In the mid-2000s, Mark Hunter Aka The Cobrasnake made himself a star by being the kind of guy you’d love to party with. People liked him; he had that oh-so-hard-to-define “positive energy.” This good vibe got him invited to the coolest clubs and the best parties in Los Angeles. The term back then was “club kid” and he was an icon of the scene.
Hunter was also a young, aspiring photographer with a digital camera. He began taking pictures and uploading images of his friends online. In this halcyon era, before smartphones allowed everyone to document their wildest nights on Instagram, it was a novel idea. His site exploded with intoxicating images of youth, drugs, and unbridled sexuality. Before we called them social influencers, Hunter was scoring shots of all the beautiful people — models, actors, musicians, and promoters.
The dude took off as a photographer. Literally hit the stratosphere. He launched careers and started trends. He was there, on the dance floor, taking pictures of people like Katy Perry and Steve Aoiki before they were famous. For years, he partied, took photos, and posted them; rinse and repeat.
But eventually Cobrasnake — as he was then known by just about everyone in LA — started to feel burnt out with the lifestyle. He wasn’t healthy. Besides, times and technology had shifted. It felt like the party was ending, and he didn’t want to be the last one standing alone on a sticky dance floor. Hunter began running and hiking. And he got healthier but he still wanted to be social. He still yearned for a community of cool people, doing cool things without caring about how anyone saw them. He wanted to be on the edge again.
From this idea — party scene meets a passion for health — Hunter created a crew of like-minded people. This time, it was centered around healthy activities instead of nights out. He called it the Cobra Fitness Club, and it immediately started gaining traction. It turns out people wanted to find the fun in the outdoors, they wanted to laugh while running LA’s famous canyons, and they wanted a different sort of party.
Hunter may have started his career out documenting parties, but at some point he became the party. He’s the draw for 30 people to throw on music and dance up a mountain. Cobra Fitness Club carries a cultish fascination because Hunter draws people in, and makes them feel a part of something. 10 years ago, he was letting the world in on a secret subset of cool kids, letting us peek behind closed doors at the wild nights of the young and the beautiful. Now, he’s asking us to come follow him out of the dark clubs into the light. It’s a new dawn, as he sees it, and every bit as fun.
I talked to Mark recently about how running, hiking, and getting into shape has affected his lens on the world, and how it has inspired a movement that takes his love of a good party and combines it with working out.
What made you want to start a fitness club?
My background is as a photographer. I was heavy in the nightlife scene, touring with Steve Aoki and Katy Perry and Jared Leto, and traveling nonstop. And after years and years and years of that, I just didn’t feel great. And I was wondering why, ’cause I was still young and fun, but my body just wasn’t happy. So I decided to push myself to go hiking. I live in LA, and right by Runyon, and so I made that part of my routine, to go up the mountain pretty much every day.