Love what you do, inspire others to do what they love.
I was recently asked for my opinion around how we can encourage more women into the sport of Sea Kayaking. This has been a topic that has been circling my awareness for some time now and as a woman in sea kayaking, I feel it deserves some further investigation. It may be true that there are more men participating in sea kayaking than women; We see this represented at symposium, in coaching demographics and on the water. However, the question itself of how we might encourage more women into sea kayaking, might be missing the point.
If, for a moment, we set aside the polarizing aspects of gender and look at general participation in sea kayaking, perhaps we can see more deeply why more PEOPLE don’t get involved in our wonderful, albeit fringe, sport. If you are a sea kayaker, you can probably identify your motivations for sea kayaking – fitness, friendship, community, time in nature/outside, love of the water, personal challenge, to overcome fears….
The reasons that we participate in sea kayaking are varied and diverse, just like our community of paddlers. In the same breath, we need to acknowledge the various different styles of paddling that people participate in. From flat water touring in lakes and calm water; to long challenging expeditions circumnavigating continents; rough, adrenalin packed play around waves, surf and rivers; technical rolling skills with traditional blades; racing and glide at high speeds; and so much more…we all find a niche within the sport that suits our needs, hopefully.
This is the point… we are diverse community of paddlers, with a range of motivations for participation in the sport. So what then are the barriers that inhibit newcomers from joining? I can identify some obvious offenders like time, money, knowledge and fear, however I will highlight that these affect both men and women. (It could be argued that it is more challenging for a certain demographic to overcome these challenges, but I’d rather not go there right now.)
Ok, Kate, so what’s the solution here?
With such a mix of paddlers, motivations and challenges how can we build our community to create a stronger more inclusive and unified adventure sport?
We are all paddlers, regardless of what kind of waters we like to paddle — this needs to be a part of our dialogue. To be a paddler does not mean you must surf the biggest waves or roll in 200 different ways; it also doesn’t require that you paddle thousands of miles around countries…it might mean you paddle around your local lake. There is room for all kinds of paddlers in this community, we need to foster acceptance around this reality.
What this looks like in practice is clear communication around paddling events and excursions. In creating space for a discussion around individual expectations, goals and desires, participants can more accurately select a paddling partner or group that suits their needs. This way we don’t scare new paddlers in conditions over their heads and we can limit frustrations held by paddlers waiting at the front of the group, wanting to push harder. There is nothing more important in building a strong, healthy and vibrant community than clear communication and acceptance of diversity.
My call to action here is to build acceptance around all genres of paddling (from calm water paddles to rough water play), to support newcomers to the sport and cultivate clarity around expectations on our trips and events. There is room for a little bit of everything in this community, but it requires support from all angles. Love what you do, inspire others to do what they love.