“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Melissa DeMarie wasn’t the first kickass lady who said these words—I believe that was Eleanor Roosevelt. But as she stood in front of a bus full of 50 whitewater women who had just charged down a stretch of Class III rapids, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt the words resonate.
All over the country women are mobilizing into outdoor adventure organizations that cater specifically to females, creating a safe and fun space for them to learn from one another and test their limits. Last summer, Melissa organized and instigated a women’s only watersport coalition to get more girls out on the river and connecting with each other. The group is called California Women’s Watersport Collective, or Cali Collective for short. Several smaller events throughout the summer culminated in the 2 day multi-level clinic, which was hosted with the support of SheJumps on August 1 and 2.
Students ranged from experienced boaters to girls who had never even sat in a whitewater kayak before. On the first day, we met at the California Canoe and Kayak outpost in Coloma, California, on the banks of the South Fork of the American River. We gathered our gear and split up into our classes for the day. The 101 group was made up of the beginners who practiced basics on flatwater, the 201 girls refined core techniques and skills on class II rapids, and the 301 crew took on the more challenging III+ Chili Bar section.
As I rounded up my borrowed gear and circled up with the rest of the 201 ladies, I noticed that the instructors were just as stoked as the students. Everyone I met was just so happy to be there, to meet women who shared the same passions for adventure and action regardless of skill level. There were about 1-2 teachers for every 4-5 students, making it a super safe environment to challenge ourselves and try new things.
That evening, all skill levels reconvened and set up camp along the river, stretched out our bodies with a relaxing yoga session, and gathered for a safety talk and some good ol’ lady bonding.
The next morning started off with another split of skill levels. The more advanced group took a crash course in slalom racing while the rest of us worked on our rolls.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of being upside down in a kayak, with your knees and hips wedged in the boat and water rushing up your nose, let me just assure that it’s as challenging to practice as it sounds. Knowing how to roll yourself up when you flip, however, is an important part of progressing as a kayaker.
After struggling with my roll all morning, I was still determined to boat the Class III section of the South Fork in a hard shell. The other option would be to hop in an inflatable kayak, which you don’t need a roll to paddle down the river. I.K.s don’t allow you nearly the same amount of control as a hard shell kayak that covers your legs, however, and I wanted to be able to practice the skills that I had worked on the day before. Also, I felt like I had something to prove. Not to any of the women out there that weekend, but to myself.
Melissa, who had been helping me work on my roll, seemed surprised when I told her my plan to boat the Gorge, the class III section that all skill levels were doing together that day in a variety of water crafts. She and my instructor for the weekend, the incredible Sara James, only gave me positive encouragement, however. The next thing I knew, I was following Sara’s expert moves that set me up perfectly through rapids with names like Bouncing Rock, Satan’s Cesspool, and Hospital Bar.
I was pushing my comfort zone, but I don’t think I have ever been more comfortable in my own skin.
“Our main objective is to build community, which is something that I really feel we have lost in our culture and society,” explains Melissa. She and co-founder Tracy Tate have created a welcoming and supportive environment that mirrors trends in women’s outdoor sports nationwide.
“I believe there is such strong interest in what we’re doing from women, not only in Northern California but across the country, because what we are offering extends beyond paddle sports,” she adds. “I feel women are attracted to the idea of being a part of a group where they feel supported and accepted. We have adopted a holistic approach by incorporating things such as yoga, Pilates and nutrition into our clinics which is appealing as well.”
Cali Collective’s 2 day event was a huge success, but the organization doesn’t plan on stopping with that. 2016 events include multi-day trips in Oregon and Idaho, surf kayaking clinics on the California Coast, and a 10 day whitewater trip in Chile—all women only.
“Being a new organization, we have the whole world ahead of us and the possibilities of what we can build and create is limitless,” Melissa continues. “I think the thing that I’m most excited about is that it’s already working—meaning women are connecting with other like-minded individuals, making new friends and learning in a non-competitive and friendly environment.”
As female athletes in high adrenaline sports, most of us are familiar with overcoming our fears in one way or another. It’s a great time to be a woman involved in outdoor adventure. Organizations like Cali Collective are popping up left and right, creating a unique culture of women who understand that fear can be a beautiful thing. Without fear and self-doubt, I wouldn’t realize my own awesome and empowering ability to overcome them.
The goal of California Women’s Watersport Collective is to help foster a community of women by using paddlesports as the medium. They provide clinics and trips in whitewater, lake and sea kayaking, standup paddleboard (SUP) and surfing, as well as community events such as yoga and nutrition. The founders, Melissa DeMarie and Tracy Tate, are both professional guides and instructors and have a combined 30+ years of experience in the outdoor industry and have travelled and worked around the world in such locations as New Zealand, Africa, Nepal, Costa Rica, Columbia, Chile and Norway. They offer many collaborative events with companies throughout California, Oregon, Idaho and Chile, which extends their reach considerably. Beginning in February 2016 they launched their “Collective Outreach Program” aimed to bring demographics of women to the outdoors who do not necessarily have access, be it due to physical or financial limitations. Their first Outreach project is with Images of Hope in El Dorado County, which is a non-profit dedicated to providing alternative therapies to cancer patients such as art, music and movement. CWWC is also involved with various kayak and surf festivals throughout the Northwest.
All Photos Courtesy of California Women’s Watersport Collective and Melissa DeMarie