Is there a misogyny problem in kayaking?

Earlier this week I received a message from a man I had never met – we will call him ‘Mr Grumpy’. The message said ‘God this sport is easier for women 😂 and you just show it 😂 wow! How disappointing 😂’.

I had to read it twice before I could take it in. What was the message in response to you might ask? Absolutely nothing as far as I am aware. My most recent post had been about a kayaking festival I had attended the day before and how I had enjoyed competing in the ladies boater-x with my friends. But I struggle to see how me enjoying a white water weekend with friends could make this man so angry.

My initial response was to ignore it but after discussing it with a few friends, I decided actually I wanted to address this message and the deeper-rooted issues that underlie it.

Screenshot of the message sent to me this week. I have hidden the name and profile picture of the person who sent it to me.

Keep the focus on the positive

Before I get into the issues that have prompted this article I want to highlight the hugely positive culture that we have in the paddling community. Generally, this community is filled with positivity and inclusivity. People should be (and mostly are) encouraged to join and grow in this sport, regardless of their gender.

I have always said that as a female paddler, I owe a lot of my progress and development to the fantastically supportive men in my life. These men have supported and encouraged not just me, but ALL paddlers. Their kindness and patience have allowed me to flourish and kept me in the sport that I love, even through times when I have faced barriers in my paddling. These men have been my biggest advocates and who I have been heavily influenced by, both as a person and a paddler.

The men in my paddling life are truly incredible. They give me so much love and support and I value them so much. Thank you for showing me that this is what most men in kayaking are actually like.

This article is by no means an anti-men piece and I think it is important when discussing issues around gender equality or misogyny that it is made very clear that the issues are not with all men. In fact, these issues are associated with such a small number of individuals (both male and female) that it would be easy to ignore. But this week I really don’t feel like ignoring it.

So what is the issue?

After reading the message a couple of times, I clicked on this man’s profile. I was unable to view his profile because he had blocked me which seemed quite strange. I have multiple accounts however so I looked under a different account and had a scroll through his very public profile.

From his profile, it became quickly apparent that he was a raft guide. His bio even included the rafting company that he works for. While the issues of misogyny are caused by only a small group of individuals, there does seem to be a higher concentration of those individuals within some circles than others.

There are some paddlers who idolise the pro-kayakers and think that the path to success is through paddling the hardest white water that they can and belittling anyone who chooses not to. These individuals might even assume that paddling harder white water entitles them to something. They are then confused when paddling certain rivers doesn’t mean automatic recognition or success and can become jealous of the success of others.

I read a well written post by Emmett this week which I have shared below. He is not talking about misogyny but he describes the problems that are being caused on the Norway paddling scene this summer because of the poor decision making of some paddlers. Sadly within our sport there are individuals who show a real disregard for others and do not consider the impact their actions may have. I cannot help but feel that there is some overlap between the individuals Emmett is describing and the men I have encountered problems with. I would really recommend reading Emmett’s post.

The issue is that these individuals don’t see that so much of the success that the pro-kayakers have comes not from their paddling abilities but from their friendly and inclusive personalities. These pro-kayakers will often give back to the community and work hard to help others out. They are inspirational and play a big part in developing the up and coming paddlers of the world. They will always be supportive of others, regardless of the difficulty of paddling someone chooses to do.

I am not, nor will I ever pretend to be a phenomenal white water paddler. But I LOVE paddling and I love to share that love with other people. No one reads this blog or follows my Instagram because I am the best at paddling. I assume that they follow me because quite simply they like what I post. I share photos of happy days on the river with friends, discuss all of my many fails and also my successes openly and honestly. I don’t hide who I am.

This was the photo I had shared just before being sent that message. Not sure how me having fun in an amateur boater-x with friends could cause someone to be upset. Photo: Ibbo

When I started to get a bit more publicity with my accounts I began to have more strangers get in contact with me. For the most part, these were genuine questions or friendly conversations. I was more than happy to help others where I could. But there was also the odd message that would make me feel uneasy. It would generally be from a young male kayaker and would be condescending or rude in some way. I had to make it a rule for myself that if someone messaged me and it started with an insult – then I ignored them.

‘You didn’t run the portage?’, ‘Why would you do that river – it is so easy’, ‘Why would Pyranha give you an Ozone if you can’t even cartwheel it on the flat?’. All these questions were not asked because they wanted an answer but asked to belittle me in some way or to establish the person asking as a ‘superior kayaker’.

Pyranha loaned me a small Ozone to review in 2020 as I live next to HPP and paddle a lot. I had great fun and it is one of my favourite boats ever! Not sure why this made some men angry but sadly it did.

The ironic thing is that the people sending me these messages never seem to have as much fun as I do when paddling. They are more concerned with their image or in putting energy into taking others down, than actually having fun on the water! I would also take a bet that they would NEVER say those things to me face to face, nor would they put it in a public comment where they might face some backlash from the wider paddling community. Yet they felt it was acceptable to send me those things in a private message.

Normally I would just ignore these messages and the message from Mr Grumpy this week fell into that category. It made me angry but I decided initially to ignore it. But something about this particular message really wound me up. It was meant to be insulting and belittling. It ruined my day and I questioned what I had done to upset this man so much that he felt the need to send me that. I shared the message with a few close friends, who were furious on my behalf, and after a couple of days have decided it needs to be challenged.

I had a lovely weekend with these ladies. We had FUN because that is what we went there to do. Really not sure what was ‘easier’ about that because we are women.
Photo: Tanya

Because it is not just me. I am confident and happy in myself and my paddling. I normally have the resilience to take the insults and ignore them. But for whatever reason – this has actually upset me. I doubt that Mr Grumpy, who hides behind his keyboard, has acted in this way solely towards me. There are women and girls who will get these types of messages and not want to paddle or attend a trip because of them. There are women and girls who will feel uncomfortable (or even unsafe) enough to quit paddling because of people like this. And it is actions like this one which are one of the main reasons why women aren’t as prevalent in kayaking as men.

I am also very aware that whilst I have been talking about the impact the actions of this small group of individuals have on women, their actions no doubt affect men too. There will be plenty of men in our paddling community who do not share the mindset of ‘go hard or go home’ and I have no doubt that degrading comments and messages like this have also driven men away from our sport. It is not okay.

The solution?

If you are one of the people who feel it okay to send messages of this nature, make degrading comments or belittle others in any way – then just stop. Whatever your reasons for doing it – just stop. I will ask a friend to send this blog link to Mr Grumpy and I hope he will read it and maybe think twice before sending unkind and unnecessary messages to strangers again. I chose not to publicly name him because I think everyone makes mistakes and there is nothing good that would come from shaming him. But I really hope Mr Grumpy that I do not hear similar stories about you in the future.

If you have done something of this nature in the past – then apologise. It is never too late. A friend suggested that Mr Grumpy might have been drunk or someone had taken his phone. In that case, rather than blocking me, he should have sent another message and said sorry. An apology goes a long way.

And if you know people who do this kind of thing – call them out on it. To drive a cultural change, it takes the commitment of everyone involved to change it. If we allow these things to go unchallenged, then it will never change. Our sport is niche enough as it is and has a very definite gender imbalance. The higher up you go, the greater than gender imbalance is. What a shame it would be that the women who reach those levels leave the sport, not because of the sport itself, but because we allow misogyny to exist within those circles. I am so grateful to all the men I know who bend over backwards to support other paddlers, men and women, to reach those circles. Be more like those men and less like Mr Grumpy.

My biggest role model in kayaking is Beth Morgan – here we are in Norway 2019. Beth is one of the best female kayakers in the world and does SO MUCH to raise others in this sport. Thankful for the Beths of this sport.

End note

Generally, I have nothing but love for the kayaking community but every now and again you get a bad egg who feels like they know best.

The message I received this week has really spurred me to want to finally stand up and call out those individuals. It is not this one message, is it the fact that I have come to expect messages of this nature. Why should I accept that this is a part of being a woman in kayaking? It shouldn’t be. This sport is wonderful and we should be building it and the people within it up – not driving them out. So let’s work together and call people out if they do not get it right.

I paddle because it makes me happy. And if that makes people hate me? Well – that sounds like a them problem. Not a me problem.

Feel free to get in touch with me via the comments if you want to discuss this article further. I welcome an open conversation on this topic.

16 replies on “Is there a misogyny problem in kayaking?”

Hi Del,

Trans girl kayaker here in NY. I’ve had 33 years in the sport at times paddling at an extreme level and others at more of a class 3-4 level. The sport has changed radically over the years for the better. I’m one of those people who can’t imagine paddling on a lake for fun. When I tell people what info for fun they are always surprised, thinking that we all stomp waterfalls and survive epic beat downs. Of course that far from the truth. The reality we know is that paddling is fun but being upside down in a boat is scary as is learning to navigate moving water. It’s so wonderful to help people confront their fears and learn to read the river.

As a trans woman it was hugely important that kayaking still be available to me – and my crew and extended paddling community have stepped up to make sure I feel included. More so, the woman of this sport have embraced me – I guess this is a long winded way of saying that the bro culture kayaking and rafting is slowly withering.

Glad to hear it – thank you for sharing your experiences. I am glad that you have such a good community available to you and from your experiences think it is and continues to improve.
I wrote an article for international women’s day in March this year about paddling achievements by women. In this piece I included a trans woman by the name of Veiga who was the first person to paddle around Iceland anti-clockwise (against the current)! It was very interesting to hear her experiences of paddling and of her journey in the community as a trans woman. I am so glad that for the most part our community is so supportive and encouraging to all.

You shouldn’t have to deal with messages like that. Its not on at all. From the brief contact that I have had with you, your enthusiasm for paddling is really obvious and that should be the only thing that counts!

It is worth remembering that the ‘go big or go home’ crowd, don’t often stay with kayaking for long. They normally scare themselves, when they get out of their depth and then leave kayaking behind them as their ego can’t face not being ‘good’. Whatever ‘good’ is.

They rarely understand that their motivations can be very different to someone else’s motivations.

I love your blog and I am super impressed that you are so open about about your kayaking and also post failures! I never dare to do that…Thank you for being so inspirational, even when that means you have to deal with these stupid messages 🙁 I have heard a similar comment in real life at a bonfire once – apparently, the guy’s ex became women’s national freestyle champion and got sponsored “even though the only thing she can do is loop” – but I think that was just hurt feelings talking there…

Anyways, happy paddling and thanks for your wonderful blog! I think you deserve any sponsorship for your great writing and the time you put into this!!!

Hello. Thank you for your comment and the kind compliments. It is a shame that some people cannot celebrate the success of those around them and instead of congratulating, they look for ways to downplay that success. Although as you say perhaps in that case – it was his hurt feelings talking.
You too – happy paddling!

A very powerful article. We take this stuff like body punches and absorb it thinking, as our critics wish, that we are the only ones being criticized…they hoping that we will just feel so undermined that we will stop. It’s corrosive. It’s so important to call it out and share it. I would love to see Canoe Focus or other paddling mags use this article. Whilst focusing on inclusion the elephant in the room is this. We all know….they all know… and we need to talk about it.

It is true. I realised I had come to expect messages like this and actually that was so wrong. After publishing this article last week, I had an overwhelming number of messages of support (from both men and women) and many who shared that they too had similar experiences. Hopefully opening up the conversation will allow more people to realise that this kind of behaviour is not okay and should be challenged.

I hate that this is such a problem in our sport. I felt I started to have problems with some male paddlers when I stepped up to help as an assistant coach in my club. It felt like they were ok with me as a paddler but not helping out. I only ever wanted to help my club but since then a few men started making jibes about me not paddling white water every weekend. I have other hobbies I don’t always want to do white water – sometimes I just want to explore and see wildlife. But they seemed to think it was fine to belittle everyone who didn’t want to be out every weekend on white water. They left the club eventually but I still bump into them on the water and it’s painful every time. The last time I paddled with one of them they spent a good chunk of the paddle telling me how my club was full of paddlers who couldn’t or wouldn’t paddle. I don’t feel either myself or my club members did anything to deserve the jibes other than doing what we enjoyed doing which for some of us is just going out for a journey, a chat and a wildlife watch and it makes me sad because two of them used to be friends. That said most of the supportive coaches I have had over the years were male. I was often the only girl / woman paddling and felt quite at home with that doing grade 2/3s – so I’m trying to remember the decent ones and move on from the toxic guys although I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t unfortunately had an impact on my paddling.

I am a big believer in the motto ‘you do you’. You should paddle at whatever level and however often you want to. We paddle because we enjoy it and so whatever you enjoy – do it! If others do not understand your enjoyment – then that is their problem. Keep doing what you enjoy!

My partner had problems all the time. Often it wasn’t overt, but sometimes it was. I remember her practicing her double pump once and a local club had also turned up in the eddy. One of the members muttered very clearly as they passed by “Hmm, a female practising freestyle…” Unbelievable! Quite surprised he didn’t end up wearing his kayak on his head.

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