LONDON How i Live: Adventure Master-Mind Bobby Melville

How does a young polo player with a limited business background win Spear’s Magazine’s ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ award just a year after launch?


How i Live: Adventure Master-Mind Bobby Melville

How does a young polo player with a limited business background win Spear’s Magazine’s ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ award just a year after launch?

Bobby Melville in Norway with IGO Adventurers

It’s just over a year since former British polo player Bobby Melville launched IGO Adventures – a series of multi-disciplinary expedition races held in the wildest and most spectacular places on the planet. Aimed at desk-bound folk rather than ultra-runners, IGO gives time-poor people juggling jobs and families the chance to experience life as a great adventurer… and get pretty fit in the process. The concept proved captivating enough for Bobby and his partner, explorer George Bullard, to win the award of ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ from the prestigious Spear’s Magazine. He shares when his life took a 180 degree turn and why mental ability will beat brawn in the most challenging of situations. 

On Changing Career: I travelled the world for work as a professional polo player in my 20’s and it sparked a love for different cultures and travel. I saw first hand how polo was played in different areas of the world and how a shared experience could unite across language barriers. When I reached my professional limit and was looking for the next move, I happened to meet a really inspiring woman called Julia Immonen. An advocate for social and humanitarian change, she had set up a charity called Sport for Freedom, helping women in Europe caught up in the slave trade. Over coffee, she shared stories of rowing across the Atlantic with 3 other women. At first, I didn’t believe her, but as she started to talk about it, I was inspired. I had thought, like everyone else, that these things were only for the Ernest Shackletons and George Bullards of our time, not for everyone – but it turns out, they can be.  

On Rowing Across the Atlantic: I was so inspired by Julia and her cause that I got together a team of 4 with my friend Henry Brett, and we entered into the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a 3000 mile rowing race across the Atlantic. The race is unsupported, so you have to carry your own food and water and just keep rowing until you hit land. It took us 48 days, during which we had some of the most incredible experiences of our lives: from being 2 metres away from a Sperm Whale to 50 foot waves that could have taken our lives. It was a complete life changer for me.  

On Reaching Dry Land: It was a really euphoric moment. None of us had ever been out in the ocean before to the point of losing sight of land. We had trained on ergo rowing machines in gyms and done a couple of yacht masters, but that was it. The entire process (training and fundraising) took a year of our lives – we gave up our jobs and put a significant strain on our family lives just to get to the starting line. 

On the birth of IGO: When I reached Antigua, it was the best feeling I had ever had and I was determined to bottle that up and find a way to give it to people with less time and resources to spare, So we set about creating IGO Adventures, in order to offer a new level of accessibility to life changing experiences. Normally, it takes up to 2 years to train and raise funds of up to £50,000 to do massive expeditions like crossing a continent on foot or rowing an ocean. Then there is the weather to contend with. You could spend the best part of a decade preparing for an adventure that might never come off, so our expeditions take a lot of the uncertainty out of the equation and are financially much more accessible. We have experts creating customized training plans specific to each person and terrain, and set up the logistics to make this sort of aventure possible within a week.

On Connecting with Wilderness: According to some of the greatest contemporary explorers, the world is now so well-travelled that the only places left unexplored are at sea or up in space.  My business partner George Bullard is a 5 time record-breaking explorer whom Sir Ranulph Fiennes describes as ‘genuinely ground-breaking’. He just got back from kayaking from Greenland to Scotland as part of a 1300 mile race with Olly Hicks, which has never been done before. His experience definitely provides a comfort blanket for our contenders. Our up-coming destinations next year include Norway, Montana and Morocco, picked because they are the exact opposite to urban life. Compared to 40,000 people running the London marathon, we will be 60-80 competitors running around in the western part of Montana’s Glacier National Park on the border with Canada – one of the least densely populated parts of the world.  Over the next 3 years, we have Namibia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Oman, Philippines, Borneo and Iceland on the horizon.  If you were to do all of them, you would have lived a pretty good life!

On Mental Aptitude over Brawn: Less than 500 people have ever rowed across any ocean. It was this pioneering spirit that really appealed to me. We won our category despite being so in-experienced and competing against army guys, marines and people who had been at sea all their lives, most of whom looked like Popeye after a few cans of spinach. Of the 16 boats, only 10 finished, which just proves that you don’t need to be professionally trained to excel, and that mental aptitude can triumph over physical brawn. We are living proof that if you push yourself and believe, then you will get there, rather than thinking that the Cracknels of this world are the only people who can complete such challenges. That’s what we are trying to show people with IGO.

On Shaking up Normalcy It is a daunting task as we aren’t trying to target the ultra running or mountain climbing community, but people who have office jobs, who believed as kids they were set for big adventures, but who now find that work and family responsibilities have taken their over.  We are aiming to offer them the chance to step off the path of normalcy and become their child-hood heroes. London is a good market for this!

On the Key to Success: The key is to have a very unique product. It was pretty ballsy doing something like this, where we are trying to change a mentality, rather than just copy, paste and repeat someone else’s product.  In terms of what we offer, its very unique and exciting to talk about.  You are investing in your personal self and this captures people’s imagination. There are so many inspiring stories, from friends creating charity teams to a contender who did the Norway expedition this year and is coming back in 2017 with his son, who fell into a coma after a rugby accident aged 18 and has now fully recovered. He had to learn everything from scratch and go back to medical school, but it’s a great example of people who don’t take life for granted. We are on the planet for such a short amount of time, so living it to the full is certainly what we are trying to get people to do. 

On Finding Inspiration to make the Change: Take the first step, the leap of faith, go into the unknown. You only feel those euphoric highs by hitting the deep drops. It is like the Shawshank Redemption when they are drink a beer in the sun after tarring the roof. You can imagine how sweet that beer tastes after they have been deprived for so long. It’s like that on an expedition. For George, this came in the form of a tin of peaches that he savoured on each of the 12 days kayaking ‘The devil’s dance floor’, one of the most dangerous stretches of ocean that connects the  Faroe islands to Greenland. For me, what created the biggest mental happiness when crossing the Atlantic in a rowing boat was half a mars bar every two days, it basically kept us sane. I think you need these moments to make you appreciate everything so much. Challenging yourself is key, doing something you can’t even imagine makes your life different, it gives you a story to tell. 

Upcoming IGO Adventures:

Norway 11th -19th March 2017

Montana 12-20 of August 2017

Morocco 1-8 of October 2017

For full details, visit IGO Adventurers

IGO adventures experiences in norway