In the rafting niche, safety comes first, but when the industry hasn’t fully opened up to women, it’s no surprise that their safety hasn’t been fully considered.
In its simplest form, rafting requires only a raft, paddle, life jacket and helmet, but women who work as commercial guides and outdoor teachers still struggle to find equipment to their size.
Access to properly fitted gear is essential for safe rafting, but competitive and recreational participants find it nearly impossible to find life jackets that fit comfortably and securely on the chest of boaters. women.
Meanwhile, others struggle to maintain control of paddles with shaft diameters and grips larger than their hands can hold.
“Lifejackets cling to your chest. We have to give them to customers knowing they might be uncomfortable all day.”
With hands smaller than those of the average man, Kanellopoulos “constantly loses his grip” on his paddle while trying to guide himself through often treacherous waters.
While manufacturers have reduced the weight of paddles and different paddle lengths are readily available depending on the size of the user, the shaft sizes are primarily designed to fit the average man’s hand.
International racing rules require competitors to use C1 paddles and Kanellopoulos’ own teammates were even surprised to learn how often the issue affects him.
She said that while traversing white water, her paddle would often slip away from her, at best wasting her time in a race, at worst reducing her ability to guide her raft safely.
While for day trips an ill-fitting paddle shaft is a mere inconvenience, for competition and whitewater rafters losing or not having full control of a paddle can be a real problem. security.
When working in an environment as unpredictable as the waterways, safety is a team effort between competitors and the water.
Women want to feel welcome, seen and heard
While adventure sports and recreational activities are popular tourist pursuits, women in this field feel unwelcome.
An outdoor teacher, Kanellopoulos crossed rivers across the country, but said she heard countless stories from disrespected women.
River Roos team captain Ashleigh Smith said the biggest cultural problem in the adventure sports industry is the lack of awareness among some men.
“They consider this male physique as the norm.
“[They say,] ‘you should be able to lift this. You should be able to cast that far. You should be able to shoot this without using your crew at all.
Expectations Leading to Injury
The expectation that guides can and will move heavy equipment contributes to both long-term and acute injuries within the industry.
“We started a season with six girls, and at the end of the winter I was the only girl working because other people had been injured,” said Amy Rella, who has 15 years’ experience. in adventure sports.
Since studying outdoor education, she has seen a huge increase in female interest in the field.
But this has not eliminated all the problems that women face.
“There’s a lot of misogyny and you’re usually expected to be dragging a huge raft, which just seems ridiculous to me. When I was working with another female guide, we worked together to get our gear and then one guy would come down and the did themselves.”
Rella said the hiatus in picking up men is frustrating and perpetuates the idea that guides have to do everything alone.
By using a team mentality rather than focusing on individual physical strength, Rella was able to prevent injuries.
Use brains, not muscles
Bringing gear to the riverside isn’t the only difference the women noticed between the male and female guides. The actual experience of crossing rivers and rapids changes dramatically between guides.
“It’s amazing to see a woman guiding a river and a man guiding that same river, they work completely differently,” Rella said.
Her teammate Emma Johnson agrees, saying women tend to cross rivers more methodically, not relying solely on their strength to deal with strong currents.
“You could look at some rapids ahead of you and see where to bypass some of them, rather than just crashing in the middle.”
A community that works together
Although some paddlers face challenges with certain people, team member Charlotte Bond has found the community as a whole to be welcoming to her.
“I was a sporty kid, I did them all, but the river community is just a different level of beauty,” she said.
Working together, the River Roos have facilitated their own culture of positivity and empowerment, culminating in their latest challenge, competing in the 2022 International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships in Bosnia later this month.
“It’s exciting to meet other women from other countries who are amazing athletes and rafters. It’s amazing to see these gifted kayakers show themselves to everyone,” Bond said.
Kanellopoulos received a late call to join the team and said she enjoys the camaraderie of other women in her sport.
“As a woman who paddles, [other] paddling women are waiting for you. They say, “I’m not going to hold your hand, but I’m here, you’ve got this, show me the potential I know you have.” It’s incredible.
“We’re not just excited, trying to make it faster, bigger, better. It’s just beautiful.”
ABC Sport partners with Siren Sport to improve coverage of Australian women in sport.
Tahlia Sinclair is a journalist based in Central New South Wales with a passion for women’s sports and community stories.