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Anna Levesque

You say that your instructional videos that discuss the emotional side of kayaking are what shook the industry - can you talk about this some more? What are the emotional issues involved and why is this such a taboo as a topic?

Both men and women can relate to feeling nervous, scared and intimidated while kayaking, but they each have a different way of expressing and dealing with these emotions. Women and men actually have a different response to stress. Most men have the traditional fight-or-flight response while most women have a response coined ‘tend-and-befriend’ by researchers. Women like to bond together for social support when stressed and they like to talk about how they’re feeling. Men will suppress the fear and will keep moving. For example, when women are at the top of a rapid that makes them feel nervous most of them like to talk with other paddlers in the group to get feedback and support. According to the Tend-and-Befriend theory this is a perfectly natural reaction for women. Since men generally experience Fight-or-Flight, they don’t usually want to talk about the rapid because they see their line and want to run it or walk it and get on with it. Both responses are natural and acceptable, but because there have traditionally been more men in the sport, women have often been expected to act and react like their male paddling friends. This has lead to women doubting their ability and feeling inadequate.

One of the biggest emotional issues for women in kayaking is crying on the river. For most women crying is a natural response to frustration and fear. In my experience if a woman feels that she needs to cry she’ll pull over for 5 or 10 minutes and then get back on the water with a much clearer head. Men don’t understand this reaction very well and often try to ‘fix’ the situation instead of just giving women the space they need to clear their heads and move on.

I don’t necessarily believe that these topics are taboo in the kayaking world, but I do think that in male-dominated sports everyone is expected to act like men. How people think and believe is usually based on their past personal experiences so it makes sense that men would expect women to act like men because men aren’t familiar with the female experience. This is why I feel that bringing the female kayaking experience to the forefront of the industry is so important.

What is it about whitewater kayaking that you find so exciting and exhilarating?

Kayaking is exciting for a number of reasons. One is that it’s a very dynamic sport. There are thousands of rivers all over the world that you can run and each one is different. Even if you run the same river or rapid everyday the water levels can change making the river easier or more difficult so there is always the possibility for excitement. The river is good at keeping people humble because no matter how many times you’ve run a river or how much experience you have the river is always more powerful. Kayaking is most exhilarating when you’re at the bottom of a big rapid after a success run that you were really nervous about.

Do you have another job in addition to running Girls at Play? You are also a competitor in the sport and a World Championship medalist. Congratulations! But how in the world do you find time for all of this?

I have chosen to stop competing and focus all of my attention on Girls at Play. I still love to go out and paddle and keep my skills competitive, but I’d rather focus my energy on teaching women and creating products and resources for women to not only learn to kayak, but also to build confidence that will help women make good choices for their personal well-being.

What advice would you offer to other Daring Females who want to try out a sport or an activity traditionally reserved for men?

My advice is to search out women’s clinics and camps for a specific sport. Women’s only sports clinics are gaining in popularity and can be really effective in providing beginners with a supportive environment free of pressure and intimidation. After all, the idea is to have fun!

To learn more about Anna’s organization, Girls at Play, click here to visit the website.

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