Interview by Posy Dixon, photography by Amy Alcorn
I grew up with an ace big sister who taught me how to climb over walls and up trees. She showed me how to find an escape in the Ochil Hills behind our school and I used to head up into the hills on my own and ramble in nature. Rolling around in the elements has always got me stoked on the world.
I started surfing and snowboarding to escape the city when I was at art school in Edinburgh. I love the perspective you find when you’re in one of those sweet spots. Surfing in Scotland can be a bit of an ice-cream headache mission but it’s not unknown to be joined by a pod of dolphins when you’re out there.
My mother is a super-conservative little lady who makes the best fancy dress costumes and the yummiest cakes. She used to work with RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) when she was a young lass and I have just started volunteering for them. She’s definitely inspired me to care.
I was never a super-hard worker. I just drifted along until I realised that to be motivated I have to know that I’m doing something to increase the positivity. I’ve now worked for several volunteer operations, including marine protection and education groups in Hawaii and Scotland, a ski and snowboard school for the disabled in Alaska (Challenge Alaska) and the RDA. If you find an organisation focused on something you’re into you’ll be motivated to work hard.
Mother Nature is pissed off and I don’t blame her. My first volunteer gig was with Healthy Hawaii Coalition, teaching school kids about their environment and how to protect it. I firmly believe that if we get kids clued up on looking out for Mother Nature she might not give up on us.
You don’t have to go to Florida to see bottlenose dolphins and orca swim around in a tank, you can see them swimming free in the North Sea. When I got back to the UK I needed to find out about our 28 species of cetaceans. I’ve just become a certified Marine Mammal Medic, and if there’s an injured, endangered or beached marine mammal we’re on call. The training was awesome, we rescued a life-sized rubber pilot whale, a common dolphin and rugby-tackled a seal pup, though gently of course.
I’m stoked snowboarding being used as a tool for therapeutic recreation. One of my most heart-warming moments at Challenge Alaska was during a lesson with a lovely young lady who had Down’s syndrome. She thought that her team leader was following us down the hill with a video camera so she started singing and flapping her arms like an eagle catching a thermal ride. It was beautiful to see her feeling so free and happy.
I like being isolated as it makes me feel really close to the natural world. I’ve lived in some pretty remote places in Scotland, India and Alaska. Time goes slower and you notice smells, colours and the elements with more sensitivity. A tiny moment with a frog can take on a more powerful meaning when you’re on your own. Of course I miss people and befriending spiders doesn’t always cut it, but the personal growth which it affords me, is mind-blowing.
I find it very hard to believe the purpose of us being here is to make money. There’s no office job, website or nature documentary that could ever give me what I’ve found in this world by just being free. Doing voluntary work is an awesome way to meet like-minded people, open doors in your career and in your mind. If there’s something you really want to do, just do it.