Sally McGee: 5 Things I've Learned From 5 Years of Yonder
In this special guest post, exclusively for paid subscribers, Sal shares the lessons her and partner Tom have learned in the five years since they set up their 'none traditional' surf school.
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As we look forward to celebrating five years of being Yonder, it seemed like a fitting time to reflect on the five things we’ve learned from running our little family business. Although we teach surfing, Yonder isn’t really a surf school in the traditional sense. Initially, we were founded on the idea that we could affect the diversity of the surfing community in our area and beyond. This idea and these principles still underpin Yonder today.
Yonder is really three people. Me, Sally McGee; north east surfer and Finisterre ambassador. My husband Tom, a photographer and film-maker, is the other half of Yonder. Then there’s Billy, our son, who has lived and breathed Yonder with us since the day he was born.
We've lived in the village of Tynemouth in North East England since 2012. Before that, I was deeply involved in a career with the British Refugee Council and then the British Red Cross. It was intense work, and after experiencing some burnout I decided it was time to rethink. I loved the work, but the balance was no longer healthy. So we moved to Tynemourh, and began to really focus on surfing and education. I retrained as a mentor in secondary education, while Tom started working as an art and photography teacher.
Soon after, in 2014, I qualified as a surf instructor and beach lifeguard. That was also the year we rode motorcycles from Chile to California on what was a truly life-changing trip. It was at some point during that endless road trip through the desert, or perhaps under a palapa in a beach in the jungle, that the idea for Yonder (which had formed years before during a particularly remote trip to Indonesia) really started to take shape as a reality in my brain.
The final push came when I snapped my arm in half in an RNLI accident and then found out I was pregnant. I realised that the timing and foundations for a female-focussed surf training provider were already there and it was time to act.
“Getting to work with and pass on knowledge and experience to women in our community is so rewarding and beyond fun. We build deep and meaningful connections with our clients, friendships for life. We've got women in our surf scene who have known our son since he was a baby, women we can call on, women and their families who are just as much a part of Yonder as we are”.
I'm no business person. I'm a surfer and I have passion. That's the beauty and at the same time the problem of being self-employed in the surf industry. I think without that passion and connection to surfing you lack integrity. But with it, you lack money and certainly a pension.
And nothing about running a business comes naturally to Tom or I. We struggle to switch off, we struggle to find balance, and we drive ourselves and each other nuts. Then the swell picks up and we drop it all. The house becomes an unreal mess of washing up, emails remain unanswered but we are stoked and we remember why we do it.
Above all, we’re slowly starting to fulfil the goals we had when we began Yonder half a decade ago. When we paddle out at home and hear the buzz in the line-up; the smiles, nods and banter, and see the faces becoming increasingly more diverse; as we watch our clients fly past us down the line on a Yonder surfboard smiling ear-to-ear: then we feel that confirmation that we’re on a path that is fulfilling, healthy and impactful on our community.
Beyond the paid subscriber jump: read how Yonder are using their surf school to try and transform the surfing industry from within, why integrity and purpose are essential for any business, why Sal and Tom quit their jobs to fulfil their vision, why growth can take many forms and many more lessons from five years of the UK’s most progressive surf school
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