WOW! Women On Water Workshops

It may come as no surprise that I was a childhood "tom-boy" growing up outside of Grand Rapids in the tiny hamlet of Marne, Michigan — exploring the woods with the neighborhood boys (but only because the boys were the only neighbors my age). Jumping creeks, climbing trees, and speed races on my banana-seat bike were daily norms. I had either bowl- or pixie-cut hair because my Mom was never "in" to dealing with taming hair, and prior to puberty, I truly looked like "one of the boys." I doubt that any of us gave much thought to encouraging me, or any kid, to get outside and adventure often. It was the '70s after all and this childhood experience of needing to only be home in time for dinner was pretty typical of many rural and suburban kids.

When I was 9, we moved to the "urban" suburbs of Grand Rapids. There were no woods or childhood friends, and my 3.5 years-older sister usually saw me as a pest as she entered her teen years. I had one maple tree in the backyard, a posse of stuffed-animal friends, and books. Adventures now lived in my head with the likes of the Hardy Boys (Nancy Drew always had it so easy!), James and the Giant Peach, and Fudge. I still chased bees on the school playground, but the suburban kids weren't the same. And when puberty hit, my courage shrank at the same rate as my breasts grew. I still loved the outdoors, but lack of opportunity, braces, greasy hair, heavy periods, and larger-than-average breasts created a girl who opted to sweat through summers wearing large jackets. One school-friend, Lily, still got me to attend Camp Henry's Frontier Camp throughout middle school (thank you!), and those short weeks were a blissful return to my earlier childhood existence. Except, of course, I had my period EVERY SINGLE TIME. With a pit toilet and no way to wash your hands as the cherry on top...

High school came along, and through Junior Achievement my sophomore year, I met a senior from my high school who — while dining on mediocre Chinese food using an Entertainment Book coupon — told me about Outward Bound and a week-long sailing course he had done. I filed the story away in my head. The idea of such an adventure now seemed so unattainable among papers, quizzes, and college prep. But then college rolled around and the idea re-ignited after transferring from my first college to Aquinas College and a rough break-up of a long-lasting high school relationship (we're still friends). Over the months, I went from thinking of doing a one-week course, and then thought — go big! Instead of returning to school for the start of my junior year, I took a semester off to do a co-ed Colorado Outward Bound Wilderness Leadership semester. Read the other blog post about my experience. 

Although my childhood adventure companions were all boys, and the male Outward Bound instructors and pod-mates were all supportive, I now realize that not every young girl has that experience sharing skinned-up knees with boys and feeling comfortable among them. Even for me, the tables turned as I was body-shamed in middle school by boys at my new school. I was embarrassed by how I looked. I was afraid to try much of anything that was "outside" the box. And many of us women carry this into adulthood. And many women also assume the mantle of "spouse" or "Mom" and place pursuing our own adventures onto the furthest back-burner (lasting 20+ years or forever). And the older we get, the more aware we become that sometimes you really just wish there was a way to learn new things among people like you — without judgement. Surrounded by people who will make you feel unjudged and safe while trying, making mistakes, or looking goofy. This is where the idea of the WOW workshops originated — to put women on the water and offer exactly that with either 2- or 3-night workshops where we learn and grow together while spending amazing time paddling the Les Cheneaux Islands, eating fabulous chef-crafted foods by a female chef, enjoying sunsets, learning and practicing self-rescues and kayaking skills, sunrise yoga, a full moon paddle (August), and time to let our hair get messy without needing to "show up" for the social norms of womanhood. And because I love crafting, an open "craft bar" too for giving your hands something to do in the downtime (or break the ice to talk to someone else).

We hope that these WOW workshops serve as a gateway to empower all women to feel more confident as paddlers, find techniques that work for them, try different kayaks, explore the beautiful northern shores of Lake Huron, meet other women who deep down love adventuring (big, small and micro adventures), and have fun making new connections with other women who will become a group of cheerleaders who continue to encourage one another to adventure often. Every day can be an International Women's Day. Let's do this — click here to find out more and book!

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