by Mary Frances Hansford
Girls at Play was thrilled to take part in Boaterchick Festival for the fourth year in a row this year. It was this past weekend (May 20-22) at Nelson’s Hideaway Campground just down from the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina. This year there were about 80 women — all ages, all skill levels, and from as far away as D.C. — taking part in the event. Girls at Play lead the Nantahala trip on Saturday, which was made up of 25 boaters! It was a great feeling to turn around and see an armada of colored kayaks cruising down the river, most of them paddled by women. There was also a Nolichucky trip, Cheoah trip and race, Green Narrows trip, and some great playboating and creeking clinics on the Tuckaseegee, Ocoee and Nantahala.
Each year the women nominate and vote for a Boaterchick of the Year recipient. This honor is always awarded to a woman who has been influential in progressing women in the sport of kayaking. The three past winners were Bunny Johns, Anna Levesque (!), and Juliet Kastorff. This year the winner was Mary Ann Grell, an active member of the Knoxville Kayaking Club (CHOTA). She is an outstanding boater and is known as the “Mother Goose” on the river, always helping paddlers out and creating a supportive environment.
One of the unique things about Boaterchick is that is completely non-profit and in the past profits have been donated to American Whitewater. However, this year the profits were donated to First Descents, a program committed to curing young adults of the emotional effects of cancer and empowering them to regain control of their lives by experiencing outdoor adventure therapy through kayaking, rock climbing and other outdoor adventure sports. Representatives from FD were there to talk about the programs and how special and uplifting they are. They were very grateful to be receiving support from the Boaterchick Festival this year.
The weekend at Boaterchick festival was full of smiling faces, laughter, music, whitewater and new and old friends. It is a unique and exciting place to spend the weekend. It isn’t only for the ladies either, plenty of Boater Boys were there too, volunteering and enjoying the festivities. Spending time on the water with friends always creates a unique bond, something more than a friendship. Boaterchick creates this space for all these women to have this experience together. I think the thing about paddling with someone, you are instantly showing them the support and encouragement that a friendship involves but in a faster fashion. It all happens at once on the river when off the water sometimes they take longer to build. Some of my paddling friendships started at Boaterchick several years ago and have evolved each year into more than just paddling buddies.
Thank you to all the ladies who volunteer their time to bring Boaterchick to life and to everyone who makes it such a special place! We all look forward to it again next year!