The photographer, journalist and activist on why increased diversity in the action sports industry benefits everyone
Above: Hannah Bailey. Pic: Rupert Shanks.
The Luminaries Series is about shining a light on some of the most inspirational people in our industry, documenting their rise in their given professions, and sharing some of their insights from along the way.
The beauty of working within an industry like snowboarding is that there isn’t an exact path laid out for any of us. Like riding a line down the mountain, there’s scope to pick your own route, to see an opportunities where others have missed them, or to venture into new, untracked territory altogether.
“During her years in the industry, Hannah’s followed the progression of women in action sports closely through her lens”
Hannah Bailey’s been involved in the snowboard industry for over 12 years. During her years in the industry, she’s followed the progression of women in action sports closely through her lens. She’s worked in communications, journalism, and various global projects with the likes of Skateistan and Patagonia and helped bring lesser told stories of our community into the spotlight.
We sat down with her to get her take on the current landscape of the action sports industry, and how closing the gaps of inequality will have benefits for everyone involved.
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. First of all, would you mind telling us a bit about your job and what you do?
I have been working in the action sports and outdoor sports industry for over twelve years now, which is kind of crazy to say. Within that time, I’ve worked in a variety of roles. Like a jack of all trades!
“In particular, having a passion to photograph women in action sports has led me to become a photographer of it”
I started out working with the marketing and communications side for brands, for athletes, for events, for action sports. A lot of my work has been in snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing and that side of things. More recently I have moved into working generally across outdoor sports.
I guess my career over the past twelve years has been a kind of a tale of two careers. My everyday job is working in communications, but on the side, I am also a photographer and journalist within the small niche world of women in action sports. That came about when I was working in my communications role for about a decade ago and getting to go along to the events and turning up at some events where the women’s portion of the event was put on first and was very much a token element of an event. There was less focus on it, not as much commentary, not as much media exposure.
Seeing that there wasn’t as much exposure on the women and how amazing it was, whether it was snowboarding or skateboarding events, I kind of stepped in to become a journalist in a sense. And a photographer where I would be photographing the events and trying to get coverage of what the women were doing.
I remember going to the X Games in Barcelona while I was working for DC shoes doing communications at the time, and going to the women’s skateboarding park, there were hardly any journalists there interviewing the ladies who were taking part. I ended up interviewing every single skater who was part of the competition for Cooler magazine.
I guess my job has been very much opportunist in a sense, where I think a lot of us in the industry are like that. We might have a day job, but we see the gap and we have a passion for it. In particular, having a passion to photograph women in action sports has led me to become a photographer of it. That is where I want to spend more of my time now and where I put a lot more of my focus in my work because I would love for it to be a more viable career for more women to become outdoor sports photographers, action sports photographers, or even just snowboard photographers.
How did you get to where you are now?
That’s a good question. I mean, people always say that you have to work really really hard, and of course you do, but I feel like I haven’t worked a day in thirteen years because I absolutely love my job.
“But I think passion and enthusiasm are the main things that have gotten me to where I am today”
I think that the key to it was that I was given the opportunity very early on. I had come back from doing seasons and walked past the Quiksilver office and noticed they had a reception desk. I was thinking, “Oh, I wonder if they would ever need a receptionist?” They were looking for a receptionist! I was given that job and started right down at the receptionist’s level, fixing the phones, fixing the printers. I was kind of like an IT person as well somehow.
From that moment of getting that job, I was so excited and honoured to be a part of the industry. It’s a vibe I still feel today. I always had this energy to really go for it and put in the hard work, so it’s never felt like hard work. It’s really so much about the industry and the community and the people that are in it giving you a chance, giving you those opportunities and guidance in the industry.
I’ve definitely also had some great mentors over the years. I have to give a shout out to Sam Haddad who we know well from the days of Cooler magazine. She really encouraged me to reach out to people that I’d like to work with, especially within the media side of things. I reached out to her very early on about some articles on snowboarding in Scotland and surfing on the north coast of Scotland and she gave me the chance to, first of all, put it in print, but also to understand that you have to be really proactive in the industry and make things happen for yourself as well as taking the guidance from the people on the net and support from the community. But I think passion and enthusiasm are the main things that have gotten me to where I am today.
Did you have a plan or did things just kind of happen?
I think that’s another reason why I’m still sitting here working in the industry, and the reason I call myself a photographer, a journalist, a communications specialist or whatever role you would call me. I never actually planned my career to go down this route. I didn’t even know it was possible to do the job that I do.
“I’m a big believer in encouraging people to just get out there and not let opportunities pass you by because that can happen if you’re very strict in your path”
I think if I planned on leaving school to become this occupation in this career on this path, there’s no way I would have ever had a path like this. I think about this time where I was in Chicago in 2015 when Street League Skateboarding was on and I went over to photograph the women’s side of it for the first time. I was standing on the course and all the world’s best skateboarders are getting ready for the comp, and I’m just watching them all skate around me.
All of a sudden, I zoomed up and thought, “How did little me, from Scotland, end up right in the middle of a stadium in Chicago surrounded by all these amazing ladies who skate?”. There’s no way if I had planned a career path that I would’ve put that as an option because I didn’t know it existed.
It’s obviously great if you can plan your career and you have a mission and a vision, but I think that comes as you organically go out there into the real world. I’m a big believer in encouraging people to just get out there and not let opportunities pass you by because that can happen if you’re very strict in your path.
You also work for Patagonia. Do you want to tell us a bit about what you do there and how you ended up with the company?
As I was saying before, my main everyday job is working in communications, but I’ve been very lucky over the years to work with some amazing brands. In 2015 moved over to Berlin to work with Skateistan, and it was my first experience working in a communications role for an NGO, and of course, it was the perfect opportunity to combine experience in actions sports communication with the opportunity to learn about the NGO side of things.
When I left that role, I really wanted to focus on my photography. But there was an opportunity to go and work with Patagonia, and to stand in for Louise who is the European PR manager while she was on maternity leave, and I thought, “This would be an amazing opportunity to really get into and learn more about environmentalism in the world of outdoor sports”. With Skateistan it was helping people, and with this, it was helping the climate crisis which is so important at the moment. I wanted to take the opportunity to go out and learn from Patagonia around all the topics that are involved with that.
I went and worked with them in Amsterdam for six months, and afterwards, I continued to work with them. That’s been since 2018 and it’s been a really great balance of, “Yes, it’s a brand that makes clothes,” but everything they work on has some kind of connection to environmentalism, some kind of connection to a layer of sustainability or a layer of helping NGOs that they work with. Or just a message that is going to help us to understand greater how we can help and how we can be better for the world. And better for people, whether it’s Fairtrade or Fareware.
At the moment I am based in Aviemore, in the Highlands of Scotland, and I work freelance for Patagonia. It’s just the best to be a part of the family still, helping their mission and helping NGOs that they work with, such as Protect Our Winters UK which I am also on the board of.
You’ve been involved in the industry for twelve-thirteen years; from a sustainability aspect, have you seen things change?
I definitely have. In the area that I work and that I’m focused in, across communications from the point of view of brands and athletes and the media themselves, it’s been really interesting to watch the journey of everyone in understanding what’s going on in the climate crisis and how important and interweaved these conversations are for us and how important it is for us to care and to talk about it.
I think initially we were all quite reluctant because we didn’t know how to talk about it, we didn’t know what was going on but more importantly, we were worried that we would be hypocritical to the conversation because we still want to go snowboarding. I still want to buy a snowboard, and maybe this new jacket, and I still maybe want to fly every now and then to the mountains. And because you are doing these things, you really didn’t want to put yourself out there and be discussing environmentalism, but I think that we are beginning to understand it more and more.
“Obviously, girls can skate, girls can snowboard, girls can run, girls can do all the things that boys can do, as long as they are given the chance”
I always like to quote POW UK and Lauren [MacCallum] on system change and not individual change, and that’s helping us understand that our voices are so important. We all have a voice, and if we don’t use it then we are just apathetic to it and we’re sitting back and basically saying, “We’re ok with the climate crisis. We’re ok with the mountains having no snow.” But if we join the fight, we help people like POW UK; we just admit that we don’t know what we’re talking about or we put ourselves out there, which then brings everyone else into the conversation. That brings the mob, the collective, which then ultimately could change the systems.
I’m so proud of watching the media take on the conversation, including Whitelines. You guys are really learning as much as you can to then put these messages out there for us all to start digesting. And of course, it’s not going to happen overnight. And that’s another thing; we are so used to being able to fly, go to the mountains and go snowboarding. But with this topic we’re taking on, there’s no easy answer. But we’ve got to give it a try and save our snow.
You also mentioned working with Skateistan earlier. What exactly was it that you did with them?
In 2015, I moved over to Berlin and worked as the communications manager for Skateistan until 2018. It was about increasing awareness of the charity and getting more funds and support for what they were doing. They were trying to use skateboarding as education to empower kids in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, and it’s amazing what they do. It’s great to see an example of an action sport being used for development, and in particular for gender equality and gender empowerment because 50% of their students are girls. I’m on the UK board now, and proud to still be a small part of it and support what they do. (If you want to donate to the cause, check out the Skateistan website here)
I think what makes Skateistan so interesting is that accessibility to it. Anyone can go skateboarding and try it if they’ve got a skateboard. We’re a bit more limited with snowboarding with obviously having to have the snow and the equipment, or a snow dome. But the accessibility they’ve given to girls, particularly in Afghanistan, to give the sport a try, is great. Skateboarding is one of the top sports over there for girls.
It’s an amazing experience to travel around to different countries and meet girls and women who are taking part in sport, who are skateboarding and are really challenging society and what it means to be a girl and show what girls can do. Obviously, girls can skate, girls can snowboard, girls can run, girls can do all the things that boys can do, as long as they are given the chance.
You mentioned gender equality in skateboarding; how do you experience that?
I think what’s been amazing and what happens often in the action sports industry, is that women have to form their own projects, their own industry in order to elevate the voice of women in action sports. That’s happened in skateboarding a lot so that now it’s just included in the wider skateboarding industry.
“The more diversity we have in these roles, the more ideas are gonna be brought in, and the more people are going to be represented in the marketing side of it”
But about ten years ago, there weren’t as many pages being given to the female skaters, and there weren’t many projects. It was rare to hear of a skate trip which was all-female skaters going out with a female photographer shooting a traditional skate project. Now it’s great that women are being involved in the general industry.
I’m so passionate about looking deeper into the scene and seeing where we still need to bring more women into it. And that is, in particular, content, photography and videography roles where the popularity of women’s skate or women’s snowboarding may be on the up. We need to bring these people with us, the next generation, to close that gap.
There’s definitely a need for more women behind the scenes to be working, and not just women but more diversity in creative areas of action sports. I think that that is so important. The more diversity we have in these roles, the more ideas are gonna be brought in, and the more people are going to be represented in the marketing side of it.
If you look back at skateboarding and snowboarding, there was a particular time where it was, I don’t know if I’d say stagnant, but it definitely didn’t have the most diverse array of faces and stories. I think that can be attributed to not having the diversity all the way through to the content collectors, if you can call them that, and I think that is so important now. Yes, we need more women. We need more types of people, that’s what we need.
That is what is really exciting because it looks like awareness is there, from a brand point of view, from a marketing point of view, and from a consumer’s point of view. We’re looking and we’re judging and because of that, because we have an opinion, whether it is an opinion on the climate crisis or an opinion on who this is marketed to, we know that we can feel these opinions, we can feel like we know what’s going on with the consumer and the brands are gonna be aware of that. They’re going to take note, and that’s really important. That changes the structure; that changes the system!
As a female photographer, have you come across more equality in photography now than when you started?
In some ways, there are definitely more female photographers and videographers out there. I wonder if it is partially to do with social media where we can connect and see each other. I think that’s a big part of it, and I also think it’s because female photographers in the past have really tried to encourage more women to get involved. But I still think there’s a massive gap when it comes to content creators in the outdoors and action sports industry.
“I still think there’s a massive gap when it comes to content creators in the outdoors and action sports industry”
There’s a gap because, when you’re a photographer, when you’re a videographer, you’re starting out with particular equipment and you need to evolve with your ideas, but also with your equipment, and that very much comes with how much you believe in your skills and your path in that role.
If I’m a photographer who believes that “I’m going to be a photographer. I’m going to be the world’s best snowboard photographer”, I’ll probably go out and invest in a really expensive camera, but on the other hand, there’s probably quite a lot of women behind the scenes, like myself, who have been photographing action sports on the side of their job because they were worried to commit to it early on because there wasn’t support for marketing, there wasn’t support from brands, or financial support to really do it as a job.
It was always something you would do as a passion project. You would do it as voluntary work in some ways, like a lot of my work in photography has been for free because there has not been the appetite for the topic, or because there have not been the marketing budgets to go to it.
But I think that now there is that appetite. We need to allow the next generation to come up and really believe in their skills and believe that they can do it as a viable career so they can invest in their skills and their equipment because it’s ultimately so important to photography and videography.
As a woman, have you ever found it difficult to be part of such a male-dominated industry?
I wouldn’t say I have. I’ve always been really fuelled to be working in the industry and seeing the gap for putting the spotlight on women in action sports. I think that when I realised there was such a gap, first I was kind of shocked, I wouldn’t say angry, but I wasn’t surprised. It gave me this kind of push to get involved and to try and change that and try and close that gap. Try and showcase what we were doing in the industry.
“I’ve never felt put off by it being a male-dominated industry because I very much found that the women’s side of it is so inspiring.”
I would like to see more women working behind the scenes. I would like to see more female photographers and I think we can bring more in. But I’ve never felt put off by it being a male-dominated industry because I very much found that the women’s side of it is so inspiring.
As more women are behind the scenes, you over at Whitelines, me taking photos of women in skate, or having more diversity in all the roles all the way through will just allow this infiltration of an array of stories being shown in the outdoors.
It’s just got everything in there. Every kind of skill, every kind of face, every kind of experience (all the way from amateur to pro), every kind of ethnicity, every single size of people; it is just like everything. It allows people to look at it and go, “Oh, that looks a bit like me,” or, “That is something that I could try.” I think that’s happening more and more, and as someone that works in communications and photography, I hope that I can also play my part in helping those stories get through.
Have you got any advice for the next generation who wants to get involved?
I always think that reaching out to people who inspire you is a really great place to start. Don’t think that someone is too big to reply or they’re out of reach because no one is out of reach now through social media and through the internet.
“You’re gonna have to catch the toe side edge a few times before you learn and find your place”
You can get in touch with a photographer who inspires you or somebody who’s working in the scene; how did they get to where they are? I think when you ask people, like the first question you asked me here, how did you get into the industry or how did you get to where you are now? When you break down the barriers then it really helps people get into it. Even when you watch someone hitting a kicker and they’re doing a trick, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s beyond what I’ll be able to do. I’m never going in the park.”
Maybe the big stuff might put you off in your own participatory journey of a sport. But if you see somebody and get to know the real story, everybody starts as a beginner in all of these sports. Everybody is rubbish at skateboarding. Everybody falls off a skateboard just trying to push it down the street. Everybody catches a toe edge and scorpions when they’re learning to snowboard. Yes, you’ll break your coccyx!
Everybody’s done these things, and as soon as you reach out and learn that the trick is you’ve just got to start from somewhere and it’s gonna be your own path. There’s no skipping all the way to the top. You’re not gonna hit the kicker straight away. You’re gonna have to catch the toe side edge a few times before you learn and find your place.
I think that reaching out to people to learn that and to realise the realistic ways to get into the industry… You’re not always gonna find it easy because it’s a passion industry to work in, and because you’re passionate about it you can get disappointed when you get the ‘no’s. When you’re working hard but people don’t want to publish your photos, or they’re not interested in featuring women in action sports at that precise time, or someone else steals an idea of yours. All these things happen. It’s so important to have a mentor who has been through the same things so they can help guide you through it and help you stay passionate about working in this industry.
For me, a lot of my creative side has been in skateboarding, and I’d love to add more creativity to snowboarding. I think that we have a really exciting time coming up for snowboarding where different voices, new voices, or just voices that have been around a long time and haven’t been heard in snowboarding are going to start coming out.
That can be in environmentalism, but it can also be within the diversity area. I think we have a lot of room to just be creative. We don’t need to make the same sort of snowboard vids. There are opportunities to get a bit more artistic with it, and as a photographer, I’m really excited to contribute a little bit more to snowboarding, contribute some of my creativity to snowboarding.
At the moment I’m working with Lesley McKenna on Wandering Workshops which we launched a couple of months ago. It’s a workshop where we’re going to take people out in the Cairngorms to go split and ski touring, and to connect with nature but also their perspective on it. Lesley will be hosting the split boarding side and I will be doing the photography side. It’s very much a collaborative project with the different people who are coming onto the workshop which will be next season now.
We also want to do multiple projects under the Wandering umbrella, and it’s very much about the slow side of snowboarding and splitboarding. Taking in nature, the slowing down and really taking in what’s going on. There’s lots of room to be artistic when nature and a slower pace are involved.
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