Blazing an outdoor recreation trail

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Jules Walker is a woman enamoured with outdoor adventure. She hikes, skis, rides, climbs and paddles in the outdoors whenever possible, and adventure has also become her career. Rebecca Ryan talks to the co-founder of Further Faster about her drive to help more women get out into nature.

Women have always been forces of nature.

But Further Faster co-founder Jules Walker says there are still many obstacles for some women to get quality time in the outdoors.

Walker has been scaling outdoor-industry mountains for several years, as one of only a few women in New Zealand to own and lead a business in the outdoor recreation sector.

Now she wants to give others a hand on their way up, launching an initiative called “Her Mountain Calls” to celebrate New Zealand women in the outdoors and help those who may not have the opportunity to get outdoors in quality adventure gear.

Her Mountain Calls is a joint initiative between Further Faster and Endeavour Media and Photographics. The idea came from a conversation Walker had with photographer Kirsten Sheppard while planning a photoshoot for Further Faster.

“We talked about our experiences in the outdoor industry as women, how in media women are still under-represented, and how our ‘non-outdoorsy’ girlfriends thought we were kind of weird and crazy for wanting to head to the mountains instead of the malls,” Walker said.

“We decided to try and work out a way for the outdoorsy folk to be proactive in getting women who don’t think of the mountains as an option to try and experience it.”

Walker and Sheppard “totally believe” that spending time in nature improves overall wellbeing.

“We just want to try and help foster that – and get help get people outside and off their screens,” Walker said.

“We are so fortunate to be in a position where we can help women get into nature and also help encourage folks to remind each other that time outside has so many more benefits than vitamin D.”

Findings released by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand reveal the positive impact spending time in nature has on mental health.

Walker, who also works as a mental health nurse, said she often saw the impact a lack of connection to nature could have.

“When we are down or anxious it is common to want to withdraw from important things like spending time exercising outside, but this is when we need it most,” she said.

So far, the support for the Her Mountain Calls project has been “amazing”, she said.

“Since we started talking about Her Mountain Calls, a load of female-led and owned outdoor companies have come forward and want to work alongside us and support this initiative. It is great to know that in a male-dominated industry that us women can make an impact.”

Walker has always been a passionate advocate for the outdoors. Growing up, she always gravitated towards outdoor adventure, rather than team sports.

“I was fortunate as a child to spend most of my time outside,” she said.

“I was never into team sports, but I loved exploring the hillside we lived on, and surfing while the family went fishing on the weekends.

“Also my dad and his mates all studied outdoor recreation at college, so us kids got to go caving and climbing on the summer holidays.”

The Waitaki Valley is one of Walker’s favourite places to visit, outside the Christchurch area.

“The colour and shadows on the hills at sunrise is like nothing else,” she said.

“The Alps 2 Ocean is a great [cycle] trail – I easily convinced my girlfriends to come over from Australia and England to join me, and we had a blast doing that.

“One of my other favourite places to go is the Hakatere Reserve. So much of it is doggo-friendly and we have taken [Further Faster dog] Badger on some great adventures there.”

Further Faster, a New Zealand supplier of outdoor and mountain gear for people and dogs, started as an online store and wholesale business in 2014 and opened its retail store in Christchurch, merging with Long Cloud Kayaks, in 2016. Walker is a co-owner, with husband Marty and business partner Dan Farber.

“My husband and I pretty much started planning it from the day we met in 2001,” she said.

“We have both worked in the outdoor industry our whole lives, and knew we wanted our own hub for the outdoor community one day.

“We travelled a lot and wrote notes and took photos of all the things that inspired us – and some things that we wanted reminding to never do.”

One day, they were approached by a supplier of outdoor gear asking us if they wanted to become distributors for New Zealand.

“We had to make a decision within 24 hours. It took less than that to say yes, though, and Further Faster was born.”

Walker loves the interaction with customers.

“When we have folks travel up from Oamaru and Timaru, or even stopping by from Auckland to say hi to Badger the shop dog, I get a total buzz.”

Her Mountain Calls

To nominate someone to win one of three packages of high-quality adventure gear, a photoshoot and a dose of nature, visit furtherfaster.co.nz/pages/her-mountain-calls.

Nominations close on February 1 and winners will be announced on February 14, 2020.