Piloting a Cirrus jet (www.cirrusdesign.com), he been doing some globe-trotting of his own. His first stop was Hilo, Hawaii, where he learned that the true roots of the hula have nothing to do with long-haired women wearing coconut-shell bras.
His second stop took him to Malibu, Calif. and a visit with one of his personal heroes, Laird Hamilton, the surfer extraordinaire, who put Phil through an exercise regime he'll likely never try on his own (think bicycling uphill with weights on your bike).
He third stop brought him to Montecristi, Ecuador, one of the last great centers of Panama hat production. Keoghan met up with Brent Black, a man who is helping to save the dying art of Panama hat weaving.
Black left a lucrative advertising career in the United States when he learned that few young people were entering the profession. He is trying to improve pay and working conditions for the weavers. Phil decided to spend some time with Black to learn what it takes to weave these hats and to see if he could find the perfect Panama hat for himself.
Keoghan then went to the Bay area to meet gutsy rower Roz Savage, who traveled alone across the Atlantic last year and is about to take off on another solo journey — this time, a two-year-long jaunt across the Pacific.
No ready to give up on splashing around, he traveled to Eastern Tennessee to grabble with Marty and Fostana Jenkins and a group of young women. These "Girls Gone Grabbling" showed Keoghan how to submerge his body into muddy waters and coax a giant catfish out of its hole. No, really.
Phil's final stop was in upstate New York, where he encountered a new frontier, one where no "Star Trek" fan has ever ventured before: a full-on, to-scale replica of the Enterprise flight deck, a painstakingly accurate reproduction that has drawn uber-fans from all over the world. Oh, did we mention they're making new episodes of the TV classic? Now, these people are fans.
Here is his report:
I'm near Lake Champlain in the North Country of New York State, a beautiful stretch of land that was once the frontier of colonial America ... But these days, it's a new frontier -- a final Frontier.
On the outside, our destination looks like, well, a crumbling old car dealership. On the inside, however, it's the Starship Enterprise. Not the actual set from the classic TV show, but an exact, meticulous recreation that has all the details, including a "Sulu Scope."
Once a year, hundreds of Trekkies swarm here to make "new" episodes of the old series. Called "The New Voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise," the fans volunteer their time to create the episodes, which live on the Internet (www.startreknewvoyages.com/). They estimate the new material has been downloaded between 20 and 30 million times.
James Cawley created the "New Voyages" series (and plays Commander Kirk) and built the set, light bulb by light bulb, using his own money and the original blueprints. He was able to recruit other fans to help.
Cawley says he's been a "Star Trek" fan for his entire life. "I think I first watched the original series maybe when I was five or six years old, and I vividly remember, you know, 'Space: The Final Frontier,'" he told me. "I remember that night. And it was just this big, amazing adventure, and it just hooked me. And it's never gone away."
Once the first few episodes whetted the interest of fans, Cawley began to hear from Sci-Fi professionals -- animators from "Battlestar Gallactica," award-winning makeup artists, and even actors from the original show, including George Takei (Sulu).
David Gerrold wrote several original Trek episodes, including the much-loved "The Trouble with Tribbles." Now, just for the fun of it, he's been directing some "New Voyages" episodes.
"We're all Trekkies here," Gerrold explained. "We love 'Star Trek' so much, we want more. And it isn't just Halloween or play-acting. It's how much can we live 'Star Trek'? And I don't mean in the sense that we're obsessive or insane ... "
So, in an effort to embrace their enthusiasm, I volunteered to act in an upcoming episode. They dressed me up and annointed me "Admiral Keoghan." Somehow I squeezed into one of the original William Shatner shirts (which, if auctioned off, would be worth upwards of $30,000).
"It's so cool that you just want to be a part of it," said Cawley as he watched me film my role.
Now that I'm a member of the tribe, I hope we all live long and prosper.
(To watch the new episodes, go to the 'New Voyages' Web site, www.startreknewvoyages.com)
Here is Phil's report about the "Girls Gone Grabblin'" and what it's like to get up close and personal with a 35-pound catfish.
Fishing and hunting. These are the things that you would expect to be going on in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. But I stumbled upon a muddier, more adventurous activity here being done by some pretty wild girls.
In Oklahoma it's calling noodling. But my friends in Tennessee call it grabbling. Grabbling is a very hands-on way to go catfishing. What you do is you coax an enormous catfish out of its nesting hole and catch it with your bare hands.
No rod. No reel. No fear.
On my trip I got to meet some young women who star in their own video — "Girls Gone Grabblin'!" The producers of this strangely successful video, Marty and Fostana Jenkins, are long-time grabblers themselves.
While it might not be skydiving, Fostana told me that grabbling gets her adrenaline pumping. "The first time you put your hand in there and you pull out a 35-pound fish with your bare hands, it's excitement." The girls agreed.
I joined the girls near an old concrete boat ramp in preparation to grabble. It felt odd knowing I was about to stick my hand into the water underneath a rock and a gigantic fish would be there.
"It's a rush," the girls assured me.
The aggressive nature of the catfish wasn't exactly good news as I readied myself to go grabbling for the first time. Fostana said, "You want to always keep the hole blocked because they'll kind of run out." She added that catfish aren't averse to biting a hand or toe or leg or any other precious extremity.
As we all submerged our bodies into the murky waters and got into "the position," we heard a loud thudding below. Something was lurking. Christy took the first hit from the catfish, and we slowly worked the beast to the surface.
Thirty feet away, Callie had cornered a much bigger fish. I was hoping it was the legendary "Cat-zilla," a catfish rumored to inhabit the side of the lake we were on.
As I watched the girls try to catch these beasts, I couldn't help but wonder about grabbling. These girls go underwater and can't see anything and have a very large fish trying to bite them. Is it really a good idea?
Fostana certainly thought so. "You need to eat fish tonight. We're having a catfish fry. You're catching dinner," she said.
Later on, a catfish holed up by me and I thought I could make my first catch as it was just inches from my reach. But it started biting, and I wasn't prepared. At least Callie had a good laugh.
All joking aside, it was time to tame this potential Cat-zilla. We needed to bring in the Tiger Woods of grabbling, Marty. But even he struggled as he forgot the first rule of grabbling: never relax your "grabble."
But he redeemed himself shortly as, eventually, the catfish were practically jumping into our arms. And, when all was said and done, our hard work paid off as we feasted on catfish.
A great day was over, but I will always remember that there is more than one way to catch a cat.
(For more on the "Grabblin'" Girls, go to catfishgrabblers.com and stacyandteresawilson.com)
Roz may be small in stature, but she is huge in heart. And not just because of her physical exploits. Seven years ago, Roz Savage was the very picture of suburban contentment, a husband, good job, and a perfectly lovely home.
"I had the house and the little red sports car and the income. But it just didn't really make me feel fulfilled I suppose, so I started thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life and decided that I wanted to have a bit more excitement, a bit more adventure," she told me.
So, at 37, with zero sailing experience, Roz bought a boat. Volunteers outfitted it with radar and satellite phones, her Mother packed the lunches, literally – lots and lots of pre-packaged shelf-stable meals.
It's funny, in hindsight how ill-prepared Roz was as she set out from the Canary Islands. But there would be little laughter on the Atlantic. One hundred and three days of relentless rowing, 12 hours a day, over 3,000 miles of mostly unfriendly waters.
"It was really hard and I think psychologically it was the toughest aspect — very tough physically, but mentally, there were so many times when I really doubted whether I could do it," she recalled. "But, as Winston Churchill said, when you're going through hell — keep going."
Everything that could go wrong did — all her oars snapped and had to be taped, salt water scarred her hands, and her satellite phone got swamped, leaving her with no link to the outside world.
"I'm really quite ready for this adventure to be over," she said while on the boat.
Then there were the moments of real danger. Like when the sea anchor snagged and couldn't be reeled in. With rough seas tossing the boat, Roz climbed out, knife in her teeth, to cut it loose. She was very nearly tossed herself.
But the toughest times, she learned, provide the greatest rewards ... rewards that showered down when Roz finally made it, 30 pounds lighter, to Antigua in the Caribbean. Hundreds cheered her, including the woman who packed all those lunches.
"I think when I arrived in Antigua, I didn't stop grinning for a week," she remembered.
Call her crazy, but she's doing it again, this time across the Pacific, something no woman has ever done.
And now, she has a cause: she'll be blogging to school kids, educating them about ocean pollution, and, hopefully, inspiring others to follow their dreams.
How do they take this first step to make change in their life? I asked her.
"Well, your future is made up of all your today's, so when are you going to start making that change? If you're gonna dream, go for it — but I am not sure I'd recommend rowing oceans, that's only for the lunatic fringe."
It will be 2009 when she finally completes her three-stage crossing in 2009. After that, her biggest challenge may be finding her next challenge.
This might be confusing, but Panama hats don't come from Panama. They come from the destination of my latest trip: Montechristi, Ecuador. I met up with Brent Black, an American whose goal is to keep the Panama hat industry alive for generations to come.
In my quest for the perfect hat, I got to see the differences in quality. Brent's hats are elegant and impossibly light, with a weave so fine, they're like linen to touch.
His hats are plenty expensive, but I found out why. Brent took me to the dusty mountain town of Piles, home of one of the finest weavers in the world, Simon Espinal, a weaver who spends hours a day stooped over a bench, nimbly turning straw into gold.
Simon showed me a partially completed hat, and I asked him how long it took to get to that point.
"Dos meses," he responded, or, in English, two months. Unfortunately, Simon is a dying breed, as there are only a handful of weavers like him left.
I was brought five miles into the jungle to explore the creation of a Panama hat. Weavers search for "Cogollos," young shoots of a specific variety of palm.
"How many of these do you need to actually make a hat?" I asked.
Simon responded, "Three hundred." Three hundred Cogollos shoots to make one hat.
To make the hat, Cogollos are cut gently with machetes and hand-carried back to town. There, the reeds are split by hand and foot. Only the choice center straws are harvested. They then get quickly blanched in boiling water for softening, and hung out to dry. Finally, sulfur smoke bleaches the straw overnight, and that is all before the first weave is even spun.
Months later, after the hat is formed, a "rematadora" executes a careful back weave to prevent unraveling. Once the straw is trimmed, an apaledor pounds the hat with hardwood mallets to keep the hat supple. They are ironed, trimmed, and blocked into their final shape.
Brent learned the art of Panama hat weaving himself.
"I understood why people love Panama hats. I understood why these hats were legendary," Brent said.
Brent took me to the headquarters of the Montecristi Foundation, an organization he started that helps support weavers. It promotes them as artists and brings medical attention to the whole town.
We could barely conduct an interview because everyone around was thanking him.
Brent is a businessman, though, making a healthy living selling Panama hats. But he is intentionally increasing the base pay of weavers in an effort to improve their lives and attract new, young weavers.
"That's the idea," Brent said. "To keep going back and forth and keep raising (wages) as the market will bear until we get to the point where (weavers) make a really good wage."
By the end of my trip, I got my Panama hat ... and a newfound appreciation for the difference one man can make.
For Internet extras, reports on Phil's visit with Laird Hamilton and his hula lessons in Hawaii, go to page 2
Here's Phil's report from his visit to Malibu with Laird Hamilton:
In Laird Hamilton's day job as king of the giant wave surfers, he literally defies death for a living. My assignment was to find out if I, a mild-mannered TV host – could survive the brutal workout of perhaps the fittest man on the planet.
"So this work out that you're gonna put me through, it's a combination of, what? Strength, endurance, agility?" I asked him.
"Everything you're weak at, we're gonna focus on," was his discouraging answer. "If we see any kind of strengths then we're gonna avoid those areas."
He wasn't kidding -- even the warm-up would challenge my very "sole" — a barefoot stroll on the beach, over sharp shells & jagged rocks.
"You see how quickly we just [moved], how you're stimulated. I can guarantee you [are] because almost 90 percent of your nerve endings end in your feet," Hamilton explained. "So all of the sudden your breath's going. We ran 10 feet, 20 feet? "
"It seems to me that you get a lot of stimulation just coming up with ideas, ways to challenge the body," I said.
"Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said once, 'It's all about shocking your body'," said Laird.
Then he had me pull a railroad tie across the beach (see the photo gallery here to get an idea of what it looked like) — I don't recall seeing one of these at my gym.
"This might kill me," I tell Laird as I stumble up a hill with the railroad tie trailing behind me.
"Yeah, whatever it takes," he replies.
Hamilton grew up a true maverick born to surfing royalty. His step-dad, Bill was a legendary surf pioneer. But Laird eventually turned his back on the competitive tour.
"The problem with surfing is that it's an opinion oriented sport," he explained about the judging process. "I don't like my success or failure dictated by other people's opinions."
So, rather than stick with the surfing circuit, he went out and invented a career, producing incredible art films of his exploits.
"I love this quote, 'When the big waves go away, you feel like a dragon slayer that doesn't have any dragons'," I tell him.
"That's the truth," he replied. "When you're not doing what you feel that you're gifted to do, when you can't do that particular thing, then who are you and what are you doing?"
His latest passion, and my next challenge, is paddle surfing. It's, literally, surfing with a long paddle and it's exhausting, especially if you have to climb repeatedly back on the board, as I did.
But, under his tutelage, I eventually rode a wave all the way to shore — and what a thrill to do it alongside Laird Hamilton.
Finally, Laird took me for a bike ride. But, as you've figured out, it wasn't a pretty ride in the countryside. No, I rode uphill with 40-pound weights attached to the bike. And just when my lungs were about to burst, he had me hold my breath. Ow.
"You think that people are not taking enough risks and not pushing themselves enough in
life?" I ask him.
"The judgment of that is how unhappy people are and the fact there's so many people unhappy and miserable tells you they're just not living. The big part about really feeling alive is taking risks."
My feet hurt, my arms hurt, my legs hurt and I ache in places I didn't know could ache. But, as Laird says, after this workout I'm certainly feeling alive.
To see exclusive video of and read about Phil's trip to Hawaii and his hula lessons, go to page 3
Here's Phil's report about his trip to Hawaii:
Bet you didn't know that hula dancing originated with men! Hundreds of years ago, men performed the hula — it was the way ancients legends and stories were passed down the generations. Phil Keoghan was in search of the real hula, not the hip-shaking version popular at the tourist hotels. He followed an all-male hula team as they prepared and competed in the most prestigious hula competition in the world.
Says Phil: "For centuries, men performed the hula, handing down ancient stories and legends thru dance. Christian missionaries tried to kill it, but hula survived, though barely.
"The only people that could keep hula alive was those way out in the boonies, or in the caves. But hula became more of a womanized form of entertainment; when the rich tourists came in, they wanted to see these maidens doing the yahakidoodle.
"Real hula survives today thanks to guys like Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, teachers, or 'kumu,' of the hula school I ka Wekiu.
"If it takes a real man to wear a grass skirt, it takes hands of steel to make one. They have thorns all along the edge and all along the spine, so your hands get ripped to pieces.
"When we caught up with I ka Wekiu, they were about to compete in the Merrie Monarch Festival, the Super Bowl of Hula. The students had been working to perfect their routine for two years, practicing two hours a day, three to four times a week.
"It was crunch time for them — just 30 hours before the competition. It's also a time to be spiritual. On the eve of the contest, they all made a ritual visit to the edge of Kilauea —offerings are made to the goddess Pele.
"If you think hula is a gentle, swaying dance, you've not seen real hula: it's a lot of effort (I know, I tried!). As one of the dancers told me, "It's vigorous; you have to be flexible, strong, you have to have good focus. It really takes a lot — it's mentally challenging, and physically too.
"Finally, the moment of truth: the stadium's been sold out for months, a massive TV audience is tuned in across the islands — two years of hard work is about to be put to the test.
"Symmetry, timing, cultural integrity — each is a vital scoring element. The crowd loved it — but did the judges?
"As the awards are announced, fourth place, then third, then second; they're either No. 1 — or going home empty-handed.
"By a single point, the men of I Ka Wekiu, celebrate top honors!"
Watch video of I Ka Wekiu's winning performance here. And see exclusive, Web-only video here.
To learn more about the Merrie Monarch competition, click here.
To learn more about the Big Island of Hawaii, click here.