It all started with a strap.
Back in 2001, Nicholas Woodman, the founder and CEO of GoPro, came up with the idea for a strap that would hold a disposable camera in a way that would allow him to take photographs of himself while he surfed in Australia.
By 2002, his original concept had expanded to include a strap that would hold a small, lightweight, durable camera that would allow anyone to record their life’s experiences. To finance his invention, Woodman sold bead and shell belts out of the back of his 1971 Volkswagen bus and borrowed $35,000 from his mother to start the fastest-growing camera company in the world.
It’s estimated that GoPro sold 2.3 million cameras in 2012 — a number that most in the business world expected to double in 2013. Although the camera has evolved since the first 35mm version was introduced in 2004, the idea behind each model is basically the same.
“GoPro is never going to replace the smartphone for reactive capture moments,” Woodman said in a 2013 video interview with Forbes magazine. “GoPro’s opportunity is to help people capture meaningful life experiences in an engaging, immersive way that you cannot do with a smartphone.”
While the wide-angle GoPro videos take on a similar appearance, the way the cameras are used is as varied as the people who buy them.
Throughout the past decade, the camera has been used by millions and taken people to places most of them will never visit.
The camera accompanied Felix Baumgartner to the edge of space, it was with downhill mountain biker Kelly McGarry at the Red Bull Rampage and it was with a baby named Ava as she made her way around the beach in Santa Monica and Venice Beach in a GoPro commercial.
Closer to home, Steamboat Springs extreme skier Mike Maroney likes to use his GoPro to reveal what skiing in the backcountry is all about.
He takes his camera with him most days on skis, makes videos of his friends, and like so many other people, he posts them online where the videos feed the appetites of skiing enthusiasts who may never know what it feels like to launch off a cliff in the Steamboat Springs wilderness. But thanks to Mike, they can experience it via video.
“It’s a great camera for what we do,” Maroney said about GoPro. “You can slip them in your pack, or in a jacket. They are so lightweight and so durable that you can take them anywhere.”
Maroney puts the camera on his helmet or straps it to his chest to produce top-quality videos that he can post. He also uses the camera as part of his job as a ski coach for the University of Colorado Freestyle Ski Team.
“There are not a lot of video cameras where we go, and you don’t really want to lug a traditional video camera with you into the backcountry,” Maroney said. “The GoPro is perfect.”
The camera also has found a home with the staff of Steamboat Ski Area, who use the Hero3+ on a daily basis.
“We have a partnership with GoPro and have about six to eight of the cameras that we use for social media and video services,” said Mike Lane, public relations director for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
Lane said the ski area’s video department uses the cameras at events such as the Cowboy Downhill to find creative angles, and cameras also are sent out with staff members on powder days to collect footage Ski Corp. can use on Facebook and other social media sites to entice visitors to the ski area.
Storytelling for a new generation
Olympic snowboarder Justin Reiter, who’s lived and trained in Steamboat Springs, also has learned to love the GoPro in the past year, but he says he rarely uses the camera for training purposes.
He takes it everywhere he goes and uses it to capture the moments he feels are inspirational — that tell his story in a way that is unique to this generation.
Reiter said it’s great because he can pull out his camera for landscapes, or use the ultra wide-angle lens to shoot video or pictures of people. He recently used his GoPro while training for a banked-slalom at Howelsen Hill to help his friends and family understand what it’s like to ride down a banked-slalom course.
“The days of scrapbooking and Polaroid photos are gone. I think every generation has its own unique way of telling their own story,” Reiter said. “The GoPro is this generation’s way of chronicling history.”
Reiter says he used the camera to promote himself on social media prior to the Olympic Games. The camera makes it easy to create interesting photos and videos that people on Facebook and Twitter, including many of his sponsors, enjoy seeing.
“I want to share my experiences, and the GoPro is a great way to do it,” Reiter said. “It makes people feel like they are there, and someday, I will be able to share these memories with my children.”
The desire to record memories from his family’s first visit to Steamboat is what inspired Rob Holland, of Houston, to mount a GoPro on top of his helmet and follow his children down the ski slopes during their vacation last week.
“It’s hard to find a camera that’s small, compact and easy to carry around with such good image quality,” Holland said Monday morning while waiting for his 9-year-old to get out of a ski lesson at Steamboat Ski Area. Holland recently purchased the camera to record his children, ages 6 and 9, skiing.
“It’s going to be a long time before anyone in our family will be doing back flips that we want to capture in slow motion,” Holland said. “But I wanted to find something that would be convenient to capture the kids going down the hill. It’s their first time, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the moment.”
But while Holland and family will be staying inbounds this trip, the Texan says the videos he found on YouTube helped cement his desire to purchase the camera for his family, and they will drive his creativity in the future.
“The best promotion for GoPro is all the videos that people upload,” Holland said. “It looks easy. We’ve all seen the videos of the baby on the skateboard or a dog chasing a stick. These things look like they are idiot proof, so it sounded like the perfect camera for me.”
Holland thinks he will find plenty of uses for the camera when the vacation is over. He plays in a band and already has plans to mount the camera to his guitar when he gets back home.
Maroney said while his videos often highlight backcountry skiing, he always is surprised by what people will do with a GoPro and where they will take the small, versatile camera.
GoPros have become a common sight at ski areas like Steamboat, but the cameras also can be found on the handles of mountain bikes, attached to the front of snowmobiles and on beaches and boats. Users can take the camera underwater, it can be placed in tight spaces and it can be used to create that one-of-a-kind wide-angle view of the world that can make anyone feel like they are in the middle of the action.
“You see a million of them,” Maroney said. “It seems like everyone has a GoPro mounted on their helmets these days. That’s a lot of video.”