In the continuing series looking at some of the women behind working within the industry, IKSURF Mag chat to Holley Butler and Grace Seeley who look after marketing at North Kiteboarding. Based in New Zealand it's been an interesting baptism of fire while the brand was launched in a whirlwind last year!
Holley and Grace, thanks for joining us, it's great to meet you! Holley, can you tell us what it was like growing up in Auckland?
Thank you for having us! I was fortunate to grow up in Auckland on a lifestyle block with plenty of animals, and a massive backyard to keep me entertained. We're only a 30-minute drive, either way, from the east to the west coast of New Zealand.
My family are very outdoorsy, so growing up, we would always go camping around the country. We are spoilt for choice with all the beautiful walks, bike tracks and surf beaches New Zealand has to offer!
Grace, we've got to ask! How does someone who studied Psychology in Edinburgh, UK, end up working as a Content Community Manager in the kiteboarding industry in New Zealand? What made you want to leave the UK?
As part of my degree at Edinburgh University, I chose to spend a year abroad studying in Auckland. My good friend and first kiteboarding inspiration, Polly Crathorne, had chosen Auckland for the incredible kite spots it has to offer. She introduced me to the University Kite Club, and I learnt to kite cheaply, with a lot of help from the friends I made. We lived a pretty cruisy life for a year, kiteboarding at every opportunity, meaning that when I left New Zealand, I knew I'd want to come back.
After graduating, I moved to London and got a job in an Advertising agency. Despite all my friends living there, London wasn't for me. It would take me hours to get out of the city to go kiteboarding at the weekend, and I missed living close to the ocean. Getting the tube followed by three train changes with a board, harness and kite, was such a mission!
It had always been in the back of my mind to revisit New Zealand. I kept in touch with the guys from the Kite Club in Auckland, one of whom is the Graphic Designer for North Kiteboarding, Tom Crosse. When the job came up, Tom put me in touch with Holley, and it sounded too good an opportunity to turn down!
Holley, you left Auckland and ended up travelling around for a few years. What were you doing before you got the job at North Kiteboarding? What made you want to return to Auckland?
I previously worked in Advertising agencies in New Zealand and then in London, which is where my Marketing background comes in. However, before making the move to North Kiteboarding, I volunteered at a surf school in Lagos, Portugal. It was a fantastic experience where I spent most of my days surfing, exploring the Algarve and showing our guests around town.
While travelling, I used London as my base and jetted off around Europe at every chance I got. However, I really did miss the freedom New Zealand offered, and the ease of being able to get out on the water whenever I could. It was actually the job at North Kiteboarding that lured me back to Auckland! I was coming to the end of the season in Portugal and started looking at jobs in New Zealand, Australia and Holland to see if there was anything of interest. The Marketing Manager role at North Kiteboarding was the first and only interview I had.
Launching a watersports brand, with plenty of travel, based in my home country, seemed like a dream come true! Mike Raper (North's Brand Director) and I really hit it off. With our joint appreciation and love for the ocean, combined with my advertising background, I was offered the job after our first Skype interview and booked a ticket home.
Grace, what it's like living in New Zealand? It looks incredible!
With the current global situation, now more than ever, I feel lucky to be living here. It's such a fantastic country and the outdoor activities on your doorstep are endless. Every weekend, we leave the city to explore a different surf or kite spot. I also love the kiwi laid back lifestyle, where everyone respects the work-life balance. This is a stark contrast to the 'rat race' in London. Having the most incredible beaches on your doorstep, I don't feel the need to go on holiday. That pretty much sums up living in New Zealand for me - no need to escape.
Holley, can you describe a typical day at the North Kiteboarding headquarters?
We laugh, a lot, especially during the Marketing Department team meetings at our indoor skate ramp, which also doubles as a board room, then some emails and a couple of walks to the local grocer for salads, cakes and coffee.
Being in the growth phase of a business is incredibly exciting. We're constantly brainstorming new ideas and campaigns, it's a very collaborative office. We also have a strong female presence here, which is pretty unusual for a kiteboarding company. From our copy-whizz Victoria to graphic designer Suzie, we are so lucky to work with such amazing women (and men!) which I think helps challenge some industry norms and ultimately widens the funnel of potential people getting into the sport. We're also incredibly lucky to be situated a 15-minute drive from one of the best surfing and kiteboarding beaches, Muriwai, so if the swell is good or wind is strong, you'll most likely find the office half empty!
Grace, what are some of the best kiteboarding spots around New Zealand? Any travel recommendations?
Auckland is great for kiteboarding, due to there being a beach within 30-minutes' drive suitable for every wind direction. For Big Air, Muriwai Beach is epic and just so happens to be 10 minutes down the road from the North Kiteboarding office. There is also Glendowie Spit, which is my favourite flatwater spot in the city. You'll often see North team rider, Marc Jacobs, throwing massive loops over the spit.
A few hours north of Auckland is a little gem spot called Mangawhai. I've been lucky enough to kite the lagoons in Brazil, and I reckon this spot is easily on par. It's a huge lagoon with butter-flat water, backed by a massive white sand dune. Down in Queenstown, not only is there incredible snowkiting in the winter, Glenorchy has to be one of the most scenic kite spots I've ever been to. We took the whole North Kiteboarding team there to shoot some of our 2020 Brand Movie, it's a pretty spectacular place.
Holley, what was it like launching North Kiteboarding and what were the high and the lows?
Launching a brand is both incredibly exciting and daunting. It was, without a doubt, one of the proudest moments of my life. I vividly remember Grace and I sitting in our office at 7 pm, fuelled with coffee and Indian takeaway (our staple diet over the launch period!) about to press-go on everything the collective team had worked on leading up to the 8th August. It was such a surreal feeling seeing everything we'd produced over a rollercoaster nine months, on the kiteboarding world stage.
In the period leading up to the launch, Grace and I worked until 4 am for about three weeks straight, to get the website live, and align all deliverables from print to social, retail and everything else you can think of across the globe. Being based in New Zealand has many advantages; however, the time difference can be tricky at times!
I'm super proud of the brand we built, in such a short space of time. Bringing a huge range of products to the market was an incredibly high-pressure situation, and with so many deliverables, your head would feel like it was going to explode with the sheer number of things to remember! However, working with such an incredible and talented group of people has honestly made such a difference. From the product engineers and designers, sales team and team riders. Every single person is so passionate and aligned with our vision of really disrupting the market, and creating a point of difference in kiteboarding.
Grace, what are some of the pros and cons of being a Content Community Manager?
I do a bit of everything, including the social media, website, working with the media and on our sustainability plans. I'm also in close contact with our inspiring team of North athletes; a lot is going on!
Before landing the job at North Kiteboarding, I was working for a large company, with well-oiled structures and processes. My roles and responsibilities were clearly defined, but I quickly got bored with this. I love that at North Kiteboarding, being a start-up, we are all new to the challenges we face, making every day different. I'm proud to be part of the small, close-knit team who launched the North Kiteboarding brand in August 2018.
We are all personally invested in the brand, and it's great having the designers and marketing team working together under one roof. While it can connect people worldwide, and this is key for our business, social media never sleeps. For me, this can sometimes be mentally consuming, as I often find myself checking the North Kiteboarding account before I go to sleep and as soon as I wake up.
The ultimate perk has to be having a manager who will shift meetings in line with the swell, and a boss who we can kite with. Holley and I go surfing before work, and the best kite sessions are where all the North Kiteboarding team goes out, and the beach is full of North kites. All of us in the office need to get on the water and clear our heads. We are lucky enough to work somewhere that appreciates this and allows us to get the work done after a session or two.
Holley, you guys have quite a team of pro riders, what's it like working with them? What sort of relationship do you need to establish with them? How do you keep them motivated to create new content?
We were very selective with the team we brought on board, and I am stoked with every single one of them! They were all chosen for embodying our core brand values and are a walking representation of what it means to be North Kiteboarding. A big part of our job is working closely with them to align our marketing efforts, Grace especially, and our new Team Manager Alex Vilege, are fantastic in ensuring that our efforts are well communicated and coordinated.
Even though New Zealand is quite remote, I've been lucky enough to spend a decent amount of time with all of them through our sales meetings, industry events and product shoots. I love collaborating with the team and always leave our catchup’s, feeling very motivated and excited for future projects!
Grace, what’s it like being a female in a male-dominated industry? What are some of the challenges you face?
The industry is definitely male-dominated, and you may often be the only female at the beach, what I love about the kiteboarding community is that we are all genuinely there to look after one another. At the North Kiteboarding office, about half of the team are female, so we often have healthy discussions about our brand direction, and this comes from a gender-neutral perspective. I feel lucky to be working in such a supportive environment, which may not be the norm across the industry. One particular discussion we had was about how many kite brands sell female-specific boards. In my opinion, this is an aspect of the industry that is outdated, and even though I appreciate lightweight riders require gear to suit their needs, I think female and male riders should be treated equally. Seeing the first female rider, Angely Bouillot, compete in King of the Air this year proved this. I'm definitely noticing more females out on the water with every session, so I'm excited to see where the sport will be in a few years!
Holley, tell us about Cape Town! What was it like going for King of the Air?
I had never been to Cape Town before working at North Kiteboarding, and I loved it! I went on my own with North Kiteboarding in 2019 and was lucky enough to take Grace and Jonty Norton (our Content Creator who took most of these photographs!) with me this year. It made a huge difference having all 3 of us on the ground to collaborate and work through new content ideas and activations, daily. We're a tight-knit team, so it was awesome to spend some quality time together in such a beautiful location.
King of the Air will always be such a special place for the brand, both through being the place where we premiered our prototype kite in 2019 (now the Orbit) and this year's clean sweep by Jesse, Nick and Marc. There is truly nothing like it! From an industry perspective, it's fantastic to have everyone in one place and a great opportunity to catch up with our international team and Mystic counterparts. Not only that, but the vibe on the beach at KOTA is like none other, I love watching our athletes send it!
Grace, what piece advice would you give to someone that's looking for a career change, but can't seem to get out of their comfort zone?
With the current global situation due to COVID-19, I think we can all appreciate how quickly your way of life can be disrupted. Life is too short to not be doing something you enjoy. I'm incredibly grateful to be in my current position and have a family who has fully supported my move to New Zealand, but it definitely takes a bit of courage to go against the norm. My main piece of advice would be to figure out what you value most and be open to everyone and to every opportunity. Without sounding too cheesy, it pays to be kind. I ended up working at North Kiteboarding, thanks to the incredible people I met along the way.
Holley, what are your interests besides watersports?
I love partaking in anything that gets me outdoors and my body moving. Whether hiking around our beautiful country, running, or joining a Pilates class, I try my best to start my day with some kind of activity as that's when I find I'm most productive. As well as that I'm really into cooking and love experimenting as much as possible. The New Zealand lockdown was excellent for this!
Grace, you and Holley have the day off – how do you spend the day?
The perfect day off for Holley and I would start with a dawnie-up on the east coast, surfing some dreamy right-handers, getting off the water around midday to catch up on a few emails in the afternoon - North Kiteboarding never sleeps! Followed by pizza and beer in the evening; a bit basic but we wouldn't have it any other way!
Holley, is there anything interesting going on in the North Kiteboarding pipeline you'd like to share with us?
We're incredibly busy working on our MY21 collection launch, and there are some really exciting products here and stories to be told. I think we've had a phenomenal launch year and are looking to build on this even further. Despite the challenges we're facing as an industry, as well as on a personal level with COVID-19, I'm super excited to share what we've been working on very soon!
Thank you, it's been great catching up!
Read the rest of Issue 81 of IKSurf Magazine here.
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