Imagine walking into a room full of people and not knowing a soul. You look around and see everyone staring at you and realize everyone knows everyone, but you know no one. You feel… “fill in the blank”. My “fill in the blank” is “out of place”.
When I first moved to Asheville, North Carolina from San Diego, California I felt a bit out of place among the male-dominated kayaking scene. It took me a while to find other like-minded female kayakers. I was lucky to eventually meet my friend Jen but forquite a while, my crew still mainly consisted of men. To be clear, the guys were great! I’ve learned innumerable lessons and skills from the men with whom I have paddled. However, there is a distinction between those experiences and the times when I wouldpaddle with only Jen or other women which offered a completely different energy and sense of accomplishment.
Fast forward 10 years and I feel the scene of kayaking, at least for me, is a much different scene. More often than not, I find myself paddling with an estrogen-heavy crew where the support is strong, the smiles are abundant and I certainly don’t feel out of place.
In 2012, Jen lost her life on the Little White and I created a blog, “Paddle in Pink”, in her memory. The blog’s mission is to give female kayakers a platform to contribute content that expresses the female perspective of whitewater kayaking.
I believe that a significant driver of the shift to a more equitable distribution of gender on the water in our region has been the individual women and companies that have created, supported and invested in female-only events. The “Boater Chic Festival” really paved the way for Southeastern female specific events. When this event stopped, “Paddle In Pink” created a Confidence Series that included a creeking day on the Cheoah River and a playboating day on the Pigeon River (aka Dirty Bird). Over time, we have watched the Dirty Bird grow not only in number of participants, but also in the number of sponsorships.
Girl power is alive and well in the summer in the Southeast and it is hard to come by that there isn’t a weekend scheduled with some version of a female-focused event. Anna Levesque of “Girls At Play” hosts a calendar of events throughout the year. Laura Farrell puts on possibly the largest event in the region, the “Green Takeover”, along with the “Paddle in Pink” events.
Attending these events has provided me with some of the greatest feelings of empowerment and sisterhood I’ve had throughout my life. While the day on the water might be long, it is magical to experience abilities ranging from beginner to expert, 100% humility, never ending smiles, hooting and hollering, cheering, encouragement, high fives and hugs offered by my kayak sisters. These days on the river become fast favorites because I have found my place and I belong. I am grateful in the shift of the kayaking community and the support for all these amazing events. Thank you to every strong female kayaker out there, to every strong male that continues to support these events and to all the companies that give their support to these events that raise money for some incredible causes.