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Kayak Like a Girl

I have been settling into winter with my middle school students.  As winter takes a firm hand on the weather, I still desire to paddle even in the cold. I crave my kayaking community. At the same time my students are working on some poetry for a contest on “Love What’s Real: The Gender Revolution.” Kayaking is real for me. For the contest, they are learning about Emma Watson’s He for She campaign presented at the United Nations, and Malala Yousafzai’s You Me We message in her speech after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala was shot by the Taliban for trying to go to school. Emma and Malala’s wise words encouraged me to reflect on how we support each other in paddle sports and what we stand for as a larger paddling community.

For me, I have been competing, traveling the world, and improving my paddling skills since 2001.  I have received lots of support from many people.  Emma Watson encourages men to take an active role in supporting women and women to support men. It dawned on me that we are lucky in paddle sports. We have a tight group of supportive people who are doing just that.

Maybe it is the water that encourages the support of one another in kayaking.  Maybe it is the unique challenges of whitewater.  Maybe it is the type of person who is drawn to paddle sports. I have had many mentors, both female and male, that have encouraged, coached, and supported me along the way. In turn, Watson got me thinking about supporting men.  Have I done all I could to support the other gender? Have we all done enough to support the other half? When it comes to paddle sports, I think we are setting a good example of how to support He for She or as Malala said “feminism means equality for all.” Both genders are supporting and being feminists when they cheer and support all paddlers.

Many students in my classroom are also in my Dare to Kayak program. In kayaking class or in the classroom, they are learning from an early age to support each other. Writing projects encourage boys write about supporting girls, who then will become men supporting women and men. Girls are encouraged to write about supporting each other regardless of gender. 

They are learning to paddle and face their fears together on the river. They support each other with every stroke of their paddle and with each encouraging word they write. Most importantly, they will Love What’s Real.  Gender support is real, and it is active and alive in paddle sports.  It is a way to connect with each other.  It is a way to support each other to the core. Kayaking is He For She.  Kayaking is You Me We. As paddlers we are feminists. We paddle for equality for all. I leave you with a poem written by a boy.

Kayak like my teacher

Always try like a girl

You know they are great

Always work like a girl

Kayak like a girl


Like a girl is the best way

In and out of holes they play

Kayak like a girl

Every stroke so swift and smooth


Always paddle like a girl


Girls know their way around

Interesting ways they float and fly

Rolling over in their boat

Losing never when they float

Teacher and students.


Paddle in Peace, Devon


Fresh off her silver medal win at Santa Cruz Paddlefest 2016, Surf Kayak and Freestyle Champion, Devon Barker-Hicks loves helping people learn new skills as much as she loves learning new moves. She lives in Boise, Idaho but we are lucky enough to drag her out west to instruct for Cali Collective’s women’s clinics:)  


All words and images copyright California Women’s Watersport Collective 2016. All rights reserved.

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