California during the summer means sunshine, friends, and whitewater. Due to our extreme drought conditions, this spring and summer have brought less whitewater, more sunshine, and even more friends to the rivers that are running. In a normal year, California has multiple whitewater hubs that are spread all across the state, from way up north on the Trinity River to Kernville in the Southern Sierras. Fortunately, there are still two “hubs” that have been in play this summer. Due to hydroelectric dams on the South Fork and Middle Fork of the American and the Tuolumne, raft guides still have jobs, and paddlers can still paddle. This created a unique season when it comes to community. A limited number of running rivers naturally brings paddlers together. So, we saw the perfect opportunity to connect ladies in the area, creating a much needed women’s watersports community on the West Coast.
California Women’s Watersport Collective, or Cali Collective for short, has come into town and hit the ground running. Cali Collective was created by Melissa DeMarie and Tracy Tate to bring ladies together on the water. Whether kayaking, rafting, paddle boarding, surfing, or doing yoga, ladies on the West Coast are recognizing that its about time we all get together and have some fun. The summer started with a couple of unofficial events, which led to a two-day women’s kayaking clinic at the end of the summer. The unofficial events were created on Facebook and there were no expectations set. The first unofficial event was a play boating clinic led by Katie Scott at Barking Dog, a wave on the South Fork of the American River. As Melissa, our friend Lydia and I drove to the wave, Melissa mentioned that it might just be us at the wave; she didn’t think that anyone else was going to come. We got in our boats, paddled down to the wave, and lo and behold, we were the last ones on the water! There were about twenty women that came to paddle that afternoon and everyone left better play boaters, better friends, and stoked on this new women’s movement on the water.
The second unofficial Cali Collective event was paddle boarding from Coloma to Greenwood (or C to G), a friendly class II stretch on the South Fork. Again, the event was created on Facebook, and expectations were not set high. As I was telling my mom about this event, she got especially excited. Over the past couple of years, my mom has picked up paddle boarding as a very fond hobby. Right before I told her about Cali Collective’s SUP day, she was telling me about her SUP-ing goals. “Hopefully by the end of summer I’ll be good enough to SUP C to G. Maybe one day I’ll be able to join you gals,” she had told me. After a bit of conversing, contemplating, and coaxing on my end, my mom decided that day was going to be tomorrow. The reason my mom decided to do something that terrified her was because the other ladies welcomed her in, were excited for her to be along, and made it very clear that they were there for her. They never once said that she was “just” paddle boarding or these were “just” a class II rapids. If they had done that, they would have been taking away how meaningful her personal achievement was.
Photo to the right is my mom celebrating after Barking Dog on the South Fork. Yes, that is me behind her. Yes, I am falling off. No, my mom did not fall off her board at all.
This specific event meant the world to me. It gave personal validation to what we already know: how special Girls at Play is, and how special Cali Collective is already becoming. Community has the ability to support its members and realize their dreams.
Our third event was a ladies’ weekend kayaking clinic. In preparation for the event, I found myself and a handful of women sitting around a table to talk about the logistics for the weekend. These women were people I had admired ever since I started paddling. They were strong, determined, accomplished and fiery. I looked around and couldn’t believe that I was apart of this group.
The weekend went better than we could have imagined! Saturday consisted of three classes: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There were at least three instructors in each class, with a four-to-one ratio of students-to-instructors. Thirty women were enrolled for the weekend, so including the instructors, we had around 50 women spread all over the South Fork. Once the classes were over, we reconvened at the camp sight for yoga and a potluck dinner, and discussed helpful items to bring in personal safety kits. The next morning we had a slalom clinic and roll session and broke for lunch. After lunch, every single woman went down the lower section of the South Fork. The Lower, also known as the Gorge, is a textbook class III stretch. There were fifty women on the water paddling all together! Whether kayaking, inflatable kayaking, or paddling in a raft, we were a force to be reckoned with. Our group was split into eight pods, with an instructor in the front and one in the back. There were comfortable class III paddlers, ladies who were paddling class III for their first time, and inflatable kayakers who were taking charge of their personal craft for the first time. This made for a learning opportunity for everyone in the group. The class III paddlers were partnered with someone less experienced and they were in charge of leading them down: giving them beta, looking back to make sure they were okay, and leading the rescue if their partner swam. Needless to say, the weekend began with much anticipation, and ended with even more excitement for what is to come.
With or without water, this has been an amazing summer. Cali Collective has been able to get its feet off of the ground and more paddling events are in the books for the near future. When y’all come out West, there will be a community of ladies to paddle with!