Looking for urban adventure in London will land you in some bizarre places. Through fields which are next to estuaries, to the Natural History Museum after sundown, or into derelict, graffiti covered warehouses, in this city you can follow your urban wanderlust far and wide.
A canal under the United Arab Emirates sky car in Docklands might not seem like the most obvious place for a morning of action sports, however this is London and these canals, near the middle of one of London’s most bustling commercial hubs, are also home to Wakeup! Docklands, a wakeboarding and paddle boarding centre. We paid the spot a visit recently for an all-women’s wakeboarding day, to investigate a new female group called Gutsy Girls.
This was the first event held by this group, meaning none of these women could have known each other beforehand, however on entering the event we find women lying around on bean bags under a pavilion overlooking the canal. Everyone is passing around brownies and drinks, laughing and cheering and appearing completely at ease with one another.
Natalie Poppy, the brains behind Gutsy Girls and trainer Claudia Albrecht, are on the jetty next to the water. Both are shouting out encouragement and direction to one of the happiest looking ladies there, she nails her turns and races back victorious amidst screams of celebration from the pavilion. The park has a cable operated system, through which the trainer has control over the speed and operation of the line and there is also a course with obstacles for the more experienced. Today however, the event is for beginners and the fun is at the obstacle free line where the goal is to complete a turn at the far end and return without falling headfirst into the water. As most of the women have little to no experience, the progress all the women are making is amazing.
Gutsy Girls was born out of Natalie’s desire to meet like minded women in such a huge city. ‘I work from home’ she explains ‘I didn’t get much of a chance to integrate into London life. I’d tried everything, book clubs, cocktail nights, and nothing was my kind of crowd. That’s when I got the idea of Gutsy Girls. It’s about meeting women while also getting to try the things that you have always wanted to do’
“We’ve been cheering each other on and giving each other friendly advice. I can’t feel this comfortable in a mixed atmosphere"
Sounds great. Moving to a big city on your own can be tough, and forging meaningful friendships when you’re busy can be even tougher. If you don’t click with the people at your work, you can quickly feel like you’re out of options. Initiatives that are geared around vigorous exercise and making friends could be a step towards helping those without the time get the social life we all deserve.
‘I think when women are in a single sex environment they seem ready to chat and be open with each other’ says Natalie, “pretty much as soon as they get their wetsuits on. I suppose it’s about the lack of judgement, and all doing the same thing together’
Watching the ladies lounging happily by the pier, yelling and whooping their support for another newly recruited wakeboarder, it seems as though Natalie is on to something. These women are acting like they've known each other for years.
Not only is this female space a relaxed one, it seems that women only sporting events such as this could be beneficial for attendees progress also. "Women take direction differently" says Claudia Allbrecht, trainer and head of her own adventure sports brand Island Feather, who are co-sponsoring the event, "they are more literal, and tend to listen more." Whether they need to stand up straighter or lean back, women seem to respond well to clear direction before and after having a go, contrasting heavily against most men, who prefer prompts while on the go. This could mean that on the whole, women can coach other women better.
While friendly competition is definitely an asset to any sporting event, the atmosphere here is more relaxed than ambitious, focussing more on mutual, rather than specifically individual improvement."Women are less competitive" says one of the wakeboarders, "we’ve been cheering each other on and giving each other friendly advice. I can’t feel this comfortable in a mixed atmosphere."
This success is why Natalie is expanding. "We put a bouldering event on sale last night and we’ve already sold half the tickets" she says, "we have a meetup group as well which is about 1,200 members." For a company still very much their infancy, this is more than a little impressive. With events already planned till the end of spring, Gutsy girls are expanding to all inclusive adventure holidays. "I come from a surfing background and I lived in a surf camp in Portugal for a year, from that I have met surfing instructors and yoga instructors" Natalie explains. "There are so many women out there running their own yoga retreats but they can never get their market in. For me it’s about connecting these incredible women who want to be part of these incredible experiences, with women in London who want to have an amazing holiday." According to the traction already on their site, women in the know can’t get enough.
"It’s about connecting these incredible women who want to be part of these incredible experiences, with women in London who want to have an amazing holiday"
Essentially what Natalie and Claudia have created is a safe space within sport for women to learn. When going to standard sporting clubs, it’s hard to get to a level of expertise where you feel confident, having a go can be incredibly intimidating for beginners and WakeUp! Docklands could have been an extreme example of this, as only one person is permitted to wakeboard at a time. Hiring out the whole venue for the group to create this non judgemental atmosphere however, is a dream. "Of course all sporting events are fun" Claudia adds, keeping half an eye on the lady in the water and her grip on the bar. "But women can learn quickly in non competitive, relaxed spaces, especially if it is their first time trying the sport."
As a way of meeting new people in an often unfriendly city, Gutsy Girls seems to be hitting the mark far more successfully than other more relaxed activities like book groups or life drawing. Having something exciting to focus on, that requires mutual support and friendly advice, is a far more successful bonding tool than polite chit-chat. If that thing can be a new adventure sport? All the better.
As the event wraps up and the attendees get out of their wetsuits and into warmer clothes, there is a buzz of conversation all around the dock. These women who were total strangers only a few hours ago are encouraging one another, swapping stories and making future plans.
Looking at Gutsy Girls upcoming events it seems like they're totally different from one weekend to the next. On a climbing wall, on a SUP board, or at the skate park, each meet up brings a new challenge. While the upcoming programme of sports might be a bit of a mystery, one thing however, is perfectly clear. A brand new gang of radical women has just been created in London and we can't wait to find out what kind of adventures they'll be taking on next.