CWWC: Mobilizing Women to Get Outdoors

Courtesy of California Women's Watersport Collective“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.

Cali-Collective-4As 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.

Cali-Collective-2I 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.

cali-collective-3About CWWC
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