The male/female gender percentages were way skewed to female this weekend in the Nantahala Gorge with the arrival of a group of kayakers from all-women’s Sweet Briar College – who’s colors are pink and green.

Sweet Briar has always had an active outdoor program (originally called SWEBOP).  And with a bit of gentle assistance from ERA some years back, the paddling end of their program took off with enthusiastic participants.   Probably a lot of the success of their program can be attributed to a)the school supporting the program through funding, making it possible to upgrade boats and equipment from the original Dancers they had tucked in the closet; b)the commitment of the outdoor program director (Laura) and also her husband Shannon; and c) looking outside the school to tap into the local paddling community.   

This last one is key as the struggle to keep the enthusiasm going in paddling programs is that one year’s enthusiastic group of students graduates and you have to start all over again. Seeking out community members who are passionate about the sport–whether teachers or local paddlers, and getting them involved gives the program continuity.

After working hard this fall at pool rolling sessions and at Balcony Falls (a local paddling spot near Sweet Briar), six fired up paddlers and their “chaperon” Shannon headed to down to ERA for a day of instruction and leadership team building.  The day included heading to the lake to tweak rolls and go over technique—as well as covering some drills that the group could take home and use to have more fun on flat water. Juliet and Maria were the instructors.

Then it was off to the Nantahala!  It is hard to beat the Nantahala on a gorgeous October day, and our day was no exception. From Ferebee to the Falls we worked on strokes, ferrying, catching eddies cleaner, swimming better (that is all part of it, is it not?!?!) and reading the water.   The day went by way too quickly. After running/walking/swimming the Falls, the first thing the gang asked was “can we go back upstream and paddle some more???”   

With the river already turned off, evening river time was not possible, but the girls had a chance to participate in an end-of-day roundtable with five of ERA’s amazing women to talk about women and paddling and how kayaking builds leadership skills.  The ERA women shared their thoughts on leadership, on paddling and some personal stories the group could relate to. On the van ride home, the girls summed up their time with the Maria and Juliet instruction team/ERA leadership team with thoughts that went something like this:

  • Favorite River Phrase:  “Maria’s “Grab the Tiger by the Tail” mantra for getting everyone fired up to run a rapid.
  • “I really enjoyed that our instructors took the time to answer all the questions we had.”
  • “I really liked how the instructors were so passionate about it—they taught us because they wanted us to learn.”
  • “Aw man…it was an awesome day!”
  • “They were all the type of people I would love to hang out with.”
  • “Watching our instructors made me realize they are out there doing it—and they’re just as scrawny as I am.”
  • “I learned it’s not the wimp way out just because you can’t muscle through it.” 
  • “It rocked!  I loved the Nantahala!”
  • “The Nantahala was awesome”

And then from Shannon- ““I wanted to thank you again for a terrific weekend.  The students really got a lot out of the paddling instruction, and even more out of the example you set as a leader.  They were really impressed and raved about you quite a bit, you really made an impression.  They really seemed inspired by the leader talk/round table.””

Thanks Team Sweet Briar–Shannon, Jennifer, Sarah, Amanda, Carlie, Sara and Caitlin (our Nobel prize winner) for an awesome day! Next stop: Costa Rica!!