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Mountain Mama: How Sarah Ruhlen is Redefining Kayaking Videos

At last year’ Tallulah Fest Sarah Ruhlen was standing in a crowd, excited to see the kayaking videos. All the movies featured guys running big waterfalls, doing amazing tricks, and paddling big water. They were fantastic, but I didn’t feel part of the narrative. None of the videos featured women. They didn’t capture the experience of regular paddlers.

So she decided to make an all-women edit for this year’s Tallulah Fest.

Sarah majors in biology at Western Carolina University and paddles whenever she can. During the summer she teaches canoeing and kayaking at NOC, and she’s also an avid whitewater photographer.

Sarah sent out a group message to all the women paddlers she knew and shared her idea, asking for footage that she could use to create a video that showed what being part of the community is like. Over thirty people responded.

Sarah hadn’t done much with editing, but was excited to get so much cool video footage from rivers across the Southeast including the Tallulah, Chatooga, Rocky Broad, Horsepasture, Green, and Cheoah.

Sarah had a hard time trying to find music. “I wanted something that didn’t misrepresent the story. It isn’t the right platform for something relaxed, the crowd wouldn’t pay attention,” Sarah said. “I found a song I really liked, something more playful and light, sort of happier.”

She hopes that her edit helps create a more expansive view of what it means to paddle whitewater.  Sarah said, “Yes it’s a women’s edit. The point isn’t to exclude men – it’s to be inclusive and push away cliques that often happen when people run harder whitewater. I want to help create a more expansive community. For people to go to festivals and see themselves and the rivers they know when they watch the videos.” 

The feedback Sarah’s received about her edit has been really good.  Some have told her that the video is something that they want to show their kids or their mom, that they’ll watch it again. A lot of guys have rallied around the video and cheer on all the women crushing it.

Sarah’s video was shown at the Tallulah Fest this past weekend, which was still held despite the cancellation of the scheduled release. She’s thinking about making a longer edit for the Banff Film Festival. “Perhaps with a different story, but the same vibe. I have so much footage from so many people that might not be seen on another platform,” Sarah said.

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