SFU alum Stephen Hui reaches new peaks with book on hiking

The Peak sat down to interview Stephen Hui about his book, photography, Justin Trudeau, his undergrad years, and everything in between.

Stephen Hui, photo courtesy of SFU Public Square

By: Winona Young 

Fast Facts

  • Name: Stephen Hui
  • Pronouns: He / him / his
  • Departmental affiliation: Geography Major (graduated in 2003)
  • Work experience: Former journalist, communication lead for Pembina Institute
  • Star and Chinese Zodiac sign: Scorpio, Year of the Sheep
  • Instagram handle: @stephenhui
  • Fun fact: Stephen once skipped a day of high school to hike around Burnaby Mountain with friends.

As I sat down to interview SFU alumni Stephen Hui from halfway across the world, us both waiting as the Skype screen began to load, both the distance and the differences between us seemed monumental. There was him, an SFU alum, an Actual Adult with a new book fresh off the press, and me, an SFU undergrad with no achievements anywhere near his. But as our talk went on and I listened to what almost seemed like a disembodied voice from my computer speakers, I learned a few things about Stephen Hui. He was eloquent and concise, with a good sense of humour to him. Sometimes he spoke in incomplete sentences. Most importantly, he’s a shining example of the success that an SFU student can achieve with just their words in tow.

Hui recently published his new book, 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia. Hui is a hiker, a former Peak news editor circa 2002, a photography enthusiast, and an environmentalist, whose success in a variety of fields began right at SFU.

 

Of publications and professions

Hui began by telling us what to know about his book, 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia:

“It’s a follow up to a longstanding guide, 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia, [written by Mary and David Macaree], but it’s a completely new book, not a new edition,” he said. Hui explained that he started from scratch, and listed his favourite hikes in virtually all cardinal directions of Vancouver. Overall, his book is a collection of hikes, ranging widely from easy hikes to the more exercise-centric and hardcore sorts.

Writing a book had always been a dream of Hui’s, but Hui’s love for writing does not predate his passion for the environment. Hui currently works as the communications lead for the environmental non-profit think tank, Pembina Institute. The organisation focuses on climate change solutions, of which he stresses the importance.

“Climate change is one of those issues that’s all around us, and the truth is actually worse than the public actually understands, so there’s a lot that needs to be done,” he said.

Hui confessed that it was his passion for the environment that led him to SFU.

“I went to SFU for a geography degree, but ended up in journalism,” he said. “It’s nice after all these years to end up working at an environmental organization.”

Looking at the articles he’s published throughout his career, Hui thought his transition to writing his own book was a natural progression.

“Obviously the book is way bigger than anything I’ve tried to write,” Hui admitted. “So it was a different level of stress and procrastination, but it kinda makes sense in the whole journey.”

Hui’s writing career actually started at SFU, where he wrote photo-features and album reviews for The Peak, and worked as the news editor.

“The Peak was a ton of fun . . . it was a kind of a golden time,” he reflected.“It was before blogs had really taken off, while student were still reading print and people on campus read what was in the paper . . . and I made a lot of friends there, and some of them are still friends today.”

Hui went on to write for The Toronto Sun, The Georgia Straight, The Huffington Post, and later freelanced as a journalist writing for a variety of other publications. One highlight from Hui’s journalism career was issuing a challenge to Justin Trudeau (or, as Hui referred to him, “Justin from the Block”) and Green Leader Elizabeth May to hike the Baden-Powell Trail. When asked if Trudeau ever took him up on his challenge, Hui laughed in response. He provided an explanation for why he “challenged” Trudeau in the first place.

“When Trudeau was running for prime minister, he was pulling off the old tricks like his dad,” he explained. “Pictures in newspapers: canoeing, hiking . . . stuff to make him seem young and manly, and puerile, and I remember he hiked the Grouse Grind during the campaign, and I was making fun of that.”

Suffice it to say, Justin from the Block did not take up Stephen Hui’s challenge. This may have been for the best, because Hui had his hands full with his own hiking.

 

A “Hiking Expert”

Given the title and content of his book, it should be no surprise that Stephen Hui is all about hiking.

Hui’s passion for hiking began in high school, on a week-long backpacking trip organized by the school. Back then, Hui would buy disposable cameras and bring them on his trips. Photography and hiking, so far, have always been intertwined for him.

“I love catching a sweet landscape, you know, getting that right timing at sunset or sunrise,” Hui said. “Photography is about getting pictures you can’t normally see, or people can’t see . . . it’s always interesting.”

A pro-tip from Hui on landscape photography: focus on the framing, get the widest shot possible, and make sure there are no unnecessary elements in the photo. Take it from Hui’s Instagram. But, at the end of the day, practice makes perfect.

Aside from photography, Hui has many other favourites in the realm of hiking. Currently, his favourite hike covered in this book is Cheam Peak, over in Fraser Valley. One of his favourite trips of all time was going on a 10-day backpacking trip on the Sunshine Coast Trail, which spans a whole 178 km. When asked, Hui jokes that his favourite part about hiking is getting away from other people. He continued: “I actually like to hike with other people as well, [just] not in huge groups. Part of it is the solitude, getting away from the city, kinda reconnecting with nature, and breathing the fresh air.”

As for what a Stephen Hui hiking soundtrack would look like, Hui mentioned a wide range of artists that would make the list. His soundtrack included tracks from Counting Crows, Taylor Swift (“Bad Blood” in particular), aggressive nineties gangster rap, all the way to Ben Howard’s “Old Pine.”

 

SFU Student Life and Life In General

It being over a decade since his years as an undergraduate at SFU,  Hui had a lot to reminisce and reflect on. He certainly knew one way he’s grown since his undergrad years.

“Well, I realise how little I knew back then,” Hui said.I remember being an undergrad . . . you know a ton of stuff, you think, right, but a lot of what you know comes from time and experience. I’ve learned so much since then, and in a lot of ways I’m the same and a lot of ways I’ve changed.”

We asked Hui if he had any words of wisdom to pass on, and his advice was refreshingly frank.

“Well one would be, don’t listen to me,” he said. “Older people have experience, people have different kinds of experience. . . but basically everyone’s faking it. . . I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, I’m flying by the seat of my pants.”

Later, he recommended that you do what you love, and that you speak in full sentences. Still, he assured me that while others may look like they have their whole life figured out, they probably don’t. “So, they’re no better than you,” he concluded. Hui continued this train of humility by bringing back the spotlight to himself. “What makes me a hiking expert, what is a hiking expert anyways?” he questioned. “It’s kind of a ridiculous thing .  . . I’m walking in the woods and enjoying [hiking], but I’ve done it enough that I get to talk about it,” he said. “It’s a little weird.”

Still, Hui’s book seems to demonstrate some expertise. 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia is available in bookstores now.

 

For a review of Stephen’s book, check out our Arts section!