MEET OONA TIBBETTS, CO-FOUNDER OF WILD SUP TOURS
I was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the Southwest of the USA. I was born at 7,000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I was born in the desert. Yet, despite all of these things, perhaps because of them, I have always loved the sea.
Where ever we went, where ever there was water, I would rush eagerly to jump in, be it the Pacific Ocean in northern California, Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana or one of the many lakes that dotted the Austrian country side.
I grew up travelling. My mother worked in Austria all throughout my childhood and I often went there with her. These trips generally included a quick jaunt to places like Greece or Slovenia after the work was done and the sea was always our primary destination. My mother and father both loved the ocean too. My family heralded from various parts of the US, and whenever we would visit them in California, Oregon, or Indiana we would make a point of spending time at the beach. These trips to the oceans and lakes were always a real treat.
Most of my childhood, however, was spent running around the mountains of northern New Mexico, climbing rocks and trees, all the while in a fluffy pink dress.
I grew up in a family that truly valued travel, adventure, creativity and movement. I took these ideas on in stride and they have informed my entire life.
So it was no surprise to my family when I unexpectedly announced I was going to Ireland for a year. I’d never been to the Emerald Isle before but I had a strange fascination with the place. I had grown up listening to Irish fairy tales and music. My favorite childhood film was an obscure movie about silkies (mythical seal creatures) filmed in Co. Donegal. I felt a deep connection to the protagonist, Fiona, and wanted to find my own magical island. Strangely enough, when I got to Ireland no one I met had ever heard of The Secret of Roan Inish.
From the age of about 16, I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. I was going to design the costumes for large scale epic films. I was on track to eventually achieve this goal, studying in London, working in New York, making lasting friendship and connections in both places. However, I was restless and simply wanted to explore the world, more than anything else.
My move to Ireland was even initially intended to further my film career. I was going with the intention of working in the costume department on the show Vikings filmed in Co. Wicklow. Then something truly unexpected and delightful happened. I met Ed and rediscovered my love for the great outdoors, sadly forgotten through my years at university. The ocean was calling and I listened.
The older I get, the more experiences I have, the less specific my goals become. When my life as a designer started to fall away, I went through a time of complete and utter confusion. So much of my identity had been wrapped up in that dream I didn’t know where I stood anymore and as a result I felt frozen. I felt like my creativity had dried up. Life was changing rapidly and my sense of direction had turned to smoke.
It was the environmental crisis that brought me back into action. The more time I spent exploring the country side, the more I understood why protecting this Earth is so important. It took a few years of paddling the coastline of the Dingle Peninsula, but eventually, the pieces fell into place and I knew how I could contribute to the environmental conversation. A new vision was born and a new path unfolded before me.
Looking back, I can absolutely see the connecting thread that has snaked through my entire life. It’s no surprise that I’ve ended up fighting for the wilderness, that’s where I grew up. I’ve simply gone home. I couldn’t tell this story if not for my background in theatre. That education gave me a voice, a structure, and the ability to weave together a narrative.
I can now confidently stand in my power as an expedition paddle boarder with all the strength of a life spent in motion.