I first got involved in the Boater Chick Festival several years ago, when Shannon Christy invited me to help her lead a group down the Cheoah River. Many of my friends had been leading Cheoah trips for the festival for years, and they encouraged me to attend as well. Ann Connolly had been putting on the festival for 7 years. She had an army of volunteers, but was doing a huge amount of work each May to make the festival a success. This year, I was not surprised when Ann let us all know she would no longer be hosting the festival.
Nobody was brave enough to take on the enormous task of putting on the whole festival, but we all recognized that the Cheoah paddle was a highlight of the festival and that those trips should continue. Nikki, Crystal, and I agreed to organize a Ladies’ Cheoah Paddle around the same time Boater Chick Festival would have been, so that we could keep that part of the tradition going.
In the last two years, a number of women’s paddling events have come about. Last year, Laura Ferrell organized the Green River Takeover, bringing about 50 women down the upper and narrows of the Green in all-girl groups. That event will happen again this August, and Laura added a second Takeover event, held just three weeks ago, on the Arkansas in Colorado. Anna Levesque, long-time leader in women’s paddling, has put together a whole Southeast Ladies’ Paddling Series this summer around the southeast. Crystal Gustin is planning a Confidence Series playboating event June 20th on the Pigeon River, to round out the river running, creeking and playboating opportunities available to women this summer.
All of these events are run completely by women. In previous years, the Cheoah event included men as safety boaters, but this year we felt it was important to run the event as an all-women trip. While we all enjoy paddling with men, we wanted to show both the participants and the bystanders that these events don’t require help from male boaters.
The Cheoah event was a huge success. The group had roughly 20 participants, including eight designated group leaders/safety boaters. Everyone ran the upper Cheoah to the bridge, and almost everyone continued down to the lake. There were ZERO swims the entire day! Our amazing group leaders were integral to the success of the trips. Thank you so much to Nikki Malatin, Crystal Gustin, Rebecca Cramer, Karen Nicolai, Maria Noakes, Ashley Cork, Sara Hunter and Anna Hallett. All of the participants also deserve credit for accurately judging their skills and pushing themselves appropriately.
While I definitely don’t believe that swimming is a bad thing, I do feel that “stepping it up” should usually be done with your regular paddling group, that can fully support you in new challenges. These large group events work best when participants accurately judge their skill level relative to the river section. There are many ways to challenge yourself on the river. Running harder rapids is one way, but sometimes running a new river, leading the group, paddling with strangers or paddling a new boat can provide just as much of a mental challenge.
Thanks to Liquidlogic and Pyranha supported the event with some swag at the end of the day! Liquidlogic also provided some demo boats, giving several ladies the chance to try out a Flying Squirrel. I know at least one of our fearless group leaders was happy to be in that boat when she found herself pulling another boater out of one of the Yardsale holes, after a tandem surf.
The continued success of this event has definitely inspired us to make sure it happens in years to come. Mark your calendars for the first Saturday Cheoah release after Mother’s Day in 2016. We hope to see you there!