Welcome to the third interview in our series of the #LIVEBYTHEAXE campaign. This series will feature some of the men involved with the brand and how they became a part of the Mad Viking Beard Team. We'll travel into their world and get to know them a little better and see what gets them passionate about life and what products they use to grow the best beard possible. If you want to know more about #LIVEBYTHEAXE and what it means check out our ARTICLE HERE on the subject. In this interview we will be jumping from one microcosmic niche, (bearding), into another, (reptiles), with the one and only Kenan Harkin!
Hi Kenan, tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Kenan Harkin. I am 47 years old, and I live in Jupiter, Florida where I have a reptile sanctuary that I’ve been building for the last 17 years. Before that I was a former professional BMX freestyle rider and an NBC Sports Analyst Color Commentator.
How early did you start, and what got you into BMX?
Man that’s, gosh going back so many years, it was 1983 and I saw a Schwinn Predator commercial on television and I just knew I had to have one of those bikes because, ya know, Return of the Jedi was all the rage in ’83 and I wanted a speeder bike and I just, for me I always tell people that BMX is, kind of, the closest that us poor kids can come to flying.
I’ve just always loved the freedom a bicycle gives you. Even to this day I just love that it’s your body and the machine and as much energy as you have, you can kind of go as far as you want, and so with BMX I did the racing thing and in ’88 I started to do more of the freestyle aspect and I’ve had some amazing successes, professionally in that sport.
I got to live at Woodward Camp just outside of State College, Pennsylvania and it was just this ultimate training ground for BMX, motocross, skateboarding, and gymnastics so I had this incredible opportunity to be around Olympians and to use that kind of mindset towards my profession of BMX. Ya know, I came about, ya know, I matured in a time of BMX when the XGames were first getting started in the early 90s – mid 90s and then, ya know, I just competed. Became the first rider to do a 360 full twisting backflip in competition and I learned a litany of like really high-level moves from using these, what would be considered a radical new training move/training device, which would be the foam pits. So, it was really cool man.
So, What led you to trade in your bikes for reptiles, or do you still ride today?
Love that sport. I still ride today but mostly cross-country mountain bike riding and I’m more into the endurance side of things because I don’t want to get broken off. Although, I still go down pretty hard from time to time. So, what are ya gonna do? Gotta live and go for it.
More realistically it wasn’t as though I traded in bikes for reptiles, the two are running themes in my life. Reptiles, predate the bikes. I was about 6 years old, my dad got me my first turtle and even before that Godzilla movies were a huge influence and precursor to me getting into reptiles. Godzilla led to dinosaurs, dinosaurs led to reptiles, and then my dad, whose wallet was hermetically sealed because I was one of seven kids, did break it open one day when I had some alone time with him. Which was also something that didn’t happen often because, one of seven kids, so if you got dad alone you were lucky. And ya know, Pop went ahead and got me the first turtle.
There has ALWAYS been a reptile in my life, even when I was riding. Living at Woodward I had turtles in fish tanks, I was always in the ponds there. I was definitely an odd duck. I was always flipping rocks looking for rattlesnakes and finding copperheads in the Allegheny Mountains. It was just a lot of fun living up there and, being an outdoorsy kind of guy that just loved animals.
I have just such an appreciation for all animals, but reptiles are so amazing to me because for most people they’re so foreign. It’s HARD for them to find a connection. It’s easy to connect to a dog, or a cat, or a mammal but reptiles have this stigma on them, and I have always been able to just look past the prejudice in all things. I really enjoy just, I enjoy the mystery of them and then I enjoy breaking down, like understanding their little idiosyncrasies.
They’re more intelligent than we give them credit for, you have to be intelligent to be on earth for millions and millions of years, in the case of turtles and tortoises 250 million years, crocodilians 300 million years. That’s impressive. There’s a prehistoric intelligence, there’s this just, this incredible intelligence that has been passed on in their genetics from the ages, from eons, that I just respect.
The more I spend time with them the more I realize that these animals DESERVE better than we’ve given them in the past. Which is why here at the camp we have large enclosures, none of my animals are in glass boxes, they’re all underneath the beautiful blue skies. These are animals that are rescues or have been surrendered from zoos that might have bred too many, so they become ambassadors here.
Tell us about Camp Kenan, how did you get started raising and rehabilitating reptiles in South Florida?
Great question, I started while I was working with NBC Sports. I bought my home here in 2004, January of 2004, so it’s been about 18 years and I came here. Prior to that I was living in Las Vegas, and I had built a pond, a beautiful koi pond, which I had some turtles and a few lizards in Vegas. But Vegas is not conducive to water, haha, it is a desert after all, and Vegas gets really, really cold so there’d be like, super sweltering hot summers and then there’d be these cold winters and it wasn’t really good. And I was so far from my family, being from the East Coast. So, I did 2 years in Vegas, bought this place, and started building it out and realizing man it’s just a NEED.
Like anyone else who got into this hobby, you buy animals and then I realized there is a NEED to educate people about them. I’m not against purchasing animals at all, but I do think that you should do your homework and that’s what, ya know, Kamp Kenan is on Youtube. It’s a way for people to, kind of, get the information. Get straight up information so that these animals can have the best possible life in captivity.
Kamp Kenan itself was kind of a fluke. Some friends of mine from the action sports world would come visit me down here and they wound up calling it Kamp Kenan. Now I used to live at Camp Woodward, so it was a natural progression that everyone knew like, “Oh, you got your own camp now, it’s like a summer camp with so many fun things to do. Snakes, lizards, gators” Ya know, it’s just an amazing fun spot. So that’s kind of how it started. So, that’s kind of what I do.
South Florida has a very conducive climate, we do have some cold days but, buy in large, it’s very conducive to raising these animals and I like to raise them outdoors.
I see there is an awesome educational aspect to everything you do at the camp. Did you start out that way or was it an evolution into that?
I grew up watching with my father Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom or National Geographic specials. I’m old enough to remember when those specials would air on ABC at like 8 o’clock on a Sunday, it was a big deal. So, whenever the wilde beast were crossing the Nile River my dad would call me in and we would watch this, ya know, carnage ensue with crocodiles eating anything crossing the river in those mass migrations.
So, I had ALWAYS been fascinated. That’s how my father and I bonded is through educational content. Ya know, he’s an old Irish guy from Brooklyn New York and I think he had dreams of being an intrepid explorer. So, he instilled in me a fascination for these animals, as did my mother, but I always wanted, kind of, to have a job on National Geographic and so with the YouTube channel it’s just the direction I went in.
I like to have fun, but I wound up just having more of this, ya know, there are a lot of guys that go sensational on the internet and on YouTube, and for me it was more about, “Hey man, let’s actually just give ‘em the facts.” And I think it’s been good.
We’re a slow and steady growth, much like the Tortoise and the Hare, and we’re doing very well. I’d rather do well for a long time than be a quick rise to, ya know, financial and super stardom and then just burn away, like fade out. I’d rather be around for a long time. And I always tease people that I’m like the Mister Rogers of Reptiles, I’m all about the facts and just living in my own little imagination land here.
Everything you see around me, basically, I’m inspired by nature and inspired by these animals so that’s what I’ve built.
I have to say, everyone here loves the YouTube channel. How much of your day does filming and editing take up or do you have someone help with that?
I, in 2010, did the Olympics in Vancouver. I was involved with the snowboarding, venue, and I worked with Universal Sports which is a subsidiary of NBC Sports. So, I met a producer there, Tom Coppola, and he’s from Connecticut and he asked me, “What’s the other thing you want to do? Is there anything else you’re interested in?” and I was like, “Animals.” So, at that point I had been on television, network television, for 11 years and he was the only producer who flew himself down and started working with me filming, making these videos.
We had some early successes with a popular channel, but I walked away from it because it was like a E! True Hollywood Story. They just wanted to just take all the intellectual property and not pay us. They thought I’d just be happy being on tv, but I had already done that for 11 years at that point. And so, I just thought, “ya know what, the internet is coming along, it’s maturing. Let’s just do it on Youtube.”
So basically, what it entails is me and Tom. Tom is the editor. When he flies down to Florida, we’ll just film a bunch of episodes. With COVID he hasn’t been able to get down as much so I just film with a GoPro and I produce.
We produce three videos a week. So, it’s a pretty good schedule. We found that’s the sweet spot. It keeps us in the algorithm and consciousness of our fans and followers and it doesn’t overwhelm me.
Like I said, we just keep it simple. We shoot these videos, usually they’re one take and then Tom edits them.
There’s always so much content going on around this house, there’s always something that needs doing. I can build something. I just have a wide range of things I show on the channel. So, people seem to respect it.
Right now, we’re at almost 700K followers on YouTube alone. And we’re doing very well on our Facebook page and on Instagram and TikTok as well. It’s been working well. It’s been good but not always, it’s not overwhelming. I still have a lot of time for my family and for riding.
Our bearded following wants to know when you started growing your beard out?
Yeah man! Well, my hair started thinning out and, ya know, I used to have really long, beautiful long blonde hair, but that kind of started thinning out, to be honest, when I was about 30. And I always had goatees or something, ya know, in the 90s I was one of those kids. Real grungy but I think in the last 10 years I realized I, kind of, matured. I just have this gnarly beard and it just it’s funny because I have blonde hair, brown eyebrows, and a red beard so I’m all mixed up, ya know.
I just started growing it out. I always had these visions of looking like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, a wizardly old man. It would have been, like, only for the last 10 years.
I’ve never been clean shaven so I would always have either the stubble or a full beard, but I’ve really been letting the full beard REALLY grow out to a good length. I just feel like, I’m a man and I feel like it’s a very, it’s a part of my body and I love it.
And it’s just kind of fun, I’ve always loved just messing with different looks so it’s fun to kind of have some variety on your face. I’ll wax my mustache; it curls up pretty good. But I like to keep it somewhat neat, and I do that for my wife as well as myself. So probably the last 10 years I’ve been really playing with the beard thing.
What does Mrs. Harkin think about the longer beard?
Yeah, Mrs. Harkin, that’s tough man. I think they say that wives are the reason most beards die, most beards get shaved. My wife likes it a certain length, but it gets to a point where it starts looking a little too, haha, a little too Norsemen she gets a little concerned.
I didn’t have the beard when we met, it was much stubbly-er so she’s like “I didn’t marry this guy, who is this guy?!” She’s good but once she starts making out with me and the moustache hairs get in her mouth, that’s when I gotta trim up. That’s kind of what she thinks of it, I gotta keep it a little more trimmed, rather than feral.
What is your go to for beard products? Do you like to keep it simple, or do you have a routine?
What I like to do is, every couple of days I use the beard and body soap bars from Mad Viking, love those, really lather it up. I kind of treat it like when I had a lot of hair.
You don’t want to shampoo every day, you just allow natural waxes and oils, to kind of ferment, if you will. What I’ll do is every couple days just get it a good deep cleaning and then I immediately out of the shower towel dry it and then just, get some of your Mad Viking Beard Oil on there.
I love Fjord and The Hollow, they’re great scents that I love, and you guys have made sure that I’m going to be oiled up. Man, I am filled with oil here so I’m good. I’m lovin’ it. Yeah, I like to oil it up.
If I’m going to go out, I’ll oil and then I’ll put a little beard balm on and if I’m feeling really fancy some of the moustache wax, it really holds this moustache into place, and I like that. Sometimes I just give it a curl, other times I just like to kind of whisp it back, to give the moustache a backwards sweep, which I think is kind of dignified. Plus, when I’m riding my bike, it naturally does that when I hit some serious speeds, man.
What brought you over the Mad Viking way of life?
So, it was really cool, the way I met up with the Mad Viking crew. I’ve always loved Viking beards. I just think the Norse had some really cool beard styles, they tended to their beards. When you think of the manliest of men you think Vikings. These were sea faring pirates that just went where they wished and had a devil may care attitude, I suppose. And many other people thought they were the devil when they came over the horizon. There’s something romantic about, ya know, a burly beard.
And so what led me here on my Instagram, Dennis Morgan, one of your sponsored beard athletes, beardsman there, said, hey listen you were using some product from a defunct, I was wearing a t-shirt from a defunct beard brand and he got me hooked up with Mad Viking and it’s just the coolest thing because it really is just, they provide me with some really cool quality products and I’m happy to say over the last few years that we’ve become friends.
They’ve been to the house, Jason, great guy, and it’s just been a lot of fun to just be a part of that, to have another subculture for myself to kind of appreciate and be a part of. We got reptiles, and we have bikes, and now beards, man. It’s been such a fun evolution here hanging out with everybody. I love it.
You guys also have probably the best gift giving I’ve ever gotten. You sent me one of those Othala limited edition axes, man. Incredible. I think I love The Hollow too as far as my “go to” scent. I really love The Hollow.
It was an amazing opportunity to come see camp Kenan and meet you and all the animals. Thanks for sitting down with us and letting everyone get to know you a little better!
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this little story on me and I appreciate everyone out there who cares about what we’re doing here with the animals. So, check out my YouTube channel, go on Instagram, follow Kamp Kenan there and on Facebook. In the meantime, I’ll probably see you guys down the road at a beard event or at a badass barber shop where I’ll be getting a trim. So, thanks so much and let’s go Berserk. See ya, guys!
If you would like to check out more from Kenan, you can explore the links below. Until next time. #LIVEBYTHEAXE