“I think that the tradition of cycling being a male-centered and -dominated sport is a hurdle that’s just now being overcome.” -Sophie Ballo
As the stereotype goes, when working with the ocean-minded, it’s safe to expect some delays in communication, especially when there’s swell. Time is secondary to the ocean. What difference does a day or two make to a deadline? Things come and go, and tasks get done when they get done (unequivocally, after riding a few waves). When your route happens to pass by the sea and it happens to be the right tide and there’s a set rolling in, you tell your waiting friends there’s traffic and you jump in. Although you’ll later admit you kind of knew this would happen because you checked the forecast first thing in the morning and had it written on the back of your hand.
Meanwhile, those in the bike world respect each minute. When you give an estimated time, you’re expected on the dot, as is the understanding in Japan. When there is a destination, you can appreciate the journey but at the end of the day, you’re most likely timing the ride with your Garmin and you wouldn’t want to ruin what could be a KOM.
When you’re immersed in both worlds, the changing perceptions of time depending on the situation can be disorienting. Why can’t we mix the spontaneity of surfing with the drive of cycling? What if mainstream cycling didn’t revolve around the shortest time but revolved around something organic?
This is not to say people can’t embody elements of both. In fact, we are all the more drawn to those that do, like Sophie Ballo. She is a boss; the gears of her mind turn on another level. But you can also count on her for convincing opinions and spontaneous mellow rides (though her standard of mellow may include some insanely steep climbs).
How did you become involved in the cycling world?
I’m from Leesburg, VA, but it’s easier to say the Washington, DC, area. I also consider myself an honorary New Yorker, though New Yorkers would most likely take issue with that statement. New York City is where my family is from, both sides, and where they all still reside with the exception of my mom and sister.
I found cycling because grad school didn’t work out. I went to UNC Greensboro for my MS in Recreational Therapy, and I decided after a year that it wasn’t for me. I had just started cycling (another injured runner turns cyclist story) and organized a weekly beginner-paced ride. Out of the blue, the owner of Cycles de Oro, Dale Brown, called me up and asked if I wanted a job. Turns out, I did. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.
I worked at Dale’s shop for about one and a half years before deciding to commit to the industry. I applied for and got a job at Specialized, packed my bags, and moved west to California. There, I started getting faster and stronger from my daily participation (at least for as long as I could hang) in the infamous Specialized Lunch Ride. California’s Santa Cruz Mountains taught me how to climb and descend, though I did have to pay the price in lost skin.
I currently work at Rapha in Portland as their North American Marketing Manager. I’ve been a musical theater performer, a high school English teacher, a professional rider/trainer (of horses), a jewelry store salesperson, and, briefly, the receptionist for the Recording Industry Association of America. The cycling biz is my home, and it’s where I’ll always stay.