Facebook notifications are usually quite annoying, but on Friday evening when I was in a rather uninspired mood, up popped “this event is happening near you” with details of the Women’s Adventure Expo (WAExpo) Takes to the Water 2017.
The words ‘adventure’ and ‘water’ immediately got my attention. WAExpo is dedicated to women interested in, or engaged in, adventure and exploration. This spin-off expo was to feature UK female water adventurers, turned authors and speakers: Beth French (channel swimmer), Sarah Outen MBE (ocean adventurer) and Erin Bastian (kayak expedition leader). My finger couldn’t hit “book” fast enough.
I arrived early and excited at the Bristol-based Mshed venue the very next day and promptly took my seat in the conference room upstairs, right at the front, as any keeno would. As the room started to fill up, the speakers paced slightly nervously, flashing smiles and chatting to any adoring fans that approached.
Soon it was time to get underway and Natalie Fee, City to Sea founder regaled us with the story of how she set up the non-profit organisation, running campaigns to stop plastic pollution at source. To date, Natalie has steered the organisation to great success bringing about lasting change in consumer behaviour and unsustainable retailer practises.
(Two worthy campaigns to get behind are “Refill” where you can top up for free and get rewarded for using your sustainable water bottle on the go. And, their 2016 campaign “Switch the Stick” which called on all UK retailers (and us!) to switch from plastic to paper stem buds).
Natalie intro’d the event as a day to “share stories and celebrate everything we’ve achieved as women on water”. The expo certainly didn’t disappoint. It delivered a full day of talks; bursting with humour, jeopardy and inspiration.
The marine conservation society also pitched up to continue the plastic-free theme. Inviting us to take part in “the plastic challenge” a month long initiative in June to help us curb our reliance on plastic.
Two other notable mentions on the day were Della Parsons, previous participant of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and Tom Salt founder of Shore Seeker open water rowing challenges, who provided insight into the amateur racing initiatives with ‘TED’ style talks.
But back to the main event, the day was made whole with three incredible stories of women doing the impossible in water.
Beth French, lessons in endurance and mind over matter
Beth French stepped up to the podium with a harrowing tale of how she went from wheelchair bound to world class athlete. A transformation spurred on by a hard-hitting therapist who, upon hearing the condition keeping her immobile, challenged “you’re the only person who can change things” “go and write a bucket list.”
Erin Bastian, asked us to rethink the impossible
Bouncing on to the stage next was Erin Bastian, overflowing with positivity that washed over the audience in waves of pure joy. Erin’s story was a fascinating one. In response to her boyfriend’s decision to backpack the summer alone, she went one better and planned a kayak expedition around Sardinia. A 860 km adventure that would see her learn quickly that there’s more to a kayak expedition than just paddling.
Stepping on to the stage bare foot and with playful confidence, Sarah delivered the final talk of the day. A jaw dropping tale of endurance, packed full of twists and turns that had us all on the edge of our seats.
Applying the “can-do” mindset to everyday life
Surprisingly none of these women wore capes or delivered their talks suspended from the ceiling using cat-like reflexes. They were just your normal, run-of-the-mill women, of varied body shape and size and adventuring aside, living relatively normal lives with money problems and parent and child care issues, much the same as us.
The only difference is that they don’t let it hold them back. They don’t allow the monkey on their back to drown out their inner voice, meaning they’re free to fulfil their destiny.
As WAExpo wound to a close, I chewed over the day’s take-aways with the rest of my table. Most of the audience had at some point been liberated by their own adventure and could recognise the mindful and fear-facing truths the speakers explained happened when out of your comfort zone.
The real test, we agreed, was applying the “can-do” mindset to everyday life. Finding a way to bottle the energy, enthusiasm and presence of mind we find in our adventures and use it to redefine what normal looks like. Then, we motioned as we rose to leave, we’d be master adventurers for sure.
Thanks to the Women Adventure Expo founders Tania John and Rebecca Hughes for organising an event that brought together women of water and inspired them to take action. Keep up the good work! Find out how to become a member of WAExpo here.