Paddle Like a Girl


By Anna Wagner

photo 1I walked into a wine bar in Hood River, Oregon, a couple of nights ago with my Mom. We had just had a long day on the road, eaten a delicious dinner, and were looking for a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine and some live music. So, here we found just the place we were looking for, and strolled in.

As we stepped through the doors, I walked passed two guys that were around my age. They commented on the hat I was wearing; ‘nice hat,’ they both said. I was wearing a paddling-brand hat, they must have known that I was a kayaker, or by the way they were looking at me, they must have thought that my boyfriend was a kayaker. Or maybe they thought I didn’t know what the brand on my hat even meant. I stopped and said, ‘thanks, are you guys paddlers?’ We embarked on a little convo.

Hood River is an extreme sports mecca, and paddling heaven. It’s about a 15 minute drive from a number of put-ins. There are fantastic class III sections, and heart pumping, gut wrenching class V all in the same area. I had come here to test some kayaks, push my limits, and see new rivers. ‘What do you like to paddle?’ one of the guys asked me. Well, what a tough question. I started to wrack my brain for my favorite run. It’s hard to pick! I’ve spent time on the east coast running the Green River Narrows.. so many awesome runs in North Carolina. Cherry Creek is my backyard run in the summer… so many fun runs in California, when there’s water… The Zambezi is out of control epic, was just in Costa Rica and the Pacuare should definitely be on the list… ‘Well,’ he started to declare his opinion, ‘you should start on the Middle White. It’d be a great run for you. Class II-III, it’s probably just what you’re looking for.’ I  proceeded to giggle.. How could he make such a shortcoming conclusion? He didn’t even wait for me to answer.

I had two decisions at this point. I could have gotten defensive and taken his conclusion personally. Or, I could have paused, and thought, ‘Thanks for the suggestion. But, silly boy, I’ll see you on the water.’ This has happened to me before in different contexts, and I’m sure it will happen again. But, I know where my confidence comes from, and it certainly isn’t from the approval of guys that I don’t know and who don’t know me.

October through mid December of this year, some friends and I were in Zambia kayaking on the Zambezi. We spent every day paddling, just friends, playboating down a huge volume river. We were in tiny boats, paddling through house sized holes, over wave trains the size of moderate hills, and into whirlpools that would suck you into dark places. With every crashing wave that hit my boat, every paddle stroke, every surf, every flip and every roll, I felt like this place was exactly where I needed to be.

Before the Zambezi, I was trying to re-find my self confidence in kayaking. I felt like I was being second guessed by others, I was definitely second guessing myself, and every new creek we paddled I felt like I was barely making it down. There was something about the place and the people that I was with on the Zam that helped me find the truth in myself. Day after day on the Zam, we would try new lines, get blown up by exploding features, and role up at the bottom of the rapid laughing. We would spend endless hours surfing giant waves and attempting new tricks. All of us would land on our faces, carp roles, get stuck on crazy eddy lines, completely botch rapids, but then come up at the end of the rapid grinning, ear to ear.

The Zambezi reminded me that kayaking is the best sport, art form, love language and way of life… ever. Between the role carping, crazy eddy lines, exploding features, and water up the nose, I experienced laughter, real friendship, and the humbling, healing power of water…a couple of good lines here and there, and one or two landed tricks ;). Before the Zambezi, I had been struggling with finding my role as a girl on the water. And through my time on the Zam, I see that a girl on the water is what I need to be. I love kayaking, and I also love giggling. I especially love giggling while kayaking. I found that I bring something to the water that no one else does- and that is irreplaceable.

Just like the stark power of the Zambezi canyon, this message undeniably hit me and stands to be a truth in every aspect of my life. Whether twenty-two, forty, or thirteen; whether standing in front of a monstrous rapid, walking into a business meeting, or boarding an airplane to a foreign country, remember that you bring something to the table that no one else does; you are amazing and irreplaceable.