...especially the Jerry Cans because there were sections where we were totally self-sufficient and a day's drive from the closest gas station.
What camera were you shooting on and how’d it do?
I had a couple different cameras with me on the trip! For photo stuff I was using an Olympus E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. For video I was using a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k. Both of these cameras performed great especially given how dirty and dusty they got. I now see why everyone says you need to have things built "Africa-tough." The land doesn't joke around out there and is brutal on everything!
How did you get into photography?
This is kind of a long story haha. Way back in highschool I was playing men's league soccer before the start of my senior year. I was on a break away about to take a shot on goal and got illegally slide tackled from behind. All of a sudden there was a super loud POP and I knew something serious had happened. I ended up blowing my knee and tearing my ACL, MCL, and meniscus. At the time I hated it because I couldn't play soccer or ski, but it was the thing that got me into photo/video stuff. While I was recovering I'd hike the mountain and take photos/film my friends and I quickly fell in love/got obsessed with it!
What are you most grateful for?
Oh man, so many things! I'm grateful for my friends and family that constantly support me. Amazing clients I get to work and surround myself with. People who trust me, have my back, and let me try creative/new wild ideas. Blowing my knee to get me here in the first place! The list could go on and on but I really do feel extremely lucky to get to do what I do for a living. It's been a wild ride so far and I try not to ever take it for granted.
What’s on your road trip playlist?
I like to listen to music and Podcasts! I have lots of random playlists curated that are all either video or photo inspired. Some of my favorite Podcasts are: The Joe Rogan Podcast, How I Built This, and ImPaulsive.
Who’s your role model?
There have been several big role models and things that have inspired me. I feel fortunate to have been inspired by a lot of different sports/cultures and now that I'm older I feel like I can see that they've all impacted me in different ways. Some of the people I'd view as role models and sources of inspiration are Cristiano Ronaldo, Aaron Brimhall, Benjamin Everett, and Quin Schrock. Soccer and skiing, and the art that goes into both of those have a big impact component of my life. I think they're the reason I like working hard, doing exhausting things, and putting myself in places that not many other people might enjoy (like trying to shoot on a freezing cold mountain).
What’s your nickname?
The most common nickname I have is JJ. There's a couple other family nicknames but they're not as well-used as JJ.
What rigs did you use on the SA trip?
We had three rigs with us there. One was a 4-door Jeep Wrangler, another was a Ford Ranger, and lastly a Subaru Forester.
Any stand outs from the rigs you used?
All of the rigs handled everything like champs! I was most impressed by the Forester because of how well it did on Sani pass. I had some slight moments of hesitation because of clearance etc, but it was a monster for the entire trip!
You visited Front Runner HQ, any surprises there?
First off, I couldn't believe how cool everything was! It was awesome to see the showroom, installation bay, and the order fulfillment process. We also got to see the production side of things and that was fascinating. I never would have thought I'd enjoy that aspect of the tour as much as I did but I loved it! Also, it was really nice to meet everyone. Each and every person I talked to was personable, friendly, and had a gigantic smile on their face. It was easy to see that everyone there truly loves what they do for a living and their vibe/good energy was infectious.
Where are you headed next?
That's a tough question given the current state of the world. I had plans to visit Peru and hike/backpack through the mountains there but pretty much everything is on pause for the time being. Once we're able to leave our houses I plan to do a ton of hiking in Glacier National Park this summer and hopefully visit Peru, Norway, and New Zealand before the end of the year. Returning to South Africa is also high on my list and I'm hoping to be able to spend more time there when I go back.