Right now Trisler is tapping his iPhone for further evidence of his extreme outdoorsmanship. He’s showing me an episode of Lost where Sawyer kisses Kate inside a helicopter and then jumps out over the ocean. I ask him to slow-mo it, but I still see only a seamless transition from the close-up of Josh Holloway’s Sawyer (shot on terra firma) to Trisler’s actual plunge 105 feet into the waters off O‘ahu’s leeward coast. “I think the producers would tell you that some of the things we did for Lost, no one had ever done,” he says. “Sometimes they were skeptical, but they got to know me and the local crew, and they knew we could get the shot and keep everyone safe. And that’s success.”
“It’s kind of a mystery, even to me.” Brian Keaulana started out as a Honolulu City & County lifeguard and has become another of Hawai‘i’s premier stuntmen as well as a director in his own right. “Stuntmen,” he says, “are actually the safest guys on the set.”
Lost’s unnamed theme park of peril was set mostly within mountain-biking distance of Trisler’s home, and he worked his way up to become the show’s stunt coordinator, a role he held for sixty-seven episodes. Throughout, he did the math to keep everything and everyone in one piece. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Trisler’s love of adrenaline means that he’s simply a gonzo risk-taker. Hypervigilance, he says, is a key attribute of a stuntman and stunt coordinator.
Trisler spent a childhood in a disciplined environment: doing chores and homework on an Indiana farm and earning a scholarship to West Point, where he won the Iron Warrior Award given to the top athlete in each class. He was a US Army Ranger based at Schofield when he first laid eyes on O‘ahu’s North Shore; there he saw a primeval challenge that enthralled him as much as Braveheart. “Now there,” he enthuses of his favorite flick, “is a movie that makes you just want to go out and be a man.” Before leaving the military, he won the worldwide Best Ranger Competition, a grueling three-day contest that pits special ops warriors from around the globe against each other.
He became a county lifeguard, and after bit parts as a swimmer in Baywatch Hawaii, he was working as a minor stuntman on the set of Pearl Harbor when Ben Affleck’s stuntman was fired suddenly. “They put him on a plane, and they lined us up and picked me to fill in. I went straight to makeup and wardrobe, and there I was doubling for Affleck in my first feature film.” He was quickly humbled when he had to throw himself shirtless into a pile of rocks for his opening action sequence. Later he landed the stunt double role for Kevin Costner’s character in The Guardian, and during shooting nearly froze to death in frigid waters off Washington when Coast Guard helicopters had difficulty picking him up. In the end that ordeal garnered him a nomination for the Taurus Award, the Oscar of the stunt world.
Trisler could be working in Hollywood for a fatter paycheck, but he reiterates that he’s not in it for the money, he’s in it to challenge himself. He’s also used the North Shore as a training ground for seven Eco- Challenges, grueling cross-continental races, one of which took him to the jungles of Borneo where he contracted leptospirosis while leading his team through the race. “The challenging stuff is where you find the essence of your soul,” he says. “The suffering reduces you to complete survival, and you find out how tough you really are.”
One day Trisler and I are at a seaside cliff where he jumped for an episode of Lost. Someone jokingly suggests he do it again. “I’m in!” he says. Next thing I know, he is positioned on the ledge; he bows his head and fans his arms into a “V.” His body arcs up, folds in midair and extends like a downward dart out of sight. I hear the splash below.
When he’s back, I ask what went through his mind before he jumped. He says he was calculating the water’s depth, thinking about just how to tuck and roll. What about prayer or meditation? I ask. He concedes that the spoiler in this business comes from within: “I call it ‘body freeze,’ where your body doesn’t want to do what your mind is telling it to do. I absolutely pray before every stunt,” he says. “Any hesitation can be deadly.”
He tells me about a recent stunt, just splashed all over the world’s cineplexes. The movie Limitless was shot in Puerto Vallarta, and Trisler doubled for star Bradley Cooper in a cliff dive that was changed from fifty feet to eighty-five feet four days before the shoot, by a producer looking to enhance the drama. Trisler could have backed out but didn’t. He estimates he hit the water headfirst at more than fifty miles per hour, “tweaking just a few cervical vertebrae,” he deadpans. It was, he says, nothing painful enough to send him to a medical doctor. I ask if he would seek relief from another notable subculture around his North Shore home, alternative healers. Beer is a better cure, he jokes, adding that he doesn’t regret taking the plunge. He doesn’t regret anything. “I just hate saying no,” he adds. “It’s kind of a mystery, even to me.”