Robyn Dawson, Marketing Communications Manager at Red, gives an insight into how the recent Red Ride Out came about and how it’s been a real passion project and dream for the team for many, many years.
When I first joined Red Paddle Co back in 2017, overall, the outward image projected of the SUP community was very different to how it is today.
We were regularly contacted by adventurers showing off their epic, gnarly SUP expeditions – from paddling down the Yukon River to heading off on an ultra-SUP adventure or sailing with their inflatable SUPs exploring the tropical waters of Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, they were all very inspiring and looked amazing, but seeing these types of adventures again and again in some ways felt unrelatable and unachievable.
The industry was predominantly made up of experienced male paddlers from a hard-core surf or windsurf background including some very capable water sports people. And while they were undoubtedly skilled and had impressive accomplishments, these kinds of adventures just didn’t feel accessible to the everyday paddler like me and most of the newer recruits in the Red team. For us as a team, this was not the type of paddle boarding we were doing on a regular basis.
Of course, we would have all loved to quit our jobs and hit the road in a campervan across Australia or circumnavigate Rapanui Island like many of the stories we were reading online and in SUP magazines, yet we felt there was a need to actively support and seek out the everyday adventurer.
It was increasingly becoming obvious that many of our customers were female, almost 50% of our boards were being bought by women but we suspected it was even more that were ultimately using them. However, the representation in our marketing campaigns and the wider industry was not representing this reality. And with this, potentially not projecting an image of SUP and adventure that other women and our wider community could connect with.
Fast forward almost 5 years, we are now a team of 9 people in our marketing department at Red, with 6 of us being women. Overall, the marketing landscape has changed. It’s not been an overnight shift but slowly and surely, we have chipped away, and the representation of SUP and the general outdoor industry positively mirrors what is happening in the real world. While the epic expedition emails still trickle through to my inbox, the outlook on “adventure” and the everyday paddle boarder looks quite different.
Over the years, I’ve always been passionate about shining the spotlight on the amazing women I was meeting time and time again, who were gradually carving out their own course in the outdoor industry. Almost daily we were having conversations with incredible women who were doing awesome things in their jobs and spare time. It was really refreshing and very inspiring. I wanted to give them a platform and create an event exclusively for women to confidently share their stories to hopefully inspire others. We also wanted an excuse to meet all these incredible women and go paddling with them!
‘Women in Watersports’ was the first working title many years ago, yet as time has passed, the early discussions we had as a team about a lack of representation of real female paddlers had begun to shift. So much so, that when we came to choose our theme for the most recent Red Ride Out weekend, we took a step back and looked at how far we have come and even questioned if it we should run a female-only event at all.
Of course, our first thoughts were, let’s finally create a Red Ride Out that is exclusively for women. Yet, as we reviewed the purpose of the event it was clear to see our strategy to cultivate and broaden female representation over the years had indeed shaped our Red community in a positive way and we had come a long way.
There were strong females out there hiking, paddling, swimming, climbing, and creating their own communities both on and offline. However, a common thread was appearing, for most of the women we were talking to, they had faced multiple barriers in their quest to get outside. Be those internal struggles to access to the right kit or backlash from communities and individuals that they didn’t belong. But they were all passionate about breaking down these barriers to entry, so even more women could join them.
That is when we agreed on the theme of ‘Challenges in the outdoors and challenging the outdoor space’. Rather creating an event that was simply about celebrating females in the outdoors, we wanted to address the wider topic and talk to women who were working hard to change the status quo of the outdoor space or might still be battling challenges of the outdoors and the outdoor industry.
We settled on the overarching theme and invited a diverse group to JOIN US ON THE RIVER WYE for a weekend of activities including paddle boarding, swimming, running, walking and thought-provoking discussions.
The women I met over the weekend arrived with open minds and truly embraced the purpose for the weekend – to consider the benefits of nature and explore the emotional and human connections we find through a love of the water and the great outdoors.
We discussed our individual journeys and explored why spending time outdoors is so important. We listened to the ongoing challenges and disparity we may have faced, not just as women but because of race, religion, appearance, ethnicity, size, and culture. We heard how many of our guests were making important steps in the right direction to make the outdoors and our wider communities an inclusive and safe space to help and encourage more people to take part in activities with confidence and without judgement.
Remarkably, we learned one of the overarching barriers to entry was not having access to the right kit. The group shared their individual struggles to find kit and clothing that was fit for purpose or kit that fit correctly so that people can actually partake in some of the simplest of activities. They simply couldn’t do the activity they wanted to do because the kit was not there.
Sarah Blues (@PLUSSIZEPADDDLER) was struggling to find kit and clothing that catered for larger sizes and for Shareen, from THE WANDERLUST WOMEN, the challenge was about finding modest swimwear and waterproof headscarves that were affordable and fit for purpose for the Muslim community.
These fundamental products are either not readily available or are missing the mark in terms of sizing, cost, purpose, and design.
I went into the weekend thinking how far we had come in terms of representation and visibility for women, yet it was clear to see that as a brand and on a personal level that having better representation is never going to be enough if people can’t actually get outside to begin with.
If outdoor brands are not supplying the right products and designs so that everyone can easily and affordably have access to enjoy those all-important benefits of the outdoors, then it is clear we still have a long way to go. It is our responsibility as team members of influential brands to continue to tackle these hurdles, put forward fresh ideas, and find ways to evolve our products and our thinking, to be as inclusive as possible. It is great to see some brands are stepping up and beginning to address these issues, but it is even more important that we continue to listen and learn from our communities so we can all have a greater impact.
COMING TOGETHER ‘IN REAL LIFE’
I was surprised to learn that several of the ladies tend to complete their chosen activity alone and that coming together as a group was a challenge in itself. For some, the thought of being amongst so many inspiring women was a daunting one, even though they were out there doing impressive things themselves. This was cemented by many of our guests having super cool and inspiring Instagram feeds, which as we know, are just the very highlights of real life.
Of course, we all have concerns and nerves that creep up on us ahead of the unknown. But hearing it from women who live and breathe outdoor adventure, who run, hike, bike, SUP, swim and climb on a very regular basis, had me contemplating where this collective and comparative self-doubt comes from. These women came from all walks of life, with vastly different backgrounds and lived experiences but for many within the group those nerves and worries were shared.
Interestingly it was the very action of coming together that broke down these doubts as quickly as they had been made and were promptly replaced by that of comfort, acceptance and feeling of belonging. They found a common ground in their shared love of the outdoors and the result was a feeling of empowerment, encouragement, support for each other’s strengths and weakness, with a chance to learn, try, fall, and get back up.
The atmosphere over the weekend with this group of 25 women was electric. It felt like summer camp with people budding up in tents, connecting on the water and of course a lot of laughter.
It was this shared experience that brought home why we created the concept of the Red Ride Out in the first place. Simply being together in an offline, outdoor environment with likeminded people to paddle, converse, reconnect and celebrate our individual capabilities as a group.
This Ride Out really proved the importance and the power that coming together and just being with people by the water or around nature can have. Forming connections in the outdoors allows for deeper discussions, deeper interactions and builds friendships and memories that will last. In post this pandemic world, it presents a new opportunity to reconnect and adventure together.
The weekend brought home that no matter who you are, everyone has the right to climb that hill or paddle down that river and enjoy the incredible benefits of being outdoors. And while it is great to see we can drive change on an individual level, we can achieve so much more when we come together as a collective.
If you default to being a solo explorer, sea swimmer, paddler or runner than I encourage you to be brave and reach out to find your tribe and let’s live that adventure, push those boundaries and drive change together.
Here are a few communities and individuals who are working hard to drive positive change. Give them a follow or reach out to take part in their many group activities and adventures:
The Wanderlust Women – Muslim women’s hiking and adventure group - WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/THE.WANDERLUST.WOMEN/
We Go Outside Too C.I.C. – Bringing the Rawness and Authenticity of Nature to the Community by aligning mental and physical wellbeing therapy with outdoor activities. WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/WEGOOUTSIDETOO/
Every Body Outdoors – Fighting for clothing, gear and representation for larger and plus sized bodies in the outdoors movement in the UK – WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/EVERY_BODY_OUTDOORS/
Wonderful Wild Women – Celebrating women in the outdoors – WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/WONDERFULWILDWOMEN/
Blue Mind Men – Peer supported cold water swim club for men. Dipping for better mental health. WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/BLUEMINDMEN/
Sarah Blues – Striving for representation of diverse paddlers & breaking down barriers for women: WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/PLUSSIZEPADDLER/
Edinburgh Blue Balls – Weekly swim group to give men the chance to improve mental and physical health. Men supporting men: WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/EDINBURGHBLUEBALLS/
Unlikely Hikers ™ – Nature is infinitely diverse and so are we—We ARE nature. Body liberation & anti-racism outdoors: WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/UNLIKELYHIKERS/
Black Girls Hike UK C.I.C – Reclaiming the outdoors: WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/BGH_UK/
Harrison Ward – Fell Foodie – Outdoorsman. Wellness Speaker. Sober Life – WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/FELLFOODIE/
Gutsy Girls – Connecting women through adventure: WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/GUTSYGIRLS_/