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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
All photos by Alan Krespan
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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
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.
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.
If you enjoyed the last WHY I Interview with climbing double World Champion Shauna Coxsey MBE and have been inspired to hit up one of the many indoor and outdoor climbing facilities available in the UK (it is now one of the fastest growing sports in Britain), keep reading.
Professional rock climbing coach and GB ParaClimbing coach Robin O’Leary is a go-to name in performance coaching, and if you cast your eyes to Robin's Instagram and you'll find that he coaches a number of the UK's brightest talents. I joined Robin for a coaching session where he unravelled a few bad habits and got me so excited to climb more I am setting out for a full summer of it in Portugal.
I sat down Robin for an Expert's Chat, with top pointers and more from the elite coach himself.
ROBIN O'LEARY'S PASSION FOR CLIMBING
"My dad was a very keen traditional climber back in the '70s and early '80s, but stopped climbing when my brother and I were born in the early '80s. I have memories as a child being halfway up a rock face with my brother on a small ledge, be it in north Wales or on the south coast (Swanage), but it wasn’t until after university that I really decided that I liked it. So I have been climbing for basically 11 years now. "
"Climbing is a great and hugely fun alternative to the gym. It can take you around the world and provide some of the best memories and friendships you can ever ask for. I have the dream job, I really do. I work with such enthusiastic clients on a daily basis, go around the world coaching/climbing and never feel like I work a day."
"Follow your passion and dedicate yourself to it, everything else will follow."
"There is so much to this sport I love! The challenge and physical pursuit are initial attractions. With climbing, what you put into it, you get out. Hard work = success. But I also love the fact that it is never the same.
"The movements that you make can be indefinite – the hold you can be going for can be any shape or size, at any orientation and at any angle. "
The places it takes you; whether you are into competition climbing on artificial walls and you compete around the world, or you love rock climbing. There are world-class destinations almost all over the world – from fairly popular locations to far-out and remote crags. Finally, the people you meet. Climbing attracts people from all walks of life and I think that is a wonderful thing. You could be climbing with a Doctor and a Chippy."
TOP TIPS FOR CLIMBING
The best way to get involved is to see where your nearest walls are and to give them a bell. Get booked on to a taster session for either rope climbing (sport climbing) or bouldering (over soft crash pads) and give it a go. It really is that simple and it is so much fun.
My top tips for those climbers who are just beginning is to have fun! Go to the wall and just climb!
- Watch those that are clearly pretty handy and see if you can pick up any tips, but ultimately it is “moves in the bank” that get you better.
- Climb as much as possible and you will build up the necessary (sport specific) strength and fitness needed.
"People always assume it is all about upper-body strength, but really, it is all about footwork and body positioning. Your core is so important and you can often climb without having to pull at all. It sounds unbelievable, but you can dance and pivot your way up the wall just using momentum, hips and legs."
"The fundamentals about climbing all surround body positioning. You get big bulky gum bods going to the wall and getting blown off by their dainty girlfriends, it’s excellent."
Yes, being able to pull can help, but ultimately it is understanding how to move around these holds as efficiently as possible that makes it far easier.
- You have to keep your body weight as close to the wall to make sure as much weight goes through your legs and feet as possible – alleviating the weight going through our arms. Our arms are so weak in comparison to our legs and core.
- Feet determine everything – a poorly placed foot has huge repercussions and will probably end up with failure.
- Pay attention to slow and precise movement and try to drive up the wall with your leg and hips.
COMMON MISTAKES MADE IN CLIMBING
The biggest mistake people make is thinking that their arms and hands have to be secure. Focusing on these alone and pulling their body up the wall, letting their feet slide around and slip off holds is very common. You get tired so quickly and end up falling off pretty rapidly too. Everyone does this to begin with and it teaches you quickly to focus on form.
WHY CLIMBING IS A GREAT WORKOUT
- It’s hugely physical. You can work every single muscle in your body and a 2-hour session can leave you absolutely shattered.
- Most climbers are in great shapes and it is testament to how physical it can be.
"Another aspect which is often overlooked is the mental workout. You hit the wall and any of life’s troubles are left at the door. You are consumed by the activity – you have to focus so much that you can’t afford to let your mind wonder."
- You have to remain in control, even when you sometimes face big (but mainly safe) falls – I love this aspect too. It starts off being scary, but you learn to embrace it and it is one of the aspects that make it such a unique sport.
- Arguably the best element of our sport is how diverse it is. You can be climbing an off-vertical wall (slab) with tiny feet and no hands or flying around on a 60 degree overhang. You can be hanging from your feet and upside down or running and jumping across features of the wall. It is sociable, fun and the climbing community is so supportive. No matter what grade you climb, we all face the same challenges.
CROSS-TRAINING FOR CLIMBING
- Historically most climbers have just climbed, but it can leave you fairly injured due to imbalances. We have to pull a lot in our sport, so doing our antagonist exercises (opposites) is very important. A lot of climbers are now focusing on cross-training to ultimately make them athletes rather than just climbers.
- Variation to training is key for enthusiasm and many of the exercises can be training weaknesses without us really knowing. It could simply be performing plyometric jumps or learning to handstand, or more serious like performing deadlifts.
- Flexibility is also hugely important and an aspect I really neglected for a long time myself. Many of the best climbers are able to climb some really hard routes/problems by essentially thinking outside of the box and using their flexibility to help them. Again, this can be done by merely stretching, or a lot of climbers also do yoga to make it more interesting too. I think it is important to make sure we stay as injury free as possible.
"Making our bodies as even as possible is very important and working our weaknesses usually helps make this happen."
- I always recommend speaking to a professional of their domain when it comes to cross-training and refer my clients to various strength and conditioning coaches, dieticians, physios etc to make sure they get the most out of the training I offer them.
ROC-UP CLIMBING CAMPS
"Essentially I wanted to offer something no-one else in our industry offered, and that was the chance to be coached to the highest standard by resident coaches, but also climb with, be coached and hang out with the best climber in the world!"
- We offer bespoke climbing coaching holidays in some of the best climbing destinations around the world.
- You get incredible, top-level coaching all day, with video analysis and a day’s feedback every evening with a drink in hand looking over a stunning sunset, whilst hanging out and being inspired by some of the best climbers who walk this planet.
- The feedback we’ve had is incredible and the fuel we need to run more. It really is a dream job!
Book Robin for your own coaching session:
Founder of the Youth Climbing Symposium - inspiring the next generation - http://www.youthclimbingsymposium.com
Founder of RocUp Holidays - be coached by your heroes - https://www.rocup.uk
And Check out my round-up of my favourite adventure activities in London including my favourite climbing walls
We are stoked to feature in the latest issue of SurfGirl Magazine's Travel Special roundup of top summer destinations for Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience in Portugal. Pick up a copy & check it out, SurfGirl rules #printisntdead, or else keep reading to scope the full piece, with an interview from yours truly.
The Portugal weeks are nearly sold out, snag your spot whilst you can to the ULTIMATE Women's Surf, Fitness & Adventure Retreat now on one of our 6 dates over summer, book here.
California's long been on the top of my list of adventure and surf trips I’ve been hankering after. An avid consumer of most west-coast ocean and thrill-seeking literature, from Kerouac and Beach Boys beat days, to Steinback and Point Break fantasies, Into The Wild fuelled Gidget dancing mirages. My mind had long been littered with images of tip-toeing down the line of perfect right hand breaks, peaking Pacific shorelines of perpetual swell, the great wide yonder of open-spaces and palm & cacti-crested wild lands.
Check out my handy one-stop California guide for my favourite spots to hit up, best activities, places to stuff your face, where to stay and how to travel! Check it!
HUNTINGTON BEACH TOP TIPS
On arrival late at night in Huntington Beach, creeping out onto our balcony at the Pasea we pretty much had our minds blown from the offset, our immediate view being of the incredibly iconic Huntington Beach, the sound of waves piquing our excitement at what was to come. For a one-stop hotel with ocean-facing rooms, gym, spa, a stones throw from the surf, beach cruiser bikes out front ready for you to take and explore (the best way to check out the town), Pasea is the spot.
So-Cal style food with generous servings. Try the Huevos Rancheros and Green Thumb Bowl stuffed with Avocado, Almond Butter, fruits and Honeycomb.
If you’ve been busy making the most of the swell or skating the park, chances are you’ll need refuelling. Sessions Sandwiches is the one for generous served portions a stones throw from the surf and park.
Try one of the local speciality “Steam Kettles”, pots of incredibly delicious shellfish you’ll be dipping hunks of hearty crab-topped sourdough into. One of my best meals of the trip.
What’s a surf town without your local friendly surf shop? I headed out for a surf with the Toes on The Nose crew who offer easy rentals, have lockers and changing rooms on site, and knowledgable instructors and guides.
Picking up a cruiser and exploring Downtown Huntington Beach, which is packed with super-cool old-school architecture, vintage stores rife with hot-finds, coffee shops and bars.
The International Surfing Museum is pretty much like no other, packed with surf and skate original artefacts and a real insight into the rich history of California surf and skate culture.
40,000 feet of skatepark, the ultimate utopia packed with different obstacles and terrains, changing rooms, lockers and snack bars.
PALM SPRINGS TOP TIPS
Hike the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation
Make this hike as challenging as you want - head up to the top in 3 or so hours or just cruise up for half an hour. The views across Palm Springs are mind blowing no matter the height.
The Avalon Hotel is a dreamy, must-stay stop in Palm Springs. The heady, floral-scented grounds are the ultimate in R N R. Spacious, chic bungalos, excellent eateries and an on-site spa mean you barely need to leave the grounds.
Surf-weary muscles can check into Estrella and make the most of the full range of massages, scrubs and holistic health treatments to get your zen on.
The health-conscious will love the offerings of CHiChi, and I pretty much had one of the best salmon gravalax beigals of my life here (a cute touch, our waiter replaced my beigal one morning, insisting, as the baker had just delivered a fresher batch which he wanted me to have).
The kitschy-cool brightly-coloured Saguaro has pool-side yoga classes non-staying guests can attend, down-dogging under the nearly permanently azure-blue Palm Spring skies, and follow up with breakfast at the brilliant Rocco’s Electric.
Get Into The Wild (Chris McCancles famously explored here) and explore the wildly-beautiful desert valleys on bike.
The breathtaking grounds of Two Bunch Palms transport you to otherworldly realms of zen. Sheltered by ancient palms and giant tamarisk trees, explore the alternative-wellness treatments on offer like Mud Therapy baths, where you are immersed in mineral-rich clay and peat moss.
SAN DIEGO TOP TIPS
Any trip to La Jolla should include a trip to the righteous Surf Diva. Founded by renegade sisters Izzy and Coco Thiyani, Surf Diva was the world's first all-girl surf school. No matter if you’re lacking the Y chromosome, Surf Diva provide board rentals and lessons, and have a killer selection in their store.
Work up an appetite surfing the incredible breaks of La Jolla and duck into the Cheese Shop for a huge array of sandwiches, vegan options available.
La Jolla’s marine life is unparaplled partly due to the purity of the waters. Head out on the kayaks and dive to the underwater world of the kelp forests, which apparently the scientific laboratory on the pier is finding that kelp is a highly energy rich renwable source. Spot local friendly sharks, seals and dophins like we did and have your noggin' blown.
For proximity to all the activities on offer and the beach Hotel La Jolla, with its 11th floor rooftop restaurant and bar, beach cruisers on-site and plush rooms is ideal.
Dukes for brunch
Find out about the iconic Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku, the first man to bring surfing to Australia and California at brunch spot Dukes. Overlooking the crystal waters of La Jolla with an outdoor terrace, spot spouting whales if you're lucky.
MALIBU TOP TIPS
Surfing, pick up londboards from Malibu Surf Shack right in front of the iconic Malibu break, a quick walk across the road.
Malibu State Park has a huge range of climbing options including sport climbing, bouldering and top toe routes. Escape the bustle of LA and find the dreamy solitude of Malibu
VENICE BEACH TOP TIPS
Get your green-fix at Kreation Kafe, where even the tap water has drops of green, mineral-rich solutions mixed in front of you. Pressed Juices, a smorgasbord of egg and veg dishes and killer coffees make this a must-stop for healthy foodies.
Surfboard rentals from Jays Venice Beach
Surf the iconic Venice Beach and pick up a rental from Jays, a friendly on-beach store which also rents bikes and cruiser.
Need to hot-desk and be fuelled with a killer cup of coffee at the same time? Pitch up at Deus, which has strong wi-fi, a good snack selection and great coffee.
By far the best way to road trip and explore California is with your own set of wheels. We picked up an adventure-ready SUV from Hertz less than 10 minutes from LAX. Gas is cheap in California and we only had to refill twice in 2 weeks.
‘The Beast From The East’ has done it’s best to thwart our travels, but a group of fellow sport and fitness journalists and bloggers have triumphed, huddling together in the freshly constructed Plymouth Climbing Hangar in the Western tips of the UK. We’ve battled the ‘Beast’ to reach the all-new climbing facility for an exclusive Redbull training session with climbing sensation, World Champion Shauna Coxsey and training partner and fellow climber Leah Crane.
Hailing from the North of England, 25-year-old climber Shauna Coxsey MBE is the reigning IFSC Climbing World Cup Bouldering Champion (two years on the trot), something the British climber admits still hasn’t “quite sunk in”, but she’d “always dreamed as a kid of winning the World Cup and being World Number One and getting my name out there”. Getting her name out there she has indeed achieved, and with the next summer Olympics on the horizon in Japan, climbing is set to make its much-anticipated debut alongside surfing and skateboarding as a new sport added to the Olympic roster. With two consecutive World Titles under her belt, Shauna “knew what I wanted was to be World Number One, and not just win the odd World Cup here and there, but to really assert myself at the top. So to do that and then repeat that again twice was just insane…I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to compete on the world stage.”
Climbing has been a constant in the tenacious athlete’s life, grappling with her first boulders at the tender age of 4 having been wowed by climbing on the TV and falling “in love with it instantly… (I) decided that’s what I wanted to do”. Honing her internationally lauded skills at kid’s clubs in the UK and by asking her dad if she could “learn some belay”, Shauna was competing by the age of 7. The first phase of her climbing career was based predominantly indoors, but gradually progressing to outdoor. For now, the World Champion’s focus is on “competition climbing…so indoor is my focus”.
For those of us who have given climbing a go, and with a group of us at this training session led by Shauna and Leah readily attesting, it is as much a physical sport as psychological. The physical prowess and strength of Shauna and Leah is astounding. For every mind-boggling route they chart on the wall, requiring super-women levels of strength and skill from their finger-tips to their toes, yet somehow executed with the dainty quietness and grace of a ballerina, there is the mental focus, decision making and fear-fighting at play too. Shauna agrees, suggesting that climbing is as much “a psychological sport as much as a physical…the psychological element is different from many other sports…the pressures, the nerves...”. With Shauna explaining how her training programme sees her training 6 or 7 days a week, with 2 or 3 climbing sessions a day she continues that
“Experience is one of the things you can’t value enough, … the more you get out there and do the things you want to be better at, the better you’re going to be. So if you do get nervous and you don’t want to, putting yourself in those environments and learning new skills is a good way to try and improve”.
Watching Leah and Shauna together it’s clear how much joy that take from training and climbing, and together they admit that they try and make every training session they have as fun as possible, often to the bemusement of other climbers who watch their methods which include “yogabatics” (acro yoga), ball games for focus and agility, and generally trying to have a blast (the girls admit many spectators often ask for tips afterwards, seeing how much fun the girls have.) An incredibly positive disposition and approach to her sport is palpable in Shauna, and infectious – many of us, under her guidance and encouragement are attempting holds we haven’t before and with stoked-out success.
Sitting out the next World Cup whilst recovering from an injury, Shauna is also busy in preparation for the upcoming Olympics, which will include 3 disciplines – sport, bouldering and speed climbing, a “tri-discipline medal, so I’ll have to compete in all 3, which was a little bit daunting initially, but I’ve started training now and I’m very confident that I can make sure I’m in the best shape for the Olympics.” With bouldering Shauna’s preferred discipline, it seems the other 2 are not far off Shauna’s mark, having made finals in a lead climbing World Cup last year. Seeing the structure of a tri-medal as a positive in that “if I can train and become a stronger, fitter, better athlete, that’s my main goal and always my main focus and that’s what motivates me.”
When surfing and skateboarding were contentiously added to the Olympics there was a divisive split between those purists who argue it is against the heritage and freedom based DNA of the sports, and those who see it as positive progression and an opportunity to see their sport showcased on a global platform, climbing too caused similar divides. “In my opinion" Shauna begins, "I think the more exposure a sport can get the better. The Olympics is the most prestigious sporting event in the world. If our sport can be showcased in a positive way then that can’t be a bad thing. If more people are getting involved in the sport, finding a new passion, finding a way to lead a healthier, active lifestyle, that surely can only be a good thing. I can see why people would be apprehensive about it but I think it’s really a good thing in that the more people will see climbing will go and try it. If one person finds a passion, just a small percentage of what I have in climbing, then that’s incredible”.
It is clear Shauna has a relentless passion for her sport and for anyone else finding as much joy in it that she has, something that led her to create the Women’s Climbing Symposium 8 years ago, and which ultimately she was awarded her MBE for by the Queen for services to her sport. An all-female led event, Shauna explains that “Initially it was an event about barriers and tackling them. I didn't realise when I started climbing that there were women who were afraid to climb with their boyfriends, or get big muscles, or climb when they were on their period, or there would be things that I never would have considered…I wanted to open up a dialogue and give an opportunity to ask questions, talk and learn from it and other people’s experiences."
A consistently sold-out event, the Women’s Climbing Symposium gains in momentum every year, drawing together 100’s of women and girls to collectively celebrate climbing and meet, train and share;
“Over the years the event has really developed and grown into a celebration of the sport. It isn’t an event about women, it’s an event for female climbers to celebrate that they do the same sport and get together and get some advice get some coaching, hear from other people ad just really embrace climbing as good as it is and that community, which is really strong.”
The future looks incredibly exciting for the Champ, and as we dust off our chalky hands and share high fives with Shauna and Leah, it isn't hard to imagine seeing Shauna on the Olympic stage with the same energy, an emboldening mix of positive vibes and super-hero strength and talent.
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So jazzed Mad To Live Retreats has featured in Escapism Magazine's print feature "The Selector: Holiday Ideas To Tickle Your Fancy".
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SurfGirl Magazine are a staple read and favourite at Mad To Live HQ, and we were stoked to feature in their latest Sofa To Surf Travel Guide, where they take a look at Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience epic dates in Portugal.
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