Women’s Only Paddle Sessions

Buffalo Trek June Issue

Support for womens only sporting events is growing. This is great news as the benefits of encouraging females participation in sport (any sport) is evident.

For women and girls the world over there is a strong link between participation in sport and physical activity and their health and general well being.

Being active not only improves health but self worth. There is evidence that mental health can also be improved by becoming involved in sport.

IMG_0050 copy

Barriers to sport are often to blame for lack of participation.  Lack of time, cost, lack of courses and opportunities, a general fear of being physical in front of other people can all have a negative effect on females in sport.

One of the women involved with the Seabirds Network in the United Kingdom shared her own experience of learning a new kayaking discipline and how, once the women decided to train separately from the men, her skill levels improved much more rapidly.

Gender ‘norms’ can lead to a lack of confidence in sport; sometimes participating with other genders can also lead to feelings of inadequacy.

Having mixed courses has tremendous value as both genders can challenge each other to promote learning. Having all female groups however brings a new dynamic to a course. One that naturally lends itself to a less competitive learning environment and is often more suited to potential paddlers who might be a bit unsure of their skills.

IMG_0025 3 copy

Clearly there’s no shortage of female interest in paddlesport especially paddleboarding which has the largest number of qualified female instructors compared with kayaking and canoeing.

For now, however, kayaking is male-dominated. The 2014 Outdoor Participation Report highlighted that ‘both females and minority groups are significantly underrepresented in every paddlesport category.’

The United Nations created a Sport and Gender: Empowering Women and Girls document and state:

Despite such widespread global recognition of the important empowerment potential of sport for women and girls, and sports’s specific role in attaining the goals of gender equity, the recent UN report on women, gender equality and sport, Women 2000 and Beyond: Women, Gender Equality and Sport, found that the extent of discrimination against women and girls in sport demands further action and successful strategies and programs must be scaled-up and expanded.

I’ve had many women say to me ‘my husband is out paddling, we bought a boat and share it’. I’ve also had others say that ‘my husband/boyfriend is out fishing with his friends and I want to try kayaking’.

IMG_0004 copy 3

Seabirds International is working in partnership with the NY State Department of Environment and Conservation as part of their Becoming Outdoors Women program in WNY, http://www.dec.ny.gov/education/68.html to provide women’s only kayaking opportunities, www.seabirds.co.

Womens Wednesdays and Seabirds Saturdays will be held throughout the 2015 paddling season culminating in The Big Sea Kayak symposium in England in September, http://www.mount-batten-centre.com/activities/water/.

IMG_0016 copy

Having a female focused activity provides an opportunity to improve paddling skills and learn new ones in a supportive, fun and non-competitive environment. When participants were asked what the best thing about participating in an all-female course was? They responded freely:

  • Similar learning style, no one person was trying to show off
  • Training with like minded people
  • Coaches that understand females
  • It was a more relaxed atmosphere and a more honest learning environment because everyone seemed happy to talk about their strengths and weakness openly.
  • It was empowering and made me feel proud to be a female paddler!
  • Great as a confidence builder as I realized that I am not the only one who has self-doubt, I don’t think that men would verbalize this fact. Can’t learn if you’re fearful!
  • Having the confidence to practice without feeling intimidated.
  • Atmosphere feels supportive and not competitive.
  • I can be me!
  • Considering I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be up to standard it’s been far from intimidating, very open and I’ve learned a lot!

IMG_0004 copy 2

Interested in learning with women and girls in an all female environment? There are plenty of opportunities locally and further afield, Ladies of the Lake, held in Michigan since 2007 is a great opportunity to connect with other female paddlers, learn new techniques and have fun, http://www.ladiesofthelakeseakayaksymposium.com

The WOW (Women on the Water) symposium in Ontario is in its second year and is so popular that it is sold out, http://www.wildwomenexpeditions.com/wow/


Additional resources:







For female runners:


Seabirds International


Does a bear sh#t* in the woods?

One educators experience with ADK’s leave no trace team.

Driving up to Heart Lake I was filled with anticipation. I’d been an unofficial advocate for LNT in the UK for twenty years and was excited to be participating in the master educator course.


IMG_2290 copy 2

I was interested in learning new methods and being challenged to think and behave differently when in the outdoors.

The seven principles https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles were introduced the first day and throughout the course participants delivered activities for the principles. We moved location each night in an effort to experience different environments and see first hand our impact.

We learned more than anticipated, shared much laughter and made new friends. Pooping in the woods with people you don’t know has this beneficial outcome!


Our first night in the field we camped on an island that was suffering from human activity. On the island was someone’s leftover dinner, toilet tissue from many, graffiti and an overflowing pit loo. We even met another visitor who chose to bully our group for setting up camp first. Humans ‘eh? Give me bears any day!

IMG_1828 copy 2

The second day we paddled to a peninsula that was linked to a high impact campsite. We had trail visitors and shared the LNT principles to those who expressed an interest showing them the bear hang and describing fun ways to poop in the woods.


We landed for the final night as a bear was finishing his duty not far from our campsite. After three nights of erecting bear hangs and eating before dusk and well lets face it – not using any products with perfume or any flavor/smell that could entice our large friends- we were going to be sharing our space with a black bear.

IMG_2223 copy

There was no concern about the potential for a bear blunder as we’d followed the principles and were especially respectful of the wildlife in our midst, including the loons and bald eagles. By the end of the course I most definitely had developed a new appreciation for being in and learning from the outdoors.

Upon returning to the woodland where I live, I began to mull over some of the thought provoking discussions we’d had during the course. One activity in particular posed a question about feeding wildlife. We know that feeding wild animals can have a severely negative impact on the species involved even changing reproductive systems of animals that eat our processed western food.

hummingbird copy

So how does this relate to feeding birds from the birdfeeder? We are fortunate to have hummingbirds in Western New York and watching these winged jewels alight on our feeders brings pleasure to thousands of people each season. Not to mention all of our migrating birds and native species appearing to benefit from the additional food source in the snow-laden months.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy wildlife gardening. I questioned if my garden was enough for the birds and chose to stop filling the feeder. This self-imposed restriction as a direct result of my time on the LNT master educator course had a profound impact on me.

Not only did the hummingbirds visit my garden, I actually saw more. I found myself observing the activity amongst the flowers in the garden and in the woodland surrounding the property, experiencing the great outdoors more fully as a result.

How then would the LNT principles affect my work as a kayak instructor I wondered? I have noticed in just one season how greatly the sport is impacting on the environment. Especially with the bears…

Reports during the 2015 season included bears approaching kayakers in the Georgian Bay. A notice was posted in September for one island in particular, http://www.whitesquall.com/pdf/Bear_Warning_for_Franklin_Island.pdf

Stories ranged from kayakers throwing their food at the bears to give them time to escape in the Georgian bay to a bear in Allegheny taking a dry bag out of a kayak during the middle of the day to each the lunch that had been stored inside it. The bears now know that kayaks are water coolers and are paddled by creatures carrying food.

On the course bear stories were shared one involving ‘Yellow’ who learned how to open the bear cans. Others were of cubs that had been taught to climb up the tree and chew the rope for the bear hang. Mama cub would wait below to get the hanging treats. Smart cookie!

IMG_1854 copy 2

Many paddlers are new to the sport and may not have considered the full impact of paddling on the marine environment. Our use of water sites can cause erosion, rubbish can accidentally be left behind or blow out of boats if not stored properly, sunscreen in the water may also affect the marine environment, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150514-sunscreen-nanoparticle-nanotechnology-oceans-marine-beach-boat-toxic/

When we don’t wash our boats and equipment we can unknowingly transport invasive species.

From a day paddle with a lunch stop to an overnight camp trip or expedition we have the ability to leave no trace and grow into better citizens of the planet by following the seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife- don’t feed the bears when paddling or anytime!
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

As a Master Educator I am looking forward to sharing my new found LNT skills with my students, friends and family.

IMG_1890 copy 2

Thanks to ADK’s fearless instructors Ryan and Seth, the participants who made the experience exceptional and LNT for a life changing course!


Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder
Seabirds International

Get Your Paddle On!

Paddling is one of the fastest growing watersports with boats available from most outdoor outfitters. Having access to affordable equipment is a huge incentive for people to start paddling.

IMG_0107 copy

So you’ve got your boat and now what?

With any new sport instruction is recommended. A few lessons when you are first starting out could potentially save your life as well as preventing injury.

Paddling is an all body sport utilizing your arms, your core muscles, your legs and feet as well as the equipment. ‘Body, Boat and Blade’ is a common phrase amongst instructors as to be an efficient paddler you will use all three.

‘Why do I need kayak lessons?’ is a question I am often asked. ‘I used to kayak/canoe as a kid so don’t need lessons’. ‘I just like sitting in my boat and don’t go very far so I don’t need lessons’ are also common statements.

The important questions to ask before plunging into the water are:

Do I fit in this boat?

Can I get in without capsizing?

Is there enough body contact with my boat so I can control my paddling?

Do I know how to make the boat go forward, backward, sideways?

Do I know how to rescue myself?

Can I rescue my paddle partner?

GLSKS rescues copyLessons will not only help beginners learn how to be safe on the water but can help experienced paddlers improve on their existing paddle technique. With instruction you can gain the skills to take your boat on expedition-travelling the planet exploring beautiful waterways. You can learn to roll, become an instructor and even train for the Olympics.

To find an instructor, Buffalo Trek has a list of organizations and outfitters in the paddling directory who offer lessons as well as boat rentals.

The paddlesports organizations that ensure instructors are qualified and up to speed with current practice have a contact list for coaches, courses and clubs. This can be a great starting point for a long and healthy paddling career.

Paddlesports North America – covers North America, http://www.paddlesportsnorthamerica.org/coaches

The American Canoe Association – covers the USA

Paddle Canada – covers Canada

IMG_0027 copy

How to choose?

Everyone learns differently and each instructor brings something unique to a lesson. It’s important to find an instructor or coach you are comfortable learning with.

Whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned professional in order to get your paddle on first learn what to do and then practice throughout the season.

Any sport that involves an element of danger be it drowning, a shoulder injury or hypothermia should be approached with smarts, learn first and always try before you buy a boat.


Safe and happy paddling 😉

IMG_0012 copy

IMG_0175 copy

IMG_0025 copy