Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

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Aotearoa NZ's independent voice of fishing, hunting & outdoors

Wild Chix: new initiative hopes to empower women in the outdoors

5 min read
Wild Chix

Left: Isabell Zitzelsberger with a 110kg southern bluefin tuna Right: Providing meat for family and friends

In a world where outdoor activities, such as fishing, hunting, and boating are often stereotyped as male-dominated pursuits, Isabell Zitzelsberger, a passionate advocate for breaking gender barriers, decided it was time for a change.

In 2012, Isabell and her partner moved from Germany to Aotearoa New Zealand, and it was here that they discovered a new and vibrant lifestyle centred around fishing. Starting out with land-based fishing, the couple’s interest in the pursuit grew to where they eventually bought a boat – and then there was no turning back.

In 2018, Isabell joined Surtees Boats in the sales and marketing department, where she says she mostly sold to male customers.

“I had received a phone call from a colleague of mine, who said, ‘I just had a customer who was very sexist – he said he doesn’t want to talk to a female about a new boat; he wants to talk with someone who knows what they are talking about’. It didn’t surprise me; it just made me wonder why guys still think that knowledge and interest in hunting, fishing, and the outdoors is only a male thing?” Isabell says.

She says she noticed there was a significant difference in purchasing behaviour among men and women.
“I don’t think a woman would ever go out somewhere and purchase something in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars when they don’t know how to use it. She’s not going to go and spend that kind of money without doing a lot of research and already knows what she’s doing. Whereas the guys just go for it. They go, well, I love this boat. Oh, it’s $160,000. That’s fine, I’ll have that, and I will figure out afterwards how it works.”

Wild Chix

Wild Chix
The session at Tauranga Sport Fishing Club was fully booked, with participants ranging from beginners to seasoned boat owners

In 2021, Isabell became the secretary of the New Zealand Deer Stalker Association for the Bay of Plenty branch, further expanding her involvement in outdoor pursuits. It was during this time that she identified a significant gender gap in both boating and hunting, sparking the idea for Wild Chix – a series of seminars designed to empower women with knowledge and confidence in the outdoors.

“I wanted to create this series of seminars, workshops, and events taking women on a journey to become confident on a boat, in the bush, and be able to do this when ‘the husband is not around’,” Isabell says.

“I spoke to a few friends and some clubs and everyone thought it was a great idea; I received a lot of strong support.”

The primary focus of the seminars is to provide education in a supportive and non-intimidating environment, allowing women to ask questions without fear of judgement, have fun, make friends, and boost their confidence.

The initial offering – the boating basics course – covers essential aspects of powerboating, including terminology, safety, basic operation, maintenance, and the use of fish finders. Isabell collaborates with the Coastguard to ensure comprehensive education regarding safety measures. The goal is to equip women with the skills to navigate the waters confidently, debunking the stereotype that such knowledge is exclusive to men.

Isabell’s motivation to start Wild Chix stemmed from personal experiences and observations within the industry.

“The more I was dealing with people buying boats, I realised I was selling almost 100% to men and that was quite interesting; I’m always dealing with the guys. The ladies are just involved when it’s about the payments,” she says.

Isabell noticed that women were often relegated to financial aspects or making decisions about boat features rather than actively participating in the outdoor activities themselves.

The seminars proved to be an immediate success, with the first session in Tauranga fully booked and participants ranging from beginners to seasoned boat owners. The seminar provided a relaxed environment for these women to share experiences, laugh, and learn from each other.

Isabell recounts a poignant moment during the seminars, “There was this one lady, and unfortunately, her husband and her son had both passed away. So, she sold their boats and now operates a kayak because she doesn’t have the confidence to operate a boat. It’s actually really sad because it shouldn’t be like that.”

The success of the Tauranga seminar led to messages pouring in from women across the country, expressing interest in Wild Chix seminars in their areas. Isabell says she hopes to expand to cover basic fishing, trailer backing, filleting fish, and eventually, diving into the world of hunting. Her goal is to introduce women to the intricacies of hunting, helping them understand what their husbands are up to when they embark on outdoor adventures.

A gradual shift

Wild Chix
The first Wild Chix seminar focused on boating basics for women and was held in Tauranga

Isabell acknowledges a slow but gradual shift in the attitudes of men towards women participating in outdoor activities. However, she notes that traditional roles persist, with many couples engaging in outdoor activities together, but the man taking on the role of the skipper and operator of the boat, while the woman was likely to be in charge of food and organising.

Despite the complexity of the subjects, Isabell strives to keep the seminars simple and relatable.

“I asked my partner whether I needed to talk about batteries, and he said, ‘of course, you have to talk about batteries’. Forty-five minutes later, I had a full-blown graph written out about how it all works.

I then went to a couple of my mates who go boating with their husbands and partners and I asked them if they thought I needed to talk about complex subjects like batteries. And both of them agreed, saying I had to make more women aware that you need to switch the battery off separately to the boat because that doesn’t happen. And that’s all they wanted to know. It didn’t have to be super complicated.”

Isabell says feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, with women expressing newfound confidence and knowledge. She says attendees would leave buzzing with excitement, feeling more competent and connected to others who share similar interests.

Building a community

As Isabell continues to expand Wild Chix seminars to different regions, she remains dedicated to breaking down gender stereotypes and empowering women to embrace the great outdoors.

“By fostering a community of confident and knowledgeable women, I hope to create lasting friendships and bridge the gender gap in traditionally male-dominated activities,” she says.

“Learning new life skills is amazing, especially in an environment where you feel safe and happy and can create a lot of special friendships. Through Wild Chix, it’s not just teaching outdoor skills; it’s about inspiring a movement that encourages women to explore, learn, and thrive in the beautiful landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

For more information, visit wildchix.co.nz.

Words by Shannon Williams, images supplied

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