EP #23 Abby Holcombe on facing fear and staying true to yourself

Abby Holcombe, a world champion kayaker who started paddling while traveling the world with her parents in their Winnebago van, shares her strategies for overcoming fear and building confidence while pushing her limits.

Abby tells the story of running the Grand Canyon at the age of 12, and how that trip taught her the value of breaking challenges into smaller pieces, and honoring her feelings, including what she calls cry-yaking. 

Abby and Anna talk about the changing culture of whitewater paddling, the impact of social media on women in kayaking and what type of support is missing for empowering up-and-coming girls in the sport.

If you’re looking for a reframing of your fear, this conversation touches on the importance of knowing the difference between irrational and rational fear, and the power of knowing when to push yourself to go versus take your time.

You don’t want to miss this conversation packed with insights and inspiration!

About Abby

Abby Holcombe is a 19 year old World Champion kayaker, 4x USA National Champion, 3x USA Team Member, and content creator. She has lived in a Winnebago traveling the world and chasing whitewater since 2014 with her parents. In 2023, Abby moved into her very own van and has been traveling across the country chasing rivers ever since. Abby enjoys all aspects of kayaking, but spends most of her time in a freestyle kayak with the focus of pushing her freestyle to the next level, with the dream of paddling at the same level as the men one day.

How to connect with Abby

IG: @adventurous.miss

Tik Tok: @adventurous.miss

FB: https://www.facebook.com/AdventurousMissAbby

Anna
My guest today, Abby Holcomb, is a 19 -year -old world champion kayaker, four -time USA national champion, three -time USA team member, and content creator. She has lived in Winnebago, traveling the world and chasing whitewater since 2014 with her parents. In 2023, Abby moved into her very own van and has been traveling across the country chasing rivers ever since. Abby enjoys all aspects of kayaking but spends most of her time in a freestyle kayak with the focus of pushing her freestyle to the next level with the dream of paddling at the same level as the men one day. Welcome Abby, I’m so excited to have you here with me. Thanks for taking the time.

Abby
Thank you so much for having me, this is awesome.

Anna
So I like to jump right in to the discomfort zone by asking the question, when I say discomfort zone, what do you think about? What comes to mind for you?

Abby
I think of that kind of precipice moment where you’re faced with a challenge and you have the choice to whether you have the choice to push past the discomfort, whether that’s fear, anxiety, physical, you know, discomfort and achieve, you know, your potential or stay where you are.

Anna
Mm. I love that. So what I heard you say is that your discomfort zone for you is an opportunity to achieve your potential or kind of stay where you are. So can you say more about what it takes when you’re faced with your discomfort zone, what it takes for you to achieve your potential?

Abby
Yeah. So one of my really good friends when I was little, kind of explained fear as like a rational fear or rational fear. And anytime I’m faced with a challenge or an obstacle, I always go back to that and I break it down. So for a rapid, you know, I might start with the bottom of the rapid and work my way all the way to the top. If it’s a big work project or a big road trip or whatever the challenge might be, I break it down into little pieces. And with every piece, I’m like, is it rational to be scared of this or to be intimidated by this. And I kind of go from there. And most of the time, what I find is all of my fears are mostly irrational. As in I have the skills and the support to overcome them. And so, yeah, I kind of just look at it as irrational or irrational and just go from there.

Anna
And so for you, what would irrational fear look like?

Abby
I think irrational fear, especially in the kayaking world, would be looking at something like a rapid and having the skills to do it. I’m a kayaker that’s often described as someone who has skills way beyond their confidence. And so when I’m scared of a rapid, most of the time it’s super irrational because I have the fears to, or I have the skills to avoid the danger or whatever it is. I just have my fear holding me back. And obviously like, the danger is real, but when you have the skills to go around it or to avoid it or whatever, then it kind of becomes irrational and just your fear is just holding you back from your full potential.

Anna
Yeah, I hear you. I can really relate to that, because I feel I’ve also been described as that type of kayaker. And I have strategies for… Well, I think that at some point I, for myself, got really clear on what’s important, what’s really important to me, and that really helped me out. And it can be frustrating.

I don’t know if you find it frustrating, but I find it frustrating when that fear keeps coming up. And I have to remind myself, and I actually ask myself, do you trust yourself? If I’m at the top of a rapid that makes me nervous that I know I’ve run like a hundred times. And when I answer myself, it helps me out. It helps me, I guess, build trust with myself or it helps to remind me like, yeah, you’ve got this.

Abby
Yeah.

Totally.

I’ve never thought of it that way, but I really liked that. I’ll use that from here on out.

Anna
We’ll try it on and see if it resonates for you. There is something else, and again, this can all be edited out, but there was something else you said that I wanted to… Oh, I know what I was gonna say. I know following your social media recently that I’ve seen that you have taken on a lot of creaking, so a lot of class four or five boating in the area here in Western North Carolina.

Abby
Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
And I know as you’ve just described to us that you, you know, that fear comes up for you and that sometimes you struggle with your confidence, that these are my words, a paraphrasing what you said. And so what has driven you? I mean, you’ve really been after it from what I can see, paddling lots of new rivers, challenging yourself on class four or five. What was the impetus for that? Like what…

What is motivating you to do that?

Abby
Honestly, I’ve just been doing freestyle for so long that it’s been really nice to kind of have a different side of the sport. You know, I’ve done rivers, I’ve run rivers for a long time, but in the last probably five years, I haven’t really done much river running or creeping or anything like that. I’ve been strictly focused on freestyle. So it’s just been really nice to have another side of the sport that’s not as competitive, not as focused, not as serious. Obviously it’s serious with dangers and stuff like that, but just a totally different feeling and I’ve been really enjoying that. It started not with like the goal of running the hardest things or running class five or anything like that. I just wanted to get on new rivers and just get more confident paddling down rivers. And so I started small. I was paddling with Clay and Clay Wright in Tennessee this winter and we started on some class four creeks and then I came to North Carolina and I’ve kind of just slowly stepped it up. I’m not, my goal is not to run the hardest stuff. I don’t really ever want to push the limits in creeping. Maybe I’ll change my mind one day, but for now it’s just been really fun to push myself as a paddler and do something new and different.

Anna
Yeah, I love that. And it sounds like you’re getting a lot of joy out of it. I mean, when you’re talking about it, it sounds like you’re really jazzed about what you’ve been up to.

Abby
Yeah, it’s been really fun. It’s been a good balance of like some freestyle this winter and training and then all these new rivers. I think I’m at 16 new rivers this year, which is pretty exciting. So I’m hoping we’ll see how far, how many I can do this year, but it’s been really fun.

Anna
That’s great. What I love about what you’re saying is that, and I think this is important for our listeners, if you paddle or if you don’t paddle, whatever, most folks who are listening have a love for the outdoors, some outdoor activities. You are a high level paddler. You were junior world champion. You’re on the US freestyle team. It’s interesting because on the one hand…

What I hear you say is you struggle with your confidence when terms of facing fear may be on the river at the same time what I also hear you saying is that you have the confidence to set your own goals and To set your own fun, which I think is so important. So so yes, you’re pushing your limits in freestyle and I at least for me when I was competing at the level you’re competing at

I felt pressured to like be good at everything. I felt pressure to be a great competitor, like always be good when people were watching me and be a great creeker. And I think that I took that on too much. So it’s really great to hear you say, well, my goal is because it would be easy for you to fall into that of, oh, you’re, uh, you know, you’re a high level boater, sponsored all of the things. Maybe I do need to chase class five.

And I just think it’s awesome that you can be like, oh, my goal is actually to paddle as many different rivers as I can and have a lot of fun doing it. I just think that’s great. Is there that type of pressure right now in kind of the high level circles or do you experience that or is that something that’s not really there anymore? Or maybe I just projected it.

Abby
There’s definitely still pressures. I think that’s why I’ve been enjoying creaking so much is because I don’t have as much pressure. But last year I didn’t do any creaking. I got my first lap down the Cascades and I had so much fun and I thought it was awesome. And I was like, I’m going to run OBJ. And I hiked my boat in and I realized that it was way over my head. Not so much my abilities, but definitely way over my confidence and I hiked back down and that was a really hard moment. And it’s when I realized that with creaking, like obviously OBJ spelled my list and the river I want to run, but I really need to put in the work to be confident on these rivers. I don’t want to just get down them. I want to have fun because there’s been a lot of times I call it cry -yacking where I cry my way down a river. And I’ve done a lot of that in my life where I…

forget that I’m not, you know, I spent all this time in freestyle, but I forget that I don’t put that same time into river running and creeking. And so at that moment at OBJ was whenever I really decided that if I want to do stuff like this, I need to put in more time so that I can like confidently get down these rivers and enjoy it and have fun with it. And that was kind of like my whole intentions with this year is, you know, starting with the easier creeks and working my way up. Like the green has been on my list forever. And so I made sure I paddled enough rivers to set me up for success so that I had a good first lap and not a traumatic, cry -acting one. And yeah, you know, there’s been so many times where I could have just gone and run the green, but I’m so grateful that I did it the way I did because I had a really good first experience and I think I’ve done four or five laps now and it’s like one of my new favorite rivers.

Anna
Yeah. Just for our listeners, OBJ is OB Joyful. It’s a Class 5 Creek steep in Colorado outside of Crested Butte. Am I saying that? Yeah. Had a blank there for a second. So, okay, a couple of things that I love what you just shared about OB Joyful. Well, one, can I just say, when I, you probably don’t know this, but I put out a DVD in, like 2004 called Girls at Play and it was an instructional DVD for women. At the time it was like what my process was for putting out the, you know, what women were telling me was their experience and it felt like a collective experience of not being able to show up with as our full selves. In that video, there is a, I had a section that was titled It’s Okay to Cry on the River. And at the time that it came out, I got so much pushback like so much pushback, people were mad. I mean, some people of course related to that. My point was that crying is like water, it’s just water coming out of your eyes. It could be due to frustration. It has nothing to do with your skill level as a kayaker. It is an emotional process. And yeah, I got so much pushback and a lot of haters on that one. So I love that you feel comfortable and confident enough that you can just talk about cry -acking. And it’s just like funny because it, I mean, it is funny. It is something that as humans, we all like experience emotion. I just got fired up, Abby, because like I’m grateful that it’s changed so much, right? In the last, that was 20 years ago now.

Abby
Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
But yeah, so yay for more emotional intelligence in the whitewater and outdoors world.

Abby
Yeah, I know. That’s really awesome.

Anna
Yeah. And thank you for being vulnerable with your post. Well, I remember you posted about OB Joyful. And I think that it is really important for folks who are at a high level in the sport to not only post the highlight reels, but post the hard stuff and the stuff that gets really real. And I think it was a really smart choice because I remember…

I also did some cry -yacking, obviously, in my days, and it is way more fun when you feel prepared. I was also actually, I was a really good freestyle boater when I am competing, and then I, back in those days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, everyone would creak in between.

There’s like a competition every weekend and I was a really good freestyle boater. I didn’t have the experience that some of these other folks had creaking. So I got on stuff over my head. And I think that actually contributed a little bit to my feeling of lack of confidence or feeling out of control because I didn’t have like what you’re saying, the hard moves in easy water. So yeah.

Anna
It’s awesome. And I’m grateful that you’re promoting that and encouraging others to do that as well.

Abby
Yeah, absolutely. I know. I wish there was, that’s been like one of my big missions recently is whenever I like, I’m deciding whether or not I want to run a new river, I always watch the YouTube videos and I feel like all the videos are of men and like, I don’t know. So I’ve been trying to film all my rivers that I’ve been running and, um, and I just show some female representation from someone who’s not just like a, a lead Creek boater. You know, obviously I’ve been kayaking my whole life. So I do have the skills to run the rivers, but I think it’s, I’m, I consider myself more of like a normal.

River runner and so I’m kind of my new mission is to show the normal side of the sport.

Anna
That’s great. That’s so great. Yeah. And I love that you’re doing it with confidence. It’s awesome. So yeah, do you, what if, obviously you keep going back to your discomfort zone and you’ve mentioned that that is one of, or what I heard you say is one of the reasons is because it helps you to you know, achieve your potential. So I’m assuming that’s why you like to go into your discomfort zone over and over. Is there, am I missing something? Is there anything else that you love about going into your discomfort zone?

Abby
Thank you. I hate it in the moment. I would describe it as type two fun, but I think it just so, I love challenging myself. I love putting myself in situations where I can come out a better person and whether that’s as an athlete, just a human being, a traveler, whatever that might be. I think it’s so important to push yourself and continue to learn and grow. Cause there’s so much to learn. And yeah, I just want to keep going and keep pushing myself in all aspects of life.

Anna
Yeah.

What have you learned about yourself from putting yourself in that discomfort zone over and over?

Abby
Yeah. I’ve learned that I’m really determined. I’m really stubborn. And I like the challenge. I like, you know, with every hurdle, you just learn so much. I really like learning more and more about myself. That’s like one of my favorite things is how I cope with things and how certain things make me feel. I think that’s all really interesting. And I love, I think that’s why I like the discomfort zone so much is with every hurdle you learn so much about yourself. So then the next hurdle is a little bit easier and a little bit easier. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Anna
Yeah. When could, do you have an early memory? Because I know you, as you in your, as we said in your bio, you’ve been traveling around in a Winnebago van forever. Uh, and, uh, with your parents, do you have an early memory of stepping into your discomfort zone that you’d share with us?

Abby
Yeah, so there are a lot. The first one that I really stands out as something I like was in that discomfort zone, but decided to push past it was on the Grand Canyon in 2017 when I was 13 years old, or no, I think I was 12. When I was 12 years old, my parents got a Grand Canyon permit. And my whole life, they’ve been talking about how they want to go on the grand and how it’s this once in a lifetime opportunity. They’d been applying for permits for over 10 years.

And they finally got the opportunity to go. And, you know, they came, they asked me if I wanted to go. And at first there was like, there’s no way, like I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t go. And that turned into, okay, I can go. And then slowly over time in my head that game, I want to paddle the whole thing. And, um, I, you know, I did other things to prepare myself for that. I paddled in Columbus, Georgia and the high volume river on the Chattahoochee. I did the Main Salmon. And so by the time I got to the Grand, I knew I had the skills to do it. And.

I really wanted to paddle the whole thing just to prove to myself that I could, because I’d grown up my whole life hearing that it was this big river with big rapids. And I just kind of want to prove to myself that I could paddle the whole thing. And, and it’s like 280 miles long. So it was like the endurance aspect of that over, um, I think we did 25 days camping. Like it’s just a big expedition, especially the 12 year olds. And, um, all the beginning rapids were super easy. You could go around all the biggest waves and the biggest holes.

And I got this false confidence that it would be like super easy. And we got to Granite and we got to Lava, which are like, in my opinion, the two biggest rapids on the river. And for both of them, there was no easy line and you had to punch through the biggest waves and you had to go through the biggest holes. And it really put me in that discomfort zone of do I really want to run the whole Grand Canyon or Is it too much this time? And so I would sit there on the shore of the river and I broke down every little piece of each rapid, starting with the bottom and I worked my way up to the top and the whole time was, was this rational or irrational and do I have the skills to do it? And every time the answer was, this is irrational and I definitely have the skills to do this. I have a really solid roll.

And so I just had to sit there and wait. I think when we were at Lava, I sat there for three hours, just sitting there crying, trying to figure out if it was something I wanted. And my parents just like, they left me alone. They knew I could do it if I wanted to. So they kind of just let me sit in my feelings for all three hours. Ultimately I was like, man, like my parents have waited 10 years to get here. Like, I don’t know when I’ll get to come back. So this could be my one opportunity to like prove to myself that I’m a good enough kayaker to run this.

Anna
Oh my god.

Yeah.

Abby
And the only thing that’s holding me back is this irrational fear that I can’t do it when I know that I can and I know the skills do. And so I remember going up to my dad and saying, okay, I think I want to run it. Um, we lead me down and he knew I had the skills. So he said, yes. And I remember getting in the top of lava specifically. I got on my boat and he’s like, are you ready? And I was like, ready as I’ll ever be. And we paddled through and it was fine. You know, nothing bad happened to me. I had the skills to do it.

I think I might’ve run it backwards at one point, but you know, everything was fine. And I think in that moment I learned, you know, you don’t have to like jump into all of your like biggest challenges, like just immediately. You can take the time to think about it and analyze it. But if it’s something really important to you and you have the skills to do it, don’t let fear get in the way. And so that was like really life -changing, especially as a 12 year old. And I think ever since then, that’s like really changed how I look at my fears and all the challenges of life.

Anna
Yeah, that’s an awesome story. That’s amazing to do at 12 too. What a confidence builder. I have to say, it sounds like having your parents be super supportive has been really key in your journey.

Abby
Yeah, absolutely.

Anna
I am. So the other thing that has changed a lot hearing you say this is that, um, no joke, there were, uh, there’s a friend of mine. Again, this is back in the nineties paddling who was told that if you look at a rapid and you can’t decide within five seconds to run it or not, then you shouldn’t run it. And I bring, I bring this up, Abby, not cause I, oh, I like,

Cause I want to go back to, obviously I don’t want to go back to the nineties. I bring it up because I in talking with you, it’s so awesome because what that story illustrates. And of course there’s right. If you’re paddling a creek in the winter, you can’t sit at a rapid for three hours. Right. So we all get that and you get that. We all get that. And the point is, is that there was time and your parents were supporting you.

And it took you that long. And then you came to the conclusion with a powerful choice for yourself. And I think that that’s also important in outdoor sports. Again, I recognize that there’s safety and risk management concerns with time. Okay. So don’t want anyone commenting about like that. I think that it’s okay to wait three hours all the time. The point is, is to give people maybe even more time and space than you think is necessary to help people. And I do this as an instructor. So this is part of a role as an instructor and coach on the water and off the water is to create that space where people feel safe enough to make powerful choices. Right? Does it, I mean, I’m human, so we all…you know, nothing’s perfect, but I think that that’s really important.

Abby
Yeah, absolutely.

Anna
I don’t know if you’ve, like, do you feel outside of your parents, do you feel like your paddling crews are giving time and space for that kind of reflection, for that kind of strategy, really, and thoughtfulness?

Abby
I think it depends. I think sometimes it’s good to have the time and space to think. And then sometimes you just get way in your head. For my first Green lap, actually, the crew I was with, they noticed that I was a little nervous putting on. And so they’re like, we’re not going to really overthink it too much. And we went, and I think from the time I put on my dry suit to the time we took off, it was like an hour and 20 minutes for my first Green lap. And not having the time to overthink it was actually really good for me in that instance.

But I think as long, like being with people that you trust that know you well enough to know whether you need time to think and regroup or if you just need to go, I think is really important.

Anna
Yeah. My husband laughs at me because when we’re on the Green or a river that I know pretty well, especially the green, I go pretty fast. Not like super, not like race, race training fast, but I actually really don’t like to get out and scout. Um, some of the rapids or if I’m taking someone down, it actually makes me more nervous to like spend too much time out there. So I totally hear what you’re saying. And he laughs cause he’s, he’s like, Oh, you’re always about like, give time and space, but then when it comes to certain things, you’re like going. And I think it just points to that we’re human and we’re complex. Like there’s times, yeah, there’s no right or wrong for that we can, there’s no right or wrong. So like, for instance, you can’t tell someone you need to decide in five seconds. It’s like, who is it? Where are you? How much time do you have?

Abby
Yeah.

Anna
Are you getting in your head or not? Like there’s so many factors. So I loved just this little conversation we’re having, because I think it’s cool.

Abby
Absolutely.

Abby
Yeah, me too.

Anna
So what are your go -to strategies and techniques for working through discomfort, Abby, when you’re on the water or off the water?

Abby
I think my main strategy is just breaking it down into little chunks, you know, whenever it’s one big thing, it’s really overwhelming. And so I think if you can break it into little pieces, whether that’s like a rapid starting from bottom to top or a big work project or whatever that might be, just breaking it into little pieces until it’s attainable or achievable.

Anna
Yeah, it sounds like you like to be prepared as well. Like you were saying, you’d like to watch the YouTube videos to get a sense also of different rapids. So I hear that there’s a there’s that you like to prepare and have some information, some knowledge behind it.

Abby
Definitely. Yeah. I think as a kid, there were so many times, like, you know, I was a little kid, I didn’t really pay attention or know what worked best for me or not. And there were so many times where I’d get led down rivers that I had no idea what to expect. And in my head, it was like a class three river, and then it’d be way harder than that. And that was like a lot of my cry -yacking as a kid. And so now I realize that researching the rivers does a lot for me and, you know, knowing what the hardest rapid is and…

knowing if you can walk it or scout it or kind of what that expectation is. The other day we went and did the Lower Meadow in West Virginia. And that was one of those rivers that for some reason in my head, I just never thought I’d run it. I’ve heard about like all the undercuts, the sieves, like all the dangers of that river. And it was just never something that I imagined myself running with how much beer I have. And so once I realized it was attainable, I reached out to some friends, you know, my paddling level and they thought it was achievable. And then I watched videos and you know, went on American Whitewater and pictures and once I broke it down and realized that it was achievable and that the crew I was with was willing to scout or walk rapids if I got nervous, that was pretty epic. So I think it’s all just about like knowing who you are as a person. You know, some people, like my mom, for example, she can never look at like American Whitewater because the descriptions are like too scary and it makes you even more nervous. So it just kind of depends on if you…
do better knowing what to expect or if it’s better to just like take it one rapid or one thing at a time.

Anna
Yeah, yeah. What do you look for in your paddling crew? Like what qualities do you look for in folks that you like to paddle with?

Abby
Yeah, I think the big thing is like knowing who I am and like what my ability level is. Making sure they have really good safety skills is really important to me. And then also just like people that are fun and I match well with, you know, like I really like people who are knowledgeable but don’t tell too much information and are confident and just like a fun crew. I think that’s really important.

Anna
What’s the biggest misconception that people have about kayaking, about whitewater kayaking?

Abby
I think for me, one of my biggest misconceptions, especially when it comes to creek boating, is that you have to be the best and you have to be pushing it and going to that next level. And I think sometimes it’s okay to realize that with extreme sports, you can, you don’t have to be at the extreme level of extreme sports. You can still enjoy being on the river, being outside with your friends and you know, whether that’s pushing yourself or pushing a sport or just, you know, taking it easy. I think there’s so many ways to love and to take part in extreme sports and you just kind of have to find where that happy place is for you.

Anna
Yeah, that’s awesome. And if you were to give advice on how to find that happy place for folks, because we talk about that a lot, like, oh, this is my happy place. And folks know themselves, and most folks have a happy place. I get that. I guess my question is, how do you find your happy place in the discomfort zone?

Abby
I think it’s being with people I trust to, you know, whether that’s crying on the river or getting my feelings out or people that I know have my back and something bad happens. And I also think it just knowing, trusting myself, knowing myself. And yeah, I think you just have to get focused and you can you can tell like, for instance, on OBJ.

I knew I was nervous, but there was that different feeling to the nerves where I just, it didn’t feel good. It wasn’t a good experience. I was stressed and overwhelmed and it just kept getting worse and worse. Whereas other times, like for instance, my first green lap, I was nervous, but I was focused and I was excited and I was having fun. And I think it really just comes down to your crew and who you’re with and if you trust them and if, you know, they’re supportive and fun. I think that changes everything.

Anna
Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, do you have any questions for me?

Abby
I have so many questions. First is when do we get a paddle next? But I know I feel like we could go on and on about Koby Wolf beer and all of that. I think it’s so interesting.

Anna
I know, I know.

Anna
You don’t have to pick one or you can.

Abby
Yeah, I don’t know. I think I would, I’m really interested in how much freestyles change, especially like as a female athlete, like you mentioned before, how it wasn’t very accepting maybe to cry or to take your time. What do you think? How do you think, why do you think that’s changed? What do you think’s made the difference?

Anna
I think that…

Well, I do think, I’m gonna humbly say this, I do think that the videos and the Girls at Play Summer Tour and the, know, putting it out there helps and has helped. It helped, you know, I was fine with taking like the haters or whatever and I’ve always been…
it’s important to me to do what I feel is going to make an impact. And so I think that’s one thing. And it wasn’t just me, like I might’ve been one person and then there are other folks who have, I don’t know, spoken up. I think the culture has changed. Like Brené Brown wasn’t around in the nineties and you know, these folks talking about vulnerability. And I think that there are a lot more…

I guess, yeah, in popular culture, a lot more folks talking about the power of vulnerability and courage and how there’s no, there’s no courage without vulnerability. Because when I started, like, it was bad to show vulnerability. And, and the only time people really talked about it, at least in my experience was, um,

in small groups and it was typically women like away and not out in the open. So I think that more and more people finding their voice has helped and more women. And I do feel like women have helped this. I mean, I don’t, I always, it’s hard to only say that it’s a gender thing because it is a human thing. Men, women, all genders experience vulnerability.

I think being okay with vulnerability and recognizing that it’s actually a strength that helps you get through the discomfort zone, I think that has been a big shift in the culture of thinking. So I think there’s that and.

I also see one big thing that’s changed in freestyle that I love is that there are coaches and people are getting coaching. And when I was back in the day there, you know, people were getting coached by boyfriends, girlfriends, and that was really hard. And in the episode that I recorded with my husband, Andrew, we talked about that, how I wanted him to be my coach, but he didn’t want to be, and fair enough. And, you know, that added a whole layer. And I think that…

Like having a US freestyle team coach, for instance, is huge. And it also is helpful for leveling the playing field so that it’s not, it isn’t just folks who have parents or support systems that are into the sport that can, that can achieve great things. It’s, you know, folks who don’t have that, but there’s, there are coaches out there that are, that are there to help and coach everyone. Um.

Abby
Yeah, totally.

Anna
Yeah. And I think that.

Yeah. I would still like to see more and more upcoming girls and women in the sport. I think that, yeah. So that’s something I’m not sure. When I was competing, there was a depth of field, for instance, in the US, like at team trials, there was, and we may or may not, we may cut this out, but anyways, there’s like a depth of field of like 30 women competing at team trials and that’s not there anymore. And I think freestyle is amazing. I think it’s high fun, low consequence. And someone was mentioning at Worlds that they wanted to make, like for instance, the Space Godzilla easier to score for junior women. And I don’t think that that’s a good idea at all.

And it’s kind of sad that people are thinking in that way. Like why not, why not create, cause it’s easier to do that than it is to invest in development camps for junior women, right? To get them up to speed because it’s not that junior women can’t do those things, but it takes resources and coaching and time on the water to be able to develop. And so yeah, it’s tough because kayaking is a really small sport. I feel like I just went off on a tangent, but there, those are my thoughts on, on, you know, some things.

Abby
Yeah, no, it’s really hard. I struggled with that with the US scoring, you know, like we have different scoring in the US that’s like softer and easier than what you would have at Worlds. And I think, you know, obviously the Americans have come up with most of the tricks. And so I get like why we want them, why the Americans want them to score in a certain way. And then I think from there, like the Europeans have taken it to the next level and you know, they’re so tidy with their tricks and I am coached by a British coach, Dennis Newton. He’s like amazing. I call him my super coach. So I’m kind of like in between the two, but I watched our juniors and I experienced it myself where we have this easier scoring and then you go to worlds and you’re like heartbroken that your tricks don’t count. And, you know, I don’t know what the right way to do the tricks. I don’t know if the European way or the American way is better. You know, there’s different ways. I see the good in both, but ultimately I think having the two different systems is really unfair to the juniors, especially like the American juniors. And I wish that it was more unified so that it wasn’t as controversial, I guess. I don’t know. Yeah, that was definitely really hard as a kid, though.

Anna
Yeah.

Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, I think that thinking about how to develop, not just develop, but encourage youth, more youth in, and that’s not really what I work on in terms of like where my happy place is in the industry is definitely working, doing this kind of thing, like podcasts and coaching and mostly for adults. And I do definitely see and support the importance of, of, younger folks in the sport. So yeah.

Abby
Yeah, that was something I’ve always thought of like as a girl. I don’t know why because there obviously were women that were throwing the really hard tricks, but I think a lot of women don’t do media, which is totally understandable and awesome. But as a young girl, I never saw the other women doing the hard tricks. I just it was never something that I thought I would be able to do. I actually like remember one session vividly where I was paddling with Tom Dole and he was doing all these combos and I was so sad because I’m like, man, that looks like so much fun, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to do that. And it was just cause I’d never seen women do that before. And you know, maybe that was because I don’t watch enough videos or I didn’t know who to look for, but it made me really sad. So I think it’s really cool now that we’re in the Instagram era where a lot of women are posting these combos and tricks like on the Instagram reels or on TikTok. And I think the next generation has such an advantage because they get to see like, Ottilee, for example, she has like all of her combos and amazing tricks. And I’m really sad that she’s like the same age as me pretty much. And that I didn’t get to like grow up watching her as like inspiration. Yeah, the new generation is super lucky for that. Yeah.

Anna
Right. And now you can be the inspiration for the new generation. And I love, so I’ll just go off on this tangent a little bit since you brought it up. You know, I think the other thing to your point of like women maybe don’t do as much media.

And I don’t like to generalize because I, yeah. From my own experience, like the GoPro was awesome because then I could just start making my own media and filming my own stuff. Before that, it was so hard. Like when I was coming up in kayaking, you had to know people and they had to be good photographers because the magazines would only take certain types of photos. And you had to, like, it was only a select few. You had to know the right people and the editors and the…

And I think to some extent it’s still like that for the magazines, but it doesn’t matter so much because they’re no longer like super gatekeepers like they used to be. They are still and people, like you said, you can have like, cause you mean you have a huge Instagram or TikTok account, right? And you can make, create your own media. And there was such, there’s such freedom in that and confidence. And I’m really stoked about that because then it’s not just a bro scene, you know, like that’s how it felt like to me coming up and, you know, bro scene with lots of gatekeepers for media. And so that is one advantage now. And I think that, like you said, you know how you said, oh, I’m, I’m so what’s key is what you just said, because you are the change. You said, I don’t see a lot of women running these rapids or videos of women running these rapids. So I’m going to start doing it. And I think more women need and it’s important for you and other women to do that. And I think that sometimes in the past, so for instance, if I’ve posted stuff like where I’ve messed up on the river, and I think it’s funny, like a splat postage due that I messed up, and then in the comments, all these guys are then coaching me or telling me like what I did wrong and how I should do better, how I could do better when I already know.

And I’m like a better paddler than a lot of those guys. And so I think sometimes it’s also been hard for women because it’s a lose -lose. You try and post something and then you get, I’m gonna get in trouble for this podcast episode, I’m sure, but then you get mansplained for it. And so that also has been a barrier for women. I feel like posting their own media.

Thank you for listening to my Ted talk on that. But do you feel that or is that, am I totally off base there?

Abby
Yeah. Anytime.

I think that’s definitely something that I’ve seen happen to other people and I think that was more the generation before me. From my personal experience, like with my YouTube videos, I’ve been creating. Everyone’s been really kind to me, really supportive men and women. And I think everyone just stoked to see me in a Creek boat finally, because it’s something I’ve been putting off for so many years. And I think everyone’s just been really happy that I’m enjoying it all of that. And I think there’s some women, you know, everyone, every person has their own strengths and mine happens to be that I really love media and creating content and all of that. And I totally recognize that not all women enjoy that. So I feel really fortunate that it’s something I enjoy and that I’m like, and I spent a lot of time on. And so, yeah, I think everyone has their own weaknesses and strengths and

You know, if you like doing media, I highly encourage all the women to get a GoPro or a camera or whatever, use their phone, whatever they have to create content. And I think as far as like haters and stuff go, like obviously I’ve got to push back, but it’s not, I’ve never really felt like it’s because I’m a woman. And I feel like most of the time the people that have been the meanest to me are the other women that I’m like competing against and stuff like that. And so it’s not so much like a female or male thing. It’s just, um, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going with that. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, no, I hear you and I want everyone to know that I’m, I know I talk in that and probably that’s because of my generation and how my own personal lived experience and I get it, it’s a human thing and I keep saying that, that’s what I’ve come to learn. So when you talk about haters, what do you, like, how do you deal with that? Like, or not deal with it, how do you, yeah in the face of haters or doubters or whatever you want to say, what is your strategy for not giving away your power?

Abby
Yeah, I think that’s something I’m still working with. As a kid, I was super confident. And then the last few years, I’ve like struggled with it more. I’ve gotten, you know, I won worlds and I had a lot of success on my Instagram and people got really critical of me and it was really hard. And I think that’s part of the reason why I’m like creeping so much now is just kind of doing something different and new and there’s not as much criticism with it. But what I’ve learned is that, the people who matter don’t care and the people who care don’t matter. And that’s kind of been like my new mantra recently that’s helped me a lot with dealing with all the criticism and all that. It’s not really that much criticism. I have a lot of like support and amazing people that have been in my corner, but just navigating some of the hate or pushback has been hard, but that was like the main quote that’s like really helped me get back to like being confident and doing my own thing.

Anna
Yeah, awesome. I love that quote. So I’ve got some rapid fire questions for you.

Abby
Yeah, me too.

Oh man.

Anna
What is a morning ritual that sets you up for success?

Abby
I think making sure I have a good breakfast. I used to not be a breakfast eater and I’ve gotten, I’ve been prioritizing making sure I get enough calories and stuff in the morning and that really helps set me up for success.

Anna
Nice. What’s your favorite breakfast? Do you have one? Favorite breakfast meal?

Abby
Recently, I’ve been big on protein, chia pudding. That’s been my favorite breakfast, yeah. Yeah.

Anna
Yes, awesome. What’s a non -negotiable self -care practice?

Abby
Um, my vitamins, I’m really big on vitamins and supplements.

Anna
What’s a favorite motivational book or talk?

Abby
I recently read Atomic Habits and You Are a Badass and I like both of those.

Anna
Awesome, both great. What do people get wrong about you?

Abby
I think that I’m not a Creek boater. Keep it easy.

Anna
Nice. Throughout the course of your life, have you felt like the underdog or the favored to win?

Abby
I think it depends on the situation. I kind of think I’m in the middle.

Anna
Hard moves in easy water or flooding?

Abby
What is flooding? What would you call? What do you mean by that?

Anna
Flooding is like when you like jump right in. Like there’s no, not a lot of like building. It’s just like full on like, you know, it’d be the difference between breaking down a rapid and then like just running the whole thing. Like high water, go for it.

Abby
Yeah, definitely not me. I’m not a flooder. I’m definitely the hard moves in easy water.

Anna
Nice. One word that describes your comfort zone.

Abby
Um,

playful.

Anna
Cool. Freedom through discipline or I do what I want.

Abby
little bit of both. I have like the British coach, like as far as kayaking goes, I have Dennis Newton as my coach and I kind of practice a lot of the European like structured training. But then I also grew up in America with a lot of like amazing role models. So I’m kind of in between the two and I think I’m like that in all aspects of life too.

Anna
In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Abby
inspirational.

Anna
Cool. Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners?

Abby
Thank you so much for watching and listening.

Anna
Yes. Awesome. And where can people connect with you, Abby?

Abby
Yeah, so I am on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, all the platforms at adventurous .miss.

Anna
adventurous.miss it and I’ll put that in the show notes. So they’ll be there for folks to look up. And thank you so much for taking the time to be here to speak with me. I really appreciate it. Thanks for, yeah, thanks for, um, letting me riff a little bit on like the, like the differences. I’m really excited for your generation and the generations coming and what y ‘all are doing and how you’re pushing the sport. So really appreciate you and.

Abby
Yeah. Awesome.

Anna
Can’t wait to see what you’re up to next.

Abby
Thank you. It’s been super fun and obviously so grateful for all the change you’ve made for female athletes and female kayakers. I definitely noticed it and see it and I’m really grateful for all the change you guys have done.

Anna
Thanks.