Board of Directors Feature: Mason Gravley

American Hiking Society’s Board of Directors know a thing or two about combining purpose with passion, and Mason Gravley — a board member since 2023 — is surely no exception. An outdoor enthusiast, trail steward, and advocate for adventure, Mason shares insight into his professional background as the Lead Adventurer for Athletic Brewing Company and what that role entails on and off the trail.

POV: You’re Mason Gravley, and you’re enjoying an epic view after an incredible hike. While we didn’t get the chance to hit the trail with Mason for this conversation, we’re still grateful to have had the opportunity to pick his brain and learn more about his role at Athletic Brewing Company (a beloved sponsor here at American Hiking Society). Let’s get into it!

AHS: How did you first learn about Athletic Brewing Company?

Mason: I first learned about Athletic Brewing when I got an email from Derek, one of the first employees, who’s still here today. He and our founder, Bill, were reaching out to do an Adventure Grant together through my podcast. I was familiar with non-alcoholic beer as my dad had been drinking it my whole life, but I hadn’t learned about Athletic at that point. It was still so new. 

When I heard that they were creating non-alcoholic craft beer, it made complete sense. I first tried Run Wild IPA, and the quality and taste blew me away! I was hooked.

AHS: What attracted you to the brand?

Mason: I was first attracted to the leadership. Our founders are so down-to-earth, humble, and kind. I have always appreciated leadership that leads by example, not by force or intimidation. 

Next, I was inspired by the commitment to quality. It’s easy to cut corners as you grow a company, especially in a space no one was paying attention to. Time and time again, I did not see that happening here. We couldn’t do that. So many people had their minds made up that NA beer would be terrible. We had to change that, and the only way to do it was to be as close to perfect as possible and make the absolute best product humanly possible.

The icing on the cake was Athletic Brewing’s Two For The Trails Program, which has been in place since the company’s conception. To dedicate 2% of all revenue to trail-based projects for a company that many people thought was doomed for failure is quite a commitment. I found that very inspiring and a big part of why I wanted to join the team. I love trails, hiking, and exploring so any group of people that shared those values were friends of mine. Today Athletic donates up to $2 million annually through the Two for the Trails program.

AHS: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of starting Athletic Brewing’s Ambassador program?

Mason: After the adventure grant campaign went well, I was brought on to help run the ambassador program, which was still in its infancy. Like everything we do here at Athletic, we want to meet our community where they are and with what they want from us. Whether that’s determining what and how many brews to make or what merch to design, we want input from our growing community. Our ambassador program came out of recognizing the desire our community had to become more involved and share Athletic Brewing with others. From day one, we have built this program for them.

Early on, it was difficult to get into the ambassador program. I made the threshold too high, and the onboarding process was tedious. I had one ambassador who eventually got hired by Athletic say he had fewer interviews getting hired as an employee than he did as an ambassador!

AHS: What have been some of the highlights of managing and growing the Athletic Brewing Ambassador community?

Mason: There have been so many! We keep our community at the level where we can have a real relationship with these folks. Every person we bring on the team has passed our qualifications, and we’ve used our best judgment to determine whether they will be a meaningful and engaged part of our community. 

The highlights start with the relationships. I have so many true friends that have come from this program. That’s absolutely the best thing about growing a community. 

As far as projects, I’d have to say our coast-to-coast bike ride to celebrate the opening of our San Diego brewery was pretty epic. It was a 3,000-mile 40-day bike ride across the country with a dozen employees and ambassadors. I coordinated that adventure and drove the support van. Shoutout to another employee, Nick, for being my van mate for those 40 days. I could not have survived that without him! It was a great time going across the country, sharing Athletic brews, and meeting our community face to face. I hope one day we can run it back 😉

AHS: How has the program evolved since you started it? Any advice for those looking to join the program?

Mason: For one, I don’t run the program solo anymore. Our Ambassador Champion, Julie, is an absolute rockstar! She has helped take this program to the next level by facilitating teams of ambassadors to train and race together at our title-sponsored events nationwide. This program is called Team Athletic, and it’s one of the most important things we do. 

We have also learned that selecting ambassadors with a high social media following is not necessarily conducive to growing a genuine community. We pay much more attention to folks genuinely excited about what we’re doing at Athletic Brewing and want to be a part of it. 

Advice for folks applying: be genuine, and don’t write one-word answers in your application. Also, athletic achievements are not necessarily a part of being in the program. At Athletic Brewing, we believe that pursuing progress is essential, which looks different for everyone. 

Other ambassador projects that have evolved as the program grows have been through films. Our first film, Journey to 100, was about one of our ambassadors doing incredible adventures in the mountains, using many trails that Two For The Trails had helped fund projects on. 

Most recently, we have produced a second documentary about three of our ambassadors beating the odds and racing in IRONMAN Lake Placid last summer. We’re preparing to take this film on a screening tour before a public release in June. You can watch the trailer below:

AHS: Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience as Athletic Brewing’s Lead Adventurer, and what the role entails?

Mason: I get asked this question all the time! What does a Lead Adventurer do? I am still figuring that out! Like many startups, in the early days at Athletic Brewing, it meant doing many different things. 

As we’ve grown as a company and each role has become more specialized, my role has continued to evolve and has become a lot of going first into uncharted territory. Whenever there’s a new project or direction for our brand, I’m often the first to take a stab at figuring out how to take marketing into new spaces. From our studios to launching our college ambassador program, I’m starting from scratch and figuring out how to make it viable. My role is not necessarily to optimize everything I start but to get the ball rolling and see if it’s a space we want to continue working through.

AHS: You’re also the host of Athletic Brewing’s Take Two YouTube series! Can you tell us about the series?

Mason: That’s one of those “uncharted territories” I was talking about! I was approached with the idea of hosting a YouTube show for Athletic Brewing. I was hesitant at first, but being the Lead Adventurer and being able to chat with folks naturally, I wanted to give it a shot. 

The show is about balancing a fun and entertaining hike while interviewing celebrities (mostly) from our community to learn more about their lives and what makes them great at what they do. We go hiking because we love trails and the outdoors at Athletic. Also, something about hiking opens people up in conversation. Some of the most impactful conversations of my life have been on trails. It’s a magical place to get to know someone, including yourself.

AHS: What is your favorite thing about the non-traditional interview style of getting out on a hike with someone for the Take Two series?

Mason: Getting to hear a side of people that you wouldn’t get to otherwise. We all have an indoor and outdoor version of ourselves. Placing someone outdoors on a trail brings out unique aspects of them, usually more vibrant, happier, and energetic. 

Also, there’s so much “material” to work with in conversation. In a podcast studio, it’s a controlled environment. You don’t have many variables other than technology not cooperating, which isn’t a fun variable to deal with. However, out on a trail, anything can happen. From weather and wind to wildlife and water (wow, lots of “w”s), the unexpected is bound to happen, creating many memorable and surprising moments. 

For instance, in one of the Take Two interviews, we’re hiking along, and around the corner comes an enormous horse that we got to pet and talk to the riders for a while.

That doesn’t happen in a podcast studio unless something goes terribly wrong.

AHS: Any particularly memorable moments on these trail chats?

Mason: Every one of the hikes has had the elements of fun, sweat, insight, laughter, ice-cold Athletic brew, and beautiful scenery. Those are the best parts of life right there! Throw in a good meal, and there’s nothing better.

AHS: What are some of your favorite things to do in the outdoors?

Mason: These days, I paddleboard every chance I get. It feels very similar to hiking but on the water. It’s a slower-paced sport but has the additional element of what you might see below you as well as above the water. I love it!

I’ve also been keenly interested in paleontology & archaeology over the last few years. I’ve found some unbelievable fossils and artifacts throughout the rivers, lakes, and oceans near my home in Florida. Adding that additional layer of fascination and understanding to my outdoor excursions makes the experience that much richer. It’s so fun.

AHS: What does your ideal hike day look like?

Mason: I don’t have an ideal hike. Anytime I can be outdoors and in a natural setting and experience natural processes, I am content with it. Whether that’s backpacking through Yosemite in the spring on a clear day or laying in the grass in my yard during a light rain watching bugs move sticks around, it’s all the same connected Mother Nature to me. It’s all beautiful, it’s all sacred, it’s all a dream, and it’s all right.

A little more about Mason: Mason grew up somewhere between the swamps, orange groves, and cattle ranches of central Florida. After discovering a phenomenon called elevation through extensive backpacking and bikepacking trips in college and beyond, he settled down in the mountains of California and Colorado for nearly a decade before starting a family and returning back to Florida with a new point of view. The places we don’t always think of as hiking and wilderness destinations are precisely the places he likes to explore. The more off the beaten path, the better! It doesn’t matter if that’s central Kansas or Central Park, if it’s wild, it’s beautiful and if it has a trail to be hiked, let’s go!

Mason works as Lead Adventurer for Athletic Brewing, hosts the Take Two YouTube series, and is the sixth member of an amazing family of one endlessly fantastic partner, two small but mighty humans, and two large but gentle dogs.