Andria Davis knows first-hand that natural caution can be a woman paddler’s biggest limitation. Sometimes embracing your inner dumbass and paddling like a guy is all it takes to push past the fear.
A few years ago, a friend told me about her frustrations with pushing through her fear. She told me that on her home river, when she got to a certain rapid, she would get out and look, then walk back to her boat and portage. She was really frustrated by her actions because she knew she could run it, but it was like her fear was in total control. I wrote her back and told her that she needed to start thinking like a guy.
When you step it up, you will take your licks. But if you’re being smart and know where to draw the line, you will handle it, sister.
Guys often have this ability to look at a rapid and not really care what the outcome will be and just run it. I told her to get in touch with her “inner dumbass” and just get in her boat and run it without any thought of the outcome. Since then, I have watched her progress into an amazing and confident class V paddler and have often found myself envying her self-confidence. We often laugh about my “dumbass” statement and remind each other of it when we need it.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that guys are dumbasses and are always running things without thinking about the consequences. I’ve been hanging out and boating mostly with guys, and I have noticed, and discussed with them, this ability to run rapids. What I’ve discovered is that guys tend to question things less than women do. They don’t worry as much about what will happen to them, trusting themselves to handle the outcome. This is a trait that I admire in males. Of course, this gets guys into trouble sometimes, but it also allows them to progress in sports such as whitewater. This ability to take their licks is one reason why there are way more men in this sport than women.
I am also not saying that women are always timid. There are many women out there who paddle aggressively. What I am saying is that I and many other female paddlers are usually more cautious than males. This can be a fantastic trait to bring to a group of paddlers, but sometimes it gets in the way and holds a girl back. I saw this in my friend and told her that she needed to quit analyzing the consequences of this rapid that was well within her ability. She needed to embrace this typically male trait to just go for it and trust that whatever happened; she was skilled enough and tough enough to handle it.
Women paddlers and non-paddlers alike have told me how brave I am and how they could never do what I do. I call “bullshit.” When I put on rivers and get to big rapids, I am often terrified! My brain goes nuts telling me how I should sneak or walk. I have given in to this fear way too many times! But I am here to tell you that the only way to get through fear is to challenge it. You will never get braver if you don’t feel that fear and then run the rapid anyway. You will never get braver sitting on the bank watching your boyfriend, and you will never get better by walking that rapid every time. When you step it up, you will take your licks. But if you’re being smart and know where to draw the line – paddling with appropriate partners, and setting safety – you will handle it, sister.
I’ve seen this quote somewhere: “Courage is important. Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use.” I’ve also come to understand that without fear, there is no courage. Do you think that people are just born brave? I’ve heard some paddlers say that they feel no fear. Either they are full of shit, or I feel sorry for them. Without that fear and then pushing your self through it, how would you ever know the elation of finding that courage inside of yourself? One of the reasons that I loved paddling from the very beginning was that I found myself pushing beyond what I thought was possible for me: styling Bull Sluice in a raft at 2.5 ft. for the first time, hitting my first combat roll at Nantahala Falls, running the Little White Salmon without swimming, and running an 80-footer. I didn’t start out in whitewater thinking I would accomplish these things. I often even declared how they were out of my reach. I’ve cried in self-pity, stating that I sucked. But I got up every time and went back out to the river, surrounded myself with my friends to cheer me on, and worked my way back into confidence. My paddling has been like a huge wave train of ups and downs. What makes all the difference is taking those baby steps to bring me back up when I’m down. Every time I do that, I find this space of self-confidence that I’ve never felt before.
Sometimes it’s okay to let go and trust your abilities and your instincts.
Finding that confidence sometimes means that I need to take a step back and boat below my ability, but sometimes it means I just need to quit thinking and run something bigger to push myself so that I can move forward. If you notice, many guys don’t like hanging out too long in an eddy or re-scouting that same rapid. It’s because as soon as you do, you start thinking. Over-thinking is often the enemy of your paddling. Sometimes it’s okay to let go and trust your abilities and your instincts. This is what I mean by your “inner dumbass.” It’s that part of you that just wants to let go and do something that might challenge you. Of course, if you take this over the edge, you create danger for yourself and your friends. So, remember that harnessing your inner dumbass comes with homework. Make sure that you are taking a step that you are really ready for, not something ludicrously dangerous.
As women in a male-dominated sport, we often need to separate ourselves from the masculinity of the sport in order to make it more relevant to our feminine learning processes. However, there are many ways of thinking that men tend to use that we can also utilize, and that will actually help us to progress. I’ve gone back and forth from trying to be “one of the boys” to being more girlish in this sport, and I enjoy both. I think that both ways of being and thinking offer chances for learning, growth, and achieving self-expression and confidence.