Women Boaters Discussion Group - Page 2

Jenni Robinson Rowing in the Grand Canyon
Jenni Robinson Rowing in the Grand Canyon © Brian Chaffin

Jenni: I grew up golfing and I see a lot of similarities in what I experienced there to what happens in boating. On the golf course, I see that attitude of male domination constantly. It’s funny, when I go out and play with a group of guys, I always play from the men’s tees and not all the time, but often they will move to the tees farther back because they don’t want to hit where I hit. I don’t really care – I usually beat ‘em anyway! Laughter.

But I see that in rafting as well. I’ve seen guys that have gone through every hole on the river, just because they can. If I was in that boat, I’d be terrified. Maybe that’s just me, but I think women tend to be more safety-oriented and not as aggressive. That’s what I’ve seen in both sports.

Keli: I agree with what everyone has just said and it’s across the board, from boating to golf to just being a woman in this world. On certain things that are male-dominated, you have to prove yourself. On the other side, it’s all about education, experience and just talking about it with the people you surround yourself with.

It’s rare, but occasionally working at NRS you get the guy customer on the phone who doesn’t want to talk to you, he thinks you don’t have the answer that he needs. When the customer says “Can you sell me a cataraft package?” in that tone of “Do you know what you’re doing?” It’s been nice to jump right in and say “Yes, I cataraft myself and can work with you on a package that meets your needs.” Being able to talk them through it and convince them that a woman does have the knowledge and ability, that’s been rewarding, and hopefully they’ll think twice next time when talking to a woman.

Devon: In the men’s defense, I think what happens is men are generally stronger, so all their life they’ve been able to muscle through things. So, when they go to learn something they use their strength, then they learn it and can go back and they can develop finesse. It’s really blatant in teaching men and women to roll. Women have never had the strength, so you talk about finesse and tell them how to do it and they can generally roll right away. Then, so often, when I’m working with a man, he’s so used to using his strength that he’ll be killing the water with the paddle and he can’t get it. I just think that they’ve been taught throughout their life that doing it with strength is the way to go. But it really does show itself in many of the paddlesports where it’s about finesse. Guys are wondering, “How does she do that so easily?!” Whereas, we’ve never had the strength, so I think it’s in part just the difference in the male and female body.

Donna: My two cents’ worth: I think that, in general, women tend to learn to boat with our brains rather than with our muscle, since we generally don’t have the physical strength men have to start out with. I want to echo what’s been said about women being more critical of our mistakes and being more easily discouraged – maybe this is because we tend to be the minority in paddlesports as a rule, and so we feel more visible and that much more vulnerable. And there’s certainly a lot of academic research that suggests boys and girls just learn to play together differently, like people from slightly different cultures.

The women I know who are great whitewater rafters tend to have a very elegant, intelligent style of oarsmanship that emphasizes reading water, finding a good line and being safe, rather than flirting with the hazards and then muscling out of trouble. Many men boat this way as well. Bill, for example, is a really good teacher for women learning to row whitewater, because he always emphasizes safety, reading water and style rather than testosterone and risk-taking.

I’ve had some wonderful men encourage me as a rafter… Jerry Wegman encouraged me to start out with a small cataraft, and never doubted that I could do it. When I hesitated to run Blossom Bar Rapid on the Rogue the third time down the river on my own raft, George Gleason hopped on the back of my cat (with me still at the oars) and coached me through every move. (George is a retired wrestling coach; I now have a hint of what it must be like to be on an athletic team with a great coach – an experience most women never get.)

Pam:I lead a lot of women-only trips, where many of them have never been backpacking before, never been rock climbing before and are intimidated to go with guys. And when I learned to mountain climb and kayak, I was intimidated to go with guys also, to a point. But once you go on a trip with guys, they’re not so bad! A lot of the guys I boat or mountain climb with, I’d choose over some of the women I’ve been out with. A lot of it is just going out there and doing it.

e-News: What are things that can help break down this division, that we can all do to be welcoming of women into boating sports?

Erin: One of the things that I’ve observed with women in sports, that within the sexes, people are competitive with each other. Women are competitive with women and guys with guys. I see from the head movement around the table you look like you’ve experienced some stuff like that! laughter. So if anyone else has thoughts about women being competitive with each other, I think that would fit into this discussion.

e-News: Are you saying by bringing this up that it’s an issue?

Erin: I think it’s an issue.

e-News: So it’s an issue, is there a solution? What else can we say about it, is it something we need to talk about with people we boat with?

Erin: For me, I boat with guys. Just because the people I know who kayak are all men. Then when you see the one other girl, it’s like, lots of laughter and crosstalk I don’t know, it’s just like ‘Wow, there’s another girl out here kayaking.’ But I’ve had experiences where it wasn’t the most positive experience.

Devon: Erin, do you think everyone just has to make a conscious effort to encourage other women to come out and paddle and make it more welcoming because it is intimidating?

Erin: Yes. I’m new to kayaking – I’ve only been doing it for a year and a half – I have been more intimidated by women than by men kayaking. But I think everyone needs to encourage women to come out and paddle because it can be a really intimidating sport. Plus, encouragement is always motivating whenever you are learning something new.

Erin: Ashley, do you feel that way about kayaking?

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