Fika (noun) – Swedish
A coffee break with friends, always accompanied by cake; a concept, a state of mind and a moment of quality time to appreciate the good things in life.
Words: Sarah Thornely
Pics: Gutsy Girls
When you finally get round to interviewing someone you have admired from afar for many years and then love them even more for who they are, what they do and the reasons behind it. This is the story of Gutsy Girls.
I caught up with Nat, the founder of Gutsy Girls and first asked her about herself. She is originally from Brighton and after studying, had a brief stint at teaching. After a year, she was then made redundant so moved to Portugal to work in a surf camp for six months, which turned out to be a much longer experience with her staying for 3½ years. She finally moved back to London and became a social media marketing consultant for a few companies but then got to a point where she wanted to do something for herself but particularly community based and for women specifically.
So Gutsy Girls was born – it is an all women community for those who want to seek adventure, make friends and try something new. No experience in any of the sports GG provides is necessary, and it allows you to get out into nature, learn a bit about yourself, learn resilience and have a great time along the way.
When Nat first moved to London, she found it very isolating and being freelance she didn’t have her own ‘community’ so she joined a local women’s rowing club. Not only did she learn to row, she learned about community and friendship, and it made her think about how this could be transferred into her very own ‘passion project’. Nat wanted women to turn up and have a go, not need to be a team member, and have to pitch up with responsibility every week. She also wanted to throw in all the activities she loved, hiking, SUP, surfing and cycling and specifically at the beginner level. Nat was confident that this could be a business but just presumed that others would be doing the same thing already. Clearly not, as the Gutsy Girls passion project grew very quickly and as there was no pressure to make money, it evolved organically. Now Nat has a mortgage to pay, so the business side is more important.
Nat is passionate about the women-only aspect believing that there is something quite special about female friends. They may change and evolve, but she wanted to build a strong non-intimidating network for those women. “The power of female friendship should be harnessed differently,” said Nat.
Nat believes that people who partake in adventure holidays, be they male or female, come because, “They want to immerse themselves in nature and they also have something good in their soul,” but with female-only trips “there is an element of no competition, and you can be 100% yourself even down to wearing a swimsuit with absolutely no judgment of your size, shape or age,” said Nat – so wear that swimsuit with freedom and be surrounded by love and warmth and support of the group around you. She believes there is something very special about female-only groups, “I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in a mixed group, but there is a little bit of magic in a female-only space,” said Nat.
When I asked Nat about what she would say to all those women out there teetering on the edge of getting involved in a new sport/adventure she said just start! “So many of us stop ourselves because we think we need to know something or do something special before we start or be at a certain fitness level or look a certain way,” said Nat. “This is part of the journey, being a beginner is the scariest but the most fun part because you are about to discover something amazing! You will learn something new about yourselves; if you don’t like it, it really doesn’t matter – you’ve tried it, it’s not a lifelong commitment.” These are wise words for anyone trying something new and with some kit being quite expensive, definitely try the activity before you buy into it!
So, if you see a young lady walking around Greenwich Park using Nordic sticks, Nat has also taken up something new – she’s bored with running and walking – so she is taking a leaf out of her own book and just going to give it a go without too much over-thinking.
One of the most popular questions Nat gets asked when people are looking at booking an adventure is ‘how old’ is everyone, believing them to be around 25-35 – this is a complete misconception – the true figures are basically anyone over 18 – they have had a 70 join the fun! Nat hadn’t considered this when she started the business but it is a fact that she is most proud of. “Age is not a boundary or barrier for us,” she said “or fitness either; we are everybody, we are every woman. I still want to be having these adventures when I am a grandma.”
Nat wants GG to be accessible and realises everyone cannot take a longer break if they have family commitments. Hence, the day events are really important because they get women to try something new and spend time for themselves. Dipping your toe into a new skill is achievable in one day. The day trips also create local communities and a chance to meet a new friend in London, Bath, Bristol or Northern Ireland, which is where the events happen currently.
The longer trips give women more time to bond and learn new skills over a week; for instance, if you come to learn to SUP you can come as a complete beginner, and by the end of the week you could be covering quite long distances. So the focus is on good SUP coaching during that time – maybe learn a race turn at the end and upskill. However, there is absolutely no pressure to learn that race turn! It’s all about what YOU want to achieve from your time away. “It’s a more immersive experience, and it is a holiday,” said Nat “and we all need one of those right now. It is time to build resilience and reflect on you.”
I asked Nat about her personal SUP journey – she learnt in Brighton Lagoon and was not particularly impressed to start with – at that time she was a surfer and learning to wakeboard, so SUP seemed, “A little boring and quite slow.” She then tried it again in Portugal, when she was living there, and just fell in love with it. Learning to SUP along the Algarve coast with its beautiful rock formations, caves and grottos suddenly brought the sport to life for her. She realised the opportunity of exploring and adventure on a paddleboard and having built her skills over the last few years, Nat definitely has racing on her radar (music to my ears) because she loves going super-fast. There is a race board in Croatia (a GG retreat) with Nat’s name on it. She loves how wobbly and difficult it is, and this has, “sparked a new level of joy.” We hope to see this enthusiastic paddler at our GBSUP National Series in the future.
The sport of lockdown
We asked Nat her take on the huge growth and popularity of SUP over the last couple of years. “The sport of lockdown,” said Nat, “because it is accessible to everyone, you don’t need to have a background in water sports. You can build skills quickly, and it’s great for all levels of fitness.”
Nat loves paddling on the river even though she appreciates the ocean; she believes there is a ‘pace’ to a river, winding through the countryside and slowing down is her favourite. When I asked her about her favourite place to paddle in the world, she said it was like choosing between children and picking the favourite. The fjords of Norway won out – her heaven. “Seeing the horizon and feeling tiny, when you are wrapped within that massive space makes you feel incredibly insignificant and it feels very freeing, and you feel held by nature,” she said. The other reason why it’s perfect? No internet signal! “Sardinia has all of the food and Croatia has all of the most beautiful water,” said Nat – hence the reason it was hard for her to choose.
GG provide many adventures; hiking, cycling, cross country skiing, kayaking, rock climbing, surfing and SUP. They are slowly adding more all the time, so do get yourselves subscribed to their newsletter to hear all the news and read past blogs.
Paddleboarding has always been Nat’s favourite skill, “As humans, we like what we are good at!” She has also fallen in love with cross country skiing and feels that the similarities between this and SUP are huge – a way to see nature, slow travel, it feels good for the body, and you can take yourself out into great, vast spaces. No queuing for the lifts as in downhill skiing. Nat likened it to, “A winter sport for paddlers.” She said it’s really quick to learn too, a couple of days on the skis and you feel pretty good. Try it, take yourselves away from the chaos of the slopes and go and explore nature.
A supportive dog
I asked Nat about ‘the team’ behind Gutsy Girls, and if they were all female – I was shocked at the response “I AM the team!” She has a supportive dog that listens to her brainstorms, and I guess the wag of the tail would provide the answer. 2020 was going to be the year of taking on a team member, but that was not to be.
There are hosts within her community who help run events which are not local, and they may be women she met and bonded with on a GG retreat, or are just passionate about building a local community. The trips abroad are run by friends with whom Nat has built strong bonds with; one of the most important things to her is responsible and sustainable tourism, so she supports local providers and economies and those providers are now some of her best friends. Titus from SUP Norway is one of her mentors – these people are all extensions of her colleagues. She has particularly missed seeing these friends from other countries over the last year.
Plans for the future?
These have changed somewhat since September 2020 – at that time, Nat took six months sabbatical to regroup and reflect, and her mindset has changed. The words ‘global domination’ probably don’t figure in the business plan anymore. Rather, now she would like to create more meaningful and safer experiences to get people back out into nature and the world after so long in isolation.
Nat is looking forward to finding new locations in the UK as feels that’s where we may be at for 2021 and to help boost the local economy. She is trying to find a balance between expansion and calmness within the business. GG will continue to do what they do best but want to do it even better! She wants to offer more mindfulness and meditation into the experiences – two new skills she has learned in lockdown.
Making adventures more accessible is key, especially to those who may not have the opportunity otherwise, and Nat is exploring these avenues. Like many others, 2020 and beyond has taught her that things need to be managed a little better going forward but with the key reasons for starting her ‘passion project’ as important as ever. Nature has always been a healing part of her life, and she wants to bring this to others. She is also exploring ways of offering women safe spaces to be able to talk about mental health – Nat honestly admits she has, “No idea what it looks like yet – there is so much we have done in the past, but there is so much more we can do in the future. It’s okay to accept if you are struggling, especially at the moment.”
Guilty pleasures (we’ve been throwing in this question since lockdown began)?
TV – there have been SO many, but This Is Us on Amazon – oh my goodness, a gorge fest of love stories and families – I love it!
Books – I seem to be buying so many books, especially over the last few months.
Food – I am a cake fiend – I love all cake! Any type and you are speaking my language. Check out Fika in Sweden, afternoon coffee and cake on any day of the week – it’s an institution! Apple cake every day in the afternoon? Totally fine. I am also obsessed with coffee – a girl after my own heart!
I would like to thank Nat for taking the time to chat with me whilst taking a sabbatical from Gutsy Girls – her business model of teaching adventure and resilience, love and learning for all women, is quite special. We should all have a little bit of that in our lives – actually, rather a lot – a bit like Fika!