Growing up as a girl of mixed race in a predominantly white community in Vancouver, BC, I was used to standing out amongst my fellow adventurers. From cycling the city’s seawalls to hiking the trails of Vancouver’s North Shore, I always felt at home in the outdoors, but I was also not blind to the lack of diversity that surrounded me.
Now, as a travel writer, I’ve been able to explore my love for the outdoors in far-flung destinations as well. I’ve been birdwatching in Bermuda, trekking in Western Texas, snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands and spelunking through caves in the Pacific Northwest. And while I’ve enjoyed my adventures, I’ve always felt like the trails, caves and underwater explorations were missing the diversity that I desired to see.
It wasn’t until I started searching specifically for people of colour in the outdoor adventure space that I realized a large community exists. I spoke with eight BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) outdoor adventurers who shared their stories of how they fell in love with the outdoors and the changes they wish to see in the industry to create a more diverse and welcoming outdoor community. Read what they had to say below—and be sure to follow their adventures.
1. Tori Baird, Owner of Paddle Like a Girl
Tori Baird started Paddle Like a Girl to help women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds discover the peace and beauty of nature through offering canoeing courses by women, for women.
I went on a camping trip in Algonquin with my family once when I was a kid; otherwise, we weren't very outdoorsy. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I started to get into canoeing and backcountry camping, as he is an avid whitewater canoeist. We started off small with some weekend trips around Ontario, paddling whitewater rivers such as the Skootamatta, the lower Magnetawan, the Opeongo and the Petawawa.
Then a few years into our relationship, we went on our first multi-week, fly-in canoe trip in northern Quebec. The trip was intense, beautiful, challenging and rewarding. I was hooked. In the following years we did a couple more fly-in canoe trips—one in northern Saskatchewan and another in the Northwest Territories—each with their own set of challenges that, in the end, helped mould me into the woman I am today.
Last year, I completed my first “solo but not alone” canoe trip with a friend, travelling five days through Algonquin Park. The trip came at the perfect time because my husband and I were in the midst of a lengthy testing process with my son, who was later diagnosed with a severe genetic syndrome. Dealing with a situation where I had no control was scary and stressful, and this trip, for me, was a good reminder that I am strong, capable and can handle adversity. It was empowering.
That trip inspired me to start Paddle Like a Girl, where I offer introductory paddling workshops for women. The outdoor community, and more specifically the canoeing community, is made up of predominantly white men, so I wanted to encourage women of all backgrounds to get out paddling—and maybe even take on a backcountry canoe trip of their own.
When I originally started my Instagram page, my goal was simply to share my adventures. I had not intentionally set out to represent people of colour, it just happened naturally and gradually. I follow a lot of outdoor adventure pages, but I recently realized that most of them were created by white people. It wasn’t until I deliberately searched for more diverse outdoor pages that I realized that with more digging, there are actually many others out there like myself, which speaks to the underrepresentation of people of colour who enjoy the outdoors.
It’s important for the outdoor adventure industry to be more inclusive in their marketing materials. This would help to diversify feeds and create spaces for Black people in the outdoor community. Speaking from my own experience, I’ve always been worried about encountering racism while travelling through smaller, more remote areas, simply due to the lack of representation in these places. If there were more diversity, not only would it inspire more Black people to get out there and explore, but it would break down the belief that the outdoors is a place that is reserved for white people.
Beyond that, educating yourself and those around you on the history of systemic racism and oppression is crucial for change. We need vocal and active anti-racism because staying silent is not enough.
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2. Dominique Miller, Professional Surfer
“Nique” Miller is a Black-Mexican pro surfer based in Waikiki, Hawaii, whose passion for surfing has led her to participate in surfing and stand-up paddleboarding competitions around the world.
Photographer Yoshi Tanaka
My mom doesn’t know how to swim, but she was very determined to have my brother and I become good swimmers at an early age so that we wouldn’t miss out on any of the fun that she had missed out on during her childhood years. I actually learned to swim before I could walk, which I’m sure is why I am so connected to the water and surfing today.
I really loved the outdoors growing up. I was always playing outside with my brother and cousins. What I love most about the outdoors is how freeing it is for me. I love being able to go out in the fresh air and hear all the beautiful sounds of nature.
Photographer Yoshi Tanaka
A particular moment in nature that really sticks out for me is when I travelled to Panama for a modelling gig. Seeing the jungle, ocean, mountains and beaches there took my breath away. It is by far one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been (excluding Hawaii of course). One beach in Bocas Del Toro had the most calm and relaxing water, with a beautiful jungle on the other side. There was barely anyone around, and starfish littered the ocean floor in a sea of colours. Above me, sloths hung from the trees. I felt like I was in a Disney movie!
My love for nature and water brought me to surfing, and I now compete in the Longboard World Tour and the Stand-Up Paddleboard World Tour. I was scheduled to compete around the world this year, but due to COVID-19, all surfing events are on hold until at least July or maybe longer.
I feel extremely underrepresented in the surfing industry. It is a predominantly white sport with very few people of colour competing on the world’s stage. Here in Hawaii, a lot of people have dark skin so I fit in, and the culture here is a lot more accepting than in other surfing destinations. Outside of Hawaii, I have never been discriminated against for the colour of my skin, but in surf magazines and big-name surf brands, dark-skinned surfers are barely represented in advertising. It’s frustrating, especially when surfing originated from Polynesian cultures.
Photographer Yoshi Tanaka
I would love to see more diversity in the surfing industry. I think this could happen if there were a bigger push among all surfers to speak out and ask for equal representation of all POC in surfing events and promotional materials. Surfing is done all over the world, and the younger generations need to see diversity so they can feel encouraged to participate as well.
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3. Yael McEwaan, Adventure Seeker and Expert Roadtripper
Yael McEwaan is a French Caribbean (almost) Canadian adventurer living in Toronto, Ontario. He is an aspiring climber, mountaineer, avid backcountry camper and an adventure motorcycling enthusiast.
During my childhood, my mom was more of a city-dweller, but she was driven by wanderlust. The “Great Outdoors” as you know it was not part of my upbringing, but we did enjoy the occasional day hike. Growing up on a small Caribbean island limits the scale of these activities, but our lifestyle was actively connected with the ocean and the countryside. I had sea kayaking and sailing for physical education classes in school, and on weekends, I would hitchhike to the beach or swim in the river with my friends.
I moved to Canada in 2011 and, like any newcomer, it took me a couple of years to get settled in. Once I was settled, my journey in the outdoors began. First, as just an adrenaline junkie, and later as a true outdoor enthusiast.
I was young and eager to experience all the opportunities that were available to me in Ontario. I started using online coupon sites to get deals on outdoor adventures for myself and my friends. I joined a climbing gym and went snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, caving, ziplining and skydiving whenever I could. Trying all these experiences helped me to understand that it was possible to be active and outside year-round. I was also able to identify the activities, the gear and the skills I would need to develop to be properly prepared for my future adventure travel plans.
I began road tripping with my friends all over the province until one day, we decided to head to Algonquin Provincial Park for an overnight camping trip. From the scenic drive to the fireside chats, I immediately felt hooked to the sense of freedom. Mesmerized by the brightness of the stars and the stillness of the water in the morning, I found it to be so peaceful and serene. I was able to connect more with myself while disconnecting from electronics and work. I was able to recharge my mental well-being and connect with my friends on a deeper level. Being outdoors and in nature makes me feel free, alive and keeps me in the present moment. It is more therapeutic the deeper I go.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of representation in the outdoor adventure industry that does not portray an environment where POC can easily feel comfortable—particularly for activities that are perceived to be high risk or to have high entry barriers due to costs associated with items like expensive gear or transportation, so it can be easy to feel intimidated.
I have participated in many events where I was the only POC, and it is actually not surprising anymore how often I end up being the only POC on trails. That being said, I have not had any negative experience where I have truly felt out of place, but I can see how some people would.
Over the past few years, it seems as though an increasing number of BIPOC voices are speaking up, community groups are developing, and champions are advocating for diversification in the outdoor space. This has created more opportunities to discover and connect with adventurers of colour, which is encouraging and motivating, but there is still more work to be done.
I believe that the industry could be more proactive in representing POC, not just in marketing campaigns, but also by diversifying their brand ambassadors, athlete rosters and staff, to engage the community and make it accessible for people to get introduced to the experiences of the outdoors.
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4. Diana Lee, Stand-Up Paddleboarder
When Diana Lee isn’t planning environmental programming for the Toronto Public Library, she spends her time exploring the outdoors, stand-up paddleboarding, camping and canoeing.
Born and raised in Toronto, I was always fascinated by nature and the great outdoors. As a child, I remember exploring the local ravines, borrowing way too many library books on bugs and plants, and being active outdoors all year-round: cycling and swimming in the summer, and skating in the winter.
I love the relaxing and healing vibe of the outdoors. Whether it's the warmth from the sun as it rises during a sunrise paddle, the sound of snow crunching under my feet while winter camping or the smell of rain after a spring downpour, these outdoor experiences deliver such a refreshing feeling for me.
It wasn't until my university days that I was truly able to feed the adventure-hungry side of my soul. I realized I needed more than just local activities, so I joined the Ryerson Adventure Society, where I met a group of like-minded friends. Together, we went whitewater rafting, backcountry camping and enjoyed adventure-based travels. I also joined a dragon boat team, but after spending several years competing, I happily went back to the serene and chill vibe of canoeing and kayaking at my own leisure.
Eight years ago, I tried stand-up paddleboarding during a visit to Hawaii. Upon my return, I was thrilled to discover SUPGirlz, one of the first companies in Toronto to offer stand-up paddleboarding. Since then, SUP has become my favourite way to get outside. Whether it's an after-work paddle in the Toronto Harbour or a seven-day paddling trip through the Galapagos Islands, I love exploring local and faraway places while being so closely connected to water and the surrounding wildlife.
As a first-generation Canadian, I'm so grateful to be in a place (life-wise and geographically) where it's relatively safe for me to explore the outdoors. I say “relatively” because I want to acknowledge that there are many people who don't feel safe in the very same spaces.
While I’ve had some pretty positive experiences with supportive people, brands and organizations in the outdoor adventure space, there is definitely more that can be done to promote diversity in the field.
For organizations and companies, I’d love to see action, not just words. For example, don't just share a “one-and-done” social media campaign. Instead, actively and regularly demonstrate how diversity efforts run deeper and throughout every level and process of your organization. For individuals, learn about the traditional territory you're living on and exploring. It is a privilege to travel. Learning about and acknowledging the Indigenous groups that were there before you is a step towards showing respect.
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5. Alicia Haque, Content Creator at Go Live Explore
Alicia Haque visited Vancouver from the UK over 5 years ago, and she never left. A true lover of the outdoors, Alicia finds peace in backcountry hiking—in Canada and beyond.
I learned to ski at a young age, and that’s definitely where my love for the mountains developed. I have vivid memories of being so completely awestruck by the snowy peaks and landscapes in the French Alps, and I get that same feeling every time I’m out in the mountains now. It was only in 2015, when I moved to Canada, that I really got into hiking and properly appreciating the outdoors.
There’s a unique feeling I get when I’m outdoors—it’s a combination of complete peace, freedom and appreciation. When I’m out in the backcountry or standing on the shore at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I realize just how small I am and how big our beautiful world feels. It’s easy to get lost in daily life sometimes, and being outdoors brings everything back into focus for me.
I started my blog, Go Live Explore, back in 2014, initially as a hobby travel diary to document my travels around Southeast Asia, and it was my outlet to share tidbits of information with fellow backpackers. After leaving my life in the UK and moving to Vancouver, it evolved into more of a lifestyle and travel destination, with my content more focused on my adventures around Vancouver and further afar.
I didn’t really realize just how underrepresented POC are in the outdoor adventure space until the most recent Black Lives Matter movement. As a POC myself, I was living quite blindly—I was just so used to seeing white faces rather than those of colour around me that it became “normal.” This movement has brought a lot of things to light for me, one being the lack of diversity and representation in the travel and adventure industry. It’s rare to find a non-white adventurer on an advertisement for an outdoor brand or featured on large travel and adventure Instagram accounts. I’m recognizing that gap more and more.
Every player in the outdoor adventure community has a role in elevating and properly representing POC. I’d love to see outdoor brands showcasing more diversity with their models, not just in terms of skin colour and race, but also with size. I’d love to see large Instagram accounts deviating from the same outdoorsy creators and offering exposure to new, non-white faces. I’d love to see more diversity on media trips with tourism boards and PR teams as well. It’s a shame it’s taken so long to get to this point of awareness and consciousness, but hopefully this movement sparks real change and we see more diversity and representation in the travel and adventure community going forward.
6. Albert Bedward, Filmmaker and Paddling Poet
Albert Bedward is an avid sea kayaker, hiker and snowshoer. He writes articles on sea kayaking and is presently working on a historical novelette and documentary film.
After WWII, my grandfather—a gunner and trainer for the Royal Canadian Artillery—moved to Canada. In the late 50s, he brought my grandmother, parents, brothers, aunt and uncles to Ottawa from Jamaica for a fresh start. My grandparents started Browns Cleaners and Tailors at the time, which is now the largest dry cleaning company in Ottawa.
My father, a financial comptroller, and my mother, a nurse, purchased a house across from a small forest (some called it a large bush). We lived in a town where cross-country skiing, tobogganing, downhill skiing, skating, canoeing, cycling and running were easily accessible. Growing up there, we never worried about the same things parents worry about today. We knew we could outrun Kid Flash, jump higher than a horse over a fence and climb trees faster than squirrels. The world was our oyster.
I started sea kayaking during my marriage. I worked hard to take care of my family, but I had nothing for myself. I felt spent, unbalanced. One summer I took a flatwater sea kayaking course—a gift to myself. The instructor would not pass me until I perfected my forward paddling skills, so for a month I practiced. I ended up enrolling in a Level One course (one level higher) and passed with flying colours. I bought my first sea kayak that year, filled with dreams of paddling from Churchill back to Arviat in Nunavut, but I knew I needed more experience in order to succeed.
I was raised with choices, not limitations. If you believe you can’t, you can’t. If you believe you can, you can. Life is that simple, working within one’s environment. My mother lived by the words, “If you use what you have, you can accomplish anything, as long as you do your homework and finish your chores!” This philosophy carried me through all my adventures. I always had a Plan B. Thus, when the unexpected happened, my only thought was, “Paddle and breathe!” This carried me through windstorms on the Saguenay River, St Lawrence and Lake Ontario.
Regardless of culture, I think that a love for the outdoors begins with the parents. If they embrace the outdoors, it will likely come naturally to the child. Schools need more outdoor education programs to expose elementary and high school students to camping, canoeing, sea kayaking, hiking, cross-country skiing and other activities.
Parents tend to forget—or if not exposed, tend to ignore—the importance of outdoor adventure in terms of mental health, and this seems to be even more the case with children of immigrant parents. For them, the idea, and rightly so, is to work hard, make money and create a foundation for their children, to provide more choices for a successful future. But it’s also important to nourish your soul with the outdoors to balance your indoors.
On my first solo paddle on Georgian Bay, I remembered an issue I had with my father. I was not thinking about it, but as I paddled towards the first lighthouse, I thought, “That is just the way things are!” And the issue was no longer an issue. Paddling forces me to live, to be aware of now. When a two-metre wave rolls towards me, my only thought is staying upright—and that keeps me centred.
7. Zahra Abdullahi, World Traveller and Avid Hiker
Zahra Abdullahi is an avid hiker and world traveller who has visited 23 countries on five continents, combining her passion for the outdoors with her desire to explore new destinations.
Nature and exploration have always been a big part of my life—mostly through my international travels.
We travelled often as a family, which I believe instilled my love for exploration and adventure. As a child I remember exploring the pyramids in Egypt and running on the white sandy beaches of Somalia. When we immigrated to Canada in the 90s, my mom would take us skating on the Rideau Canal in the winters and on picnics near the lakes in the summers. She encouraged my sister and I to ride our bikes through the trails of our neighbourhood and put us in swimming lessons. All these experiences in my childhood taught me that the outdoors were mine to discover and enjoy.
For me, nature allows me to escape life’s many stresses. It is a form of self-care. Nature challenges me both physically and mentally. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. One experience that highlights this is when I went on my first hike outside of Canada. I decided to hike the Lake Cerro Chato trail in Costa Rica on my birthday. The hike takes you through the rainforest up the Cerro Chato volcano. It rained almost the entire hike and we were forced to scramble up three-foot mud walls and hang off tree branches to stay on the trail. Although we didn’t get to see the views of the green laguna from the top of the volcano, or the famous views of Arenal Volcano due to extreme cloud coverage, the sense of accomplishment achieved by hiking through lush forest in the rain was unbelievable.
While I love exploring nature, I feel underrepresented as a Black Muslim woman in the outdoor adventure space. Although I often adventure with other Black women, the marketing for outdoor brands would have you think that Black people do not belong in the outdoors.
During one of my snowboarding trips at an advanced ski resort, my sister and I noticed right away that we stood out. At one point as we were coming down the hill, we could see people sitting at the bottom staring at us. It was in this moment that we realized we were the only Black people on the ski hill. It did not deter me from enjoying the day, but it did make me feeI “othered.” Such experiences can cause BIPOCs who are new to the sport to feel unwelcome and can discourage them from trying something new. This is why it's so important to create open, welcoming and affirming spaces for BIPOC.
One way to make the outdoor community a more welcoming and diverse space would be to start by engaging with BIPOC communities directly. Newcomers to Canada, like my family when we arrived here in the 90s, might not know where to find information, or might be unfamiliar with the outdoor spaces of their newly adopted communities. National or provincial park personnel could set up information booths at BIPOC community events and share with the community which programs are available for families, which outdoor spaces are nearby, and which resources are available to access those spaces. Inclusivity should be about building long-lasting community relationships so everyone feels welcome.
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8. Candace Campo, Operator, Cultural Tours & Land-Based Learning Programs
Candace Campo is a cultural tour operator, anthropologist, teacher and lover of the ocean. She feels most at home surrounded by nature and strives to make outdoor experiences accessible to everyone.
As an Indigenous woman, I was born into a family of traditional hunters and fishers. I grew up on the land, gathering and fishing like my ancestors before me. I started catching salmon at a very early age and my mother would say to me, “Candy, your grandmother is a fisherwoman, so you are a fisherwoman.” These connections to the land are deeply rooted in being Shishalh (Sechelt Nation)—one of several Salish people here on the southern West Coast.
When our family spent time on the land, it was quality time spent together—it wasn’t perceived as recreational. Land, the ocean, rivers and forest, and the animals, birds and sea life are more like our kin and are believed to be our connection to our spirit and our ancestors. When we are children, our family and friends take us on journeys and the connection is visceral and practical, because many of the activities are related to harvesting, fishing, hunting and ceremony. The older generation shares life history and stories of our ancestors and our way of life. As a child I soaked up every story like a sponge, and now it’s my role to be the story sharer.
As a trained outdoor guide, I have the equipment and skills to take our community members and youth onto the land for multiple days, kayaking, canoeing and hiking. This is a vital way to connect to family, which includes both my Shishalh community and my husband’s Squamish community. I do several trips a year with our community in addition to my scheduled tours with international visitors and other Canadians.
My experience growing up trained me to be equipped for the land, but as a guide I was required to reorient and develop skills specifically for recreational camping and kayak instruction. Our clientele are unique in that they come to us seeking something beyond their own cultural comfort zones. They value Indigenous culture and understand—or at least are open to learning—the complex Canadian-Indigenous history and relations and are seeking heritage and a deep connection.
We also realize that the outdoors is framed as an adventure, a delve into the wilderness. We can’t compete with a brand that offers untapped, wilderness adventure because this mindset of the wilderness is untrue for us. The land is our relative, our home, and our ancestors have utilized every square mile from mountain top to the deep sea for thousands of years. I too am committed to being a part of the land and being available to teach my connection and understanding to the next generation.
While this connection with the outdoors is important for everyone, access seems to be mostly available to higher-earning individuals. There is a profound gap, leaving the less-privileged youth to miss out on important life experiences. This privilege needs to be shared more widely, regardless of economic status. Our company funds these experiences, but it would be nice if the outdoor community as a whole shared with those who could benefit from these experiences the most.
We are not concerned about what the industry can do for us as people of colour, as women and as an Indigenous company, we are asking the greater community to help serve and support the growth and well-being of our younger generation as a whole. Share, serve and reciprocate and together we will be healthy, strong and connected.
Follow Candace's Adventures: aboriginalecotours.com