We like to say that our ambassadors are the Awesome Side of Normal.
We chose these inspiring folk to represent what we stand for because they are living and breathing evidence of how life is better outdoors. They are truly living up to the poet Mary Oliver's exhortation to make their most of their "Wild and Precious Lives".
So when we heard that Nikki Yoxall had thrown herself into the sea from the mountains, we demanded the inside line...
I would have always described myself as a mountain person.
Whilst I could never deny the beauty of the sea, I would maintain that the mountains were where I felt I belonged, where I found my peace, where I could be challenged and learn resilience over and over again.
The mountains gave me rock climbing, and rock climbing is my meditation. We moved 650 miles north to Scotland to be near the mountains, to have their grandness on our doorstep and know that at any weather window, we could make the most of their wildness, their beauty.
Back in October, I joined my husband on his yearly trip to Devon to celebrate a good friend of ours birthday. This annual pilgrimage was made up primarily of beer, food and surfing. Since moving north I had not seen these friends for some time, so decided to join the trip – no I probably wouldn’t be surfing. It wasn’t really my thing, but it would be nice to see everyone.
On that windy beach in Devon in October, I am not sure what came over me – perhaps an expression of the improved self-acknowledgement I have been experiencing as I am now in my thirties where I am more open to trying things and failing.Perhaps a bit of peer pressure. Perhaps the influence of an evening of whisky – whatever it was, I found myself hiring a wetsuit and a surfboard.
With an absolute terror of just being left to my own devices, with no lesson booked or any real idea of what I was meant to be doing, I repeatedly asked my husband for reassurance that he wouldn’t just leave me to it and would be there to give instruction and rescue me if I started to drown (which, I had convinced myself, was likely).
Oh my. What a feeling.
Being battered by waves, heaving myself out to a point where I could then turn the board around and head back to the safety of the shallows…the effort! Salted spluttering and complete lack of a clue as to what I needed to do. All of this faded to nothing as I caught a wave and (remaining on my stomach) sped towards the beach. I couldn’t stop laughing. What absolute joy, complete and utter freedom, where nothing else mattered and all that I could focus on was the speed and the weightlessness.
I spent the rest of the week continuing to be battered by waves, being washing machined and churned about under the water repeatedly, all for those precious moments of speed and flight. I also bought a wet suit – declaring this was no single weekend fad – I was in for the long haul.
Surfing (or the pursuit of what actually can be called surfing) opened up a part of me that I didn’t even know existed, I felt alive and challenged and joyful all at once – here was something that I always thought was for “other people” being something that was also for me.
On returning home to the highlands, I quickly scoped out couple of local surf schools, arranged an afternoon of 1:1 coaching, and then joined the school’s Sunday Surf Club.
In April I am heading to the West Coast of Ireland to Sophie Hellyer’s Rise Fierce retreat to not only do some cold water swimming and yoga, but to further improve my surfing,
Winter surfing in Scotland is not for the faint hearted; it’s cold, the wind always seems to be blowing in the wrong direction, the salt stings your windswept eyes and getting out of your wetsuit in a carpark is beyond chilly. But you don’t half feel alive.
One of the lessons of my thirties is that how I define myself cannot be a limiting factor. Moving to Scotland onto a small holding means I am no longer just a climber and mountain lover. I am a part time woods-woman, a small scale farmer, a climber, a mountain adventurer, a surfer and, for the most part in my paid work, a leader.
Surfing has humbled me, reminded me of the joy of being a beginner. It has come at a good time, and perhaps that isn’t just down to luck. It has given me one more thing to try and balance into my time, but in doing so has forced me to reconsider that my time isn’t there to be balanced, but to be dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, fulfilment and feelings of contentment in a myriad of ways.
I used to worry that if I was at home tidying up our land on a good weather day, that I was missing out on great conditions in the hills. If I was climbing a route with the sun on my back, I was worried I was missing an opportunity to tend the vegetable garden. If I was at the beach, I wasn’t somewhere else doing something else.
Learning to surf has taught me to disregard my fear of missing out. The waves keep coming, you can’t catch them all, and they will continue to break on the beach long after I am too tired, cold and sore to stay in the water. Instead I enjoy those quiet moments between the waves with only seals for company for what they are, moments that contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing, of being present.
When the mountains are calling, I honour them with a trip to the depths of the Cairngorms. When the swell is up and conditions look good, I leave my climbing rack at home and head to the beach. When the sun shines and I am tending my vegetables at home with a view down the valley, I watch my drying wetsuit swaying in the breeze and smile inwardly knowing that the waves are breaking, I am not catching them, but I am not missing out.