Sophie Hellyer is an individual who embodies everything that We Are Explorers represents. She’s a surfer (previous pro), cold-water swimmer, environmentalist, yoga teacher and writer (the list is endless) based in London. Sophie uses her platform to push for diversity in the surfing world, highlight sustainable active brands and empower women to get outdoors.
She’s helping start #RiseFierce, a movement that encourages women to try cold-water swimming, promotes body-positivity, improves mental and physical health, and promotes environmental action.
We chatted to Sophie about getting outdoors in the city, building an adventure community, and her favourite sustainable surf brands.
Where are you based?
I’m currently living in East London, but I lived in the west of Ireland for the last four or five years, so I still spend a fair bit of time out there. I try to split it between the two as best I can.
Just like you, I’m someone with multiple jobs, which is both incredibly fun and challenging – could you talk us through your different roles and how you ended up in them?
Yep, the most difficult question I get asked is ‘what do you do?’ I never know quite how to answer. I’ve surfed all my life, and although I haven’t competed for a long time I still work in the industry in different ways and try to weave the things I’m passionate about into my work. For example, when I write for different magazines and blogs, I try to use surfing as a tool to talk about wider environmental or societal issues; like the need for more diversity, or plastic pollution.
I’ve started running retreats aimed at empowering women – I’ve found cold water swimming such an amazing tool to help women realise they can do anything. When combined with yoga, surfing, amazing food, nature and a safe, healing environment, it can be really powerful. I also collaborate with some brands to make little video and photo projects, I try now to only work with brands that align with my own ethics and brands that I genuinely use and support.
I also do some freelance producing and assisting. I’m pretty much working in a different job every day of the week, and I don’t have an agent or manager or anyone else working for me, so it can be fairly muddled when someone says ‘what are you working on?! I’d be very reluctant to label myself an ‘influencer’, I really don’t like that term. We are all influencers, if you have a social media account, friends, family, you have the power to be a change-maker.
How do you get yourself outdoors and exploring whilst working and being in a city?
I have a group of friends I go to Hampstead Heath with on the weekends. We do the park run on a Saturday morning and then swim in the ponds, and on Sundays we have a dip and then go for roast. I also love swimming at West Reservoir and London Fields Lido, and if I’m working in a new part of the city I look at Google Maps on my lunch break and just go to the nearest green space.
‘I seek out the magic places when I’m in the city, it’s almost more rewarding as it can be a challenge, so when you stumble upon a reservoir or nature reserve in the middle of a city you really feel like you’ve scored.’
As my work is freelance I’m lucky that I get a couple days here and there to sneak out the city and adventure too, normally I just beeline to the nearest bit of coast and see what’s there.
I seek out the magic places when I’m in the city, it’s almost more rewarding as it can be a challenge, so when you stumble upon a reservoir or nature reserve in the middle of a city you really feel like you’ve scored.
What’s your best piece of advice for others wanting to get outdoors, who are restricted by living in big cities?
All cities have green spaces, you just have to hunt them out. Having my friends to swim with on the weekends is great because it holds me accountable. If you’ve said you’ll be at the pond or at park run at 9.00am then you better be there. Just go find some trees and sit among them and breathe. I guarantee it will make you feel better.
‘If you go for a walk on a beach you’ll see plastic bottles lining the shores, you’ll understand the damage, it’s tangible. From there it becomes difficult to ever drink from a plastic bottle again without thinking twice.’
What’s the first moment outdoors that you realised the environment was in danger and needed protection?
When I was in the Maldives about 5 years ago the scale of plastic pollution really hit home. It was there where I first realised I couldn’t just go on a surf trip and ignore it, I had to do more, I had to do something. Since then I’ve tried to shape my work and life around raising awareness of plastic pollution and sustainable alternatives.
How do you get people to take action who are living in a city, who don’t have that same connection with the outdoors?
For me it’s really simple. Without soil, water, trees, air, everything dies. These are our most valuable resources. If we don’t look after our oceans and our soil, we won’t have anything to live for.
I think spending time in nature is so important. If you go for a walk on a beach you’ll see the plastic bottles lining the shores, you’ll understand the damage, it’s tangible. And from there it becomes difficult to ever drink from a plastic bottle again without thinking twice.
You have a strong community of fellow female adventurers. What would you recommend to others who are looking for an explorer crew to get outdoors with?
Yeah I have an amazing network of women who are always up for a swim, surf or hike wherever I am. We use the #risefierce hashtag to connect with other women swimming outdoors, that’s how I made most of my friends in London that I swim with. Instagram can be an amazing tool to create communities when it’s used well, you just have to unfollow all that toxic shit first!
Lastly, what are your favourite ethical and/or sustainable surf brands?
Feature photo by Tom Shaw
Surfspiration from across Aus