Michael Manzo Had a Completely Different Life Before 'Life Below Zero'

Katie Garrity - Author

Apr. 29 2021, Updated 11:53 a.m. ET

Michael Manzo
Source: National Geographic

National Geographic fans were thrilled when a spinoff of the original, wildly popular Life Below Zero came onto the scene. Life Below Zero: Next Generation is a unique take on its big brother program in that it follows Alaskans who gave up their life of comfortable modern living for the brutal and unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. 

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Next Generation follows an eclectic cast of individuals fed up with the everyday dullness of daily living, including a technologically driven society and focus on capitalism. Michael Manzo, a fan favorite, has been a breakout star this season. So, how did Michael end up on the show, and where was he before his rise to fame? We have the details below! 

Michael Manzo graduated from Alaska Pacific University.

Michael Manzo graduated from Alaska Pacific University in 2014 where he studied sustainability. When Michael was a senior, he spent the year researching freighter canoes and adapting hydrodynamic fuel-efficient designs for Alaska’s waterways. 

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Source: YouTube / Woodwork Tattoo & Gallery

Much larger than a recreational canoe, freighters are designed to transport tons of gear and supplies. “Freighter canoes were the premier work boat of the North country,” he said. He is also a designer and builder — two skills that come in very handy when you’re living in the Alaskan wilderness. 

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Michael relies primarily on natural resources to help him gather food and other necessities.

When Michael is braving the Alaskan winters, he relies on his Native knowledge. Dog teams help support him during winter hunts. He feeds his dogs salmon and meat, avoiding gasoline altogether.

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“It’s in my blood to want to build and design dog sleds and canoe. As a Miꞌkmaw Indian, culturally APU understood that,” he said. “Even though it didn’t really fit some of their academic programs, they were willing to go above and beyond to not only teach me about the natural world of Alaska … but also combine my love and interest in designing sustainable fuel-efficient subsistence boats for Alaska."

Michael was also a soldier in the past.

Before his time on Life Below Zero, Michael served with the U.S. Army. He was a member of the 84th Engineers Combat Heavy Battalion, with whom he completed three 1-year tours in Iraq. He then left the Army to attend college in Alaska. He tried his hand at a traditional business career, but soon realized it wasn't really the perfect fit for him.

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Since moving to Alaska in 2002, Michael has garnered an impressive resume. While he is a fisherman, hunter, and traveler, he is primarily a canoe builder. He is currently the co-owner and creator of Yukon Freightworks Canoe Company. On the website’s homepage, Michael took the opportunity to tell his story. 

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“After talking to a couple old canoeists in Alaska, they had described to me the “jack-ass lifts” that were used on 19 ft. Grumman square stern canoes.  When I decided to make my own lift version, I was able to go many more places with my 6 hp, and 9.9 hp motors.  They consumed very little fuel, due to the efficiency of the small motors combined with the canoe shaped hulls,” he explained. 

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Source: National Geographic

“There were a few times when I was taking water over the canoe and getting tossed around by the large waves, that I wished I had a bigger boat.  That was a great year of learning.  I fly-fished, duck hunted, dip-netted hooligan, and harvested a moose on that first year in my first motor powered canoe in Alaska. I was hooked,” he continued.

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