Annie swapped the bike in New Zealand for a surfboard in Fiji, taking a surf and marine study trip mid-year. Photo F Watt

Annie Ford: "If that road kept going to Antarctica, I would have kept riding.”

"My legs are fine, but my brain is absolutely cooked.” Annie Ford laughs. She’s just stepped off her bike in Byron Bay after riding a whopping 3,926 kilometres. The marine biologist, world record holder and Surfrider Foundation Australia’s new National Campaign Manager has travelled from the southernmost to the easternmost tip of Australia on an epic mission — to fire up surfers, bike riders and ocean lovers about the catastrophic impacts of seismic blasting.


Annie and her crew have hosted a stack of sold-out community events to premiere their new film Southern Blast, directed by the indomitable Matty Hannon, and kick off a huge summer of action to stop seismic blasting. The eloquent surf rat, mountain bike sender and all-star frother has been winning hearts and minds all the way up the East Coast and reached millions of Australians further afield, appearing live on national breakfast telly and across the airwaves to sound the alarm.


“I believe people are inherently good, and with the right information, they will change their actions and decisions. We’re trying to educate communities, businesses and politicians and provide solutions to help minimise or mitigate entirely our impact on the ocean,” explains Annie.


These days, Annie traverses thousands of kilometres by pedal power and campaigns for a halt to the seismic blasting operations that threaten the health of endangered pygmy blue whales, Australian fur seals and the extraordinary array of marine life that calls the Southern Ocean home. It’s a far cry from the years that she worked for the fossil fuel industry as a marine fauna observer.

Annie swapped the bike in New Zealand for a surfboard inFiji, taking a surf and marine study trip mid-year.

“My job was to stand on these seismic blasting vessels that were searching for offshore oil and gas and look out for whales. If we saw one, operations would halt, if it was within a certain perimeter. It's hard out there because you're in an echo chamber. People want to believe that what they're doing is okay and, at the time, I genuinely did believe that I was mitigating impacts.

“The penny dropped when I actually heard the seismic blast for myself. I was on a support vessel right next to the seismic air guns that were blasting these sounds into the ocean every ten seconds. I looked over to the crew and I was like, ‘Is that it? You're joking!’ It was so loud. You could see these enormous eruptions of bubbles that looked just like explosions.

“That was the end. I could not believe what I was enabling. So, I left. I no longer wanted to facilitate the exploration of oil and gas in our oceans. I strongly believe that today, if every marine scientist stood up and against this, they would not be able to operate.”

It wasn’t always highway miles in New Zealand, and Annie found some green corners that reminded her of home across the Tasman. Photos Jake Hood

Annie grew up in the far south of Lutruwita/Tasmania. She started surfing at 13 and never looked back. “Down south, you just live in the water. You’re so immersed in the environment that your part of. You're at the interface.”

She spent years adventuring around the globe — surfing and expedition sailing to remote and rugged outposts — before returning home to the little island at the end of the earth. Then five years ago, after a lifetime of aquatic adventures, Annie picked up a mountain bike.

Her mates took her out to the world class downhill bike park out past Maydena, a tiny Tasmanian-logging-town-turned-adventure-sports-Mecca, and Annie discovered an entirely different world. “I couldn’t believe I was only just discovering this landscape that had been in my backyard all along. You look up and you’re surrounded by these jagged, remarkable peaks and snowcapped mountains. There's nowhere else on the planet like this.”

The bike park is smack bang in the middle of the Styx Valley, an ancient, forested landscape that’s home to endangered Tasmanian devils and wedge tailed eagles, and some of the tallest flowering plants on earth — 80-plus metre tall Eucalyptus regnans. The tall forests of the Styx are also the site of some of the most bitter and protracted battles over the fate of Tasmania’s native forests.

“It's impossible to see the loss of these beautiful places and not do something about it. It just made no sense to me how I could be riding my bike through forests that were protected and then come across this arbitrary line, where one side was listed as World Heritage and the other was slated for logging. That was the first time I thought, something's not right here. It made me start to question structures and governmental approvals, and how on earth this was allowed.”

Annie started volunteering with a couple of local grassroots environmental organisations. She surfed and biked and researched. She sat very still, beneath an enormous old growth eucalypt, and breathed in. She felt something shift, profoundly.

Then late last year, she cooked up an excellent plan. She packed up her bike and crossed the ditch to Aotearoa/New Zealand. She wanted to ride south to Queenstown, travelling light on gear and carbon emissions, and spark up convos with the local crew she met along the way about climate solutions and the power of community action. She’d use the trip to fundraise for grassroots campaigns to protect native forests and stop new offshore oil and gas projects.

Originally, Annie planned to unpack her bike in the airport and hit the road south. But then she looked at a map.

“I realised I was going pretty much from the top to the bottom anyway, and I thought, why not do an entire country? I had never changed a tyre before that trip. I’d never ridden on a road. But I thought, I’ll just figure it out as I go. I took my board with me, of course. I didn’t know how long it would take and I knew I’d miss surfing. So, in the end,” she laughs, “my set-up was longer than a car. It looked ridiculous.”

Annie’s ride down the length of New Zealand had no fuel tank, created no emissions, started no oil wars and the only regret she had was, after finishing the ride, having to leave. South Island, New Zealand. Photo Jake Hood

Her kit was stripped back to the absolute essentials — a single person tent, sleeping mat and bag, a jet boil, two sets of clothes, a basic bike repair kit and a coupla battery packs for the super remote legs. She strapped her wettie and 5’11” Stacey Snake Eyes to a single wheel bike trailer and jumped on up at Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga, the place where two great oceans collide. Where Māori spirits depart this world and fly north to ancient homelands.

Annie was fizzing so much she covered 100 kays in the first day. She zigzagged her way down the north island, jumped on the ferry in Wellington and rode south, traversing gigantic sand dunes and rocky ridgelines, rolling past snoozing dairy cows and lurid tree ferns. She popped in to visit Tāne Mahuta, the largest known living kauri tree on earth and estimated to be around 2000 years of age and paddled out across shining seas at point after point, her circuitous route dictated largely by the winds and the swell.

“I rocked up to this place called Ahipara at the bottom of 90 Mile Beach and it was pumping. I was absolutely wrecked, but I rolled out and had a paddle. I caught the best lefthand wave of my life and I thought, this is the most excellent idea I've ever had. From now on, I will always try to make this stuff happen.”

Annie encountered a long lineup of remarkable, uncrowded waves and jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes. She also made a few thousand new mates as local communities welcomed her with open arms along the road.
“It was the most incredible adventure. So many people warned me about travelling solo as a female in the backcountry of New Zealand, but my experience was the opposite. There was so much generosity, people trying to help and care, giving me backyards and assistance and directions.

“Raglan was off the show, the sheer quantity of waves that roll through that place and the strength of the female surf community. I just rode in without knowing anyone but so many of them had seen me coming via social media and pulled over on the side of the road saying, ‘You're the girl with the bike and the surfboard! Where are you going? Do you know where to stay? Do you need a backyard?’ I just got looked after by this remarkable crew of surf girls.”

Aotearoa is like Tassie on steroids. It’s the land of big things. Rugged things. Mountains so tall they can pierce clouds. Glaciers and immense alpine lakes. Ancient, fossilised forests emerging from rockpools. A few hundred seals sunbaking on the beach, and not a single human in sight. Vast valleys and jagged ridgelines so astonishingly beautiful that you almost forget who you are.

“It was a humbling experience, reflects Annie. “The immersion that you get when you ride through an area is entirely different. You truly experience a country, whereas driving is almost like living in the surface layer. I got a very deep introduction to the realities of bikepacking — pushing through rivers, riding through dunes and along beaches. I had absolutely no plan for my route. I wanted to be entirely dictated by the swell and by local advice about where to ride. Surf and mountain biking, the very best combo, drew me to the most random places ever.”

Never having ridden on the road before in her life, Annie soon found her rhythm and, apart from being swiped by the mirror on a passing car, travelled the length of New Zealand unscathed. Photo Kiatoa Bowden

Annie’s big ride ended up taking three months. On the map, her routeline loops and wanders, circumnavigating the slopes of great volcanoes, backtracking to far-flung promontories, and veering off sideways (often) like some wonderful and demented piece of abstract calligraphy. She clocked up 3,622 kilometres on the trail — from the very northern to the very southern tip of Aotearoa. Unsurprisingly, her fitness levels skyrocketed.

“I’ve never been this fit in my life. You can ride all day as long as you’ve got food. You can just keep going — you don't get tired, and you don't get sore. You're constantly breaking down these limiting beliefs. I kept thinking, I wonder what I can really do. So, one day, I set out to find my limit. I just kept riding and riding. I did over a third of the South Island on that day, just nailed out about 300 kays. These crazy ideas come out to you out there because you’re pumped on endorphins all day long. And the result is that you really start to back yourself.”

It wasn’t all sweet lefts, meandering backroads, expansive horizons and fun times. Annie came close to ending her ride in the worst possible way, being sideswiped by a car on a narrow bridge at peak hour. She copped horizontal sleet, gale force winds and all kinds of calamitous conditions. But the strangest challenge came right near the end of the route.

A curious thing happened — she just didn’t want to stop. "If that road kept going to Antarctica, I would have kept riding. You're learning, you're growing, you're experiencing Country, you're healthy. Your perspective is so enormous while you're out there. I didn’t want to go back to routine.”

In Invercargill, less than 100 kilometres away from the finish line, Annie halted, filled with dread at the thought of arriving at the southernmost tip, the place where the land stops. She spent two weeks studiously avoiding it, backtracking to surf some remote southwest sliders and eventually resorting to riding 50-kilometre long lappies around the edges of Invercargill.

“It was pretty silly, but also excellent, because the dread of finishing ended up catalysing a new plan in my mind. The hardest thing you can do on a mountain bike is what they call an ‘Everest’, which is where you find a mountain and you lap it, you climb up it and go down it, over and over and over again, until you accumulate the equivalent height of Mount Everest, from sea level to the summit. I did a bit of googling and I saw that some people did 10,000 metres, more than Everest which is 8,848. They go a bit higher. That was it. I decided that I was going to do that.”

She jumped on her bike and rode the final leg to Slope Point, Southland, the southernmost tip, then circled back up to Queenstown. A few weeks later, Annie became the first woman on earth to do the ‘Everest’ on steroids (the 10,000) on a mountain bike. She watched the sun rise twice from the slopes of Coronet Peak, riding the access route up and descending on a speedy single track, again and again and again. She made history, but she didn’t do it alone.

“The good thing about Queenstown is it's full of go-getters. If someone hears about anyone doing something epic, they'll come and help out. So, I did the first lap alone, but on every other lap, strangers, friends, anyone and everyone turned up with food, with help, with music, with assistance. For 31 hours, I was completely supported.

“At the start of the tenth lap, I remember looking over to a friend and I said laughing, ‘This ‘Everest’ thing is pretty easy. At that moment, the heavens opened up and it started sideways raining, which was fine until the descent. It was like an icy river. We got absolutely soaked. I couldn't think. At the time I was refusing to breathe life into what I was feeling. But in hindsight, I was hypothermic.

“The troops mobilised — this is like 2 or 3am. They went and cleared out closets around Queenstown and brought back warm, dry, clean gear for everyone, because we were all in the hurt. Even then, I couldn't have kept going without support. I couldn’t think anymore. I needed instructions to see it out. One of my friends was like, ‘How hard you want me to push you?’ And I was like, ‘All the way. If you do anything less, I'll never forgive you.’”

At 8am on the second day, after 13-and-a-half vertical laps of Coronet Peak, Annie reached 10,000 metres. She pressed stop on the clock, hugged her crew, sat down in the car and immediately fell fast asleep.

Returning to her work as Campaign Manager at Surfrider Foundation Australia, Annie led the campaign to prevent seismic blasting in Southern Sea Country, including a cameo in Surfrider’s movie, Southern Blast. Photo Nick Green

Three months later, in late March, Annie returned to Coronet Peak and over the course of 18 hours and 53 minutes, calmly smashed the women’s and then the men’s world record for descending the most amount of vertical on a bike. She bombed it down the mountain 100 times, clocking up 42,030 metres of descent over 313 kilometres.

“I had the biggest heart, and sorest body. I realised what we can do when we put our mind, body and heart behind something we believe in. I’ll take that learning with me into everything I do.”

Annie Ford is the finest kind of adventurer — a veritable ray of sunshine with a fondness for scaling mountains, grinning, and occasionally riding the length of whole countries. She’s got some big new plans on the cook — heading to back to Coronet Peak to set an even speedier downhill world record this summer and, sometime soon, embarking on a little two-wheeled wander along the west coast of the Americas, all the way from Mexico to Whistler.

Right now, she’s back home on the little island, hopefully kicking back and resting her legs and getting ready for a big summer of action to stop seismic blasting. Annie’s changing the world, one epic long distance bike ride at a time, and best of all, she’s bringing everyone along with her.

Help Surfrider Australia to save Southern Sea Country here.

Annie swapped the bike in New Zealand for a surfboard in Fiji, taking a surf and marine study trip mid-year. Photo F Watt


"I recently discovered Roaring Journals... wild, cool people doing wild, cool things."

Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories
Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories Related Stories