People: Mission WOW

The world is faster these days; lives are busier and we have more commitments. It happened. We grew up. We have less time to simply play on our bikes, and too often a curveball cuts into that precious time. Less playing and exploring time means it takes longer to improve and get to that next level. But there is a shortcut. You could spend your hard-earned dosh on a fancy new bike, but let’s face it, if you ain’t got the skills then it doesn’t matter what you’re sitting on. Instead, why not invest in yourself and get a lesson? Or “coaching session”, if you’d rather call it that.

It was this ‘self-investment to maximise fun times’ philosophy that struck a chord with Jo Guest, keen mountain biker and former school teacher, and spurred her to create a women’s skills course programme called Mission WOW.

NK_Jo-9533.jpg

The idea sprung when on a trip back to Scotland in 2009. Jo met Chris Ball and Andy Barlow of Dirt School, who had been running mountain bike skills courses for a couple of years. With a taste for what was possible, she returned to Wanaka and set about finding the group of enthusiastic, like-minded people to help her bring to life what is now Mission WOW. With a draft skills course structure in hand, Mission WOW now had a clearer and more defined purpose for the dirt component.

Not limited to one activity, the WOW stands for Women of Winter, Wheels or Waves, offering events and coaching in biking, backcountry skiing, and surfing. The biggest growth area has been in mountain biking, which is where Jo focuses most of her time. She puts this down to a general growth in the sport, both globally and within the region, and the fact that it is accessible, doubles as a mode of transport, and is relatively inexpensive (depending on your gear froth) at the outset.

Mission WOW has evolved over the years into a slick organisation of passionate and inspiring coaches and mentors, creating a supportive learning environment for those who want to get out and go adventuring. “I wanted people to be able to say ‘Yes!’ to any adventure that was presented to them, to give them confidence to get out and enjoy this amazing environment we live in,” Jo says. The courses are designed to not only teach the skills required to participate, but build an understanding of the outdoor environment—weather, safety, kit, and basic mechanics. And that snack choice is the most important part of adventure preparation. Obviously.

Jo also believes that ‘purposeful practice’ is important. You don’t need to be training for an event to be motivated; knowing what you need to work on to keep improving helps fuel your desire to get out and do it. It’s about breaking down the barriers that stop people trying something new or pushing themselves that little bit harder. The stoke that comes from achieving a goal or conquering a nemesis never grows old.

Currently Mission WOW runs evening courses during summer and one-day weekend courses throughout the year, which are based on the Professional Mountain Bikers Instructors Association curriculum. “On the five-week courses we get to see the riders on a regular basis, so to watch them improve is really rewarding. I see our role as creating an atmosphere where they feel confident to learn and challenge themselves, something they might not do on their own.”

Attendees come in all ages and stages, with the bulk slotting in to the ‘beginner or returning’ category. “Everyone has a different reason for attending, sometimes they’ve just never had the opportunity, or have had negative experience. Lots of people feel the need to be able to keep up with kids or want a reason to get back on the bike and are looking for a refresher or techniques to push their riding to the next level. But mostly all come wanting to gain confidence, skills and to meet friends to ride with. Our coaches are awesome and can adapt and mould the courses and the way they teach to fit whomever turns up on the day. Everyone learns differently, and seeing the penny drop is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”

It’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded people to ride with. The aim is to provide the best learning environment possible, so people can have a positive experience and get the most out of the session. The more confident a rider is, the more fun they have, and the more fun they have, the more likely they are to get out and do it—thus delivering on the core reason for Mission WOW’s existence. And why do the coaches do it? “The feedback that we’ve made a difference to their riding. The stoke and smiles is why we love what we do. And that’s relevant at all levels.”

NK_WOW_previews-9491.jpg

The focus this year has turned to providing that next step. Two of Mission WOW’s coaches, Alex Kingsley and Briana Lobb, have taken the lead on this, providing progression sessions tailored for riders based on their specific requirements, whether it be drops, roots, rocks or jumps. Both are competitive riders, and that, along with extensive coaching experience and styles that riders trust, has proven to be a winning combination.

And the WOW crew isn’t stopping there. Currently in its infancy is the Wanaka Bike School, with plans to launch to the big wide world next season. WBS is an evolution of Mission WOW, but opening the courses up to all demographics within the biking community. “We have the demand, the resource, the experience, and the learnings to deliver this type of course to the wider biking community”, says Jo.

“It’s a really exciting time and I can’t wait to launch this next chapter, with some awesome people on board to help me out. I feel very fortunate and hugely grateful to those who have jumped on this bandwagon with me; without the willingness to share their skills and knowledge we couldn’t do what we do. Growing this tribe together over the last ten years has been incredibly humbling, and has motivated me to keep developing and evolving the product with the ultimate goal of seeing more people out in the world, learning, growing, connecting with others. And playing more. Much more.”

Keep an eye out for more info at bikeschoolwanaka.co.nz and upcoming courses and events at missionwow.co.nz.