POSTED FROM Kokatat Kayaking Gear
I started kayaking as a little girl where we live here in Butte, Montana. I was six years old and it was a couple of years before the first kids’ boats were designed. Interestingly enough, we usually don’t see many other women kayakers. A freshman in high-school, I am now 14 and, other than a few close friends of my dad’s, more often than not my sisters and I are the only women on the river. This is unfortunate, because kayaking can be a way of life just as easily for women as for men. I have been able to apply the lessons I’ve learned on the river to my life, and the same is true as well for my two little sisters.
One of the first lessons that I learned was responsibility. My dad always said, “If you want to be a real kayaker you have to carry your own kayaking gear.” Though he would help my little sisters and I when we would try to carry our kayaks down the steep banks of the Big Hole River, he encouraged us to be able to deal with our own equipment even though the kayaks were still way too big for us when we were younger.
Another example of responsibility is organization in school. Lessons I learned from kayaking carry over to other areas of life, such as time management, and helps me keep up with my life being a busy teenager; with soccer or tennis practice after school, homework, and free time so I can hang out with my friends and do other recreational activities. Kayaking has taught me that I am responsible for me, my belongings, and the mistakes that I make, and sometimes others, especially when I have to watch over my little sisters. When I am on the river I fully understand that I am responsible for the decisions, good or bad, that I make, and I also have come to understand that I am responsible for the decisions I make in my life.
Another lesson that kayaking has taught me is that anything is possible in life if we’re willing to keep trying. Last kayaking season my family and I were paddling down The Alberton Gorge north of Missoula, Montana for the last time that summer. As we approached a huge rapid that had a terrifying hole waiting inside, known as Tumbleweed, I began to get butterflies – as I always do before this drop. I had run it about fifteen times, but I had never run it before without being flipped. In the eddy on river left just above the rapid, I took a deep breath and went for it. As we entered the rapid there was no turning back, so I dug my paddle into the water as hard and fast as I could. The first wave swallowed me whole and the second wave hit me like a ton of bricks. Opening my eyes, I realized that I had made it through without flipping over for the first time ever. The amazing enjoyment I got from that experience is indescribable. I felt as though I was on top of the world and that I could accomplish anything in my path.
Success on the river also improves self-confidence and self-respect. When you’ve gone down rivers successfully, you can compare your river experiences to life and say, “I did that and that was harder, so I can do this.” You look at yourself in a new perspective and find things about yourself that you didn’t know. Last year my dad and one of my sisters (Hannah) and I kayaked the Wise River for the first time. The section we ran is about eight miles south of Wise River, Montana. This river was different from any of the others that I have run because it’s more of a creek, tighter and more technical. On this river I found that I needed to be more decisive and commit to my decision because the river was steeper and faster; I needed to anticipate my moves in order to get down the river safely. Anticipating moves on the river, and in life, is a good thing!
Everything I have learned from kayaking can be applied to everything I do. Learning these lessons at an early age has helped me deal with some of the challenges of being a girl. Self-confidence, responsibility, commitment, anticipation, and self-respect are important qualities to have on the river, and in life, especially for a woman. Kayaking is sometimes considered a guy’s sport, and when a girl is doing the same exact sport as a man (maybe even doing it better) people step back and say “WOW.” From kayaking, I realized that WOMEN KICK BUTT and I’m looking forward to meeting and paddling with other woman kayakers. I’m proud of the fact that kayaking is a way of life for me.
- Aidan Amtmann