It’s the last month of our Inspiring Women interview series and we’ve saved the most fun for last after I spent a very entertaining evening chatting to Enduro racers Bex Baraona and Martha Gill. Trying to keep track of our conversation at the time was challenging enough, transcribing it for your reading pleasure has proved to be an even greater stretch. They’re a little nuts, but in a very entertaining and inspiring way.
British EWS racers Martha and Bex have been around on the circuit for a few years now. Martha won the U21 title in 2017 and in 2018 competed in her first season as an Elite. Bex has now had two consecutive top 10 finishes at Elite level in the World Series and also bagged the British title in 2018. But racing is only part of what Bex and Martha do, the other part is the great entertainment and motivation that is the Gowaan Gals.
The Gowaan Gals (that’s Go On! in a northern accent and with lots of feeling, or if you need OED pronunciation script it’d be something like ɡəʊ ɑːɑːɑː.n) started off as an Instagram account but in its short life has already grown into a whole lot more.
RS: How did the Gowaan Gals come about?
BB: Hmmm, how we started off…? [cue discussion between Bex and Martha of how it all actually started] …someone said you’re like a comedy double act. I think we’d been hanging around in Whistler, messing about before the racing started, [to Martha] I think we’d made a video of us riding a bike together, you on one pedal, me on another.
MG: Yeah! [Laughs] And we’d started posting more and more stuff on each other’s social media of us doing things together. And so in the end we were kinda like, oh, why don’t we put it together and put it into a little Instagram account and share all the stuff we do together.
BB: With the racing we were hanging around quite a lot together, we had got a pretty good friendship anyway. We knew from the start …
MG: …that we ‘had something special’…. [both break into hysterical laughter]
BB: Yeah, ‘special’ is definitely a word! We knew we had something because we get on super well and on the bike we try things when we’re together. I think it’s because we’re not embarrassed in front of each other.
MG: When we started up the Instagram we just wanted to show people that if you have good mates around you, you can just push yourself and have fun and not be embarrassed and stuff like that.
BB: We actually started to learn quite a lot of new stuff. We started on the jump bikes and set ourselves little challenges and went to skate parks and things like that, we were picking up a few skills quite quickly when we first started making videos.
RS: Does making the videos actually makes you try to do more?
BB: Definitely. When someone gets a camera out we try harder, you’ve got an image of what you want it to look like on camera, look back at it and know that you want to do it a bit ‘more like that’ or whatever. As soon as we start filming – and actually it can be a bit risky for me because I start pushing a bit too hard and crash quite a bit, which makes great videos too – we push more.
RS: Are the outtakes and the looking stupid as much a part of it as the doing cool things? Do you try to do more outrageous things because the crashing bit is funny when you’re with your friends?
MG: We do like to showcase our failures too! But we do like to show that we can ride, that women can ride bikes and do pretty cool stuff.
BB: We do want to show that getting to the level we are today hasn’t happened overnight, we’ve gone through many failures along the way! I know it’s so clichéd, but you do learn from trying and failure. Mine and Martha’s approach is quite different, I just have a go and hope for the best whereas she’s a bit more calculated than me. I find it quite exciting.
MG: It’s when you’re messing about with your mates that you get to try more things.
BB: That’s something that Tracy [Moseley] has always encouraged. When I was first getting into riding bikes Tracy made it really clear that I needed to get out and pull skids and do silly things like that. I really underestimated what she was telling me at that point, it was only when me and Martha started doing it more that I realised.
RS: Do you do all the videos yourselves?
BB: Oh yes, we’re 100% in house! We do sometimes watch our videos and say things like “it’s just like someone has followed us round with a camera!”
MG: I do enjoy my editing!
BB: She better not introduce any of the weird effects stuff into Gowaan, she can keep that to herself! I do think people like the fact that we do it ourselves. Our videos would be ruined if we had a crew with us I think, we’re far more natural and catch that on camera.
Gowaan Gals has quickly grown from an Instagram account and YouTube channel with Martha and Bex now organising group rides and Gowaan Gals’ first ever MTB festival at Farmer Johns in September (head over here for more info about the event and your chance to win an Ibis frame for £5). Whilst not exclusively so, their main aim is to encourage women into riding and challenging themselves.
RS: At what point did Gowaan turn from fun videos to wanting to do a bit more in terms of inspiring people to ride and organising a festival?
BB: I suppose it was on the feedback of how people interpreted our videos. They liked that they were natural and raw and we didn’t hold any secrets.
MG: The response made us realise we’d become a thing together…
BB: …and that we were becoming a little bit influential. Obviously it’s on a small scale, but people were really pleased to see what we were posting so it seemed a good opportunity to get across a few messages that we want to promote in the sport like trying new things, giving it a go, and it doesn’t matter what level you’re at.
BB: The ethos is about having fun.
MG: And not being afraid to push your limits or be embarrassed about what other people think and to just give it a go. And being silly.
BB: Yeah, being silly is definitely up there!
BB: Gowaan is a social enterprise now so we need to work out how to get money in in order to give back. At the moment we’re just selling merchandise to get money back in to help with the festival. Obviously we’re selling tickets for the festival but we’d love to get to the point where we could put on more frequent events and make them free or really heavily reduced.
RS: And after that, what other plans do you have for Gowaan?
BB: We’ve had quite a few people ask us about coaching which is something we want to do. We need a little bit more money behind us first, for insurance and stuff, but that’s definitely something we want to do.
MG: There’s lots of stuff we want to do to give back. We know we’ve had to go through to become the racers we are now, so it would be nice to give back to help people where we’ve had struggles.
On top of all the fun and games and ambitious plans of the Gowaan Gals it’s hard to see how Bex and Martha have any time left to fit in their main job of training and racing.
MG: It’s hard to fit things in with training and racing for sure.
BB: But there’s a big balance of fun and seriousness in racing.
MG: It’s easy to get swallowed up by either side.
BB: Keeping that happy medium is a task but finding an approach to it has been really interesting.
Since our chat, Bex and Martha’s enthusiasm for riding and giving it all a go has really stayed with me. They’ve also made me realise something massively important that I’d somehow missed until now – I need to worry much less about getting it all right and much more about having a great time trying.