Women in Sea Kayaking – 6 Reasons to Take the Plunge and Learn to Paddle

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sea kayaking for women

Kelly Paddling on New Year’s Day

In the second grade, my PE teacher told me I didn’t have to try to do a pull up or push up in class.  “It’s ok,” he said, “girls can’t do that.  They’re not strong enough.”  Needless to say, I’ve spent a good part of my life since then proving I can “hang with the boys.” Guys are strong and athletic, and I’m in no way discrediting their achievements.  Rather, I want to address all the women out there who have thought “I can’t do that,” or even “I’m not strong enough.”

Shortly after entering the sport of sea kayaking, I learned that not only can women paddle, they can be kickass paddlers.  Some of the most talented, accomplished paddlers I’ve met have been women – including one who’s solo paddled Alaska’s Inside Passage from Anacortes, WA to Juneau, AK.  Learning to sea kayak has been one of the most amazing and empowering  experiences of my life, and teaching sea kayaking has only made it better.

There are few things better than watching a self-doubting student grow.  I’ve had students who, on the first day of class, told me “I’m too heavy to paddle, really.  I probably won’t fit in the boat, and besides, I’m scared of the water.”  Some of those women have become so strong in their paddling skills that they learned to enjoy whooping it up while surfing waves in Deception Pass.  In other classes, I’ve worked with students who were so afraid to do their first wet exit from a boat, they cried.  After a couple of days, they were teaching their husbands how to do a proper wet exit and self rescue!

So, in the interest of supporting all women out there who are interested in entering the “intimidating” sport of sea kayaking, I’ve written a list for you to dispel what may be your reasons for not jumping in (pun intended) and giving it a shot:

  • “I’m out of shape, I’m not strong enough.”  Unless you’re playing in big water and/or big wind, sea kayaking is a sport that largely favors finesse and efficiency over brute strength.  There are many techniques that, if muscled, simply don’t work well.  Plus, sea kayaking is a great way to get in better shape without putting a tremendous amount of stress on the body.  It sucks much less than the gym, and you get to be outside on the water!
  • “I’m too big to fit into gear.” or “I’m too big to wear a wetsuit.” Sea kayak companies have just started creating gear that caters to petite paddlers.  In fact, it’s much easier for someone with curves to find a boat that fits properly.  Plus, in all honesty, neoprene (wetsuits) and other paddling related garments are not flattering on any body type.  Neoprene is the great equalizer.  All paddlers look silly in their gear.  We know it, we own it, and we welcome you to our club!  I call my drysuit my “onesie.”  I call my hat my “bonnet.”  Paddling clothes are just not cute.  Yes, my drysuit makes my butt look big.  And it’s ok!    Nobody is going to judge whether or not you look silly.
  • “Sea Kayaking is too dangerous and intense. It’s just for young adrenaline junkies.”  I’m not going to lie, water can be dangerous so it’s important to learn to make good decisions to mitigate the risks.  But, can’t the same be said for driving your car, or just about anything else you do in life?  Just because YouTube features a lot of young athletes making questionable choices in wacky conditions, doesn’t mean that’s the only “way to roll.”  Sea kayaking can be serene, relaxing, and rejuvenating.  It lends itself to lazy Sundays spent paddling on flat water with the family, taking pictures of wildlife, or just soaking in the sun while rocking waves help you forget daily stress.
  • “Sea kayaking is too expensive.”   It’s an expensive sport.  But there are so many ways to mitigate the initial expenses.  Buying used gear can save you thousands of dollars.  Becoming savvy shoppers and understanding gear can make sea kayaking much less expensive.  Just because someone says “Dude (or Dudette), carbon fiber is the hippest, lightest, way to go,” doesn’t mean you need to spring for carbon fiber.  If you’re an entry level paddler, be honest with yourself.  If you’re just planning on lazy Sunday paddles on flat water, do you need to spring for the state-of-the-art British rough water boat?  Probably not.  If you’re only planning on paddling in August on Lake Padden, do you need a drysuit?  No.  As long as it’s safe and in working condition, entry level and used gear might be perfect for your needs and much friendlier to your wallet.
  • “I hate being uncomfortable. I get cold, and life jackets squish my boobs.”  I don’t blame you!  I hate being cold!  I am a cold blooded person.  I’ve been known to wear a ski hat at the breakfast table and wool socks to bed.  And that whole boob squishing thing is the worst.  HOWEVER, it is possible to dress for the elements and stay roasty toasty, and it is possible to get gear that fits properly.  There are even life jackets with cups in them, designed specifically to keep the girls comfortable for hours on end.  A good instructor can help you learn how to dress to stay warm and comfortable.
  • “I might do it wrong or look silly.” Who’s judging?  Enjoy life.  Everybody makes mistakes when trying new things.  It’s part of the learning process.  You can’t know how to do things perfectly before you’ve even tried.  I think most women, including me, are too hard on themselves.  We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, and somewhere along the way, forget how to have fun.  When learning to sea kayak, remember, if you capsize, it’s no big deal.  It’s a soft landing!  If you end up in the water, enjoy the weightlessness.    Splash your instructor with water.  Have FUN.  Life’s too short not to giggle at your mistakes!

I’ve no doubt you CAN sea kayak.  And, who knows, you may learn to love it!  I say, try to quiet those “self doubting” voices, and take the plunge.  Or, better yet, round up some of your favorite friends or family for a class and take the plunge together.  Nothing is more fun than trying something new and adventurous with the people who love us and make us laugh.

If you have any questions, I’d love to answer them for you.  And, I hope to see you out on the water soon!

Kelly @ info@salishseakayakschool.com

If interested in our classes, check out these links:

Taste of Sea Kayaking – This class is an affordable and low key introduction for beginners who want to try out a boat, but aren’t ready to invest in in depth lessons.

Essentials of Sea Kayaking – Ten hours of in depth instruction covers all the basics of sea kayaking from how to get in your boat to how to rescue yourself and fellow paddlers.

Rescue & Refresher – Take this class if you already know how to rescue but want to practice or sharpen those skills.

Rescues Part 2 – You should sign up for this class if you’ve already got the basics down, but want to learn more advanced techniques such as the Cowgirl, Hand of God, and Between the Boats rescues.


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