She Paddles: Paddling Events for Women by Women

Photo: Daniel Brausell


When we’re on the water, Mother Nature treats us all the same. The forces of a wild river, the open ocean or a lake system know no gender. But each paddler’s individual relationship to water will always differ. Some people dive into new paddle sports or tough lines headfirst. Others like to test the water, and slip in slowly.

Over the past few years, women-specific paddling events have popped up all over the world, highlighting exactly that idea: we all learn and progress differently. Some women prefer to learn on the fly, and others find being instructed by female paddlers is a more comfortable and conducive learning environment. The following paddling events are organized by ladies, for ladies and are designed for all levels, learning styles and paddle sports. Each event has its own vibe and focus but all are jam-packed with extra experiences and activities—yoga, massages, local food… The boys only wish they organized events like this.

Ladies on the Lochsa | Idaho, USA
When: May 5, 2018
Organizers: Lisa Ronald & Devon Barker-Hicks

Photo: Dave Gardner

There’s a solid crew of lady kayakers in the Missoula paddling community. Included in this group is big wave freestyler, and Team NRS paddler, Brooke Hess. In 2014, she started a kayaking event called Ladies on the Lochsa (LOL). “The idea was to help women meet new paddling partners who are at their similar skill, comfort, and motivation level,” says Brooke.

LOL is a weekend centered around whitewater, drawing lady kayakers from Missoula, Bozeman, the Flathead, Spokane, Boise, Moscow and beyond. This year NRS has jumped in, providing pre-paddle lunch, safety equipment sponsorship and post-paddle Cinco de Mayo fajita dinner. Organizers will break down the Lochsa into sections, giving paddlers the chance to hop out depending on skill and comfort levels. Along the way the flotilla will stop for drills and games to incorporate river safety lessons into the paddle. LOL is designed for competent, though not necessarily expert paddlers but it does require paddlers to be skilled enough to run or attempt the Lochsa, a big water Class IV run.

“In my experience, women make decisions differently; we weigh risk and think about consequences differently. Many women take up kayaking or learn from boyfriends, which can be challenging. Providing venues for women to learn from each other makes kayaking—a really difficult sport to learn—more appealing long-term.” – Lisa Ronald | LOL Organizer

“The goal for LOL is to provide a venue for ladies to get on the water together, create safe and constructive camaraderie, challenge themselves and foster new friendships,” explains Lisa. Every year the event celebrates women in whitewater, but this year’s event is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Lochsa was one of the eight original rivers protected in 1968 under the act. In a time when public land in the US is greatly threatened, the Lochsa serves as an important reminder of the benefit of protecting rivers.

Pink Water | Quebec, CANADA
When: June 8-10, 2018
Where: Rivers of Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec
Organizers: Alexandra Tremblay, Shéril Gravel & Frederique Pouln

Photo: Sophie Lavoie

Steep, spring-fed creeks and burly standing waves have put Quebec on the whitewater map. Known throughout the world as the backyard of the Quebec Connection boys, there is another crew in town: Pink Water.

What started as a simple Facebook group to connect Quebec’s female whitewater paddlers, turned into an annual event which has expanded into a global movement with participants and ambassadors from as far away as Ecuador. With 70 women participating in the inaugural event in 2014, Pink Water has evolved into a non-profit organization dedicated to creating momentum and equal opportunities for women in whitewater, as well as showcasing the Lac Saint-Jean area of Quebec and promoting free-flowing, healthy rivers. “The Pink Water Community’s mission is to be a national and international reference for women who desire to learn and practice whitewater sports here in Quebec, and worldwide,” says founder and organizer Shéril Gravel

This year the event—Pink Water Challenge 2018—will be held on the Mistassibi, Ashuapmushuan, Péribonka and Métabetchouan, rivers of Lac Saint-Jean. Food, camping, development workshops and shuttle service are provided for all registered women. Each day is chock-full, from yoga and breakfast in the morning to campfires, food and drinks in the evening. Women can try rafting and kayaking and a variety of off-water activities like mountain biking, canyoning, SUPing and indoor climbing. The weekend even includes on-site massage therapy, an event photographer and door prizes.

“We want to build strong relationships between men and women of whitewater, recognizing strengths instead of comparing abilities. We’re here to be the bridge that reflects both genders. We want to develop whitewater paddlers who can paddle with anyone–male or female.” – Véronique Frigon | Pink Water organizer and ambassador

Pink Water is designed to be a platform for ladies to develop whitewater skills, but the organization wants to become a leader in showing the whitewater world that both male and female paddling groups can work together. For that reason, there are male and female Pink Water ambassadors and some of Quebec’s top male kayakers come out to help with the event.

Green River Takeover | North Carolina, USA
When: August 25, 2018
Organizers: Laura Farrell & Emily Shanblatt

Photo: Daniel Brausell

 While kayaking the Green River in the fall of 2014, Laura Farrell was pleasantly surprised by the number of ladies surrounding her. They were taking over. What started as an idea to paddle the Green with all her lady friends snowballed into an annual public event called the Green River Takeover.

With 87 women on the water last year, the Takeover draws in diverse experience levels, creating an environment where women who may not be ready for the Narrows  get to meet women who can become their mentors and eventually show them down this section one day. “The idea of this day is to get as many awesome women as we can out on the Green River together,” says Laura Farrell. “It’s about simply having fun on the water as a big group of rad ladies. All too often the river is filled with men and this is a day where the women take it over!”

The Green Rive Takeover includes both the Upper Green and the Narrows sections so more women can participate. Starting with a welcome and safety meeting, everyone paddles the Upper Green (class II-III) in small groups. After assembling for a group photo, the less advanced paddlers hike out and are shuttled downstream to cheer on the girls running the class IV-V Narrows. The event is about bringing women together, not excluding men. The whole Green community comes together to make the event happen, including some awesome dudes acting as ‘shuttle bunnies’ for the day.

“I love seeing the relationships being formed, phone numbers being exchanged and future paddling plans being made. In this way, the energy from the takeover lasts all year round!” – Laura Farrell | Takeover Founder

The event culminates downstream for a social gathering with snacks, drinks, and a raffle, which typically raises money for the Shannon Christy Memorial Fund. This year,  however,  the funds raised will also go to the Live Like Maria Fund, a new memorial in celebration of Maria Noakes one of the women that inspired Farrell and many young female kayakers in the area. Maria was a group leader for the Takeover every year and will be greatly missed. Both organizations are local non-profits in memory of two amazing women lost to the river.

Girls on the Gorge | Montana, USA
When: August 31-September 2, 2018 (Labor Day Weekend)
Where: Alberton Gorge of the Clark Fork
Organizers: Zoo Town Surfers & many original GOG ladies

A white plywood sign with ‘Girls on the Gorge’ stenciled in blue and red spray paint still exists somewhere in a Montana kayaker’s garage or gear shed. This original sign was made for the first Girls on the Gorge event, the start of a 15-year tradition. Over the years, the event has taken on many forms, organized and kept alive by a dedicated group of Montana kayakers. The heart and soul of this event is strong. It’s all about women supporting women,” says GOG Coordinator Devon Barker-Hicks, “One year we had two gals learn to roll over the weekend and hit their first combat rolls too.”

Zoo Town Surfers, a local Missoula paddling club, ran the event in the past and are still involved today, focusing on encouraging more beginners to get into the sport. The long-weekend event hosts a full agenda with pilates, yoga, group camping, kayak instruction, video review, and on-land sessions. Zoo Town Surfers cooks so the ladies can just focus on paddling.

“[During GOG] women who have never paddled a kayak on whitewater get to share the experience of going down a rapid and learning from other more experienced female paddlers in their community…it was glorious to be a part of a flotilla of all female kayakers.” – Erin Clancey | 2011 GOG Paddler

While the original founders were a group of avid and skilled kayakers, today the event is more focused on introducing gals to paddling. The group paddles a different section of the Alberton Gorge each day, so there’s a little something for the beginner and the expert with whitewater ranging from class II rapids, perfect for practicing ferrying, to a few big water sets of class IIIs and some surf spots to challenge the more experienced kayakers. One thing is for sure though, this event isn’t going anywhere.

Lulu Love Tour | Worldwide

The Lulu Love Tour (LLT) was created to celebrate the life of Louise “Lulu” Jull, known worldwide for her infectious love of whitewater and positive outlook. The tour has pulled friends together and helped the sport develop by encouraging young women to paddle and play like Lulu did.

Long-time friend and fellow Kiwi kayaker Louise Urwin came up with the idea to embark on a ‘stoke’ roadtrip full of kayaking, surfing, SUPing and hiking, as a way to share Lulu’s love for the outdoors and spend time with friends. Post trip, a crew of Lulu’s friends began to brainstorm about a bigger, annual event that could give back to the paddling community. LLT Organizer, Ali Casas says their intent is “to pass on Lulu’s legacy by promoting her love for kayaking and outdoors while creating an environment that encourages people to be passionate for life and follow their dreams.”

As a project with a wide geographical scope and flexible dates, each event is planned and customized according to the needs of the country/location that year. The aim is to reach different groups—kids, youth, adults—and spread Lulu’s love of kayaking and outdoor sports along with some environmental conservation themes.

“Last year’s LLT was in Spain and for the first time in the Noguera Pallaresa River history there were over 20 girls paddling together and bringing lots of color and good vibes to one of the most beautiful rivers in the Catalan Pyrenees.” – Ali Casas | LLT Organizer

The Lulu Love Tour Sort’17 included a group paddle, paddling clinics, games and a presentation on river stewardship. With clinics and a screening of Lulu’s biographical movie #Alwayswinningnevernot, the event concluded with a raffle, music and a couple massive paellas that fed more than 100 people.

The 2018 event will include more advanced and committing whitewater, where a smaller group of Lulu’s friends will head to Norway for a three-day expedition on The Glomaga River, one of Lulu’s favorites places in the world.

The Lulu Love Tour is a collective project that encourages everyone to be passionate and follow their dreams. While the LLT holds events all over the world, the plan is to eventually have an event in New Zealand, Lulu’s home country. Without a doubt, a hometown LLT will be one of the most special and meaningful tours for all the friends, organizers and paddlers involved.

Women on the Water Festival | Georgian Bay, CANADA
When: June 8-10, 2018
Where: Camp Tapawingo, Georgian Bay, Ontario

Photo: Dympna Hayes

Whether you’re on the water for the first time, or an experienced open-water paddler, Ontario Sea Kayak Center’s Women on the Water Festival offers courses and sessions for all during their weekend event on Georgian Bay. In collaboration with Wild Women Expeditions, this year will mark the 5th edition of the festival, which includes coached clinics and leisure paddling sessions, food, drink, and camping. On top of that, women attendees, as well as local female business owners, have the opportunity to set up a table and sell their products and services throughout the weekend at the women’s marketplace. Each business then donates an item or service to the silent auction and proceeds got to the Georgian Bay Biosphere.

REI’s Outessa Retreats | USA
When: August 2-5, 2018 & September 13-16
Where: Squaw Valley, CA & White Mountains, NH

Each year REI selects two locations to host their highly popular Outessa Retreats. Participants create a three-day package with activities, classes and discussion sessions that meets their interests. The paddling possibilities are abundant, from SUP yoga to sea kayak courses. With retreats held in California and New Hampshire this year’s participants can kayak, bike, draw, paint and eat locally sourced food and drinks. Rumor has it, there’s a wicked welcome bag filled with adventure goodies as well.