#DefendersofFun is a look into the adventurous lives of outdoor advocates who are working to better the outdoor community and protect the wild places we have fun in. Their story, their own words. Share your outdoor story on Instagram @DefendersofFun #DefendersofFun.
“I was raised on a swampy Florida river that emptied to the Atlantic Ocean. During hurricane season, my town surfed. In the autumn, my dad took us in a VW camper van to the mountains. In the winter, we went to coastal Maine. My love of the outdoors is all thanks to my family and where and how they raised me.
I’ve lived in Canada’s Maritimes, Utah, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, and now I’m in British Columbia. But, weird as it might be, my car is where I feel most as home. I lived in my car for three years. Several times after my return from life on the road, I felt homesick for my car! Then I realized, “I’m an adult, dang it. I can sleep wherever I want to.” So, from time to time, I wrap up with my sleeping bag in my car.
I witnessed my female peers become pregnant or drop out of school.
I moved to Utah in grade school for a few years, where I learned to love skiing and climbing. With my return to Florida — specifically southwest Florida — I had a really hard time accessing outdoor activities. I didn’t know anyone who biked or went canoeing, and since we moved to the Gulf side of the state, I didn’t have access to surfing.
There weren’t many positive outlets for the younger generation in that area. Over the next few years, I witnessed a good chunk of my female peers become pregnant, end up in juvenile court, or drop out of school.
I moved back to Utah after high school, but often thought back to my high school experience and the female friends who fell prey to social pressures. It hit me that adventure sports would have been a positive avenue for them to gain confidence, choose healthier paths, and pursue life with clearer purpose. Having a crew that went outdoors and cheered each other on would have been life-changing for them.
It needs to be done with sincerity, not for popularity or to see if you can get free outdoor gear.
I started OWA (Outdoor Women’s Alliance) in 2007 in Salt Lake City, which is now a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that serves women worldwide through the lens of adventure. Most only know us from one or two slivers of our organization—our Instagram feed or our Grassroots Teams—but we have a three-fold mission to strengthen the individual, communities, and to be a resource for outdoor women worldwide. For the past ten years, we’ve done everything through volunteer hours, offering all of our programs and mentorships for free.
Over the past two years, I’ve really noticed a shift with the outdoor industry’s deliberate focus on women’s adventure. We’ve seen a massive upswing in social media channels that push the visibility of women in adventure.
The buzz is encouraging, but it needs to be done with sincerity, not for popularity or to try to get free outdoor gear. It’s not a bandwagon that we should jump on and off if it falls out of vogue. Women the world over need dedicated organizations that not only share the beautiful moments of women in adventure, but the struggles as well—from the perspectives of all classes, all ethnicities, all cultures, and all corners of the world. It’s not a trend; it’s a movement.
Women want communities of supportive outdoor women to get out with. It’s an enduring issue that OWA’s grassroots teams—and now crowd funder—are a direct result of. Our teams serve more than 8,000 members in seven regions, but many people fall outside these regions. To solve this, one of our long-time volunteers came up with the idea for an online program where women can connect, grow skills, and build in-person communities right where they are. Since there are major costs associated with coding, platform maintenance, and legal and insurance fees, we are turning to the community for help. When we reach our goal of $25,000 by March 3, we’ll bring what we’ve offered our regional grassroots teams to women everywhere.
I want to stake my invisible flag in spaces that are unfamiliar.
It’s hard to say I do anything in particular for a living since most of my hours involve volunteering for OWA. (And no, I’m most definitely not even close to being independently wealthy.) I work to help support OWA by writing and photographing for adventure travel publications and occasionally helping brands with social media. What helps me live, in terms of having purpose in my day-to-day life, is building a way to strengthen others. After living in my tiny car, I learned to do without a lot of material “extras,” so that frees up my financial needs considerably.
Discovery was the driving force behind me living in my car, it’s why I suffered through hiking (which I’ve never been a fan of—sorry hikers), and is my main interest in being outdoors. If it’s new to my eyes, I want to see it. I don’t want to take the photos and see the sights everyone has pinned on their Pinterest pages and Instagram accounts. I want to stake my invisible flag in spaces that are unfamiliar.”
—As told to Dirtbag Darling