The internet can be deafening, choked with companies and creators clamouring for even just a second of your attention. Perhaps that’s why one Vancouver TikTokker has found success on the app by taking his followers on calming, wholesome adventures.
Ben Kielesinski, originally from Surrey's Cloverdale, moved to Vancouver’s West End in 2019. The 28-year-old downloaded TikTok on a whim on New Year's Eve that year and just 28 days later the first case of COVID-19 was reported in B.C. During the ensuing lockdown and up until now, Kielesinski has cultivated over 1.6 million followers and his videos have been liked over 23 million times.
A way to sell t-shirts
At first, the BCIT mining technology graduate saw the platform as a way to market his clothing company Wildly Apparel. Kielesinski took his earliest followers through the process of designing, printing and packaging his t-shirts before announcing he would be selling them at a market. To his surprise, people came and talked with him, some even bought a few shirts.
"It's kind of the power of TikTok,” Kielesinski said in a recent interview with Vancouver Is Awesome. “That algorithm finds you and you're like, 'oh, that person is from Vancouver... I didn't know about this market. Let's go out.'"
It wasn’t until a few months after the market that Kielesinski stumbled into what is now his niche. A friend told him about a marketing agency looking for a two-minute video to promote local travel. Taking on the challenge Kielesinski made his audition tape out of a visit and swim at Lions Bay. He edited the video through the TikTok app and posted it to his channel where it was very well-received.
"People really were commenting and being like, 'Oh, my goodness, I think that's Vancouver, I really miss it,' you know, 'I'm in the UK, we can't even go outside, we're in complete lockdown.’" Kielesinski said.
Soon after he made another video starting with his now routine catchphrase: “Want to come on an (insert adventure activity here)? Too bad. You’re coming.”
In the first video following that formula, Kielesinski took a bike ride around Stanley Park, during which he took a rather painful-looking tumble. Whether it was due to the crash or the beauty that is Stanley Park in the summertime, the video did exceptionally well.
"That was the first one where I was like, oh," Kielesinski said remembering the spike in views the video received.
A virtual chaperone
From there he started making more videos both in his apartment and showing off Vancouver and its breweries, usually sampling them along the way. Unlike many others on the app, Kielesinski’s videos are shot slower, allowing the viewer to take in the sights and sounds as if they were actually there. Being able to show off the city, especially at night is an ability Kielesinski does not take for granted though.
“I'm very fortunate to be who I am," he said. "I'm aware that I'm like a larger white man in a very liberal country in a very liberal city. And I'm able to access the outdoors in a way that a lot of people aren't able to.”
That awareness applies to Kielesinski’s videos where he takes the viewer along on hikes into forests and trails around Vancouver’s North Shore.
"It really resonated with me that a lot of people were not as fortunate as me to have access to nature, not even just because of the pandemic, just because of where they live," he said. "I like to be a virtual chaperone, as opposed to telling anybody that they can do it, and ‘you shouldn't be scared.’”
Kielesinski’s passion for the outdoors was kindled on camping trips with his dad when he was younger. Now he shares that passion with his fans, taking them on camping or kayaking trips to remote locations around B.C.
While Kielesinski was once described as an “Angsty Tom Selleck,” his followers often catch glimpses of his childlike wonder at all things natural. Like for instance, his wide grin while standing at the bottom of a roaring waterfall or his excitement at seeing a sea lion in the wild. In fact, Kielesinski had taken a break from filming a new TikTok at Lighthouse Park during his interview with V.I.A. when he cut himself off mid-sentence.
"I just saw porpoise! Oh my goodness oh there's a porpoise there!” he exclaimed. “Oh my goodness look he's just circling around that's so fun, oh there's two of them!"
More than entertaining
Through a combination of Kielesinski’s choice of music, locations, and cinematography, his guided adventures can be more than entertaining. Many have expressed in comments or direct messages their gratitude for his content as it has helped them with anxiety or other mental health issues.
"Having somebody reach out to say thank you for doing something that I love doing is the ultimate goal with anything you do," Kielesinski said. "It also made me realize how many people are struggling with that."
Through the growth of his channel, Kielesinski has been able to collaborate with other TikTok stars like Mr. Bently the Dog and the 24th most followed TikTokker in the world, Abbotsford’s own Kris Collins of @kallmekris.
The pair recently went on a hike during which they discussed their relatively newfound fame on the app.
"This all happened really quickly as most social media kind of things do," Kielesinski said. "Me trying to explain social media to like my parents is how I feel with people noticing me or being like, 'I really love your videos,' that's crazy to me -- it hasn't gone away."
With all the adventures under Kielesinski’s belt, we asked for his top Vancouver recommendations.
Top Vancouver hiking destination?
"I really really love Whytecliff Park. It's really easy to access there's the forest area the swimming is great, the wildlife is great.”
What are some ingredients that make for the perfect Vancouver hike?
"I think it should be overcast. For some reason, it just makes more sense. You should start early in the morning,” he said. “It should be very mossy, you should take it slow and enjoy the wildlife and the flora... end it all off with going to a brewery.”
As for Vancouver breweries, Kielesinski recommends one of his more recent finds, the Slow Hand Beer Company on Powell Street.