Ryan wearing a Tuckerman Hardshell

Kite surfer, coach, carpenter, timber framer, trail runner, mountain climber, cyclist, basketball player, skier, New Englander, obstacle course racing world champion. All this (and more) describes Ryan Kempson, Burgeon’s newest athlete and field tester. Although he’s a true renaissance man of outdoor adventure, Ryan has undoubtedly found his niche as an OCR (obstacle course racing) world champion. In addition to taking first place at the 2021 15k World Championship in Vermont, Ryan took second place at the 2021 and 2022 3k World Championships, third place at the 2022 15k World Championship, and has podiumed more than seventy times in his OCR career.

Ryan lives in Thornton, New Hampshire with his wife, Courtney, and is a full-time OCR competitor and carpenter. Although he grew up roaming the forests of his home town in Woodstock, Vermont, it wasn’t always a given that Ryan would end up in the mountains with a life and livelihood so entwined in the outdoors. In his youth and early adulthood, ball sports captured his competitive spirit, and after earning a degree at Plymouth State University, Ryan abandoned the mountains for Cape Cod. 

As a New Englander with an understanding of mountain communities, and as a highly competitive athlete who knows the difference quality apparel can make, we’re thrilled to have Ryan on board with Burgeon Outdoor. We sat down with Ryan to learn more about OCR, what brought him back to the mountains, and why he was excited to partner with Burgeon.

Ryan, welcome to Burgeon! Why don’t you tell us a bit about your early roots in the region?

I grew up on the side of a mountain in Woodstock roaming the woods with my brother every day. We had no TV, cable didn’t exist up there, so we built forts, rode bikes, and explored all day until my mom would whistle for us to come in for dinner. My dad had me on skis before I was two, so I grew up on the slopes, skiing and snowboarding. It’s funny, I think a lot of kids get burned out from their parents pushing them into ball sports, but for me, I got burned out getting dragged to the mountain all the time! I did not like being cold, and I found myself gravitating towards basketball and football in high school. I carried on with basketball at PSU, and despite the fact that I was in the foothills of the greatest mountains in the east, I probably skied twice and went on one hike in those four years.

Seems like there was a plot twist somewhere along the way. How did you get from there to becoming an outdoors everyman and world-class OCR champion?

Ryan on the podium

Plymouth and the Whites are not all that different from Vermont, so through college I still didn’t really grasp an appreciation for the mountains. I moved to Cape Cod after college to become a sports physiologist and to coach young athletes, which I ended up doing for about eight years. Around 2015, I got into obstacle course racing with my brother. He was living in Colorado at the time, and this was initially just something fun for us to do together; meet up, drink some beers the night before, do this fun thing the next day. 

We started to discover that we were kind of good at this, and we would do 8 or 10 a year. OCR competitions are primarily held at mountain venues, and getting into this reignited my love for the mountains. I started pulling away from the gym as I pursued more outdoor adventures and put the natural world to use as my training ground. And I found that I was able to have more impact as a coach and trainer, by showing people what hard work and dedication looks like.

Around 2018 Courtney and I bought our first house to flip, so I had a lot of carpentry work available there. I found a way I could make a living with my hands and become stronger, and I decided this was the time to pursue OCR full time. I realized, you know what, if I can create a life of working with my hands and balance that with training and competing full time… I think that would be the happiest I could be, and it would lead me to performing the best, too.

Sounds you’ve given a lot of thought to crafting a life that you love. How did you make your way back to New Hampshire?

We started running out of room to explore on the Cape, and ended up traveling a lot more to find new adventures. We bought a piece of land in Thornton almost on a whim, and I moved up here ahead of Courtney to train full time and build a house with my dad, who was a master carpenter and woodworker. A month in, my dad developed terminal pancreatic cancer, and he passed away 6 months later. I continued to finish building the home we started together, and had to learn the art of timber framing to do it on my own. Courtney and I originally intended to sell it, but we love it and the outdoors community we’ve found in Thornton. It’s home now. 

I’m new to OCR. What do I need to know?  

Ryan in competition

What many people associate with OCR is “muddy, bloody, and sweaty.” You might be navigating off-trail and through the woods, but courses can vary quite a bit. You never know what’s coming for obstacles. Courses might be longer and play to endurance, which is not my athletic background, or shorter and play to speed. The sport is finding that shorter races are more viewer-friendly, and I’m finding that really plays to my strengths.

What else keeps you busy? 

I don’t sit down, I don’t stop. My mom bought a piece of land right next to us and I’m currently building her house. We play disc golf, we play golf, we goof around on skateboards. We’re heading to a family reunion in New York, and we’ll turn off the cell phones and camp and drink some beers and play paintball all weekend. I like working on cars. Running in the mountains, gravel biking, mountain biking, skiing. I got into kitesurfing because I just love the water, that’s what puts a smile on my face. We’ve met a lot of like-minded people through a local, loosely organized run group, and I love to get into local trail races, and I love sharing adventures with other people.

Why were you excited to reach out to Burgeon and wear our gear?

I’ve been impressed with Burgeon's growth over the past few years. When I saw the Tuckerman Jacket in development I really understood that Burgeon has this mission to put out high performance gear, and you go through this important process to figure out what works. I think the possibilities for Burgeon are really exciting.

I was also really into the idea of working with a local brand that produces right here in the Whites. It’s better for the environment, and it’s better for the community too. Growing up in Woodstock, where Ibex’s warehouse was originally located, I’ve seen firsthand how a locally operated business can give life to the community, it can understand the needs of its community and support the community in real ways. And it brings people together because everyone wants to root for the business. Burgeon embraces the special energy of small mountain towns. And it’s a partner I can really engage with. We can actively help each other out and work together to build something good for the area.

Any favorite Burgeon pieces?  

Ryan in a sunseeker hoodie

Between being in and out of treeline in the mountains and kitesurfing the beaches of the coast, the Sunseeker Hoodie is my favorite piece from Burgeon to date. Having UV protection but not overheating from layers is a tall order, but this meets the challenge. It’s lightweight and breathable and provides physical protection from the sun, so it’s a must for the summer pack, no matter what I’m doing.

What’s coming down the pike for you?

This year the US will have a national team in a federated world championship for the first time ever, and in September I’ll be heading to Belgium to compete in that. Europe’s races are a completely different monster than what you find in the US. They’re more obstacle-dense, which tends to fit my skill set better, so I’m just really curious to get over to Europe over the next few years to compete in some of their championships and really test what I’m capable of.  

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Ryan! 

This weekend Ryan is competing in Savage Race in Chicago, so wish him luck! You can follow Ryan on Instagram @ryan.kempson, and on his coaching website, and you can read more about him here:

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