Like many, it was after Helen moved to the West Coast that she discovered her love for the outdoors. “When I discovered the outdoors my life changed so dramatically. I found a piece of myself that I had been missing and with that, I found a lot of great passions.” Born in Taiwan and raised in Dallas, TX, Helen Schuckers went from experiencing nature through long bike rides and tennis matches outdoors with her dad to finding surfing, hiking, and skiing on the West Coast. She grew up looking up to Women of Color (WoC) athletes like Michelle Kwan and Serena Williams, but never felt like she had any WoC in the outdoors to look up to. “As a first-generation Asian American and immigrant, I felt like there were many barriers of entry to getting outdoors. There wasn’t a lot of support or even mentorship in getting outdoors or at least opportunities I knew about when I was younger.” Now, with 10 years of surfing under her belt, as well as experience in hiking/backpacking, and most recently mountaineering and alpine touring, Helen hopes to inspire more womxn of color to get outside and try something new. Helen shares with us her love for outdoor sports and her work to advocate for inclusivity in outdoor spaces and how she plans to create change.
Q: How did you get started with surfing?
A: My mom always says “you should always try something once because you just never know if something will stick.” I still hold those words close to this day. After about six months of living next to the ocean in California, I decided to give it a try. I was just out of college so I had to get a little scrappy and ended up buying a Groupon for an hour-long surf lesson in Santa Monica, California. I remember the day clearly. The surf instructor was really late and I was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t going to show. But something inside me told me to stay. I remember taking off on my first wave and actually standing up on the first try. I remember my life just changed after that moment. The pinnacle for my love of surfing and backpacking have both started because of that moment of being open to any possibility.
Q: What’s a favorite moment from when you were just starting out?
A: I entered a local surf competition after just one year of surfing. It went really well and I made it into the finals. This was after about a year of really committing myself to surfing, going out in all conditions, and focusing on something that really interested me. I came in
4th place and I thought it was such a neat experience that all the other talented womxn in the surf competition had been surfing for over 10 or 20 years. At that moment, it wasn’t about the competition or placing, it was about the love of the sport and just putting in my best foot forward. I’ve learned that if you put your mind to anything, whether it be hiking, biking, trail running, it will always provide you with more than you need.
Q: You also hike and recently organized a hiking boot scholarship, can you tell me more about that?
A: One of the first entry pieces of gear are the shoes. I see many people on trails without hiking shoes or the proper footwear and I remember that was me at one point because I could not afford to buy them. When I did, they were second hand from the REI garage sale and they didn’t fit me well. Hiking shoes make a difference for comfort and conditions on a trail. This past year, I started a WoC fundraising initiative called, “The Hiking Shoe Scholarship'' with a goal to raise money for hiking shoes and using the remaining funds to make a donation to Wild Diversity, a nonprofit that creates community and connection for the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community in Oregon. It was great to see the support from the community. Salomon ended up matching the number of shoes raised and in the end, the fundraiser donated enough for four shoe scholarships with over $150 to go toward Wild Diversity.
“I do it because I love it and because I’m passionate about it. That’s what drove me to feel like I needed to do more and commit myself to put action into making change happen.”
Q: What inspired you?
A: It was actually Theresa Silveyra’s 30 for 30 fundraiser that inspired me. Small steps are what we need to make bigger strides in the outdoors. I wanted to bring awareness to diversity and inclusion in the outdoors for the WoC community. The barriers BIPoC communities face in getting outdoors such as access gear really drove me to feel like I needed to do more and commit myself to put action into making change happen. Until we speak up and voice up how we feel about inclusivity in the outdoors I don’t think any shift is going to happen.
Q: What were some takeaways from the whole process?
A: If “The Hiking Shoe Scholarship” can make an impact and plant a seed of inspiration or change, it’s worth every ounce of effort. I want to continue to do the shoe scholarship every year. Seeing the impact it had on WoC who received the scholarship and seeing pictures of them hiking and getting outside in their new hiking shoes, made it all worth it! It also really motivated me and lit the fire in terms of how passionate I am about this topic. I never knew I had this dialogue inside of me and now I feel like I've shifted from keeping it more internal to being more action-oriented.
Q: Where has been your favorite place you’ve gone in your hiking boots?
A: Two come to mind. Backpacking in The Enchantments - it was a long and grueling hike across two days. I remember crying when we got to our campsite in the Core Enchantments because everything was so beautiful and magical. The other would be Mt. Adams - it was my first glacial mountain summit and I remember crying on that one too. All happy tears!
“I get outdoors because for me it’s so great for my mental well-being. I feel like it’s therapy for me.”
Q: What’s next?
A: I hope to do another hiking shoe scholarship this year. I’ve also recently launched a survey with a friend called “Prospect PNW”. It’s a survey to learn areas of opportunities, possibility, and growth for the BIPoC outdoor community in the PNW. It’s meant to gather information to help bring insight into how we can further diversify and make the outdoors more inclusive in the PNW. It’s one way to give back and better understand how to continue fostering areas of growth and serve our BIPoC community.
I have a personal goal of improving my skills in ski touring, as well as summiting Mt Hood and Mt Rainier in the coming year. Helen is signed up as a Trail Mixed mentor offering her skills in surfing, hiking, and backpacking! She works in health research at Oregon Health & Science University and also runs a photography business, Anchor and Pine Collective from which 5% are donated to protecting public lands and other community initiatives. Trail Mixed is hoping to host a surfing event in the summer with Helen so she can share her knowledge and love for the sport with us (yay!). You can learn more about Helen and see more of her amazing photos on instagram @anchorandpine.