Malaika Vaz is can best be described as the hard to spot 6-foot tall Indian woman dressed in camouflage head to toe and always toting a backpack, hiking boots, camera, and a notebook. You are most likely to find her deep in the Agumbe Rainforest, exploring the Australian outback, or skiing in the Swiss Alps. We have also published her full photo story.
What are your three most prized accomplishments?
1. Working to empower underprivileged communities through the transformative power of adventure sport and the outdoors - and seeing them become superstar changemakers in their communities!
2. Pushing myself at sea and winning three gold medals in 1 day during a national windsurfing championship.
3. Being the youngest person globally to expedition to the Arctic and the Antarctic.
What are your three favorite things to do?
1. Exploring the oceans on my windsurf board.
2. Backcountry horse riding expeditions.
3. Reading books about wildlife!
What is your greatest passion?
My greatest passion is to connect people with the natural world and urging its protection. When I’m hiking on a mountain trail, sailing through the ocean, flying a plane over a rainforest, scuba diving with cetaceans - I am at my happiest. Thus my greatest passion is learning about and protecting the great outdoors.
What keeps your passion alive?
I’ve had the opportunity to travel some of the world’s most pristine habitats and ecosystems. While it often feels like nature doesn’t stand a chance against the onslaught we wreak on it, there really is a lot left to get behind! There is simply nothing more important or worthwhile to fight for. And I believe in the power of the community of many dedicated adventurers, biologists and conservationists that are working tirelessly to protect the natural world - they inspire me and keep my passion alive!
What is one thing that people don't know about you, but should?
I’m IN LOVE with big cats! As much as I love exploring wildernesses and studying all kinds of biodiversity, nothing fuels me more than in the presence of and learning about tigers, lions, leopards, and other big cats. Their magnetism, power, and allure are captivating. It is this fascination that lead me to present my debut documentary on the complex relationship between humans and tigers in Central India. In this film, I documented the emotions of conflict and coexistence in the world’s most renowned tiger reserve. It is important for me to channel my fascination for big cats through my work, by ensuring that I am a compelling voice for their range-wide protection.
What is your wildest adventure?
During an incredible expedition to Greenland, I was hiking to a peak of a remote island called “Disko Island” in Qeketarsuak, Greenland. After 7 hours of trekking our GPS failed and we quickly became lost. I tumbled down a steep incline, bruised my knee and twisted my ankle. Later that day we spotted an entire colony of seals lounging on the ice, while being hit by the stormy rainy weather! Surrounded by awe-inspiring glaciers in all directions, and being at the mercy of nature was the greatest adventure during this expedition.
If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would it be?
I would pack my bags and set out on a 3-month long solo expedition to the Galapagos Islands to explore the terrain and document stories of wildlife. Galapagos Tortoises, Marine Iguana’s, Blue-footed boobies, seals, and whales - it would be a dream to see them all. Then I would come back and scuba dive with blue whales in Srilanka!
What is your personal definition of feminism?
To me, feminism is an incredible movement for equality and a fight for a better, more inclusive world. Feminism is inclusive of other vulnerabilities and differences like race, religion, and privilege - giving equal voice and power to the struggles of women across the world. Feminism is a sisterhood looking out for each other, mentoring and helping each other rather than belittling, vilifying and oppressing. Feminism gives little girls and boys the ability to dream and feel without constraints. Personally, I believe feminism is aimed at creating a better, more fabulous world by giving power and bringing out the full potential of every human, irrespective of gender.
Who is another woman who inspires you?
Her Deepness Sylvia Earle is my biggest inspiration. She merges the worlds of exploration and science, engaging and inspiring global audiences to fall deeply in love with our planet’s ocean ecosystems and their incredible inhabitants. She is an absolute fireball advocate for our planet’s wildlife. Sylvia is also someone who cares deeply about getting young women interested in the world of science, by sharing her passion for the natural world. As I embark on my next documentary on ocean trafficking, her work will continue to inspire me deeply.
In the coming years, where would you like to see women in sports/adventure/outdoors?
I hope to see and encourage more young women to hike in their backyards, play sport, climb mountains, sail oceans, learn about wildlife and push the frontiers of exploration, and our understanding of the natural world.
Through my experience, getting young women from vulnerable and disadvantaged communities to explore the outdoors, I see the transformational power of an individual’s outdoor experience in shaping their community. I am invested and hope to encourage more young women from difficult backgrounds to find their fire in the great outdoors.