Interview with Bob Podesta

Monday 10 February 2014 04.22 PM

Having served with the SAS for a quarter of a century, Bob Podesta has more experience of outdoor adventures than most. During his 25-year career, he has survived - and thrived - in some of the world's harshest environments. Bob now teaches outdoors skills.

Having served with the SAS for a quarter of a century, Bob Podesta has more experience of outdoor adventures than most. During his 25-year career, he has survived - and thrived - in some of the world's harshest environments. Bob now teaches outdoors skills - from basic map-reading and using a compass, to bushcraft and survival techniques - that he has learnt over the course of his eventful professional life.

Bob will be demonstrating bushcraft skills in the Wild Britain zone at the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show at London Excel each day from February 13-16.

I asked him about his motivations and experiences:

TLB: how did you get into the great outdoors in the first place? Was it the army or was it something you were interested in before that?

Bob: My father was in the military, so as a child I spent a lot of time abroad - particularly in Germany and Libya. In those days, with no TV or computer, we relied much more on inventing our own entertainment and for me there was nothing better than spending long days and, as I grew older, nights, outdoors. To start with I would explore the bases where my father was stationed and then would venture further and further afield. I've always had a great love and respect for nature and remember these times with great fondness.
 

Giving a talk at the Telegraph Outdoors Show
TLB: what are the most important things for people to remember in wilderness survival?

Bob: Firstly knowledge and preparedness are of vital importance. Learning as much as you can before ever facing a survival situation can save your life. But equally there is no point only reading about the subject if you never practice it for real. The reality of being tired, cold and hungry is completely different to reading about those discomforts when you are safely at home with a hot brew in your hand. Secondly learn how to conserve your body's energy and fluids; by slowing down your pace, looking ahead and always endeavouring to get things right first time to avoid unnecessary activity. These are the sort of subjects we cover on our "Survive To Fight" weekend courses which you can find out more about by joining our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/asquadron

TLB: what have been your most rewarding / enjoyable adventure experiences?

Bob: My SAS Selection course will always remain one of my adventure highlights; I enjoyed spending the initial weeks tabbing over the stunning Welsh countryside. Although it was an arduous course, I had prepared well for it during my time stationed in Singapore; whenever I could I visited the Kota Tinggi mountains, practicing my map reading and walking as far and as fast as I could whilst carrying added weight in my Bergan. Subsequently I felt strong throughout the Selection process and genuinely enjoyed it. Even before officially becoming a member of the Regiment you are given the most incredible opportunity to learn vast amounts of new information as you progress through their structured Selection process. From the wilds of UK I was transferred to the jungles of Borneo. This was one of the most rewarding aspects of Selection; many feel suffocated, but you must learn to make the jungle your home, not fight against it, to slow down your pace, consider every move. I found myself at home in this environment and enjoyed operating in it, there was always a lot of wildlife and new things to see. I remember sitting in an OP (observation post) one day and having a whole family of orangutans pass overhead and feed nearby. My whole army career was rewarding as for me, it was a continual process of learning, absorbing and applying new information. If there was a new course, I'd want to be on it. One of my life's mottos has been "if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything you want to"; I always encourage people to go after their dreams.

TLB: which survival skills do novices find particularly difficult to get the hang of? And which ones to people find straightforward?

Bob: Generally I would say that it's not so much the individual skills that people particularly struggle with but more the survival mindset and physical aspect. Our dependency on supermarkets has robbed many of us of skills which our parents/grandparents had just decades ago - such as basic preparation of meats from home reared animals. Most survival skills are common sense, which when pointed out to people tend to sink in quickly - especially when coupled with hands-on experience (something we always like to encourage on our courses). Saying that, the bow and drill method of fire lighting always proves a considerable challenge for people. I've been told numerous times I make it look far too easy!

TLB: how do you advise people to overcome their squeamishness when it comes to skinning (and killing!) a rabbit, for example?

Bob: In the army before putting a group through a survival course I would always ensure they were very hungry. They would be at a stage where they would eat anything, diced snake chunks suddenly became very appealing! Hunger has a tendency to quickly switch a person's thinking to view an animal as food and nothing else. Sourcing meat is an essential part of survival to remain fit and healthy for any length of time. I would add at this juncture that I hate to see animals suffering and always teach that they must be dispatched in the most humane way.

TLB: what has been your most difficult (non-military) outdoors challenge?

Bob: The CHAR charity 100-mile annual raft race, which used to run from Hay-on-Wye to Chepstow Bridge, is like doing three consecutive marathons over three days, on your arms! My old team became the world champions (and still are, as the race is now only 75 miles long). A gruelling race, but when you cross that finish line you feel invincible.

TLB: what do you think is the best way to encourage people to discover the great outdoors?

Bob: There is so much to do and see outdoors that it is such a waste not to get out there and experience it all first hand. Don't rely on seeing things on the TV, get up and get outside and see it for yourself for real. You can't beat the feeling of being outdoors, whatever the weather, there are so many health benefits and you'll appreciate the warmth and comfort of home that much more when you return.

TLB: what is your favourite place on Earth and why?

Bob: Great Britain. I've spent many years away, all over the world and loved every bit of it, but I've always yearned to come home. I always remember my trips to the Far East as I would dream of coming home and drinking down a whole bottle of cold milk in one go.

TLB: do you compete in any events or challenges?

Bob: I'm a member of a Dragon Boat team, our two boats were the 1st and 2nd fastest at the Great River Race 2013 (an annual race in London). We're a very dedicated team, everyone trains all year round, and have competed in both the European Championships and the World Championships.

TLB: where are you off to next?

Bob: Two years ago I co-founded my own company, A Squadron Limited. We provide military, security and survival training and instruction, both for professionals and private individuals wanting to learn something new or just have some fun. We attend numerous shows throughout the year and we're just getting ready to attend the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show held at the Excel Centre in London from 13th to 16th February. We'll be running survival demos and hands on activities on the Wild Britain stage throughout the event. I thoroughly enjoy this type of event and the opportunity to pass knowledge on to others plus I'm always guaranteed to learn something new myself.

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