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Brandon Sewall Lives the Life Aquatic

The concept for a kelp farm came to Brandon Sewall while eating dulse.  For those unfamiliar with dulse, it is a red algae that a certain kind of health nut eats as a snack food.  For those unfamiliar with Brandon Sewall, he is a personal trainer, MMA fighter and kelp farmer—a 21st century, waspy, Jack Lalanne—who happens to be very good looking and would like you to dance more.

“Dance.  If I had to sum it up, it’s dance,” he tells me.  I asked him what regular people—those of us who are not elite CEOs who can access his personal training—could do to achieve better fitness. “I teach the whole movement spectrum.  Do what makes you feel good.”  

Brandon wears the Wool Chore Jacket (Red)

His main focus as a personal development consultant is to “help people recognize their best selves through wellness and physiological movement patterns.”  Being conscious of both helps to access information (“there’s a lot of information in your subconscious,” he says, “especially while you’re dreaming”.) Then there’s the law of cause and effect (“What you put into something is what you get out of it.  We all start with blank canvases. Well, there are dots, if you want to count DNA.”)

At the heart of Sewall’s fitness curriculum is his philosophy of Primitive Movement, much of it borrowed from the “Method Natuerelle” of Georges Hébert, an early 20th-century french phys-ed pioneer who, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that the secrets to well-being were already contained in nature.

As Sewall puts it, physical wellbeing is rooted in the 12 essential skills:  crawling, walking, running, jumping, climbing, swimming, balancing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, and combat. Dancing isn’t mentioned explicitly, but it’s a natural movement. He speaks of it as he speaks of all things, like a happy, jaunty, and youthful man from Maine (he keeps calling me “hoss”) and with full commitment.

“When people see me crawl—we were a quadrupedal species before we were a bipedal species—they give me a weird look. Well, weird to me is standing still and using one arm and looking into a mirror. That’s weird.” He might have learned about the method from Hébert, but its principles have been with him his entire life. “At 18, when I went to prep school, we hit the gym; it was boring and not my thing. I grew up on a farm and I’m ripped because I swam, climbed, and tossed hay bails.” He grew up in Bath, Maine to a shipbuilding family. “We owned the largest steel fleet in the world. I’ve got a portrait on my wall depicting a ship called the Edward Sewall, which belonged to my great-great-grandfather. It was the last steel hull to round Cape Horn.”

He played basketball for Southern New Hampshire University and after graduation in 2009, found himself in New York City and was scouted as a model (you need only look at him to see why). At the time, he was working as a personal trainer and teaching and reviving the 12 essential movements.  

“I took the typical zoo human—high-end lawyers; pompous and posh—and brought them outside, training in the rain. It dropped their shoulders, got them in shape, made them better parents, better lawyers, and better individuals because they were getting in touch with their child-like mind.”

Sewall has garnered fitness followers, but also fans of his own personal aesthetic—after all, model scouts don’t appear out of nowhere. During his time in the big city, he managed to snag an invite to the world’s most opulent party: the Met Ball (the theme was the Catholic imagination; “I think it was a satanic ritual,” he says). He also took up MMA fighting, which he has mixed feelings about, because of the violence. “Honestly it’s against my conscious evolution at the moment,” he says. But he does it regardless. “I see some fighters that don’t have that rah-rah, ‘want to kill’ mode. That’s where I resonate. After my first fight, it just brought everything more into perspective. HD. On a deeper layer, I can even see through my friends’ bullshit now.”  

The mental and the physical are connected, of course, and there are more connections to make; his philosophy extends to the world around him.  “The next step in my curriculum is what are you doing in your microenvironment—the 10-mile radius of where you live. How are you impacting your community?” It was his biosphere he was pondering, over a bag of dulse, when he decided to transform a local 25-acre salmon farm into a seaweed farm. “We’re not utilizing the whole thing. If we did it would yield over a million pounds of kelp. Right now we’re harvesting 70,000 pounds, and that’s plenty.”  

What does he do with all of that kelp? It feeds local farmers’ livestock and compost piles. But he sees kelp as an answer to a much larger global problem, namely hunger: “My dream is to be part of a group of philanthropists that filter and revive the planet and humanity with this plant—taking the crop and spreading it to third world countries and depleted soils around the globe so that people can start farming their own food.”

It’s a noble goal, and he approaches it with the same zeal and enthusiasm that he has for his own well-being. Nobody can fault him for not practicing what he preaches. True to his philosophy, he exists wholeheartedly within his 10-mile radius whether it’s with the kelp farm, promoting Heritage Days, a local festival that celebrates Bath’s shipbuilding past, or with his morning workouts by the river — “so I can be next to flowing water.” A life aquatic, lived.

John Ortved is a New York City-based writer who watches altogether too much TV.  His articles and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, the New York Times and Vogue. You can twitter him @jortved.