In 2022, it feels good to paddle like a girl. Over the past year, we’ve seen an uptick in female participation at major whitewater races, enjoyed the release of the first woman-centered whitewater feature film, Wild Waters, and witnessed the re-emergence of all-girl paddling crews.
It’s been a journey to get here. Whitewater’s male-dominated participation has always shone through in its media. Successful feature-length films like Steve Fisher’s Halo Effect (2012) and Grand Inga Project (2013), as well as River Roots’ River Runner (2021) reached huge audiences outside of paddlesports. Still, you’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of a woman running a challenging rapid.
There have been attempts to buck the trend. At the 2012 Green Race, extreme racer Katrina Van Wijk—up to her nipples in water above the infamous class V Gorilla rapid—yelled, “This is TITS DEEP!” The catchy slogan evolved into a symbol of female empowerment.
Back then, Van Wijk was told, “there’s certain whitewater girls just don’t run.” A decade later, this notion is being proven wrong, yet female participation in whitewater remains stagnant. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2019 Special Report on Paddlesports, women make up just 36 percent of whitewater paddlers. And that percentage is even lower at the extreme end of the sport.
A new generation of female shredders is picking up where Van Wijk left off. Here are three of our favorite crews leading the charge.
3 badass female paddling crews to follow
1 Team Moxie
Team Moxie is the brainchild of a sendy group of high school teens. The crew, consisting of Hanna Gazzard, Maddie Kimmel, Sophie Gilfillan, Nia Burtchaell-Norman, Victoria Levi and Anya Sachs met through World Class Academy, a traveling school for students who earn credits while paddling around the world.
The mission, says 17-year-old Kimmel, is to close whitewater kayaking’s gender gap and improve its representation of women. Kimmel has already made her mark in the whitewater community by winning the Potomac River’s Great Falls Race in 2020, being the first female to land a cobra flip, and taking the title of Female Grom Of The Year at the recent Whitewater Awards. Team Moxie aims to prove “ladies are just as steezy in a boat as anyone else.”
2 Team Tittiez
The goal for Team Tittiez is simple: have fun every day. After meeting while working at a paddlesports outfitter in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the girls—Laura Macchiavello, Sarina Chalmers, Greta Durbin and Carli Beisel—created a space where they could crush stereotypes like they do boofs. “Growing up, we didn’t see many female kayaking videos or teams that embodied feminine strength and style, so we created Team Tittiez to change that,” they said.
At World Class Academy, Biesel coaches youth on some of the world’s most technical whitewater. Fellow teammate, Chalmers, hucks herself off waterfall giants like 55-foot Lower Mesa Falls and the stacked South Fork of Silver Creek, California.
3 Babes In Boats
Babes In Boats started as a group chat by Montana-based Madison Dapcevich to bring women paddlers together. Four others–Tenneson Lewis, Ellian Kiselica, Caitlin Sutton and Abby Volkmann–make up the core crew.
The mission, Dapcevich said, is “to empower babes worldwide to get on the water.” The group has raised money to support Crux Adventures, a kids kayak club, and covered the competition entrance fees for a Missoula-based female paddler to compete in the Gallatin Whitewater Festival. Dapcevich says the goal is to register as a nonprofit to support womxn on the water and help remove barriers to entry.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, moxie means a force of character, determination or nerve. Nia Burtchael-Norman drops Salto Blanco Sur in Chile. | Feature photo: Kalob Grady