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Kinship Anthology | Sophie Hellyer

This week the theme is travel and all things wanderlust. Staycations, city breaks, tropical escapes; tell us about your travel experiences and how you have embraced them. Today we are hearing from surfer, producer, writer & environmentalist, Sophie Hellyer, age 30 currently based between London and the West coast of Ireland. Alongside Sophie’s multi-hyphen career, she also works to empower women through sport and raise awareness through her own ethical lifestyle choices. We take a deep dive into travel inspo, the female focused surf scene and how living remotely affects her female friendships.

Have you always felt the need to travel and where are some of the best places to have ever travelled to?

I was lucky enough to start travelling quite young, my dad took me backpacking around South Africa when I was 14, and when I got sponsored for surfing at 15 my travel bug really kicked in. I spent many months each year travelling, working the summer months and then escaping the winters. Travelling taught me so much about culture, religions, food, people… I experienced some amazing places and made connections that will hopefully last a lifetime. Nowadays I definitely try and experience slow travel a bit more, staying close to the wild Atlantic edge, travelling the coast here and off to the Scottish Isles. We have so much beauty on our doorsteps.

How do you stay in touch with your close friends when you are either travelling or living remotely?

I actually have a very small close friend circle, maybe 4 close female friends here in Ireland, 1 in London and a couple back in Devon where I’m from. I think travelling so much and living overseas means I can’t keep in touch with everyone, or I would spend all my time staring into my phone screen. I try to focus on the close connections with the people where I am, my friends in England understand that when I’m away in Ireland they won’t hear from me as much as I’m trying to immerse myself here, and likewise when I’m away travelling or in the UK, I may drop out of touch a little more with the women here but our friendships are strong enough that it doesn’t matter. Whatsapp voice notes are bloody brilliant and its such a quick and funny way to connect with your friends over distance, so much nicer than text messages.

How important are female friendship to you and do you have any anecdotal stories you can share with us?

Female friendships are everything. When I was younger most my friends were male, but that’s dramatically changed as I’ve gotten older. The support network I have around myself now is so important, I would not have the strength in my voice without them. My friends truly are amazing.

Do you have a female role model in your personal and / or work life you can share with us?

Ok, this is a real fan girl your friends moment, she will be embarrassed. My life motto has become “be more like Dearbhla!”. Dearbhla Glynn is my friend, my neighbour, and also aHuman Rights Filmmaker, Photographer, Woman, Storyteller, Yoga Instructor, Realist and many other things. Shes also one of the most humble people I have ever met and one of my favourite humans. Dearbhla lectures gender and equality at the local universities and spends her free time in places like the Congo documenting issues such as the rape crisis there, and she just carries this calm air of humble wisdom and so much fun at the same time. Be more like Dearbhla!

Can you tell us about your current work and what you do day to day?

I’m working on quite a lot of projects at the moment, I get confused myself when people ask me what I do. Last week I worked on a collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger with their new range which is made out of renewable and recycled materials. Over the weekend I was producing in London for a fashion photoshoot, its nice to be behind the scenes in an industry I know so well. I produced a lovely little shoot up in Scotland last month and it was so great to work with such amazing creative in beautiful landscapes, so inspiring. I also love writing, sometimes things get published in magazines or newspapers and I’d like to follow this route more. Its not a good one for money making but it really helps me process things and articulate into words what it is I real feel. I also do a little bit of sustainability consulting for brands, and the very occasional modelling job if it aligns with my personal beliefs. So a bit of a muddle really, trying to make a living from my passions. My instagram and blog are just hobbies that I do in my spare time, I turn down a lot of offers to monetize my feed because I’m not sure how I feel about that, unless it’s a brand I genuinely use and believe in, I don’t want to feel I’m manipulating my audience in anyway. I feel I have a real responsibility with this platforms and try to use them to raise awareness on issues such as social inequality and plastic pollution.

Can you tell us a little more about being a female athlete and any problems you may have encountered?

The relationship between sport and gender equality is complex. I personally feel that many female surfers are misrepresented in the media, and many groups not represented at all. Much of the surf industry seems intent on perpetuating this cultural beauty ideal of the female surfer, the result is a bit of a monoculture of women who embarrassingly look a bit like me to be honest. It builds a culture, its patronizing and damaging, I didn’t see the damage this caused and I subscribed to this industry for a long time when I was younger. When we know better, we do better. For me, surfing transformed my life, it’s a place for unselfconscious expression and has been a tool to manage anxiety and depression. I’d love it if everyone were able to participate in sport in this way, regardless of their race or religion, where they fall on the gender spectrum or what size they are. I worry that surfing is inaccessible for many young boys and girls because they don’t fit into this box that we are all too often presented with.

Is there anything women can do to come together and support each other in the sporting industry?

So many things. You know, for me, sisterhood isn’t wearing a t-shirt that says “girls support girls” or whatever, it runs much deeper than that. It really is in actions and actively trying to be the change. Buy and read independent media, support female owned brands, research the clothing companies and ensure you’re only buying from companies who aren’t exploiting women in developing countries, VOTE. If you’re a photographer, take photos of a diverse and inclusive representation of female athletes too, actually doing their sport, not just posing as we are so often asked to do. If you work at a magazine, speak up and make sure female athletes from diverse backgrounds are being equally represented, not just ones who fit the industry’s beauty ideal. And if you don’t work in the industry use your wallet to vote, every time you spend money you’re contributing towards the kind of world we live in. There really are some amazing independent magazines and clothing brands out there now, ran by women and operating transparently and ethically. Support them!

Follow Sophie @sophiehellyer  and find more of her writing in her journal

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