It has been particularly challenging for Frit Sarita Tam to feel comfortable in the adventure world. As a Chinese female LGBTQ+ adventurer, she very rarely sees anybody that looks like her on stages or film. She is now taking matters into her own hands, but her story is a reminder that whatever adventure is, depends on who is and is not welcomed and represented.
Frit is an adventurer and loves exploring the outdoors in as many ways as possible: climbing, hiking, skiing, cycling, paddleboarding and wild swimming. As an adventure filmmaker and photographer, she’s happiest when she also has a camera in-hand, shooting underrepresented adventure stories for her film studio, Passionfruit Pictures. She is regularly fuelled by crisps and chips.
Since 2016, I have been attending adventure film festivals and events, and not once have I seen an East Asian adventurer as a speaker, presenter or panelist. Speaking with festival organisers, they’ve told me that they have hosted East Asian speakers in the past, but the numbers are so low that the chances of me attending a talk by them are also predictably low. Is it any wonder that I’ve been putting my own adventure dreams on hold?
East Asia covers the countries of China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Macau and Mongolia. My heritage descends from southern China and Hong Kong, but admittedly when I was young, all I wanted to be was White. I used to say that I’d “forget that I was Chinese” because I so badly wanted to assimilate.
As a child, I indulged in every sport from tennis to football to hockey, and I loved sport for the feelings of movement and achievement. I often dreamed about becoming a professional athlete. I played at county level, and gained qualifications as a hockey umpire, and later as a football referee. But at training camps I’d rarely see a face like mine. At the time it didn’t consciously bother me, but when individuals would tell you that they’ll call you by the number on your bib because they can’t grasp the pronunciation of your name, those experiences make you feel like you don’t belong, and those memories stay with you.
'When individuals would tell you that they’ll call you by the number on your bib because they can’t grasp the pronunciation of your name, those experiences make you feel like you don’t belong, and those memories stay with you.'
I became demotivated with sports and internalised an incorrect dialogue that said either ‘I wasn’t good enough’ or that ‘I wasn’t interested.’ Neither were true. I was talented, I had dreams and I had the abilities to progress if I hadn’t already turned my back on those dreams.
The root of the problem was that I did not see others like me within the sports and activities I was participating in. All of my sporting heroes were White, and I felt hugely intimidated by the perceived challenge of becoming something that I did not regularly see. I didn’t want to be a trailblazer, I just wanted to be a kid that followed their joy. But I was not receiving a daily narrative that the areas I was interested in were for me, or that I could achieve success in them.
I experienced this again when I began climbing, getting into vanlife and entering into the adventure filmmaking industry. I didn’t comprehend the ‘you can’t be it, if you don’t see it’ sentiment for a long time. Instead, I felt I was inspired enough by others who resembled facets of me: women, filmmakers, aged 20-30 years old. But this inspiration only got me so far, and again the intimidation and internalisation kicked in. I incorrectly blamed my lack of ability or self-confidence, and would shy away from opportunities.
'I didn’t want to be a trailblazer, I just wanted to be a kid that followed their joy. But I was not receiving a daily narrative that the areas I was interested in were for me, or that I could achieve success in them.'
Then I came across individuals like Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi (adventure photographer and filmmakers), Bonnie Tu (founding investor of Giant Bicycles, founder of Liv Cycling) and Junko Tabei (first woman to climb Everest and the Seven Summits). East Asian adventurers were out there; inspiration that looked like me was out there! But why was I only finding out about these incredible people upon my own research? Particularly Junko Tabei. We’ve all heard of Edmund Hillary as the first man to climb Everest, but where was Junko Tabei’s story?
I wanted these people to be household names, so I recently set up my own film studio called Passionfruit Pictures to tell these exact stories. The sole mission of Passionfruit Pictures is to add diversity to the faces of adventure through filmmaking and photography, and for their stories and accomplishments to acquire their fair share of the spotlight. I am currently finishing a feature-length documentary about Jo Moseley, who - at 54 years old - became the first woman to standup paddleboard 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole on the Coast-to-Coast trail. This year I am filming with Muslim hillwalker Zahrah Mahmood, and an Indian female football coach called Fredi Chohan, to share their experiences of the outdoors. Through the Passionfruit Picture Instagram account I also document people of colour out adventuring.
The confidence and fire that has been stoked since finding adventurers that resemble more substantial facets of me has enabled me to commit to being part of the change that I want to document. In early 2020, I pitched for and won an Adventure Grant from the Adventure Queens to fund a rollerblading challenge through which I will travel across the country visiting important LGBTQ+ historical sites, charities and individuals to tackle the issue of belonging amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
'The confidence and fire that has been stoked since finding adventurers that resemble more substantial facets of me has enabled me to commit to being part of the change that I want to document.'
Being a gay woman myself, I know there is still a strong feeling amongst the LGBTQ+ community that we do not ‘belong’. That our issues will not be taken seriously. Yet, when researching LGBTQ+ people and places to visit on my trip, I was overwhelmed with choice. Throughout British history there have always been LGBTQ+ people or organisations residing across the country. So I hope to inform and spread the message that ultimately, no matter where you live, a place or person of LGBTQ+ significance has been, or is, close to you. In essence, you are not alone and you do belong.
I am yet to see an East Asian adventurer as a speaker or panelist at an adventure event - either online or offline - within the UK, but I can see that with sustained effort on all sides, the diversity tide can turn. Recently I have seen some brands and organisations paying particular attention to their internal structuring and external messaging. I have witnessed platforms passing the mic to people of colour to spread their stories and experiences of the outdoors. And I have seen brave individuals galvanising together and ensuring that all faces of future generations will have sporting and adventuring heroes that look like them. All of which will hopefully lead to a more colourful and more diverse future for the adventure industry.