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.

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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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MY TAKE ON THE NORTH FACE: SHE MOVES MOUNTAINS MOVEMENT

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I was stoked to ask to be a part of a movement by The North Face spearheaded by their phenomenal athletes including climbing prodigy the incredible Ashima Shiraishi and ultra runner Fernanada Maciel (who recently ran up and down Kilimanjaro in just over 10 hours...) amongst other ground-breaking women.  The campaign isn't just celebrating female explorers, but so to speak putting it's money where it's mouth is, supporting equal marketing spend between the sexes at the brand, product development for women, closing the gender pay gap amongst their athletes, and grants and charity partnerships to foster female exploration.

Spurred on by attending a panel discussion chaired by the extraordinary Bonita Norris (at the time the youngest British woman to ascend Everest), DJ Carly Wilford, Fernanda Maciel, and women I am proud to know, the formidable Editor of Cosmopolitan Farrah Storr, and Editor of Cooler Magazine, Lou Boyd, got me thinking about my own mission, and what my work has meant to me over the years.  

My wildest dream had been and continues to be aiding more women getting into nature, surfing, running, getting out on bikes, horses, out on the climbing wall, playing in our Great Outdoors.  

"The foundation of Mad To Live Retreats and of indeed the Mad To Live platform itself to tell stories in support of that mission has been my greatest motivation in both my career and personal life.   I am passionate about more women experiencing the physical and mental benefits of a life rooted in sport, exploration, play and adventure, and how in a female-based retreat, fostering female friendships in this environment can lead to incredibly meaningful relationships and experiences in these outdoor settings."

The retreats are my way to help break down any barriers, encumbrances or fears women may have in any of these sports we play in, particularly if they are classically more male-dominated environments, like surfing.  When I see our hoard out running the trails, tearing down beaches on horseback, opening their hearts to sun salute the sky, paddling into the lineup, a crew of women who are feeling more confident just from either having positive constructive coaching, by being with a troop of other women who have their backs, every second of hard work, of doors that have been shut, of doors that have been opened, is worth it.

I am constantly invigorated by my work, by working on stories that are woven into this mission, of creating more retreats to give more women access to an experience where they can try these sports, be themselves, forge new passions, travel and be enriched by a world taking in more movement, more culture, more life.  I'll continue to push for more, for more women to partake, to run a little wilder, and feel stronger, and to never stop playing. 

Check out my shots which are from the awesome book She Moves Mountains by The North Face I am delighted to be included in.  

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MAD TO LIVE RETREATS MOROCCO WRAP-UP

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As the African sun sets on a wildly epic adventure out in Morocco for Mad To Live Retreats, we dust off the golden sand and wipe the zinc off our noses, minds blown after sharing an incredible week with a group of stunning souls from around the world.  Alexandra, Lissette, Ashley, Gabrielle, Kerry, Jess (her FOURTH retreat with us.  We love ya Jess!!) from the US, Elissa, Sabina, Nichola, Elly and Beth (welcome back ladies) from the UK, Lily and Yasmin from Portugal and Sara from Spain.   Check our highlights below and the full video wrap!

Our Mad To Live Retreats babe cave for the week, a private villa at beautiful Banana Beach was the ultimate magical Moroccan surfer girl HQ, nightly dips outside with the setting sun a daily highlight (hands up who's missing 630pm dips dudes?!).  A haul of gifts from our radical brand partners including Billabong, Decleor, The Raw Chocolate Company, Pip & Nut, Kinn LIving, Imsy Swimwear and Mad To Live hats and tees greeted the guests on arrival, an ultimate swag package.

With surfing and getting the girls ripping a key focus of the week, our instructors for the week Bashine and Charlotte went to all lengths to coach the ladies during the week.  The progress was pretty astonishing, and returning retreaters including Lisette Sieholtz and Sara Guel from New York City and Barcelona showing incredible progression, and new surfers Kerry, Ashley and Nichola blowing our minds.

Adventure is around every corner of the raw and beautiful shores of Taghazout, and with camel rides, horse-back riding on Arabian stallions, visits to the all-female run Argan Oil Collective, Paradise Valley to hike, trek and rock jump for the brave, surf-fitness focussed training, an adventurous itinerary complimented by the zen of yoga sessions at the rooftop shalla and a meditation to welcome the new moon led by in-house yogi & bastion of soulful energy Lucy Sweeney, a visit to the local hammam and trips to the souks rounded out an all-time week.

Feasting at the Villa Mandala, wholesome and locally sourced Moroccan feasts fed hungry bellies and souls at the end of a full day adventuring and exploring, a group toast to all the epicness of each day.   Yeah, we LOVE to eat at Mad To Live Retreats!!

A journey to the valhalla of long boarding that is Insouame, punctuated with camels dotting the road, goats chomping argan from trees and staggering views brought the week to an almighty crescendo.  Heading off into the soft-sand desert for a hike and sand-boarding an adventure we won't ever forget, a nirvana of wild beauty. 

The endless possibilities and capacity for adventure and growth when surrounded by a supportive troop of women, when facing fears, when allowing happiness and an endless stoke for living are part of what we champion and part of our DNA at Mad To Live.  Morocco and all these brilliant women were a crucial reminder to us too how powerful and transformative that is, as we tip our hats to the African sun, Hakuna Matata forever engrained.

 

 

 

Book your own Mad To Live Retreats adventure Here and stay tuned for 2019's Morocco dates landing soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG FOR BILLABONG WOMEN'S: STARTING A BUSINESS IN SURF - HOW TO BE A FREELANCE BUSINESS OWNER & RUN A BUSINESS FROM THE BEACH

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My next blog for Billabong Women's hot off the heels of my debut piece on top road trips to do with your girlfriends the summer is now live now on the Billabong website.  I chatted to the Billabong crew about how I started my business and went from being office based to being toes-in-the-sand beach based most of the time!  Check out the full piece below.

 

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TAGHAZOUT TRAVEL & ADVENTURE GUIDE

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Agadir, Taghazout and its surrounding areas is a veritable treasure trove of adventure and wellness activities.  The azure-hued oceans and gold-dust deserts rich in culture and with super-friendly locals makes it’s a no-brainer as a Mad To Live Retreats base.  We’ve been exploring the epic terrain out here the last year and check out our guide to the top wellness and adventure activities below!

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CAMEL & HORSEBACK RIDING

Taghazout, with its breaktaking vistas boasts an endless shorelines of sun-kissed panoramas.  The best way to take it all in and explore is by horseback or for a more local option, camel. With an array of riding schools catering to all levels, get wild and take in the wild terrains on a magnificent horse or doe-eyed camel.

 

SURFING

There’s a reason Taghazout is a globally-renowned surf mecca.  With infamous spots welcoming pros including the likes of Kelly Slater of the years, the land of the rights, with killer beaks including Anchors, Devils Rock and more is a must-stop for wave-hungry travellers.  Accommodation is cheap, and operators like Surf Maroc offer an abundance of options that include bed and breakfast and surf touring.

 

DUNE BOARDING

Once you’re done with the waves, heading out into the wildly raw and beautiful sand dunes is a must-do experience.  The scenery is unparalleled and one for the memory bank, and you can surf down the soft dunes for a thrilling experience.

 

YOGA

Namaste’in loving yogis are spoilt for choice with a number of choice-yoga options.  Take in all the incredible beauty of the coastline with roof-top yoga classes at spots including boutique hotel Amouage.

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HAMMAM

Surf-weary bodies and spa-lovers must check out a traditional Moroccan spa for a Hamman experience.  Relax in the sauna spa before having a scrub down with face and body wash, leaving gleaming and fresh.

 

PARADISE VALLEY TREKKING

The other-worldly Paradise Valley, nestled in the hills less than an hour from Taghazout is serious-bucket list territory.  The Palm-laden valley welcomes you as you approach, and a short hike later, exploring the running rivers, streams, tucked away tea spots and raw nature you’ll find yourself at natural pools and waterfalls (in the right season).  The brave will hurl themselves from the natural cliff jumps into the clear-water pools, a scream-inducing jump for most.

COOLER MAGAZINE: INTERVIEW WITH LADY SLIDER FLORA CHRISTIN

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Sumatran born lady-slider Flora Christin has been causing ripples around the popular breaks of Canggu, Bali, her infectious energy and love of dancing on her longboard quashing what has been typically expected.  Spreading stoke and good vibes one cross step at a time, I interviewed Flora for Cooler Magazine beachside of her local wave in Bali, hot off the back of a recent podium place on the Asian Women’s Surf Championships.

Check out my interview with the righteous Flora Christin, live now on Cooler Magazine, and full piece below. 

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AWESOME SUMMER ROAD TRIPS TO DO WITH YOUR GIRLFRIENDS WITH BILLABONG WOMENS

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Summer is finally beginning to cast it's glow across what has been an unfathomably long and cold winter.  Buoyed up by sunny vibes and a road trip to California, I've penned a piece for my fav women's all-time rock n' roll surf brand, Billabong Womens, hot off the back of the launch of their New Wave collection inspired by Billabong's long-time heritage in surf and the wild and rad bonds of a badass crew of friends.  

If you've seen me on the beach and in the waves you know I have a penchant for all the 80s high cut bathers, and I love this heritage blast collection and all the radical girl power vibes around it, the campaign featuring powerhouse surfer Laura Enever, Josie Prendergast, Alissia Quizon and golden girl Flick Palameeter.

Check out my guide to awesome summer trips to do with your girlfriends over the summer!

 

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Book now on Mad To Live Retreats

All photos by Alan Krespan

A SALCOMBE SEAFOLLY MAD TO LIVE RETREAT

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The first budding blossoms of spring bring with it a taste of a summer to come, and with a hot spell stretching it’s giving touch across Europe to the UK, we were blessed with the hottest April on record for a Mad To Live hosted Seafolly Australia Retreat in Devon.  Devon has long been one of my favourite places in the world to explore and adventure in, it’s clean waters, rambling expanses of lush green lands and vast unparalleled beauty.     

Our retreat home for the weekend in the near-mystically beautiful Salcombe, our own Seafolly babe palace, perched on the beach overlooking the crystal green waters of the West Coast.  It wasn't hard to imagine that Tennyson was so inspired by this very place that he penned poems such was the inspiration the otherwordly scenery inspired him with.

 

With Seafolly beach vibes in abundance and a brilliant crew of women for the weekend, we tucked into a hearty spread by the Potency Team, a vegetarian menu over the weekend fueling us for our endless hours of fun.

Dawn’s golden fingers creeping through our curtains on Saturday, my surf-fitness high intensity class kicked off our first day, introducing the ladies to pop-ups and getting sweaty whilst tesing out the new season Seafolly fitness gear.  

I love the detail of the products, and radical bright coloured designs.

Chowing down some of Potency's award-winning energy balls, we headed beach-way for our stand up paddle boarding adventure.  

 

All aboard the SeaFolly Express!

 

Exploring the beautiful bays and breathtaking waters of the bay with our girl gang was an all-time adventure, the endless smiles, team-ditch into the fresh waters and post-SUP beach play with Gracie the puppy leaving us sun-kissed and stoked.

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A quick stop of at the local pub The Winking Prawn for fresh grilled prawns slathered in garlic butter and we headed back to our girl-gang abode, ready for a restorative, candle lit stretch.

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Toasting the day with cocktails courtesy of Potency and a generous feast, a dance-off as we checked out next season collection of Seafolly (it’s off the chart awesome), and we cosied up for a viewing of the all-time classic chicks surfer movie.  Yup you guessed it, Blue Crush.  

Waking up to another blue-bird morning and a generous serving of poached eggs with crisped coconut flakes over rye with avo, we took the workout outdoors, for an energising conditioning session underneath the sunny skies.

An incredible weekend with the Seafolly girl gang.

To find out more and book on to Mad To Live Retreats, cruise here

Enquire about corporate and brand Mad To Live Retreats at sophie@madtoliveblog.com

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THE LONDON ADVENTURE GUIDE

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Having spent plenty of time living in the Big Smoke, much to the bemusement of friends and acquaintances who often can't imagine me not within 10 feet of water, I became a dab hand over the years at sussing out the best adventures within the confines of the city.  Sometimes we can't always head to a mountain or the coast, it isn't realistic every single week, so for those of you starved for adventure, check out my guide below of my favourite adventures to have, all in or within an hour of London!

STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING & SUP YOGA IN ESSEX

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A short train from London (it took me less than 45 minutes) and I found myself at one of the UK's most seminal institutes of boardsports: Wet N Dry Boardsports in Essex.  With 7 locations including their own private lake where they host stand up paddle board yoga classes, and an arsenal of a store packed with knowledge and equipment across SUP, surf, skate and snowboard, Wet N Dry have been a go-to name in the UK for adventure and action sport for the last 20 years.  A 2 hour lesson on clear waters at Hullbridge on the River Crouch (the tide flushes the water twice in a day) under sunny skies and you could feel like you aren't in what you know to be in the UK, and certainly not within an hour of London.  Running days which include SUP tours and bonfires, and toasting the session with a beer on the beach, a true escape from London.

WAKEBOARDING AT DOCKLANDS

People find it hard to believe that in East London's Docklands you'll find a busy cable wakeboard park, and in a beautiful setting at that at Royal Victoria Dock.  With instructors onsite if you're new to wakeboarding ready to teach you the ropes, or if you already ride, pitch up and make the most of the kickers and obstacles on offer, and the fully stocked bar.

SNOWBOARDING AND SKIING IN WEST LONDON

Even harder to believe for some is the indoor ski and snowboard facility Chelski tucked just off the Kings Road in West London.  A magic moving carpet (not snow) moves under your feet giving you the sensation of carving and turning on the piste.  Book in lessons with one of their brilliant instructors and get some shred in right in the city.

DIRT BIKE RIDING & ENDURO

VC London are an all-female collective encouraging more women to get out on the roads and on two wheels.  Bringing together a hugely accessible array of workshops, activities, lessons and meet ups in London for riding bandit babes and those who've always wanted to try, annual camps and beginner moto riding and dirt bike days further afield with pro Leah Tokelove.

CLIMBING

If you read my interview with climbing coach Robin O'Leary, you'll have found that climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, with indoor facilities cropping up across the country.  London is home to a number of brilliant facilities including The Arch Climbing Wall  in Bermondsey, Mile End Climbing Wall, the impressive Castle Climbing Centre next to Clissold Park and The Climbing Hangar in Parsons Green.  Book yourself a coach (like world class Robin) and find out why climbing is steadily becoming one of Britain's favourite sports.

SKATEBOARDING IN WATERLOO

The already-now-iconic institution that is the House of Vans under the kaleidoscopic spray painted arches of Waterloo is the place if you're hankering after a skate or always wanted to learn. Book into one of their Girls Skate Nights and roll with a crew of other chicks, getting coaching and pointers. Onsite lockers and cafe and bar, exhibition evenings, screenings and more make House of Vans a one-stop for counter-culture in London. 

WILD SWIMMING AT HAMPSTEAD HEATH

A short walk through the otherworldly and beautiful Hampstead Heath Park and you'll discover the swimming ponds, a place many Londoner's are unaware of it's existence.  Open every day of the year, hardy souls cite the virtues of bracing the icy waters through winter and spring.  On a warm summer's day the celestial beauty of the setting and crisp waters make this one of London's best adventures.

 

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