Most everyone that meets Danielle Clayton, aka Salt Gypsy, wants her life. The New Zealand-born surf guide spends months at a time on a boat in the Maldives — not pushing beginners into whitewater, but taking experienced surfers to pumping fun reef breaks daily — and during the offseason in Bali, she runs her Salt Gypsy brand of surf leggings and blogs about inspiring lady slider stories. How did she make her dream life come true?
“If there’s any advice I have it’s to visualize what you want to do in your life and have the balls to take a leap into the unknown,” says Danny, who was invigorated to quit her job in sales at Billabong in New Zealand after befriending a traveling couple who worked as surf guides in the Maldives. “For me, it’s always been to live a surf-centric lifestyle. Keep creating opportunities and meet as many people as you can in life. Just be a good human and don’t be a dick, because that shuts doors.”
Danny’s Salt Gypsy blog was one of the first supporters of Seea and women-run brands rising above the industry standards to make stylish surf gear. We’ve been stoked to welcome Salt Gypsy into the tribe too, with her own blossoming bespoke surf leggings business!
“I never set out to have a product line or a lifestyle brand,” says Danny of starting the Salt Gypsy blog. “After recent copycat situations arose for me, it’s made me think, ‘Well, what is Salt Gypsy?’”
We checked in with Danny to get the answer to that question, the scoop on special Salt Gypsy women’s surf trips in the Maldives, and what’s next for the growing brand.
This boat is home for the season. Welcome to the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy
Accommodations on land are not too shabby either! Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
Where is the Maldives and what is the local culture like over there?
[The first time I heard about the] Maldives, I had to look up on Google to find out where it was exactly! Lonely Planet puts it best by imagining 26 strings of pearls sidled alongside Sri Lanka and the bottom of India. Those are the atolls of the Maldives.
It’s 100% Muslim, which makes walking through the streets of the tropical islands or even hanging out on your boat a surreal and beautiful experience with prayers resounding through mosque speakers several times a day, starting at 5AM.
We spent some time in Male only a couple of weeks after the last military coup in 2012. As in any nation where religion dominates local politics, the daily protests and nightly riots were a little unnerving when you don't fully understand everything that's going on. Though locals are generally friendly, as a tourist whisked straight from the airport to your resort or boat charter, you are very segregated from interaction with local life and most local islands.
|Getting around from island to island. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
What are the upsides and downsides of living on a boat?
Upsides: you’re living on a freakin’ boat in the tropics where your top-deck seats and bar overlooks any reef break across 90,000 km over the Indian Ocean. That’s a pretty unique experience! You also have the opportunity to meet and surf with some interesting and awesome characters from all walks of life. The downsides, well there aren’t too many to be honest, but boat food and carb-loading everyday for months would have to be the biggest.
|Salty Gypsy testing out the Seea Monterey top in the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
What kinds of waves are in the Maldives?
It's all reef breaks, super long rides, barrels galore and often really playful. It's generally pretty user-friendly, but I’ve seen some heavy breaks and slabby barrels not for the faint-hearted. I've had serious hold-downs, caught in currents where I thought I was halfway to Sri Lanka, and surfed the biggest wave of my life in 2010 in the biggest swell I’ve ever seen.
From being a guide on many co-ed trips, what is the idea behind your Salt Gypsy women’s trips?
I’m just trying to create something that I wish existed for my friends and myself. There’s a profusion of camps and retreats for learning to surf. But there’s been little on offer for intermediate and advanced level women who want to surf with the camaraderie that traveling with other female surfers creates. With all the young girls growing up in the surf now, if they’ve been surfing for 10 years, who caters for their surf travel and advanced surfing?
|It's more colorful when it's all girls in the water. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
|Super playful waves, right? Just don't get caught in that whitewater. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
From your experience, what's the dynamic on girls-only surf trips versus a co-ed trip?
There are definite similarities between groups of both sexes - there is always the Complainer, the Cruiser, the one whipping out the GPS gadgets (leave that at home ladies, we don't want to rock up to a spot next year only to find 10 other boats). Women's groups generally have a softer energy, easier dynamic with more camaraderie - and waaaaay less attitude than our male counterparts. Bring the good vibes girls!
What kind of surf gear did you discover that the ladies wanted on your surf charters?
Hands down, surf leggings. With the plethora of rashguards and one-pieces available these days, we tend to forget our pins. Even if you don’t know you want surf leggings, you will after 48 hours in the tropical sun, despite the copious amounts of sunscreen you apply. The amount of bright red bottoms and backs-of-legs I’ve seen over the last few years, including my own, is ridiculous.
Back in 2012, my surf guide wages didn't stretch very far (we get paid in waves right), so I had my own made, got photos of me and some friends wearing them in the surf and this 'trend' has snowballed from there.
|Leggings on land. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
|Danny heading to go fabric shopping for leggings in Bali. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
What are some of the functional details of your leggings?
Any bottoms with a weak waistband and no drawstring runs the risk of pulling down when you duck dive — especially in punchy surf. We all know the uncomfortable sensation of having your bottom exposed, so it’s a no brainer why we’ve included elasticated waists and internal drawstrings right from the start.
We actually cut our leg length slightly shorter to sit above the ankle since baggy, wet lycra: a) feels awful and b) isn’t a great look.
|Salt Gypsy in the Maldives, wearing the Doheny rashguard.
What are common questions that you get as a surf guide from girls who are trying to progress their skills and what's your advice?
A lot comes down to two things: 1) fear and 2) not knowing the technical aspects from how to turn, to pulling in backhand. My advice is to either join local board riders club where there is opportunity to be constructively critiqued, or invest in an advanced surf coach/program and break down techniques step by step. From experience and talking with mates, over-exaggerate your attempts until it becomes second nature.
The fear thing — this is huge. It can play with our confidence so much and as someone who 'shouldn't' be surfing at all (I have a heart arrhythmia, Long QT Syndrome, that can cause sudden death), my advice here, and something I tell myself daily, is seriously, "just do it." We fear what we don't know so if you are new to the ocean or surfing of course it can be scary! Observation is key, knowing equipment, knowing the ocean and how it works, knowing your own limits and how to give them a nudge...this all helps to improve your surfing.
|Diving in the Seea Swami's. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
What kinds of stories do you share on your Salt Gypsy site and why?
I created the original Salt Gypsy blog as a way to showcase indie surfwear designers/brands, like Seea, making really cool gear I wanted to surf in, and as a way to connect with other like-minded female surfers while I worked the 2012 surf season surrounded by blokes. I loosely follow professional surfing but personally, I`m more interested in the stories of everyday women living a surf-centric lifestyle around the world. When I started my blog there were only high performance or beginner surfer-specific content, but no middle ground catering to me.
I also felt there was a very stale status quo within the mainstream surf industry with little to zero support of the alternative, indie designers that were emerging at the time. Also, the imagery and stereotype of what it is to be a 'girl surfer.' Boring. This is changing though and there are several brands, designers, NGOs and everyday women themselves who are disrupting this and putting out killer gear, more diverse imagery and rich surf experiences for a broad spectrum of female surfers. We welcome and advocate this. Be the change ladies! It's an exciting time in the evolution of women’s surfing. Get amongst it.
|Danny in the Monterey top. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
What are your goals for the future with Salt Gypsy?
Because it started as a blog, I didn’t intend to establish a brand or a business per se and I have just rolled with how it is snowballing. I want a surf-centric business and I want it to support female surfers and their endeavors. I want to celebrate female surf athleticism, diversity and style in the lineup. I want to continue to support indie surf designers and brands like myself who are making cool gear and pushing the envelope in surf x fashion design. And open my own bricks and mortar stores one day!
Thanks Danny! We know you'll make it happen!
Check out Salt Gypsy's blog for more honest reviews of surf bikinis and swimsuits, (Seea is proud to have passed her heavy testing!) and stories of ladies dedicated to the waves.
Wake up this in the Maldives. Photo courtesy of Salt Gypsy.
See more of Bali through Seeababe Mele Saili's trip to the 9ft & Single Log Fest.
Head closer to India and check out Sunshine Stories' Guide to Sri Lanka.