September 26-29, 50 women from 10 different countries gathered in the high Alpine town of Saas Fe, Switzerland for the 3-day Women in Boardsports conference designed to promote networking, mentoring, and positive action within the Boardsports Industry. Themes of the retreat this year included sustainability, how to increase participation in our sports, inspirational stories from women who are making a difference, and how to successfully navigate a career in the action sports industry.
Carmela Fleury of Les Ettes and Daniela Meyer of core shop Popcorn, founded the event in 2008. They were inspired by the idea of bringing together women in the industry to make connections, learn from one another, and bring about positive change in their lives and the industry as a whole. While Fleury is on maternity leave at the moment, 7th Sky Magazine Founder Coco helped lead this year’s conference with Meyer and a tight crew.
I first attended Women in Boardsports 2 years ago while working for Salomon Snowboards. The event was scheduled conveniently after an annual meeting in France and I was curious, as an American, to learn a bit more about the industry in Europe.
I was also skeptical. Most of my life in snowboarding has been spent riding with the guys. I've always appreciated the all-girls projects and at the same time have felt admiration for the ladies who are charging ahead with the boys, regardless of gender.
What could be gained at this conference that appeared to be group yoga sessions and girl power? Would it be for me? I wasn't sure. But I did know the women who started the conference, so I attended, based on their awesomeness and my general curiosity.
What I've learned and taken away from this conference both two years ago and today is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration that is both personal and professional. On a personal level, I was inspired by all of the stories of people who are truly following their hearts, living an authentic life, and creating opportunities to do meaningful work.
From a business perspective, one of my key takeaways from the conference was how important it is for people to find a mentor who believes in their abilities and who facilitates opportunities for growth. For Ida Holman at Skullcandy, it was the support of her boss at Volcom who believed in her ability and supported her with continual education in the digital arena. For Anna-Maria Rugarli, the Sustainability and CSR Director for VF International, it was her first supervisor at Nike, who asked her "Do you want to be my assistant or do you want to start a career?" Ultimately, it is these people who open the door to opportunity.
Secondly, participation in our sports is a crucial topic. Without participation, our business dwindles. As an industry we are trying to tackle how to improve overall participation numbers, but this conference showed examples through projects that target specific smaller groups. It also addressed specific ways to increase female participation numbers.
Gold Medalist Nicola Thost presented her self-funded program Sprung Brett, which provides the opportunity for talented male & female riders under the age of 15 to make connections and get mentoring from Pros before sponsorship comes into the equation.
Swiss Pro Rider Ursina Haller presented her program, Swiss Snowboard Girls, which is basically designed to prepare future Swiss Snowboard team members with the skills they will need. Hawaiian professional windsurfer, surfer, kite surfer, and standup paddler Tatiana Howard, showed how enthusiasm and participation can grow when competition is put aside for a focus on participation and a sense of community through her global events in the water, The Butterfly Effect Movement.
Ela Boner of Freestyle.ch described the challenges and eventual success leading to this year's inclusion of women in the Big Air competition at the annual winter kick off event held in Zurich every year. The importance of female role models to the next generation of young riders and the ability to include women in the Big Air event, without separating them, was her ultimate goal and most proud contribution to the long-standing event. She showed conference attendees how perseverance, awareness of challenges and ultimately having the support of key stakeholders helped her achieve this goal, which is an important business lesson in any industry.
In addition to the discussions, there was time spent out in the adventure park, on the glacier snowboarding, and yes some yoga went down, and all of these helped the group mesh, network, and get the conversations flowing. Throughout the weekend various women shared their stories of pursuing meaningful and fulfilling work. For Benafsha Tasmim, the Education and Sports Coordinator at Skateistan, who spoke via videoconference from Kabul, this is about changing lives, offering educational opportunities and focusing on the way that the simple act of skateboarding can create positive change in local Afghan communities. Red Bull Servus TV reporter Annina Campbell shared her story of pursuing creative projects and ultimately building a dream career that requires as much work off camera as on camera.
And finally, Anna Linda Hultström addressed a topic that affects everyone in our industry right now. With today's economic realities, people are taking on more and more work, without additional time or resources. One resource is renewable though, and Anna Linda showed how our energy is our most precious resource. She offered practical tools for individuals and businesses to prevent burn-out, inspire creativity and innovation, and improve workplace relations. Much of her talk described being in the "Flow." Or the feeling we all get on our boards when everything is clear, we are present in the moment, we make clear and smart choices and we reach our greatest potential. Her talk showed how to bring this experience out of the water, off the mountain and into our work lives.