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How Sophie Hellyer Empowers Women through Cold-Water Community

When Sophie Hellyer stepped away from surfing professionally, she discovered a grounding new passion: cold-water swimming. Through her connection with the ocean and other women, Sophie founded Rise Fierce, a retreat-based community of women who build their confidence through cold-water swimming, connecting with nature, and bonding with each other. 

Sophie told Squarespace more about empowering women at Rise Fierce retreats and how the isolation of the pandemic has increased women’s yearning for community in the outdoors. 

SQSP: How has your career evolved since you began surfing?

Sophie: I began surfing when I was around 14, and by the age of 15, I was a British and English junior champion. I spent about a decade competing at surfing, modeling for my sponsors, traveling the world, and spending a lot of time in the ocean.

In my mid-twenties, due to the pressures modeling and competing had on my mental health, I stepped away from the industry and moved out to the west coast of Ireland to live and work on a little organic veg farm. I still spent a lot of time surfing and playing in the ocean, but my values shifted as I became more connected to the land: I stopped traveling so much, avoided flying, tried to just travel by train and ferry, my diet became vegetarian and as organic as possible — and I started cold-water swimming. 

Somewhere along the way, Rise Fierce was born. I took the leap to offer Rise Fierce retreats that included surfing, cold-water swimming, and yoga, along with organic vegetarian food from the gardens. I weaved in environmental activities like tree-planting and beach cleans, and I hosted women’s circles for people to come together and connect. 

After years of competing against other women and jet-setting around the world, it felt really fulfilling to slow down and offer a restorative space for women to support each other. So, now my work means I still spend a lot of time in the water and a lot of time surrounded by women, but in a much healthier and more wholesome way!

sophie hellyer rise fierce

“After years of competing against other women and jet-setting around the world, it felt really fulfilling to slow down and offer a restorative space for women to support each other.”

SQSP: What role has your online presence played in that evolution?

Sophie: I used to use my Squarespace website as more of a portfolio or a landing page where people could find out a little bit more about me and my surfing, but it’s been so easy to evolve my website alongside my brand. It’s now a space where I advertise and sell retreats, along with sharing articles I’ve written that I think will be relevant to my target audience. 

SQSP: What have been some of your biggest challenges in building the Rise Fierce brand and leading your cold-water swimming community over the past couple years? How have you conquered, or learned from, those challenges?

Sophie: The pandemic has obviously been a huge challenge for Rise Fierce, as all in-person meet ups were cancelled. Restrictions meant you could only swim with one other person if you were lucky enough to live near an outdoor body of water. What I have learnt though is that people are in need of this retreat experience more than ever. After more than a year of isolation, coming together and truly slowing down for a day or a weekend, finding kinship with other women and immersing in the ocean, seems to be exactly what a lot of people want. 

SQSP: What’s been one of your most inspiring experiences while organizing Rise Fierce retreats, and what have you learned from that experience? 

Sophie: The most inspiring and amazing thing for me is when someone comes on a retreat and they are scared of the ocean and scared of the cold-water. The first day they might just watch. The next day they might dip their toes. The following day I’m literally holding their hand, walking them into the water. But by the end of the retreat, they’re jumping off a pier, howling with laughter. I love seeing people's confidence grow in the water, and how they carry that feeling of empowerment into their lives back home. 

sophie hellyer rise fierce

“I love seeing people's confidence grow in the water, and how they carry that feeling of empowerment into their lives back home.”

SQSP: How do you see your career evolving over the next year?

Sophie: I want to keep offering retreat experiences and being hands-on, but I also think the retreats may evolve. I’d like to have other people running them for me, so we can have several different retreats going on in different places at the same time. I want more people to be able to take a day out from their lives to retreat and rejuvenate, and there’s only so many I can accommodate alone! 

SQSP: What advice do you have for people with a dream they don’t know how to turn into a reality? 

Sophie: Use your community. Never be afraid to ask for help or advice and remember that you’re surrounded by friends to offer support. When I was first planning retreats, I spoke with friends to help plan my yoga classes, friends who were chef’s to work out food costs, friends who were in the same industry to understand insurances and legal frameworks. I definitely couldn’t have set up a business without the support of my community.  

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