“My kids got kicked out of the Ritz Carlton. I dropped them off to fish in the ponds there,” says world renowned survivalist Gary Humphrey. “There is great bass in those ponds. My sons are better fishermen than I am. They fish ponds up and down the island.”
Humphrey could live anywhere in the world; the Sahara desert, an artic tundra, or the jungles of Central America. Between his 17 years with the Royal Marines and the British Special Forces and a thriving career as a survivalist working for television and film, for Humphrey there isn’t many places on the globe where he couldn’t carve out a life for himself. But the star of Discovery Channels’ “Trailblazers” and his two sons live on Amelia Island, on the north end of the beach, where sandy roads lead to the Atlantic Ocean and deer graze on the dunes of Fort Clinch State Park.
Above photo: Gary Humphrey moved to Fernandina Beach in 2010 where he and his children camp.
He and his wife moved to Amelia Island from Dorset, England with their two children in 2010. The marriage didn’t last, but island life made its mark on Humphrey. “People spend all this money to go on holiday here, but we live here. It’s the best,” he says “I like the easy way of life. Everybody knows everyone here. There is community, and it is nice to be a part of it. When I moved here, I didn’t know a single person.”
Humphrey left life as a soldier with the British Special Forces in 2005. He was 39 years old and had suffered one too many near death experiences. “I fell out of a helicopter and smashed my body up pretty badly. I had friends dying,” he says. “I had a dive accident with gases and lost my memory, came around from that and saw the light,” He returned to service, but the second war in Iraq was underway. “I didn’t want to stop. You know, you are an alpha male, a warrior. But we had just had a second baby, and my boss said I could go. I served my country.”
Humphrey made the leap from Special Forces to working with Raytheon, a multinational defense contractor. Disenchanted with corporate defense, he took a massive pay cut and began working with television. “It was the best decision I have ever made,” he says.
It was 2006 and the show was BBC’s “Top Gear.” Humphrey learned survival skills as a soldier, focused on how to survive if a mission went wrong, but it was working with “Top Gear” and running security and safety for television all over the world that has allowed him to learn how to survive and thrive in extreme environments. His expert knife skills were strengthened in Kamchatka in eastern Russia with the Koryak tribe, who survive. mainly off reindeer. Working on the National Geographic show, “Mygration,” he honed his fire and survival skills with The Hazda, a hunter-gatherer tribe of Tanzania. But Papa New Guinea holds a special place in his heart, because the people are as beautiful as they are fierce. “They are a Neolithic people, built differently with a huge jaw and broad shoulders,” he says. “They will kill you with a machete, or they will sit and share with you for days.”
Sitting and sharing around a campfire is something Humphrey likes to do with his family too. Camping on the beach is something the Humphrey family does regularly, and he recommends camping as the most effective way for the everyday person to learn survival, plus it is just good fun. “Go camping with your kids, friends or family. It brings you together. Go buy a tent. An axe. A knife. Some air mattresses. Done. You don’t need to go to an outward bound school, although they are great,” he says. “All you need to do is go camping. Florida is amazing.”
His sons Owen (14) and Ash (11) know how to handle an axe and a knife; they can light a fire with steel and pitch a tent on the beach with an eye on the wind and tide. Like any 21st century family, they cozy up on the couch for popcorn and movies (they don’t have cable) and the boys spend time on their “devices,” but for the most part they are out surfing, fishing and skateboarding, straggling in for dinner, always enjoyed together with their dad at the table.
“I always cook, and we sit down together. The kids set the table, and they use a knife and fork properly and we talk,” he says. Taking the time to talk and listen is what he loves about camping as a family too. “There is nothing better than making s’mores with your kids. Just spending real time with your kids is so important, because we just don’t do it.”
To learn more about Gary Humphrey and his adventures visit facebook.com/GaryHumphrey
Gary Humphrey and his sons spend most of their time at home enjoying the beach life in Fernandina.
Hampton, Ash and Owen show off the monkey they hunted for breakfast with the Hazda tribe in Africa.
Humphrey’s sons, his partner Leslie Tanner and her daughter, Annie, learn the art of making fire from the Hazda tribe on a recent trip to Africa.
Currently Humphrey stars on the Discovery Channel show “Trailblazers.”