Billie Scott is prodigiously talented at anything she tries. She’s a New Zealand representative in stand-up paddleboarding despite it being a sport she’s really only just started in. And her newly hatched creative business is thriving. In this interview, NZSJ’s Isaac Chadwick delves deep into her sudden career shift, health scare and that horrendous blood nose at the Piha Nats.
There’s more to Billie Scott than first meets the eye. On the surface, she strikes you as a well-mannered individual who does a bit of video work, and the occasional SUP contest. While these are definitely elements of her story, you’d be dead wrong to assume that’s all there is to the 23-year-old.
Billie is an individual that possesses a tenacious drive and intellect. She is someone who has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of New Zealand’s most sought-after videographers as well as holding multiple national SUP titles.
With a rebrand of her business, Studio Muse, imminent, I caught up with Billie on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon to talk everything from childhood stories of surfing isolated peaks with her Dad in Whananaki to turning down lucrative scholarships, and blood-nose National finals.
When I first entered Billie’s flat in Mount Maunganui, her personal style immediately became obvious. Minimal. From a beautiful print of one of the local island waves being the centerpiece of the living room to very well-maintained pot plants and a spotless interior, it all speaks to someone who has a very particular vision and knows what they want.
As soon as I came in Billie immediately offered to fix me a coffee, something I couldn’t refuse given a busy day of sending off footage from the recent cyclone swell and packing to drive back down to Dunedin.
While she whipped up a barista-level coffee, we chatted shop about our personal experiences in the freelance world of videography from ball aches to proud moments.
Before long the coffee was ready and Billie led me out into her small, but quaint backyard, complete with a pohutukawa tree, a table to conduct the interview, and of course, a whole rack of surfboards useful for anything from international-level SUP contests to groveling at the local banks of Clyde St.
All in all, it seemed to speak of someone who had grown up in the Mount their whole life.
“Yeah, I always wanted to grow up here [Tauranga],” Billie laughs.
“I actually grew up in Whananaki. That was a pretty sick place to grow up. Just a little tiny coastal town. My primary school was in Whangārei and there were 12 of us in each class and it was right on the estuary. It was pretty cool,” Billie reminisces.
When it came to ocean-based activities, Billie has her Dad, Jaimie, and her Mum, Karen, to thank.
“I was in the water from before I can even remember. Every day getting off the bus and checking the waves Dad would be ready to go surfing and I always loved that after school. But I think because there weren’t a whole lot of kids out there doing it, I wasn’t super into it.”
Billie’s mum was a top windsurfer and her dad is the man behind Tribal Surfboards, and neither of them were going to let Billie waste her days at the beach sifting the sand.
When I asked Billie how much of an influence they had on her career, there was no doubt in her response.
“Pretty massive,” she declares. “Dad’s my idol. I’m an only child, so he had to bring the frothing energy to keep me entertained because I was always a very high-energy, manic little kid. He’s inspired me to do more than just surf as well. He’s a very open-minded surfboard shaper. So, he’s definitely inspired me to just try and be more of a water person rather than just surfing, which has definitely really flowed on with who I am now and how I view just being on the water whether it’s the wind, or waves, or SUP.”
“Dad’s my idol. I’m an only child, so he had to bring the frothing energy to keep me entertained because I was always a very high-energy, manic little kid. He’s a very open-minded surfboard shaper … he inspired me to just try and be more of a water person rather than just surfing, which has definitely really flowed on with who I am now.”
The influence of her parents eventually led to Billie trying out her hand in the Billabong Grom series.
“I started competing in the grom series when I was sixteen,” Billie explains. “So, I was kind of older. I got in there and I was kind of behind everyone and had to try to catch up. So I remember doing the first year of the grom series – I lost every heat. We drove eight hours with mum and dad to every comp and lost every heat. We drove for one fifteen-minute heat and I was just so over it.”
“I remember doing the first year of the grom series – I lost every heat. We drove eight hours with mum and dad … for one fifteen-minute heat and I was just so over it.”
While Billie’s initial foray into competitive board sports may not have gone to plan, there were successes to be had further down the track.
As a family they were the keenest snowboarders in all of Northland. They’d often pack the car and drive nine hours to Mt Ruapehu for the weekend. Those long trips, and their lifestyle, didn’t quite fit with conventional schooling so Billie left high school to complete her secondary education via correspondence school. That gave the whole family more time for snowboarding, surf trips and travel.
When Billie finished secondary school, she decided it was time for a change in scenery and ended up enrolling in Waikato University in Hamilton to study coastal ecology.
Moving away from Whangārei wasn’t without its downsides Billie explained.
“The cons were just not living on the beach. Where I grew up, I was so lucky. I grew up a full, rural nature kid and wasn’t used to not just being able to run down the beach. So getting in my car and battling Hamilton traffic to get to Raglan every day was a bit of a mission. That was a big one in terms of just not being in the water as much. It was definitely hard being away from mum and dad initially as well.”
“I think I needed to get out of that small little town – there weren’t many people my age,” Billie adds. “There wasn’t much going on. Moving away definitely makes you grow up and challenges you a lot.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In her last year at Uni, Billie was able to go on exchange to Oahu, Hawaii, to finish off her degree.
“I lived on Oahu for 12 months doing an overseas exchange program which meant it didn’t cost me anything extra,” Billie explains. “That was during Covid as well so definitely not a bad place to be. I made some really cool friends on the North Shore as I lived on South Shore. I’d go to stay at their place every weekend and surf with them. That got me way more inspired to be in the water in general with the culture there. I think I’d definitely love to move back at some point.”
When Billie returned to New Zealand, it wasn’t at all surprising that she wasn’t keen to do her masters in Hamilton after having spent a year in Oahu.
“I didn’t want to move back to Hamilton after living in Hawaii,” laughs Billie. “So I decided, well, I’ll move to the Mount. I was doing my Masters in coastal ecology and when I was nearly finished writing it I had a few health hiccups and stuff. Nothing major, but it stopped me from studying.”
Coming from a kid who would make homemade movies in the bush as a kid, something had to come to a head.
“I was always filming random stuff as a kid,” Billie explains. “I guess I was always like creative all through school. I always did art photography and all the product design and design classes and stuff.”
“And then last minute, I don’t know why, but I was like, no, I need to do science and get a good job,” Billie reveals. “So, I did science as I feel like a lot of people get tricked into doing. And just didn’t really think that the creative path was going to be a career.”
This switch from passionate creativity to ticking off the nine-to-five box led to Billie going through a tough time mentally … having to make a big decision.
“I got offered a few big scholarships and was under the pump to get my Masters done … and I knew it wasn’t me,” Billie tells me. “I couldn’t handle the pressure. I didn’t want to be just compiling all this data and all that science stuff. My idea of science was being out in nature and having fun, but this wasn’t like that.”
She said her science dream did not match reality.
“Then I randomly woke up one day and I was at a low point,” she explains. “I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks, which is weird because I’m always just like the happiest healthiest sunshine and roses kind of person. I definitely had high-functioning anxiety at the time and it was pretty crippling. I just basically dropped out of my Masters, which I didn’t really want to do, but I kind of had to. I couldn’t even drive in and talk to my lecturers anymore.”
“Then I randomly woke up one day and I was at a low point. I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks, which is weird because I’m always just like the happiest healthiest sunshine and roses kind of person.”
“I found out it was a metabolic disorder that I just needed to sort out,” Billie shares. “So that’s been a big part of my life – just a constant health journey to stay healthy. I’ve gotten pretty deep into self-development and figuring out my mental health and trying to be mindful and just calm down cause I was just overwhelmed and over-stressed.”
With all of this going on, it made Billie realise that, while she had achieved her post-grad diploma and had the choice to continue on that path, she needed to make a fundamental shift career-wise.
“All of that kind of made me want to work for myself and just take time for me. And then I picked up my camera and started making free videos for just a whole lot of people around the Mount,” Billie reveals.
Thankfully, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic place to begin a career reset than in Mount Maunganui, as Billie found.
“I’m pretty stoked to be living here,” she says enthusiastically. “I love how we all just live so close. You bump into everyone and you don’t really have to go looking for friends to surf with. I’ve got a pretty good group I surf with a lot, which is nice. And there are more girls surfing here, too. I surf with Elin Tawharu all the time. I think living here is the perfect balance, I live close to the beach and the ability to work from home and have a cool little creative community here is all pretty ideal for me.”
This brought us around to the competitive side of things and, more specifically, Billie’s relationship with SUP riding.
“I started SUP surfing three and a half years ago now, so I got into that real late,” Billie admits. “There’s just not many girls doing it and I wanted to support another sport that was within surfing I guess. I think there’s literally eight of us in New Zealand doing the comps, but overseas it’s massive.”
“I just liked the challenge. And being a learner again was really cool. I went to El Salvador for the World SUP Championships two years ago and then last year it was in Puerto Rico, so that was pretty cool,” Billie says with a grin.
This brought us to an interesting piece of information I had never known about: the incredibly strict and somewhat complex rules of competitive SUP surfing.
“You’ve got to be standing the whole heat and you’re only on a tiny board. My board’s only like 65 litres so it’s a struggle to stay up on it,” Billie laughs as she elaborates. “You can’t just sit out the back and then get up and go. You’ve got to stay standing the whole heat so it’s pretty intense. At Worlds, they’ll even fault you if you’re strategically falling off to have a break. In one heat my calf muscles were going into full spasm – I needed to get off my board, but I couldn’t because they’d know ‘Oh, she’s just falling to have a rest’.”
“You can’t just sit out the back and then get up and go. You’ve got to stay standing the whole heat so it’s pretty intense. At Worlds, they’ll even fault you if you’re strategically falling off to have a break. In one heat my calf muscles were going into full spasm – I needed to get off my board, but I couldn’t because they’d know ‘Oh, she’s just falling to have a rest’.”
The SUP rules seem quite eye-opening to me. However, getting to compete in these world events is no small feat as you have to first qualify on the New Zealand competitive circuit. Billie was able to do this in the January Nationals just gone … and boy is it a story.
“To make the Worlds team, I had to get first or second in the SUP,” explains Billie. “I was really sick the whole week of Nationals. I couldn’t compete in surfing. I just had a really bad fever. Once I got out in the water for my SUP heat I stood up and was just like, ‘far out I’m so out of it. I don’t know how I’m going to stay on my board’. I was just struggling. Then I caught a wave and managed to get up and turn on a good one and got a good score and then started to paddle back out. While I was doing that I just got this terrible blood nose, it was horrendous.”
“My heart rate was through the roof because I hadn’t been training in a couple of weeks,” Billie continues. “There was just blood all over my board. I was paddling with my head up, trying to just control what was going on. I managed to get a second ride and luckily it was a good one. And then I came in and sat on the beach for the last ten minutes and just had to pray and watch the others compete. I had mum and dad standing there with live heats and I was like, ‘do I have to go back out?’”
“My heart rate was through the roof because I hadn’t been training in a couple of weeks. There was just blood all over my board. I was paddling with my head up, trying to just control what was going on.”
“Luckily I still managed to win,” Billie says. “That was a pretty memorable moment. Sitting on the beach, just watching the timer ticking down, hoping I was going to make it. Then I nearly fainted walking back off the beach. The energy output with SUPing is a lot.”
With that gutsy performance behind her, Billie is off to the Worlds again towards the end of this year. However, she is anything but a stranger to such a large event as she recollected her previous trips to the games, in particular her trip to El Salvador.
“El Salvador is definitely a pretty trippy place,” Billie recollects. “Like Googling it when we found out the event was there, finding out it has the highest murder rate in the world! But that ended up being the sickest trip. We got sick right-hand point break waves for two weeks, which was pretty unreal.”
“There were definitely some pretty eye-opening moments there,” Billie continues. “I remember we were sitting at lunch and then we just see these guys with massive rifles running around chasing people. It was insane. For the time we were there we had a doorman with a gun, guarding us when we slept. It was pretty intense.”
When she’s not traveling around the world, competing in exotic locations and mixing it with the world’s best, Billie has to somehow fund these amazing excursions. Something that’s easier said than done. Luckily, Billie is an incredibly talented videographer/photographer and runs her own studio, Studio Muse. A project she set out on as soon as she decided she didn’t want to continue pursuing her Masters.
“The first of Feb last year was when I got my first paid client,” Billie says. “And then after that, I was just relying on my savings and any income. I was also working for Noxen at the time, just helping them out. They’ve been a big supporter of my work journey from the get-go.”
Billie goes on to explain how Papamoa-based poncho towel company Noxen was a big help when it came to getting her started on her freelance journey.
“I was working out of one of their offices and they just took me under their wing and looked after me and inspired me to go after work. They were really cool setting me up with some cool people and contacts at the start.”
“I was working out of one of the [Noxen] offices and they just took me under their wing and looked after me and inspired me to go after work. They were really cool setting me up with some cool people and contacts at the start.”
“As I got into videography and photography more, they [Noxen] wanted to just support me,” Billie explains. “They’re really big on supporting people which is really cool. I think they wished they had more of that when they were starting out so they really wanted to kind of give me that. They gave me a desk in their new office in Papamoa and I was just working out of there for a while.”
Cut back to today and this support and determination has more than paid off with Billie now at the helm of her thriving videography/photography business, Studio Muse.
“In about the last year or so, it’s become a full-time thing. I didn’t take out any loans or anything, but I put basically all my money back into buying new gear,” says Billie laughing.
“At the start, I was doing random promo videos, weddings, events, food photography, food videography, just a bit of everything,” Billie laughs. “And now I’m kind of narrowing into my niche and the style of work I provide. I’m actually turning down jobs that aren’t aligned with my vision now which feels pretty cool!”
“I’ve had a lot of really cool mentors I guess, there’s honestly too many of them to name,” Billie continues. “I’ve been really lucky with the creatives I’ve managed to link up with and work with because they’ve definitely thrown a lot of work my way and helped me out.”
Hearing that Billie is able to turn down clients that don’t suit her style of content creation, it felt somewhat relevant to ask her what exactly this style constitutes.
“I have a very minimalistic style I think with my events and weddings and that kind of stuff. I’d say I’m a documentary-style videographer so I capture things more just as it naturally unfolds rather than trying to create moments.”
“I hate scripted videos,” is Billie’s answer to the question.
“I’d say I’m a documentary-style videographer so I capture things more just as it naturally unfolds rather than trying to create moments. I hate scripted videos.”
Billie elaborates further.
“I aim to approach my visual storytelling in the most minimalistic, un-fluffy way. I want to get the cool jobs that the guy videographers get that the girls never get. So I want to compete with the guys, but still have a feminine enough look that I still get the brides and the females in business.”
To help achieve this goal, Billie’s studio has been undergoing a rebrand, in order to accurately represent her work.
“This whole new rebrand I think is really going to elevate my whole brand,” she states. “I’m trying to be less of a freelancer and more of a proper business video studio rather than just freelance. I just want to keep learning and pushing my videos and I think we can always be getting better at how we work.”
Billie shares a little more.
“I’m just trying to attract bigger clients by doing more of the work that I want to do rather than just taking any old jobs now,” she adds. “I’ve got pretty clear brand pillars and ideas that I want my clients to fit into, to make sure they fit in that kind of niche so that all the work I put out is true to my personal style of videography.”
Chatting about Billie’s newly rebranded business felt like a nice way to finish off the interview, but before we parted ways, I decided to ask Billie to answer a few non-business-related questions to wrap up our conversation. The first of which being one that’s always hard to answer off the bat: Name one thing you dislike about yourself and one thing that you do like about yourself.
“That’s a hard one!” Billie says laughing. “Definitely an intention for this year is to just go with the flow of things more and not force things. I’m someone who wants to be in control of everything and I’m generally very routine-orientated and planned and that can sometimes be a disadvantage for me. And then my biggest goal for this year that I want to work on is just my patience. I’m not a patient person at all. I want to try and be patient in life in general. Again, just going with the flow of life a bit more and not forcing things.”
Now comes the hard part, thinking about what you actually like about yourself. Humans usually find it all too easy to pick apart what we dislike about ourselves, but when it comes to the positive it can take us much longer to think of something positive to say. However, in my albeit short experience in conducting interviews, the answers people come up with can be enlightening.
After a few moments of thought, Billie responds.
“I like that I’m open-minded. I wouldn’t say I’m super confident, but deep down I back myself and know I can do whatever it is I need to do. I’m really glad that I was open-minded enough to start all these different water sports even. And then in work I just knew I wouldn’t survive at nine till five and wanted to kind of create a path where I had control.”
Finally, it was time for one last question. If you could sit down for dinner with any three people, living or dead, where would you go and who would it be with?
“When I was in Hawaii I loved Pupakaia grill so It’d probably have to be there,” answers Billie. “Then for the people, I would love to talk to Jay Shetty. He lived as a monk for like six years – it’s pretty crazy. He’s just a motivational person and I’d love to get some wisdom from him. Then it’d have to be David Attenborough just because I’m a nature nerd and then finally Kai Lenny because he’s just my hero. He’s just the water sport goat.”
“That’s a very weird combo,” Billie says laughing. “They would not all sit down well together.”
Finally, it was time to end the interview and head off. It had been a pleasure to interview someone as multi-talented as Billie.
She is someone who manages to mix humility and competitiveness into one and is able to balance the professional aspects of her work with her extremely easygoing nature. She’s someone to watch out for, both on the competitive scene as well as the professional landscape of content creation.
Billie will soon be launching her second business, a wedding photo/video business, Darling Studio with photographer friend Tasha Meys. No doubt she’s got big plans and we here at NZSJ certainly can’t wait to see them realised.