My story of how a hippy gets to starting her own surf company.
I’m a 35 year old surfer woman from a little countryside village in the UK.
I’ve never had a corporate job, let alone sat at an office chair. Honestly – the things I’ve done for money over the years to support myself and fund that next flight, well, that’s a whole blog post of its own.
In the village, I grew up far from any surf-able waves. The nearest coast to me was flat water, deep sea port areas off Central-South England.
My first introduction to waves came during a trip to Cornwall (South-West England), at the age of 16. It was a celebration trip with a group of friends after the end of Secondary School (that’s High School to the non-Brits). I bought a cheap foam boogie board, and after my first wave – I was hooked.
I had always loved swimming in the sea - for hours and hours on family holidays as a kid. And this was in the freezing North Sea – wearing just a swimming costume, my urge to be in the ocean was strong!
My dream was to go to Australia and see the Great Barrier Reef.
At 19 I took a gap year before University to make it happen, and me and a friend flew off to the
East Coast of Australia. We partied our way up the coast, and I washed away my daily hangover with hours of boogie boarding – still hooked!
When we hit the barrier reef in Coffs Harbour I completed a PADI dive course. From my first dive, I knew that this was what I wanted my life to be, teaching diving so I could do this every single day. It was everything I’d imagined in my wildest dreams, and more. I was totally in love with the underwater world.
University was calling, so I returned to England and became instantly depressed. I had had a taste of the world, and I wanted more. London just didn’t seem quite so exotic anymore…
After a year at University (spent mostly partying in clubs), I decided to quit. Cashing my student loan cheque for the next year of studies I would no longer complete, I took off to South-East Asia.
Another year of travel took me through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos , Malaysia and then back to Australia again. By the time I came back to England, my life changed forever. The people I met, the experiences I had with cultures so interesting and diverse. Poor people by Western standards, who seemed so much happier than anyone I knew from my own culture. So in touch with nature and their spirituality. A completely different view of ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. And then to spend time in a country like Cambodia, so soon after the Khmer people had to start over again, recovering from a genocide that wiped out a generation. I had to face concepts, feelings and experiences that rocked my existence to the core.
I tried again with England, hoping to bring freshness and adventure to my life there. But I missed the diversity of culture and the extremity of nature. I missed the wonder and the challenges, and the sun – of course!
Craving adventure, I took off for a working ski season in the French Alps with an old best friend and a Uni mate. This was so much fun. Working and playing hard, no time to sleep, I loved the mountains, the thrill and speed of charging down the snow as fast as my skis would carry me. And the ‘’apres ski’’ sessions in the bar making time seem like a continuous loop of partying, skiing and working.
When the season ended I needed somewhere to spend a summer, so decided to go to the west coast of France where I could dedicate months to properly learn to surf, STANDING UP!
So unsure, clueless really, I found a quaint spot, not so famous for its waves, but enough for a beginner – called Les Sables-d'Olonne.
I befriended bar tenders who let me sleep on their couch, and got an evening job pot washing in
a restaurant, where I was yelled at all night long in French to keep up with the heavy demand of pot washing for a large, busy restaurant. Anything to keep my days free so I could learn to surf! I kept to an exhausting schedule driven by blind passion and a will to progress; beating myself up all day in the water for tiny glimmers of satisfaction!
At first as ‘’the kook’’ I would see the local guys laughing at me day after day being smashed by the waves. I never saw another girl out there. But slowly, days became weeks and I started to ride along a wave instead of straight to the beach, the local guys started to warm to me – giving me little tips. They could see I was determined. After 4 months, I could ride left on a wave for a short distance. A huge break-through!
Winter arrived and I headed back to the Alps again to ski. It was still fun, and hard work – this time as a chalet and private house cleaner, whereas before I worked doing the laundry for a hotel.
At some point high in the ‘’heavens’’, stood staring across mountains after mountains of snowy beauty, I realised I longed to see the sea. The mountains, despite their beauty and giant might, were somehow managing to make me feel claustrophobic. It was then that I knew I could never be a seasoned-‘’seasonaire’.’ I loved the mountains and skiing, but my passion was ultimately the ocean.
So… I went back to England (bit of a running trend here), living back at home with my Mum. I worked in bars and cleaned rich people’s houses, and somehow convinced a bank manager, (a 20-something- definitely younger than me - guy) to give me a credit card. Hahahahaha - the fool!
I recalled stories from fellow travellers in South-East Asia, of perfect barrelling waves, and reefs even more diverse than ‘the great barrier Reef itself’’ – all to be found in Indonesia.
It was a big step to go alone, but with a name of a dive shop from the internet, 1,000 GBP in the bank, and a credit card limit of 2,000 pounds, I headed to Bali to become a dive Instructor. This was 2004.
It took me about 6 months to qualify as an Instructor, as I still enjoyed partying a bit. I had made some solid friends for life, and accomplished my goal. After all that study, I took myself off on a scooter with a surfboard rack to the neighbouring island Lombok where I surfed my arse off on waves that scared (and thrilled) me!
Money was running low so I got a job teaching back-packers to dive on the tiny paradise - Gili Islands. It was a season of partying, working, diving, debauchery… and a little surfing when the swell was just right.
A year passed by quickly on the Gilis and I hadn’t surfed very much. Dreaming of waves, I remembered meeting a resort owner back in Lombok. He had described his resort to me. A far away, remote place on top of a cliff, surrounded by jungle, and with two hidden surf breaks off a deserted beach. It was called, quite fittingly, ‘Heaven On The Planet’. I went searching for this slice of heaven.
In the middle of the bay was a shallow coral reef. The owner had a couple of sets of dive gear and an old compressor, so we went out for a couple of dives together, drinking beers in the evening sharing surf stories.
At the end of the week he offered me a job. I was to be the first Diving Instructor for the resort. Board and food paid, plus a small wage, I shook hands and thanked the Gods.
I spent two years there. I’d discovered new and exciting dive sites, been lost out at sea, washed up on a deserted beach with a friend, surfed the best waves of my life, caught my first barrel, lived among monkeys and never wore shoes.
If this story seems incredibly romantic and idealistic, in some ways it was. I’m not going to lie. Put a gun to my head now and I’ll go with a smile.
That’s not to say I don’t have my fair share of scars! I have had so many near death experiences, I’ve literally stopped counting. Dengue Fever five times, food poisoning, motorbike accidents, broken ribs, spinal re-alignment. I’ve loved and lost, become lost and found, and been robbed of everything I owned – including my dirty underwear – I mean, come on! I was left with my surfboard and my bikini, everything else was gone.
But then I’m not writing a book. So again, look out for another blog post for this story in more detail.
Let me fast forward now, to the islands of Komodo and Flores, Indonesia. It was (around) 2007.
It was the dream dive job. I worked on board what looked like a pirate ship, where customers paid a pretty penny to cruise around and explore this wild heaven. My job was to guide them under water and try not to kill them in extreme down, up and sideways currents. This was the best diving I could ever wish for. Pristine corals of every colour, crazy looking frog fish, leaf scorpion fish, manta rays, sharks and turtles. It was exhausting and exhilarating. And along came a book full of underwater stories and dramas that you would expect with a bunch of strangers sharing too many days at sea.
But the surf was still calling me back…
Returning home to Bali, I was dying to surf. I found frustratingly, that I needed to learn all over
again to try and recover my skills. But also, I was fighting a constant battle to keep my clothes on in stupid, skimpy bikinis! How was it, in one of the global Meccas of surfing, with every big brand surf brand here and their giant stores, I could not find a single bikini that would actually stay on my body while I surfed??! Ridiculous!
Enough was enough. I knew Bali made clothes to export to the world. So all I needed to do, was design my own bikini - a truly surf-able bikini, and find a little hidden factory to make it for me.
Well, let’s pretend that was quick and easy, (haha!). But, in the end, I had my samples.
I tried them out with great success in the waves, hundreds of waves. I smugly looked at other girls out there duck diving, to then surface and have to readjust themselves. Or get wiped out and then have to stay in the water to re-dress, when they should have been jumping back on their board quickly to take on the next coming wave. Relieved this was no longer me.
I went back to work on the dive boats in Komodo and wore my samples to go diving four times a day. Taking groups in and out of the water, whilst organizing gear, and doing dive plan briefings, I was impressed to be able to rip off my wet-suit over and over, and have my bikini stay in place!
In fact, female colleagues and dive guests also commented on how good my bikini was, and where could they buy one. By this point, I’d probably dived about 2000 hours under the water in my one bikini sample.
And there it was. The simple business idea of making real surf clothes for women, was born. I just needed a cool name. What name shows that this bikini or board shorts will withstand the power of the surf? What name would portray a kick-ass women’s brand that wouldn’t be overshadowed by the male-dominance of the sport? For women like me, who’d earned their right to be there with every beating they took, from a thousand tons (probably?) of water smashing their head?
And so ‘’Surf Worthy’’ appeared. It was a sign from the surfing Gods themselves! For it reflects not only its wearer, but the job it’s there to do. To be “worthy of the mighty surf”.
I pictured a strong super-hero/No Fear kind-of logo along with it. (Well, you know now what that looks like).
But there was something holding me back. How could I make enough money to produce a full collection, and have the time to do it? England wasn’t an option. You can’t save money in England, wages are shit, and living costs are way too high. Plus, the weather kills me.
You may be thinking, why leave the dream dive job? Well, even the most beautiful reefs can get ‘samey’. Not like the waves. They are different every time. And Dive Instructors are poor in the Western sense of the word. It’s a nice lifestyle for a while, but you miss seeing your family year after year, not being able to afford flights, scraping to make rent, worrying you can’t pay for your visa that month and might be sent away – that kind of thing. That was the end of 2012.
Fast forward another four years, hand to mouth trip through Australia helping out on the farms and then Bali, picking up dive jobs on boats and dive centre's of friends. I then found myself back in the UK, visiting family I hadn't seen in 4 years. But I was worried as every time I had traveled back to UK and attempted a life there, that I was going to get caught in the vicious cycle of shit job no savings.
Then a pop-up – the internet came to the rescue! A random advert for a job promoting a small surf camp in EL Salvador. I’m thinking, where’s El Salvador??? Google… Central America – sweet! A kind friend lent me the money for a ticket and I arrived in a country where I knew no-one, and knew nothing about, apart from that it had waves. Which was enough for me.
A few choice meetings with some North Americans, visiting El Salvador I went to California to work on farms and after a few years back and forth between Central America > North America > Central America, I found myself back in Bali with enough funds to make a small collection, and return airline tickets to do it all over again.
My talented surfer women friends really rallied in El Salvador, modelling for a photo shoot and connecting me with local talent Katherine (now one of our official Ambassadors), for a shoot in the waves.
I also picked up my new love on a trip to Singapore. We met through a friend of a friend and now live together, working side by side on Surf Worthy.
I know what you’re thinking. How can all this happen? By luck, charm and a hell of a lot of hustle?! Yes - all those things, and to work so hard that your back feels like breaking when I needed to, Incorporating the power of Universal manifestation to help me along the way. Hey I’m a hippy, deal with it.
So here I am, poised, to embark on a dream to run my own business that will incorporate my life-long passion for surfing, a never-ending challenge. Along with my love of travel, and my desire to leave my mark on the world, with an ethical touch.
Is this the blog that you were hoping for? Do you believe in my will to succeed? Or my passion for the project? Can we all die trying?
If you think ‘yes’ to most of these questions here, then you’re a positive soul in a messed up world – like myself. Thank you!
There are two quotes I live by:
Anything is possible – and I’ve really stretched this one to its limits.
‘’I’m a surfer, I can do anything’’ (A quote from a self-made millionaire 50-something Aussie surfer who stayed at the resort I worked at in Lombok)
So, here’s me, in a floating nut shell on the vast ocean. And here’s my blog, if you wish to carry on with me and my journey.