Photo: Alex Casey / Additional design: Archi Banal
Photo: Alex Casey / Additional design: Archi Banal

Summer 2022January 7, 2023

On a superyacht with an OnlyFans empire

Photo: Alex Casey / Additional design: Archi Banal
Photo: Alex Casey / Additional design: Archi Banal

Summer read: Alex Casey spends six hours at sea with a group of Gen Z creators aiming to reinvent the porn industry.

First published December 1, 2022.

Before she was an OnlyFans creator, Charlie was an expert in a very different flesh-related field. Working at a butchery for minimum wage, she describes it as an extremely physical job that involved everything from packing, wrapping, setting up the shop and serving meat. When the Covid-19 lockdown hit, the pivot to online-only ordering meant that she was lifting 12kg boxes of meat over the counter all day, which eventually led to a serious back injury that stopped her from being able to work altogether. That’s when she started her OnlyFans account and, within just a month, she quit her butchery job to make content full time. 

Two years on, 20-year-old Charlie says she feels more empowered than ever, and is even dreaming of buying a luxury superyacht much like the one we are sitting aboard in Auckland’s Viaduct. “I want a boat like this one day,” she sighs, eyeing up the shiny mahogany interior from beneath thick Bambi lashes. “I know it’s not a good investment – it’s expensive to run, and to own, and to park – but my dream is to be so financially free that I could own something like this.” She adjusts her ombre hot pink and yellow bikini top, drawing my attention to a phrase inked onto her arm: “what I want is already mine”.

Charlie was one of five “Thumper Girls” that gathered on the $1,100-per-hour luxury yacht on a Monday night to celebrate the long-awaited launch of Thumper. New Zealand’s first female-run adult entertainment agency and production company, Thumper was founded by prolific OnlyFans creator Jasminx, 20, as a place for women to collaborate and support each other on OnlyFans, an online platform with 220 million users that pay creators directly for their content. “Thumper is our safety net,” said Charlie. “It’s like a really nice little family where everyone is very open-minded and there’s no competition or jealousy or anything.”

The Thumper girls: Charlie, Maggie, Jasmin, Violet and Shy. (Photo: Supplied)

As the group of 30 or so Gen Z creators piled onto the boat dressed in Gucci slides and Fendi hats, so too did a very small cluster of invited media, who would come to look so out of place that later in the night the yacht’s chef confidently asserted that we “must be the organisers”. Despite our differences, the Thumper team warmly welcomed everyone, even those wearing pants with elastic waistbands (me), with open arms, star sign analysis and endless cans of Cheeky Tea, the official alcohol sponsor of the evening. By the end of the night, the CHEEKY X THUMPER sign would read EE HUMP HER. 

While the evening was geared towards luxury and excess, we first needed to sit through the warts and all safety briefing from Skipper Steve. “I’m sorry ladies, but do not flush anything that isn’t natural,” he gingerly told the group, gaze darting well above the heads of the bikini-clad room. “If it’s blocked, do not hang onto the flush button and flood the bathroom, come and tell us.” With that terrifying warning, we hauled anchor and headed for Motuihe Island, small groups gathered around enormous platters heaving with smoked chicken breast and flash cheeses. 

I sat with Violet, another Thumper girl and former waitress, who opened up about how she first got into sex work as we nibbled on crackers and pesto. “I started OnlyFans during a time in my life where I was feeling really sexually empowered,” she said. “My family was finally treating me like an adult, and my mum was finally comfortable enough to tell me about her time as a sex worker in the Phillipines.” She said her mum was forced into sex work at a very young age to support her family, which naturally left her with very negative feelings towards the industry. 

Violet, bottom right, onboard with the Thumper girls. (Photo: Supplied)

One generation on, Violet’s relationship with her job could not be more different. “My mum wasn’t that happy to do it but here I am volunteering to do it,” she said. Violet told me she is now supporting both herself and her parents from the money she makes from OnlyFans. “I feel so lucky that I am able to look after my parents – especially giving my mum the life that she has always wanted to live.” Her goal is to buy her parents a house soon where they can live rent free. “My accountant says it’s not a good time to buy. I don’t know the market, so I have to believe her.” 

It’s not just financial security that Violet has found in OnlyFans, but feminism. “Over the past year I’ve gotten really, really, really into hyperfeminism,” she explained, referring to an inclusive movement popularised by TikTok that encourages people of all genders, ethnicities and sexualities to embrace the elements of femininity that have been historically derided. “I’m a really big feminist and I believe I am taking the control of my body and my femininity back.” 

Violet told me she had just finished reading the Insta-friendly viral tome Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. “It’s all given me a really huge sense of empowerment,” she said. “I know I can do this and I still have good values, I still have morals, I still have goals.” 

That said, there are times when creating adult content online is not easy. “Even though I share my body for a living, I still get insecure,” Violet said. Her family couldn’t afford braces growing up, so she recently got Invisalign. “You do start to look at yourself in a certain way when you are looking at photos of yourself all day. If there’s a mean comment about something, especially when they are pointing out something that you’ve never thought about yourself, it will make you start to think about it a bit,” she said. “But that’s only about one percent of all the people online.” 

When I asked Violet’s best friend Charlie the same question about insecurities, she answered with a single gesture to her chest. “That’s why I got these” she laughed. Just three weeks into her recovery after a breast augmentation surgery in Australia, she admitted she should still be in her post-op compression bra, but couldn’t pass up the chance to get bikini photos on board. “My body is what makes me money,” she said, explaining that she first teased the idea of getting her boobs done to her social media audience, and received strong feedback in the affirmative. 

As we cruised across the Hauraki Gulf, I sat down on the bow in the sun next to Liam, a part of the extended entourage who had a big sparkly stud in his ear, socks with little red mouths on them and sunglasses by Kensngtn, a brand launched by Heartbreak Island’s Harry Jowsey and Kristian Babarich. He told me he was a part of 24K Media, a production company that works with music artists and online creators – including Thumper. He rattled off a list of clients and I feel like an ashen corpse disintegrating into the sea air: Bru-C, Gunna, Yung Maac, Bad1…

“There’s a lot of Gen Z content creation that nobody in the mainstream media knows about,” he said. “Gen Z are just so much more aware of how to turn themselves into a brand that makes money.” At 23, Liam is the oldest person in the company – the founder is just 19. They are collaborating on three more Thumper shoots before Christmas, and then it’s on to whatever 2023 holds. “Thumper are bespoke in the sense that they have a real artistic vision,” he said. “These girls are the blueprint, and it’s only getting bigger.” 

We dropped anchor near Motuihe Island and a retro-themed photoshoot began, complete with 1950s headscarves and sunglasses. A man wearing a du-rag and a Prada bumbag juggled about 45 different cameras while the women effortlessly arched their backs and coquettishly dropped their gazes, endlessly hyped up by the rest of their crew. “It’s giving!” cheered one. “Yeah, it’s giving,” confirmed another. Charlie peered over the top of her sunglasses down the lens. “Who IS this?” the photographer asked. “Is this Charlie? YES CHARLIE!” A colleague muttered that she’d die for even a fraction of this affirmation at her job.  

Jasmin has her photo taken by a member of 24K media. (Photo: Alex Casey)

At the other end of the boat, Skipper Steve was in his own private hell trying to get the inflatable slide ready, which anyone who watches Below Deck will know is one of the most laborious and frustrating jobs on any superyacht. “This slide needs 30 minutes to put out and 30 minutes to pack down,” he puffed. “You watch this, maybe six of the girls will go on it.” I asked him if he knew anything about the company he was chartering this evening. “No,” he said, trying to stifle a grin. “But I can guess.” 

Lo and behold, Skipper Steve’s slide and the other assorted water toys became a smash hit with the guests – once they finished their photoshoot, of course. A colleague and I went out in the tender as he towed two screaming young women at top speed on a sea biscuit around the bay. After one particularly gnarly spill, we pulled one of them aboard, shocked to discover that her full face of impeccably glamorous makeup was still completely intact, including a set of enormous fake eyelashes. “Charlotte Tilbury setting spray” she wheezed. “It’s the best.” 

After the watersports, Skipper Steve took the photographers out on the tender to get shots of the girls from the water on his beloved slide. Content creation is key, and no area of the boat was left unexplored for an Instagram shot – from the ship’s bridge, to the galley, to the toilet, to the fetching guest fedora (that last one was me). For creators, building their following on their “clean” social media accounts – TikTok, Instagram, Twitter – is a key driver to get audiences to subscribe to their OnlyFans, so any photogenic opportunity is a potential opportunity to make more money. 

A photoshoot in Skipper Steve’s chair. (Photo: Alex Casey)

Unfortunately, these social media accounts are frequently banned for their association with the adult industry. “There’s a lot of people that want to see other people fail, especially when those people are sex workers,” said Charlie. Just before she boarded the yacht, she discovered that her Instagram had been deleted, only two months since her last ban. “It fucking sucks because this event will be a big public thing and I would have made a lot of connections from it,” she said. “It’s so mentally draining for me, because this is my job and I work so hard for everything.” 

Thumper’s COO, who wanted to remain anonymous, works closely with the women everyday and sees the tough realities of the job. “These girls got their jobs because they made it work, but social media is still cruel and these platforms can really get them down,” she told me. “The internet makes everyone two-dimensional but all these girls have amazing intelligence, everyone’s so complex and smart.” Working half her day at Thumper and half her day at her “normal” job, she hopes that one day she can be open about Thumper with everyone in her life.

“Everyone’s just so excited to be a part of something that’s not run by the old guys – this isn’t old-school porn, you can be sexy and artistic at the same time.” 

As the sun set, we gathered inside for a hearty meal of buttery potatoes, various salads, ceviche and steak. Once the dishes had been cleared, it was time for a rousing speech from Thumper founder Jasmin, who admitted she hadn’t prepared anything and would be speaking “straight from the heart”. She began by talking about the ongoing stigma faced by those working in the adult industry, pacing thoughtfully in front of the small crowd in an oversized Fendi knit and bare feet. 

Jasmin delivers her sex-positive sermon. (Photo: Alex Casey)

“We are still really looked down on in society, and I just felt like it was time for something to do something about it. That’s why I wanted to reinvent porn and reinvent the adult industry as something more elevated.” The mahogany-lined room erupted into applause and finger snaps of appreciation – but Jasmin was far from done. “People assume that the people who do this are untalented, or have no goals or ambition, or are just doing this as a last resort. But we choose to do this and we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t love it.” More rapturous applause. 

“We’re just normal people: we are your daughters, your sisters, your girlfriends. We are normal people and we are amazing, loving, talented people and we deserve respect for what we do,” she continued, with the genuine gravitas of a politician delivering their maiden speech. “Because we bring a lot of joy, we bring a lot of entertainment. People try to push us back to the side, but everyone still watches porn!” The room exploded into the biggest applause yet, and Jasmin expertly popped a bottle of Moet, spraying champagne against a backdrop of dusky sky. 

Finally, the superyacht was headed home. I diligently held a glass of champagne for Verity, an online creator and TikTok music sensation, as she got her very last snaps, arching dramatically against the boat’s railing. Her poses were so powerful that one of the crew members stormed the bow with a chilling warning. “You have to be really careful girls,” he barked. “It’s not just that you’ll fall off – you’ll get sucked through the props and you’ll die.” Verity smiled sweetly. “OK, I appreciate that.” Once he was gone, she turned around and kept posing. 

As millions of stars twinkled above us and just as many images hurtled invisibly through the night air, somebody lit a mystery joint that flecked orange embers into the darkness. The skyscrapers of the CBD appeared dinky from afar, dwarfed by the silhouettes of these young people who are building their own business empires entirely on their own terms. “Are we in an episode of Euphoria?” my colleague whispered to me. As if he had heard us, an entourage lad drunkenly responded at just the right time from the darkness. “This is real life bro,” he slurred. 

“This… is real life.”

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