Stories of Men

Award winning water sports instructor on challenging sexist preconceptions

Award Winning Water Sports Instructor on Challenging Sexist Preconceptions

“they kind of looked at me and you could see this look in their eyes of: are you sure? Is this who’s meant to be teaching?...  they probably had their own suspicions about me and I was young, I was female, probably not what they were expecting”.

Award Winning Water Sports Instructor on Challenging Sexist Preconceptions

This week’s episode of Our Voices tells a story of females triumphing against the odds. Nicola is 22 years old and is a senior water sports instructor with the RYA – the UK’s Royal Yachting Association. 

She talks about growing up in a single-parent family and about how her mother has been a life-long inspiration. She also reflects on the times in which she has been underestimated by males. And how she has quite spectacularly forced them to reevaluate their assumptions.

A single-parent family

Nicola’s mother gave birth to her at the tender age of 17. Nicola was part of a single-parent family for the first two years of her life before her mother met her stepdad. It wasn’t until Nicola was 7 that her little sister, Alice, was born. 

This meant that she had a long stretch during her childhood of being an only child. “I think single children always have a certain personality to them, it makes them a little bit headstrong… I could just make my own path and make my own rules in a way.”

A tragic loss

Nicola describes her childhood upbringing as a happy time. But she would tragically lose her stepfather to cancer at the age of 14. This meant that Nicola was once again a part of a single-parent family. 

“She’s really not had it easy, she’s always had people against her and I think that has shaped her as a person and that has then shaped me and Alice as people as well.” The loss of Nicola’s stepfather was a particularly traumatic time for all the family. “It did affect me, and it affected my schoolwork, and it affected my personal life.” It also meant that Nicola had to assume a role of responsibility in the household at a young age. She would become involved in the cooking and cleaning and help her mum as much as she could.


Nicola’s help would’ve been especially appreciated as her mum decided to take on the challenge of a university degree. Balancing this around raising two young girls while also working as an inspirational feat. “She graduated just when I started uni, which is incredible. She really is an inspiration for me. Superwoman.”

Educational ambitions

Nicola’s mum also had educational ambitions for her daughter. She wanted her to go to Manchester High School for Girls, the most prestigious private school in her area. The first step was to pass the entrance exams, which, at the age of 11, Nicola successfully achieved. 

The next obstacle was to pay the extremely high fees that are associated with private education. This was made particularly difficult due to Nicola growing up in a single-parent home. Fortunately, she was able to get a bursary and a scholarship so that financial concerns were not an issue.

A new passion

One of the benefits of going to private school was that Nicola was introduced to activities that had not previously been available. She found that she had a particular fondness for water sports. It wouldn’t be long before she made the school’s water polo team. One of the matches she has particularly strong memories of was when her team played an all-boys team from another school. 

This would see her come up against attitudes of sexism in sport. “I remember feeling like there was a bit of a point to prove for this game, because I knew even before meeting them that there would be a certain attitude towards us.”

Challenging sexism in sport

Initially, the girls decided to lure the boys in by playing into gender stereotypes and pretending to be nervous and overwhelmed by the occasion. They allowed the boys to assert their advantage at the beginning until they decided it was time to show what they were really about. 

“We all looked at each other and we kicked it into gear and went on the offence.” Once the girls were on the offence, there was no looking back. “I can’t quite remember the score, but I remember it didn’t look great for them… They walked away very quietly after the game.” Reflecting on being able to challenge sexism in sport, Nicola says 

“I went home feeling very, very happy and very, very powerful that day. I felt I was on top of the world.”

Becoming a water sports instructor

There would be other occasions when Nicola would come up against sexist perceptions. This occurred when she was working as a water sports instructor at the RYA. She had got into sailing after going on a school trip during which an instructor had encouraged her to take advantage of the affordable sessions. 

Very quickly she realised that she had discovered a passion. “I think what I loved most about going on the water is how isolating it is… you get cut off from the outside world. And you become much more aware of what’s going on… it’s really freeing.”

Being underestimated once more

Nicola was 16 when she first started working as a water sports instructor. One of her most challenging experiences came when two men in their 30s showed up to do a weekend sailing course. They had a certain swagger about them and they gave off the vibe that they weren’t there to take either her or sailing particularly seriously. 

When they found out Nicola was going to be their instructor “they kind of looked at me and you could see this look in their eyes of: are you sure? Is this who’s meant to be teaching?…  they probably had their own suspicions about me and I was young, I was female, probably not what they were expecting”.

The first warning

Nevertheless, Nicola provided the safety instructions before preparing to take them out onto the water. When she could see that they were laughing with each other and not paying attention Nicola wasn’t slow to call them out on it. 

She told them that they would need her help at some stage and so they had better pay attention. The men listened more carefully after that but it wasn’t until they got out onto the boat that they would realise the truth of her words.

Having to ask for help

The first day was particularly windy and it shocked the men how challenging sailing actually was. But, on the second day, the sun was out and the cockiness returned. “I let them have that attitude a little bit because I knew it would come back to get them. And I knew that they wouldn’t listen to me say that to them, they had to find out for themselves.” 

The men began OK, performing the manoeuvres they’d been taught. However, the wind began to pick up and the men struggled to keep the boat under control. After initially resisting asking for help, the men finally asked Nicola to restabilise the boat

 “They knew that if they didn’t get my help they were going to end up going for a swim and nobody wanted that.”

Improving society

Once the course was completed, the men personally thanked Nicola for helping them. “It did take me back a little bit … but it felt great. Because I felt like I’d made a difference to their attitudes potentially towards other female sailors in the future that they would come across.” 

Nicola won the Manchester Active Young Volunteer of the Year Award for her dedication to sailing and volunteering at the outdoor centre. Her role in the RYA helps to establish that gender stereotyping in sports is completely inappropriate. “I think the more that we start to value women and lift them up, and really help them see the potential that they can reach, society will be improved as a whole.”

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3


Favourite Food: Potatoes

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I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years


Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

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Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

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I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years


Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

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Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  





Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

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I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

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Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

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I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live 

I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

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Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.