Women on the Water

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Summer in Chattanooga has been fairly mild so far but this will certainly change and you’ll want a strategy to manage the heat when it comes. What better way than on the water? You can certainly Stand Up Paddleboard in a number of places around the city, but maybe it’s time to learn to kayak. Take a little trip outside the city and you can paddle one of the many scenic rivers around. In a sport once dominated by men, you’ll see plenty of women playing in the rapids if you pay attention. RootsRated talked with two talented and accomplished local female paddlers to get an idea how and why you should try kayaking. In over 15 years of paddling, Kat Levitt has a long list of competitive achievements, and Chris Warren uses 20 years of experience and her own competitive resume to help other women feel comfortable in the water.

With Levitt and Warren’s guidance and kayaks that are now designed specifically for women and children, the barriers of entry to kayaking are falling away. “The ability to finesse a boat that is the right size for you makes learning to control it much easier,” says Levitt.

Another reason women have been slow to participate is because they think paddlers need to be super strong and hardcore. This is problematic, Warren argues, because “paddling is a sport that requires mental finesse. Strength is important,” she adds, “but a good ‘head’ is the most important thing.”  So how does one go about learning the sport?

Brad Ledford

Places to learn:

Warren notes that classes offered at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and Outdoor Chattanooga and outfitters like Ocoee Adventure Center, Ace Kayaking, Endless River Adventures, Bluegrass Wildwater Association, and Nantahala Outdoor Center can get you started and teach you the basics quickly. Practice will improve your skills but finding a mentor can help you move beyond the basic instruction. Both Levitt and Warren note the benefit of a mentor. Ace Kayaking’s founder, Jeff West was a powerful influence, and supporter for both women, but they each list female mentors as well. “As a woman digging the trenches of an extreme sport, it might seem strange, but it isn’t always easy to trust yourself when most of the examples you have to follow are set by men,” Levitt says. Kim Murrell, one of the first women to run some of the really difficult rivers, was “inspirational, and generous.” Warren credits Maria Mathews from the Bluegrass Wildwater Association for her mentoring: “Not only did she spend a great deal of time teaching me how to roll but also helped outfit me with gear, and introduced me to some of the most beautiful places in the Southeast,” says Warren.

Dave Young

Places to paddle:

Warren suggests the Hiwassee and the Lower Tellico Rivers in Tennessee, the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers in Western North Carolina, and the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and Alabama as places for a new paddler to work on skills while enjoying the surroundings. She loves paddling these rivers. These wild places offer her an “unpredictably beautiful, and spiritual” connection to nature as though she is “in the arteries of the earth.” 

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