WHY I: PROFESSIONAL CLIMBER IMOGEN HORROCKS

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19-year-old professional climber Imogen Horrocks, the former British Bouldering Champion (a title achieved at only 14 years old) is palpably excited when telling me about her recent expedition to The Rocklands, South Africa. Accompanied by her coach Robin O’Leary, Imogen made the trip to South Africa with the goal of topping her highest-grade bouldering route to date and by doing so establishing herself as a real force in the sport. The Rocklands is an iconic bouldering location, famed for its endless rock formations that stretch as far as the eye can see. Whilst the trip was filled with many accomplishments, Imogen had her eyes set on ‘The Hatchling’ named after its broken egg shell like appearance.

At 19 years old, this was no easy feat for Imogen and working alongside Robin over the course of a few days she would eventually pull all the pieces of the puzzle together and make the grade. Accomplishing her first V11/8a grade climb is a mile stone in her career as a climber but it is just the start for this incredibly talented young athlete from the UK.

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IMOGEN AT THE DOCKLANDS, UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF COACH ROBIN O’LEARY

Starting climbing at just 12 years old, transitioning from swimming, Imogen is now representing the senior GB squad, and with an 8A climb firmly under her belt, has her sights set on achieving more 8A’s, and gaining more outdoor experience.  “It’s like a completely different sport almost, it’s very different to indoors and comp” she begins. “(The Rocklands) was a brand-new thing for me really…”.  Under the mindful eye of her coach Robin O’Leary, with whom she had “been planning to go for like 2 years”,

“I got quite frustrated. it took about 3 sessions to do it, I was hoping to get it done a little bit quicker”.  

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Anyone who has attempted any of the climbing disciplines themselves has a semblance of knowing the amazing challenges this exciting sport provides.  With success in climbs and competitions balanced often of the straining sinews of millimetres of finger tips and toes, Imogen explains that the greatest reward for her climbing is “the feeling of getting to the top of a really hard problem, or a hard move… when you’ve done them, not necessarily in a comp, but just the feeling of doing a problem that was really hard or really cool, it feels really good”. 

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As a team GB athlete adding World Cup competitions to her name, Imogen begins that her key goals for climbing are to “make a World Cup semi (final) and hopefully a final, and my outside dream is to do 8b or slash 8b.” As well as popping up on popular TV shows like Total Ninja, Imogen’s athletic prowess clearly capturing the minds of TV producers, The Rocklands climb is clearly a great achievement for Imogen. Laughing as she tells me that when she finally made the climb, she and coach Robin “were both pretty psyched, I went out and treated myself to some pudding!’.  

With climbing becoming increasingly popular, with climbing facilities, training camps and high-profile athletes gaining notoriety worldwide, Alex Honnold’s recent free-solo (rope free) ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite being named by many as arguably the greatest athletic feat by a human being ever, climbing’s trajectory and popularity is clearly on the rise.  With Imogen diversifying her options as a climber, I ask her, with climbing now included into the next Olympics in Tokyo Japan, if that is a goal of hers?

“Obviously, the Olympics is everyone’s goal.  I’m not sure about the first one because obviously it’s mixed*, but hopefully if they split it in the following Olympics, then I’d be psyched to try and get strong for that.”

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Citing American professional climber Kyra Condie as one of her greatest inspirations, I ask Imogen how she feels about potentially being inspiration for younger girls herself now? “I hope to inspire younger children, or girls in general and guys” she admits.  With a career trajectory already on an impressive incline, it’s clear Imogen Horrocks is firmly on the ascent.

 

*The format for the first climbing competition in the Olympics is that the athletes must participate in 3 seperate climbing disciplines, speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. At the Games, each climber will compete in all three disciplines, with the final rankings being determined by the combined results.

Check out Imogen sending The Hatching below!

 

 

HEAD CHEF ZOE KING FROM POTENCY'S VEGAN EXPRESSO + RAW CACAO CARDAMON BREAD

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Talented chef Zoe King, owner of POTENCY whose unbelievably delicious, healthy and moreish delights I have been lucky to experience on two private Mad To Live Retreats projects, with Seafolly in Salcombe and The North Face in Croyde, is a woman with a knack for the extraordinary when it comes to food.

As a mother of a child with a variety of intolerances, Zoe found it difficult to find healthy, tasty snacks to sustain the whole family that weren’t highly processed or filled with preservatives. Taking from her knowledge as a chef and extensive practice of holistic nutrition, Zoe got to work experimenting in the kitchen.

Whilst many of her more important ingredients are organic, she also believes in sourcing local produce. At both the Seafolly and The North Face private retreats, guests enjoyed menus busting with local flavours and sugar-free desserts.

With Zoe’s banana bread going down a particular storm, I managed to snag the recipe from lovely Zoe. Check it below!


Vegan Espresso + Raw Cacao Banana Bread with Tahini Cashew Cream + Cherry Cardamom Compote

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Banana Bread

Ingredients

225g plain gf flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp espresso powder dissolved in 3 tbsp water

3 tbsp raw cacao powder

350g very ripe bananas (weight without skins, roughly 5 bananas)

80g coconut sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

80ml plant-based milk

100g coconut oil melted

Method

1. To make the banana bread, grease a loaf tin with coconut oil and line with a strip of parchment paper, so that the ends hang over the long sides of the pan (this makes removal of the cake a lot easier) and preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan)

2. Place the flour, baking powder, salt, and the cacao into a bowl and whisk together to combine.

3. Place the banana into a large bowl and use a fork to mash, until just a few small lumps remain. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together until smooth and uniformly combined. 

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4. Pour the flour mixture over the banana mixture and gently fold together, mixing until the flour is just combined, but being very careful not to over mix, as this will make the bread chewy and tough. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. 

5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out just about clean. 

6. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before carefully inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely. Kept wrapped in clingfilm in a sealed container this cake will keep for up to three days but can also be frozen for up to a month, in slices for whenever you fancy a piece.

7. Assemble slices with a drizzle of cashew cream and a spoonful of cherry compote.

Tahini Cashew Cream

Ingredients

1 handful cashews

280ml water

4 medjool dates, pitted

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp tahini


Blend all ingredients thoroughly in a nutribullet or blender. 

Store leftover cream in the fridge for 3 days.

Cherry Cardamom Compote

200g frozen cherries

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp sweet freedom

seeds of 3 cardamom pods, crushed

Place the cherries in a pan and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes until syrupy. 

Add the crushed cardamom seeds, vanilla, and sweet freedom.

Store in a jar in the fridge for 5 days.

NEW ALL-WOMEN'S SNOWBOARD MOVIE "LISTEN TO THE EYES"

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My snow fever has gone to another level now, I am so stoked to see new all-chicks snowboard movie Listen To The Eyes featuring two of my all-time favourite riders, Hana Beaman & Leanne Pelosi with Mary Rand. With a soundtrack by the one and only Leanne Curren, shot on Kodak 16mm, I loved every second of this all-girl charge fest.

With frothy pillow lines, slow-mo sends, and giant hucks off natural terrain backcountry booters, the ladies riding that shows just why they have been at the forefront of progression in women's snowboarding the last decade.

Check the full movie above and let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

A VERY SPECIAL ADVENTURE IN DEVON

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In September I was proud to share the announcment of a brilliant project which would enable 6 women to come on a very special adventure with me to a place which has long held meaning in my heart…

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As part of the New Explorer initiative with The North Face, I looked back to the places, the people, which had inspired me along my journey to founding my business, Mad To Live. Having spent my formative years adventuring and surfing in Devon, it was on one of my many trips the seeds were sown for me to develop the courage to create my business. I cared and continue to, passionatly, about giving more girls and women access to the joys and happiness of exploration, of the outdoors, and of forging meaningful new friendships.

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And so with our 6 winners, we headed to Croyde, Devon, a place with deep meaning in my heart, for a special adventure. We exploried the wild outdoors, hiked through the National Trust ragged and raw lands, explored cold waters, and joined in yoga practice and meditation.

The natural beauty of this area has long galvanised and inspired me, and getting to share this with 6 brilliant women who I was lucky to spend time with on this weekend, was really a special experience.

We were stoked to score great surf conditions on the first day, and as we stretched out into a candle lit practice by Mad To Live head yoga teacher Lucy Sweeney, plus an intention setting of exploration, the days adventure was happily embedded in our hearts.

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The soulful act of breaking bread together after a days adventure is always a personal highlight of mine on Mad To Live, with POTENCY providing an unbelievable spread every day.

From harissa and manchego omlettes, to expresso banana bread with cherry cardamon compote and tahini cashew cream (recipe coming soon to the blog!), pulled smokey BBQ jackfruit burgers with winter slaw, whole roasted cauliflowers with creamy carvolo nero, butterbean mash, mushrooms and chesnuts to sweet potato and fig pancakes, the post-adventure hungry souls were well nourished through the weekend. Bonding over dining is something I have loved through out my life, and the enjoyment of food, of it’s nourishment, and over sharing it with friends something I always look forward to.


Check out the full edit of the weekend, and check out more on Thermoball and The North Face here.

It also made me think about what I stand for now, and I penned a few words…

What do you stand for?

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I've heard this sentence a few times this year and it has resonated, both in the back of my mind, and with powerful, firey prominence at it’s front.


The Mad To Live journey started with a kernel of an idea around 5 years ago. What has organically evolved since then is a global mission I am passionate about to the core. I become more entrenched in it, reaching more and more women, and men, around our righteous planet, connecting with and sharing both playful and fun,and more meaningful and emotional stories, in a physical capacity with @madtoliveretreats and through my writings and adventures.The nucleus of the mission and message of being sharing a positive message of empowerment for women through creative adventure in the Great Outdoors, exploration, play, being yourself and the meaning in finding powerful friendships and bonds between women is and always be the crux.

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These impactful moments, relationships, encounters, and connections I have had with other women through Mad To Live, and knowing if it has in anyway, big or small, resonated or impacted, brings me so much it's hard to word. I guess I just had in my wildest dreams a hope those who connected with it would find some meaning, fun or feel good in any kinda way.

So now, a few years down the line, I've been lucky to share the adventure with quite a number of women now, and what I stand for becomes something I am proud to stomp 2 boot clad feet tall and loud about, and unabashedly convey and project what we believe, and that I am hell-bent on it. I want more women and girls to feel strong, happy and powerful through living a life of Mad To Live, and naysayers or guffaw-ers along the way should step aside, because there ain't no stopping us…













SOPHIE ANNOUNCED AS A FACE OF THE NORTH FACE: NEW EXPLORER PROJECT

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I am so stoked to share that I have been announced as a face of the new The North Face “New Explorer” campaign. What is especially exciting is that through this campaign, we have announced now that I will be taking 6 women on a very special retreat to explore Putsborough, a surfer’s paradise and location very close to my heart.


It was out here, on many a trip, as a teenager, young adult, the woman I am now, seeds were sown for my vision of pursuing creating Mad To Live, and opening this up to women around the world.

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Check out the campaign video below, and enter the competition HERE to win a place on this very special retreat…

FIRST WE SURF, THEN WE EAT: BOOK REVIEW + RECIPES

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  Jim Kempton

Jim Kempton

As any surfer might tell you, a highlight of any surf trip is often the post-session feasting which will typically transpire after a long surf, the result of which being a ravenous appetite. One of the joys of surfing is arguably experiencing the richness of cultures of the surf destination, and that experience is often characterized by the cuisine of that spot.

Surfer Jim Kempton has a CV resplendent in surfing, travel and cookery. The California restauranteur, one-time Editor of the illustrious Surfer Magazine and Director of Media for Billabong, and, if the book is anything to go by, quite simply just a surfer with a simple taste for delicious, uncomplicated cuisine, recently published First We Surf, Then We Eat: Recipes From a Lifetime of Surf Travel, which marries together surf and cooking in a way surfer’s know so well. Sharing rich anecdotes that only someone with a lifetime of surf travel would have alongside each recipe, interspersed by photographs courtesy of famed surf photographer Jeff Divine, First We Surf, Then We Eat isn’t just a killer cookery book, but reads as an incredibly personal, near biographical look at surfing and some of it’s most celebrated personalities over the years.

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PIpeline, by Jeff Divine

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As we can see from Jim’s extensive travels through regions including Central and South America, Hawaii, The Pays Basque and Indonesia, the beauty of the cooking of many of these naturally flavourful regions’s larders (fresh fish, herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits) is in it’s simplicity. And when you find out that some of the recipes come from infamous legends from surfing folklore including Donald Takayama, who’s Teriyaki sauce you have access to in First We Surf, Then We Eat, and a banana bread from Tavaua Island, Fiji, which was apparently inhaled in one such was it’s tastiness by World Tour surfer Jordy Smith in front of Jim. Want to know Kelly Slater’s Bajan surf-mum’s homemade Caribbean seasoning recipe, wolfed up by the likes of Kelly on his many trips to Barbados (at one of his favourite breaks, Soupbowl)? Renowned charger Bethany Hamillton (of Soul Surfer fame)’s papaya nut smoothie? The best steak in the world, divulged to Jim by Maui firefighters and cowboys? Enclosed within the pages of First We Surf, Then We Eat, hungry friends.

The gastronomic global tour of First We Surf, Then We Eat is artfully punctuated by the story-telling behind the scenes of each recipe. Surfers and non-surfers alike will love the variety of recipes which aren’t overly complex: the beauty in it is the unfussy combination of the fresh ingredients

Jim has shared a few of his favourite recipes below, including poke bowls and Mai Tais!

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WHY I: SOPHIE HELLYER

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Sophie Hellyer is a woman on a mission.  The Westward Ho!, Devon raised surfer has been the poster child for British surfing during her career as a competitive athlete, contracts with global-leading surf brands, magazine covers and competition wins making for an illustrious career that has seen Sophie raise the profile of Britain’s surf industry and been a well-known, and liked, face of it.

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But it’s Sophie’s work post-surfing career that has been stoking embers of positive change. Passion projects causing ripples, nay, surges, within the traditional notions of surf culture, sexism, feminism, environmentalism and more. Her seeringly honest and candid style of writing cuts to the chase, prompting wider conversation with change and impact. 

Settle down for a read with the charging force of change, Sophie Hellyer. 

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Sophie Hellyer’s career since turning pro as a surfer more than 15 years ago started with a typical trajectory.  A talented surfer travelling the world, popping up regularly in campaigns and covers, a blue eyed, blonde-haired image of a female surfing pro we are typically familiar with.  During this writer’s time working full time for a popular women’s surfing magazine, Sophie was a familiar face within our pages, her notable talents as a surfer paired with an honest interest in the world around her making for a popular read with our audience.

Fast forward to 2018, and Sophie has been boldly questioning, quashing, even attacking traditional (sometimes damaging) perceptions of not just women within surfing, but our larger impact on the world around us, and what it means for our environments and more.   A prominent broadsheet’s misquoted article (entitled “Surf Star Sophie Hellyer Lets Rip At Bikini Sexism” published earlier this spring) seemingly poured gasoline over already crackling embers.  Sophie’s work since then has prominently appeared on widely read global platforms and broadsheets including The Independent and The Inertia, discussing topics which have been glaringly obvious and often taboo within the world of surf and sport culture, and on a wider platform, of sexism & feminism. 

The media squall ensuing the well-publicized misquoted article led to, Sophie explores, “two key positives.  It opened me up to new platforms. I had the opportunity to go on BBC’s Women’s Hour on Radio 4, and I wrote my first piece for The Independent (I’ve had 3 or 4 pieces published with them now).” Furthermore, she adds, a critical positive impact was “it really challenged me to grow and understand a lot more about intersectionalfeminism…Yes, the gender pay gap between men and women is large, but if you look at the pay gap between white women and women of colour, that’s also quite large.  So I’ve had to learn a lot more and understand my position and my privileges a lot more, it’s been great.”

“I understand now that there’s so much more work that needs to be done, and me, as a privileged white woman, needs to do my piece and step-up and take responsibility”.   

It’s that deeper look at the root causes, at the more fundamental issues at play and how exactly change can be implemented which is seeing Sophie’s status rise as an authentic voice and champion within her respected topic areas.  “I have been writing about everything from gender disparity, periods, to wanking (ha-ha)…and social injustices that need to be addressed.  I’m in a position that I can speak up about and kind of, make some changes. I think that so much stuff that is taboo needs to be normalised. I’ve posted things like my sexual health check-ups.  I’m a woman, I have sex.  I think it’s important.” 

“Stuff like that needs to be normalised.  Nearly every time I meet someone I’ll openly say in a conversation I have therapy…There’s a shame and a stigma attached to having counselling, and I think every single person I know ends up having some kind of therapy.  Mental health is really something that needs to be talked about as well.”

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Tracing the path to this progressive nature of her work when Sophie left Australia where she was based, moving to an organic-farm in Ireland, growing her own for 4 years where she explores “I guess I became more aware of things…I really started becoming aware of plastic issues and then obviously growing my own food and living on an organic farm, environmental awareness just sky rocketed.  Because of that I said to my sponsors that I was only going to travel by land and sea to shoots…

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The resulting consequence of that was that I would only surf in a wetsuit for photos, because it’s ridiculous that we’re only ever modelling in bikinis anyway.  We don’t wear bikinis in the UK and Ireland (to surf).” 

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Sophie ripping

Whilst in Ireland too, a deeper look into surf culture whilst attending the Irish Surf Film Festival (“A great event, the organisers are amazing”) Sophie was shocked to see that “in the shorts, out of all the shorts entered, there wasn’t a single film made by a woman. No female directors, no female film makers, there’s no film about a woman, and out of all the waves ridden in all of the shorts there was only one wave ridden by a woman. Whereas actually, there's a lot of women surfing Ireland, surfing well…”. Fiery editorial and work since has championed the need for more of these stories, for more of these women to be represented and shown in the wider media. 

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With Sophie’s work published on some of the world’s largest surf-culture media outlets, she admits, “putting it out to the masses is dangerous”.  The double-edged sword of having a wider audience, yet the dangers of being exposed to trolling and worse, comes hand in hand with working as a writer and having your work published on the digital-sphere.  Sophie begins “I really try to not react to things… most people who say something negative I try engage in a conversation.

Having strong opinions on something is for me the interesting part.   How you got to that, what was your thought process, I want to understand why you think like that.”

“I want to understand the process of how you got there, and then maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere.   Maybe you’ll change my mind, maybe I’ll change your mind.” 

This refreshing outlook is understandably, gaining Sophie a loyal legion of readers tuning into her work.  If those questioning whether or not stimulating conversation and voicing an alternative view can have impact and make change, only have to look at the recent case of an image that went viral of a male and female athlete on the podium of a surf competition.  The gross disparity between their winning pay checks starkly apparent, with 50% less earnings for the female champion.  The backlash from that powerful image was immediate, such can be the power of the internet and social media.  Sophie agrees, adding “obviously, the public saw the issue and it was widely shared and discussed, and there have been some changes.   The sponsor steps in and says we will match it and only sponsor events with equal prize for equal title, change, boom, done, so I think we’re seeing change much more quickly now, with the speed of social media.”. 

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And now, just last week, we have seen monumental change within the surfing industry.  Not only being the first sport to announce equal pay for its male and female athletes in WSL (World Surf League) controlled events, the viral announcement has sent positive shockwaves within the global sporting landscape, a clear indication of the powerful precedent that discussion, that relentless drive can yield.  Sophie agrees, asserting that “

“The WSL’s U-turn decision the pay parity is massively down to the tireless activism of CEWS (Committee of Equity in Women’s Surfing), Bianca (Valenti), Keala (Kennelly), Andrea (Mollre)…huge respect for them for their continued bravery and voices”.

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It is an incredibly encouraging development, considering that sexism has, unfortunately, been tied closely to the surf industry.  It is a contentious subject within the realms of pro-surfing.  Looking past the pay gap issues which now, the WSL has made incredible moves to close, we still see within female surfing destructive stereotypes of female suffers which cause critical ramifications for the athletes making a living from the sport.

A cookie-cutter image of what a female surfer has been portrayed and conveyed in media, on billboards, within films and more, has typically showcased a more lithe, blond and blue-eyed surfer.  If we get into the nitty gritty, following the recent cases of talented pros, Brazilian charger Silvana Lima (if you haven’t seen Silvana surf, haul yourself over to YouTube now) and Australian world –tour surfer Rebecca Woods, who spoke out, explaining that it cost her “thirty grand a year to be on tour.  She couldn’t find a sponsor because sponsors were choosing the girls who fit their marketing campaigns best, so choosing the girls who looked like models, who then got knocked out the comps in the early rounds, as opposed to sponsoring the girls who are actually incredibly good athletes”. 

I ask if we are still seeing this kind of behaviour in 2018 from brands within surfing? “The only women who are finding real success surfing are the women who fit this kind of commodified mono culture industry’s beauty ideal.  I’m not saying these women shouldn’t have success. They should be respected as surfers and celebrated as athletes.”

“What would be nice to see is the same levels of success for women who don’t necessarily conform or fit in the box of being a beautiful, thin, white, blond surfer.  It would be nice to see success for a wider, and more diverse group of women, and then become role models for the younger generation”. 

Delving into the core of why and who is making these decisions that continues to perpetuate stereotypes about female surfers which are actually, damaging to those athletes who make a living from the sport, Sophie suggests that”

“Most of those big brands are run by men…sex sells sex, not sport, that’s proven.   When you see these images of hyper sexualised women, actually studies show that it makes us question their sporting ability, and we actually doubt if they are any good at their sport.  Are the brands trying to sell surfing, or are they trying to sell sex?”

Sophie does also contend that, “I guess we have to acknowledge that a lot of women are implicit in sexism, there are lots of women in marketing in these companies”.  Arguing that it is the decision makers, those pulling the reigns behind the scenes, she continues “the brands are normally run by men…and the media is mostly run by men, the sports stories in the news are mostly written by men. I think it’s something like 8% of sports stories are written by women.” To even out the playing field and be able to critically see, more women a fairer representation of female athletes in the media, Sophie suggest that “you see change happens when you…put a woman in there.  The first piece I wrote, I had in Wavelength about the under representation of female surfers in wetsuits.  That piece got commissioned because Holly Bendall was working at Wavelength at the time, she was a woman at the magazine and she commissioned it”.

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Critically now, we are seeing positive impact from independent brands that are championing a wider and more inclusive view of what it is to be a female surfer, namely, just have a board under your feet, regardless of size, hair colour, skin colour and more.  Sophie is excited to see that “we are seeing body diversity, a complete different range of women being represented, and always doing sport, because they are trying to sell sport, not sex… Change is happening, and I think the change happens when women own the position to make the change, they do.”

 To further instigate critical change needed, Sophie suggests that “transparency from brands is huge for consumers. I think as the consumer, we have more control, and power than ever.  There’s an amazing quote, every time you spend money, you’re taking a vote on what kind of society you want to live in.   Not everyone is financially able, so there are brands out there that are cheap and that’s brilliant because it makes it accessible for people in low income families…if you have the income and you’re able there’s a responsibility to shop wisely, and for ethical and indie brands.” 

 

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When not pouring her energies into her work, Sophie can be found regularly bracing the chilly British waters for her near daily wild-swim, a hobby that started in Ireland, but then gave birth to #RiseFierce, inviting other women to reap the benefits of a wild-swim.

“It’s kind of like a body positive who gives a shit what you look like, get in the water and stick two fingers to the man!”

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I ask Sophie if there is anything she would say to her 15-year-old self? “Stay true to yourself and stand up for yourself, because a lot of the time I went along with… I knew… I was getting more opportunities because of the way I looked and that was the norm, I went along with it and I never spoke out against it… I ended up posing more seductively than I ever felt comfortable…You just go along with it, because that person appears to have authority over you. So I would definitely like to tell myself that, just be a little bit stronger, and stand up for yourself, rise up, ha-ha”.

Stay tuned for more from Sophie Hellyer, something tells me, this is just the beginning. 


Read more of Sophie’s work here

Follow Sophie on Instagram here

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TRAVEL: THE DOLOMITES & THE ROAR OF MOTHER NATURE WITH CONRAD ANKER

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"The mountains teach me to be at one with myself..." 

Marion Haerty, The North Face Athlete, Freeride World Champion

Winter's seminal spell has a relentless allure for explorers, professional and amateur alike, enraptured with the snow-capped peaks and array of winter sports Mother Nature delivers .  But summer, with the emerald-rich tones of earthy-green forests, craggy peaks to explore, by hand, foot,on wheels, is a treasure trove of wild adventure once the ice melts.

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The North Face Mountain Festival, an all-encompassing ode to the powerful magic the mountains can render, is a 3 day weekend of discovery and adventure where attendees can participate in a huge array of activities.  Exploring Trentino, whether on the outdoor climbing walls, hiking to summits, riding up it's awe-inspiring mountains or perhaps, flying off of them, nature is roaring at her most pure and wild here in the Italian Alps.  

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Touching down at The Mountain Festival, I was suddenly happily shocked to discover, is attended by a number of the most illustrious of The North Face athletes.  Climbing side by side some of the world's most accomplished, and as I discovered, down to earth athletes and explorers suddenly became normality.  As I made the top of a climb, a whoop rang out by Caroline Ciavaldini, multiple World Cup Champion and holder of many first female ascents, snapping my picture, probably capturing a slightly shocked and in awe grin that one of the world's top climbers just cheered on my mini-ascent.

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The fact this became habitual over the course of the weekend, as we shared sweaty adventures, heart-racing activities, conversations around crackling camp-fires and warm, human moments, reinforced the simple purity of how playing in nature creates such honest connection.

 

Climbing with the rich fragrance of thick forrest, fat drops of rain falling on warm skin and straining finger tips, working legs and beaded foreheads driving up the mountain and bike to waterfalls, hiking through the heady squish of dark soil to the summit, how the heart opens with a raw simplicity in the great wilds of our planet.

 

 

 

 

THE MOUNTAINS AND ME: CONRAD ANKER

Conrad Anker is a name which needs little introduction.  The highly revered climber and mountaineer has more a dozen iconic first ascents including the infamous Meru Peak with fellow climbers Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk under his incredibly endearing and jovial belt. Having spent time with Conrad, one of our planet's greatest explorer's ever, sharing simple stories of life's pleasures in the Great Outdoors, I fired a few questions at this astounding man on his love affair with the outdoors and exploration. 

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WHAT KEEPS YOUR EMBERS BURNING TO KEEP EXPLORING? 

"My embers are fed by the winds of adventure. Fire needs oxygen and wind brings oxygen. Trick is to always keep the embers with a bit of heat and flame. The embers are fed from the previous exploration. Perhaps this is why one needs to keep them well tended. One good journey begets the next one."

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIMPLE PLEASURES YOUR JOB CONTINUES TO BRING YOU?

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"While in wild places, the simple joy of sunrise is always the ideal start to the day. A sip of water when parched is just the right amount of nourishment to keep going. A snack as the sun sets and the comfy confines of a tent all bring it together. From a professional time motivating people with kindness is about as good and simple as it gets.

While some extol the human emotion of acquisition & material things  - it is the interpersonal emotions that make me smile.

 

 

When you help some one, unexpectedly or with genuine intent you have created goodness. This is the simple pleasure."

WHICH RECENT ADVENTURES HAVE BROUGHT YOU THE BIGGEST SMILES?

"In December of 2017 we were in a climbing expedition to Queen Maud Land Antarctica.  The powerful nature of sky, ice and rock is the ideal setting for an adventure. During the austral summer it is light 24 hours. How this affects your internal clock is unique. One seems to have more energy...".

FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER CLIMBED BEFORE, WHY SHOULD THEY GIVE IT A GO?

"Climbing is an ideal an activity. It builds strength, bone density, increases flexibility and helps with mental acuity. The people one is with are a great community. The act of belaying is an international language built on trust and communication."

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FLY INTO: VERONA AIRPORT

EXPLORE TRENTINO: HIKING, CLIMBING, WATERFALLS, MOUNTAIN BIKING, WILD SWIMMING & MORE

BID ON ICONIC KIT WORN BY EXPLORERS INCLUDING CONRAD ANKER, ALEX HONNOLD & CAROLINE CIAVALDIN IN SUPPORT OF THE PINNACLE PROJECT WHICH GIVES BACK DIRECTLY TO THE MOUNTAINS 

Alex Honnold's Jacket, up for grabs.

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THE AZORES ISLANDS: TRAVEL GUIDE & REDBULL CLIFF DIVING

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The Azores islands, the Lost World-esque archipelago located in the bluey midst of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Portugal and mainland United States has a near mystic persona shrouded around it such is it's isolation and it's breathtaking volcanic creation. 

I set out on my way for the adrenaline-saturated Red Bull Cliff Diving competition in the Azores as part of Destination Red Bull, Red Bull's latest innovation which tailors once in a lifetime trips for normal punters like you and I to access coaching from some of their elite athletes in some otherworldly locations.  Taking you to the front seat of a life on the edge with these athletes, and a coaching experience like no other.

Somewhat of a self-professed cliff jumping junky myself, I was buzzing at the thought of not just being coached by the multiple World Champion, Cliff Diving Champion and arguably the most iconic figure ever in cliff diving, Colombian dive King Orlando Duque, but also at exploring this wildly lush isle, rich with out of this world activity, and nature roaring at it's finest.

Sao Miguel island, our base for the week, is an adventure lover’s Valhalla, and our hotel the Santa Barbara Eco Lodge sits facing the Santa Barbara surf break, one of the best of the island, accessed simply by walking out your room and down onto the identifiably Azorean black-sand beach.  There's something about the ocean here, where blue whales and some of the other greatest leviathans our planet calls home, so vast and blue, surrounding the Azores, lapping its rich hues onto the shore. Scuba diving experiences here are immediately mind-blowing just for how magnificent the surroundings and the waters are, dropping your head into big blue, craggy black volcanic rocks and lush green forests in the distance, before entering the indigo planet below.

My dive guide briefs me on some of the local residents I might spot in the depths, and as we drop to the reef, an explosion of curious fish and vast reef jungle below, she points down to the floor, and I am nodding in agreement, the deep blackness is beautiful.  Suddenly I realize the black shape the size of a Jeep isn't the ocean bed, but the largest ray I have ever seen. I swim across it, feeling like a small mouse against a Goliath, it's beautiful stature unperturbed by my excited bubbles cruising over.  Wide-eyed eels, puffer fish and barracudas swim indifferently as I am intoxicated by this subterranean world, breathless with excitement back on board the catamaran.

The Azores islands are really as well known for their cuisine as the wild adventure and great outdoors, and the entire week was heavily punctuated by some of the most incredible meals I've ever had.  Nature’s larder here is so rich and pure, as we devour butter and garlic soaked dishes of limpets, juicy tuna steaks, grilled lobster and the like, every meal is one for the books.

Our private coaching session with Orlando started as we pick up the decorated champion, a massively effusive, longhaired ocean Adonis, who quickly makes us feel at ease with the imminent jumps we know we are going to make. Tearing through the water, we spot a jet ski gaining on us fast in the distance.  Suddenly boat-side with us, a Mich Buchanan worthy entrance by the Red Bull water safety team, who are with us during the trip to ensure our safety (they are the actual team who also onsite during the competition).

Scouting suitable spots with Orlando, the craggy black rocks suddenly appear more intimidating as we arrive on the competition site island.   We get a private tour by Orlando, behind the scenes the day before the infamous event starts.  Feeling bold, we all agree that a 3 metre start jump isn't high enough, so head over quickly to the 7 metre jump.

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Peeking over the edge, surging blue waters below and water safety crew ready, I gulp slightly, such is the impressiveness of this spot, you nearly half expect pterodactyls to circle overhead.

Some 1-1 coaching with Orlando and picking up some really handy tips, I make a jump for it, giving a thumbs up to the water safety crew who scoop me up on the ski, just like the athletes.

`Playing from the rib

Feeling the adrenaline surge through me, I can't help myself but head up for another jump, and as we peer up at the 27 metre deck where the athletes will launch off the in two days’ time, our minds are aghast at how it’s humanly possible to do it.

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Venturing further into the island for a deeper explore the next day, I continue to be blown away by the richness of the island’s nature.  Mother Nature is really roaring at her wildest here, and with natural, massive and perfectly formed circles of flower bushes everywhere, deep green forests and rich, earthy soil beneath our feet, we excitedly delve deep into the island.  

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Volcanic crater hole lakes shrouded in eerie fog, epic hikes to unparalleled view points and steaming natural Sulphur springs made for a full day of adventure, and as we soaked tired muscles in the volcanic springs at the end of the day, the mineral rich waters soothed aching muscles. 

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Competition day on-site and we pulled up ringside of the event in our boat, so close to the divers’ entry spot, it's an event experience like no other.  It's almost superhuman what the athletes are doing and until you see it up close, the height of the cliffs, how staggering the jumps and how precarious a take off some of the cliff spots are, you can’t believe it possible.

The women's first dive spot entails a nail-biting looking abseil in their bathing suits down to a ledge that as we see them carefully move around to face the front, gap no wider than a foot’s length.  The women's competition is fierce and we are collectively rendered speechless by the feats of the athletes. As they change spots in the afternoon to another rock, it is nearly impossible to comprehend how they are executing such technically astounding jumps. A number of them take off backwards, teetering on the edge of the cliff on their toes, perfectly controlled, poised, levels of strength, technical skill and grace that are incredible to behold. 

Leaving the site (and convinced I want to be a cliff diver), fluffy mouthfuls of famous local cake queijadas in our mouths, Orlando Duque's famous quote, “the moment you stop being afraid, you being to live dangerously” rings in my mind, spurring me on to keep pushing my limits, and to get out there.

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FLY INTO: SAO MIGUEL

STAY AT: SANTA BARBARA ECO LODGE

GET THE WHOLE SHEBANG AND ELITE CHAMPION COACHING FROM DESTINATION RED BULL 

 

 

©Sophie Everard 2018

 

 

WHY I: BIG-WAVE SURFER ANDREW COTTON

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Big wave surfing has been thrust into the mainstream public consciousness in recent years in no small part due to an unassuming small Portuguese fishing town by the name of Nazaré.  Visit this popular seaside town in a blustering Atlantic storm-saturated winter though, and you might bear witness some of the most unfathomably fearsome and shockingly enormous behemoths of waves ever recorded.    The Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed was set in Nazaré last autumn at 80 feet by Rodrigo Koxa, and the spot has been forever cemented in surfing history, along with its most celebrated big-wave chargers, including British surfer (and part time plumber) Andrew Cotton.

If Andrew wasn’t already an infamous name amongst those who follow surfing, or sport in general, his accident last autumn at Nazaré where he was famously catapulted by the wave on an epic wipe out which ultimately broke his back, plastered the media.  Andrew Cotton’s name rides hand in hand with Nazaré and with the most illustrious and celebrated big wave surfers in the world.  A plethora of imagery over the years of him riding giants constantly filters in each season, in seemingly impossibly sized waves, constantly one upping himself.

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Speaking to Andrew from his base in North Devon, he sounds relaxed and at ease when telling me that it is “amazing to be back in the water” following his accident last autumn.  Spending his time since then on a comprehensive rehabilitation programme, the long-time Red Bull athlete has had access to an array of top-level doctors and physios since last autumn, and is back feeling at “85, 90%”.  Reflecting that “when I first had the injury I was thinking...I’ll try and come back to full fitness by April…and then speaking to experts, and getting advice, everyone said you’ve got to be in it for the long game.  There's no point coming back early, and then injuring yourself again, not being 100%. I re-evaluated that situation.”

Enjoying surfing his home breaks of Saunton and Croyde, the 35-year-old athlete appears calm and relaxed when discussing what would tip mere mortals over the edge, surfing waves of 60 feet plus.  It’s hard to comprehend the emotions, the fears and adrenaline that would surround heading out into waves of that size.  Conversely, it isn’t the fast-flowing adrenaline that is critical in those moments before surfing a monster wave but rather, according to Andrew

“In the most critical moments when you’re surfing, especially big waves, you almost go into this state where you are slowing things down...it’s almost like a form of meditation…to get to that state is the ultimate goal”.  

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When faced with 80 foot waves, how, one wonders, on earth would you be able to stay calm and collected, to not let fear and adrenaline destroy concentration and to flood performance with nerves?  Ruminating that “if I know it’s going to be massive, I’ll wake up early, get into a breathing rhythm” Andrew begins, “10 breaths…10 seconds in, 10 seconds out, in through the nose, out through the mouth…it calms the body down and is a good way to prepare…(it) almost goes back into the psychology.  It calms your brain down…it’s a tool that I use a lot.”

Andrew’s successes in big-wave surfing have been captivating audiences and fans for years now, each season achieving the seemingly impossible by producing incredible performances that garner world-wide media attention.  I wonder what continues to push him on and inspire him, considering his huge successes to date?

“I think I’m never really satisfied…I think most surfers get like that.  I’m never really happy with any of the waves I get…always want to be deeper, always want to be more critical...so I’ve never really felt that I’ve reached my potential yet…I think it’s quite a good thing...you keep pushing and striving to try and reach that.”

Andrew has cemented the UK has a bonafide producer of big-wave talent, along with the likes of surfers Tom Butler and Tom Lowe.  Modestly suggesting that “we’ve been really fortunate in Europe.  The UK’s actually a good place to be based.  It’s close to (big wave spots) in Ireland, in France, and obviously in Portugal you get giant waves”.  No longer just the remit of more traditional big wave spots like Jaws in Hawaii and Mavericks in California, renowned athletes of the likes of Garrett McNamara have been making consistent expeditions to Europe to surf the likes of Nazaré, Belharra in France and Mullaghmore in Ireland.  Andrew attributes success in career partly to his friend and foe the awe-inspiring Nazaré.  “Nazaré being discovered and being on the map definitely helped my career. Before, I was spending a lot of time in Ireland, and would get 1 or 2 opportunities to surf big waves.   It’s about time and experience in the water on the wave, and the more time you can spend in big waves, the better you’re going to become…and Nazaré is big, a lot, from October to March, it enabled me to progress quickly”.   I wonder if there has been a record for boards broken in a season for him, and Andrew laughs as he tells me about how on a trip to Madeira, he took 6 boards, and came home with 1. 

Andrew also suggests that Nazaré, when discussing the breaks he has surfed around the world is “without a doubt” the most fearsome wave he has surfed.  “There's no other place that gets as big….and it’s a humbling place too…an amazing place to watch…probably the scariest…”.  And his favourite break near home? “My home beach, Croyde, in Devon”.

The roster of talent on the WSL tour is well televised and covered across media, big name brands siding as title sponsors and top-name athletes earning well into 6 figures with a successful career.  Do big wave surfers get enough support in comparison, I wonder?  “I think it’s a tough one really” Andrew begins, “I think surfing as a whole, I don’t think you can categorise it…it has got a lot better…Surfing GB, Surfing England…they’ve put a lot of effort into a lot of coaching, …so I think it is getting better.  It’ll be interesting especially now that surfing’s in the Olympics, so whether that’ll change anything…”.

Surfing’s inclusion for the first time into the next Olympics in Japan in 2020 has been contentiously discussed and covered since it’s announcement, and with rumours rife that the setting for the competition will be in a wave pool, what this could mean for the future of surfing. “It’s funny, the wave pool…it's great you know, it’s a wave on tap…” Andrew begins, “but at the end of the day, surfing is about being in the ocean, the wave pool is like a different discipline almost.  It’ll be interesting to see how it develops, …there’s a wave pool already in Wales, in Bristol, they are looking at doing one in Glasgow, so they are popping up everywhere…it’s going to be an interesting next few years for sure.”.  

Big wave surfing is producing some exceptional talent, and with Andrew being a key member of the core-pack of long-term chargers, I wonder who he has his eye on as one to watch in the future? “There’s one lad, Lucas Chomba, he’s just started breaking through now.  I met him a few year ago, he’s young, about 21.  He’s just stated to get on everyone’s radar. He won the Nazaré Challenge…he’s a very talented surfer…”.

And any women he thinks are pushing the limits?  “There's quite a few really good girls, there's the French Red Bull rider, Justine Dupont, she’s amazing. She not only surfs big waves, she shortboards, longboards, …she is an absolute charger, I have massive respect for her…There’s a couple of girls I’ve been watching…Paige Alms, Bianca Valenti, I’ve been following her for a while”.  

With the road to recovery being well prepped, Andrew is excepting to be back surfing and heading to Nazaré for this autumn, “100% yeah. I’ll be back, if not before, I’m definitely going to be in Portugal from October”.  With key sponsor Red Bull providing ample support, “the best physios to work with, and its knowing you’ve got brand like that behind you, give you confidence I did a couple of course, safety courses, in the states, for Red Bull athletes…you’re part of a bigger thing”, the British athlete is sounding confident and relaxed, coming back from a potentially devastating injury, to looking forward to a new season ahead. 

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I wonder what, if we boil it down to the simplicity of the joy of his profession and life, brings him the greatest happiness about being in the water?  

“Do you ever get those moments …it’s not about catching a wave, it’s about sitting on your board, outside, out back, it's calm... moments like that, being outside, where you’re by yourself in the ocean…what a cool place to hang out!”.

 

To find out more about Andrew Cotton, head to his athlete profile page on RedBull.com

©Sophie Everard 2018

PRESS: MAD TO LIVE RETREATS REVIEW IN LONDON ON THE INSIDE

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We recently had the pleasure of having the awesome journalist Daniela Marchesi come join us in Portugal for a Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience camp.  Check out what Daniela made of her trip for her piece in London On The Inside below!

Book on to a Mad To Live Retreat here, Portugal September & October dates available!

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GIRL, WE COULDN'T GET MUCH HIGHER: SWIMWEAR STORY

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Swimwear favourites from Volcom, shot in Portugal. 

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THE SLUT PARADIGM

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2018 is a whirring cauldron of topical discussions pertaining to women’s bodies.  On the one hand, hot off the back of global movements like #TimesUp, the post-Weinstein landscape, and not just in Hollywood, is seeing a wealth of positive change and action.  On the other side, the age-old double standard of women being branded with the word “slut” for sexual behaviours, when a man with similar behaviour may instead receive a pat on the back, and called a stud, is still prevalent.  

Now this obviously depends on cultural settings and societal viewpoints. But in the fabric of human life, a woman’s virginity and chasteness has long been placed upon a desirable pedestal, and still continues to be, arguably in some societies, as prevalent as years gone by.  With such emphasis placed on female chasteness, even paid for in high-profile cases by women looking to cover, for example, their university fees, where does that now leave the discussion when women are compounding this ethos, by selling their own virginities to the highest bidder?  Either way it still illustrates the value of virginity, with a recent case (as per link above) of a young woman looking to pay for her college fees and travelling selling her virginity to an Abu Dhabi businessman for £2million.

I don’t need to discuss how men and women have the same emotional and sexual appetites, desires or needs.   It isn’t 1950 and we have long moved on from that.  But what I am keen to explore is, why in the context of bold movements like #MeToo, with a clearer no-more acceptance conviction of sexually predatory behaviors, is the word SLUT still bandied about?  Why are girls and women still being “slut shamed” in our modern day, when we are at a point in humanity where it is more accepted that we are in control of our bodies and our choices, and that as adults, it is our decision as to who we may or may not spend time with, sexually or not?

The double standard of Slut/Stud hasn’t ceased to exist in terms of a man or woman may describe a woman as a slut, and make her feel negative about herself who she is, who she decides to be intimate with or present herself.  Movements promoting sexual positivity and an abandonment of that tired double standard are thriving, but many women still suffer the indignation, whether it is factually true or not, of being labeled a slut at some time in their life, which can be emotionally damaging and destructing.  Flip it and reverse it, a lot of men wouldn’t have been tarnished with the same brush, and in fact, that very accusation can be seen as something to take pride in, making a man a “stud” and adding notches on the bedpost to boast about. 

Even if one is enjoying what could be deemed a more “promiscuous” sexual life, hell, it is their own choice, and business.    If we are to embrace the tide of positive change which comes from the breaking down of stereotypes and destructive behaviors, the fact that ultimately, sex and the decision with whom someone has sexual relations with is their decision, and no one else’s concern, must breakdown that age-old stereotype of Slut V Stud.  

Where sex has been in the past viewed as an act of shame, as something for women to “lie back and think of England” of, we have as a society ridden the tides of change, from movements in the 1960's with the introduction of the contraceptive pill and free-love in the 70's, to our modern day, where a zero-tolerance approach to predatory behavior and actions is seeming to be at the fore, and prompting change.  

Breaking down of these destructive sexual stereotypes and embracing the notion that one’s sexual life is one’s own business, and that for either sex, partners are not to be viewed as conquests or to be judged for their private.  Let’s rid the world of this archaic and damaging double standard, finally. 

 

©Sophie Everard 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO ADVENTURE IN MARRAKECH: BETTER TAKES ACTION IN 72 HOURS

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A recent challenge set by my friends at KEEN saw myself and buddy (and Editor of Cooler Magazine) Lou Boyd truss up our backpacks and shoes to see if we could find adventure with just a weekend to do it in.  

Settin' forth to Marrakesh, check out the video edit of our wild ride we had out in Morocco exploring Marrakesh and it's colourful souks, hiking the Atlas Mountains and immersing ourselves in this vibrantly wild place, and Lou's guide to adventuring Marrakesh!

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MY SOPHIE TEA INTERVIEW FOR COOLER MAGAZINE

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Earlier this year I met up with the righteous Sophie Tea to interview the artist and glittering girl-boss for Cooler Magazine.

The piece is now live, and you can check it below for a read with the radical artist who is flying a flag for independent entrepreneurs to get after life and pursue your passions.  Sophie you rule!

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