Mountain Mama: Women’s Southeast Paddling Series

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Shannon Christy was loved by all her knew her,” the leader of the Ladies Southeast Paddling Series down Section 9 of the French Broad River said to us, the twenty women gathered in a circle. She explained that after the day’s paddle, we could buy raffle tickets to benefit a fund the Shannon Christy Memorial Fund (to be turned into a non-profit to empower women in kayaking in 2016). For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Shannon, her name is synonymous with an unequaled generosity in spirit and up-for-anything attitude.

Thirty minutes earlier I pulled into the take-out in my pick-up with a custom welded kayak rack, the kind of vehicle that makes everyone assume you’re running shuttle. Women introduced themselves as they handed me their boats and I balanced on the bedrail in my flip flops and sundress. I reached over to turn a boat and lost my footing, falling face first into the bed of my truck. I broke my fall, grabbing onto my rack and flipped over it, leaving me in the compromising position of feet up in the air and sundress gathered around my belly button. Talk about an ice breaker, that stunt had us all laughing.

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Then a friend who’d taken a brave leap to another part of the country and pursued her dream job had come back into town for the weekend and paddled with us.  As we paddled through rapids like Pillow and Ledges, she told us about the bumps along the way. The journey had transformed her, animating her with a certain confidence and optimism that was contagious. Another friend learning to kayak attempted some boofs and wore an ear -to-ear smile the whole way, getting another successful day on the river under her belt. The day was spent catching up with old friends and making new ones.

Later while reminiscing about the day, I remembered an email I sent to Shannon in June 2012. We had paddled the Pigeon and talked about the importance of exposing all types of women to whitewater. We exchanged a few emails planning an after work series to get women in their boats. Between us, we knew so many beginning women paddlers who wanted to get out on the water more often.

I dropped the ball on actually organizing any paddles with Shannon, but I realized that Saturday, the exact paddle we had discussed all those years ago finally happened. The day was so kissed by grace that I’m sure Shannon Christy had a hand in it.

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Girls at Play will host three more of these supportive gathering to foster community amongst women paddlers – the Pigeon River on July 25th, Ocoee on August 1st, and the Lower Gauley on September 18th. While Girls at Play provides trip leaders, these paddles aren’t intended to be instruction based.

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