Brad Ludden

Founder of First Descents and Stoke Broker


Whitefish, MT


Whitefish, MT

Brad was born at the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, and raised in the Rockies of Northwestern Montana. His days have always been spent outside — through all four seasons, across continents, and on some of the world’s most remote rivers, charting unexplored territory. An avid pilot, skier, outdoorsman, and whitewater kayaker, Brad most enjoys watching the sun rise and set in places where he feels small and insignificant against the backdrop of extraordinary adventure. It is in the heart of the wild, natural moment that Brad comes alive.

He is a former professional whitewater kayaker, the founder of First Descents, a nonprofit organization that provides free, life-changing outdoor adventures to young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions, and the founder of Stoke Broker, a company that creates life-defining outdoor adventures and is wholly owned by and in support of First Descents.

Life Motto: What could possibly go wrong?

Top Adventure Bucket-list Objective: Spend some time in Iceland skiing and surfing!

What inspired you to start First Descents?

A few things came together which inspired me to start FD. In short, as a young professional whitewater kayaker, I knew that adventure could be profoundly healing, and after seeing my Aunt take on her own fight with cancer, I realized there were a lot of people in the world who could benefit from a good adventure. It was those two realizations that inspired me to create adventure experiences for young adults with cancer and deliver them free of charge. That was back in 2001 and started with weeklong whitewater kayaking adventures for a handful of young adults with cancer. Since then we have expanded to provided a wide range of outdoor adventures to thousands and thousands of young adults impacted by cancer and MS all over the country and even the world. And just this year, in response to the impact the pandemic has had on the frontline healthcare workers, we've started offering outdoor adventures to them as well. 

What are a few simple ways other can contribute, or make a positive impact in the outdoor community?

I believe it starts with the simple awareness that anyone who enjoys recreating in the outdoors is in a great position to be a steward for them. Whether that's joining a local organization which protects your favorite river, volunteering for a non profit that introduces people to the outdoors or identifying a need and starting your own company or organization to fill it. The outdoors don't have a voice, so it's on us to speak up for them and defend them. And while many of us take our ability to enjoy the outdoors for granted, there are so many people who don't have that opportunity but who could benefit from it. In short, I believe that enjoying the outdoors comes with the responsibility to do more than just enjoy them for yourself, and filling that responsibility will make your experience in the outdoors that much more meaningful! 

What are your three favorite rivers to show others?

  • The Lochsa River, Idaho
  • Kootenai River, North America
  • Zambezi River, Africa

At Stio we believe balance is the key, how do you practice balance in your day to day life? 

I try to find time each day to be still, quiet and grateful. This usually means being alone, outside and surrounded by the beauty of our natural world.