How to get your Girlfriend into Kayaking

Written by Kate Walsh
Learn.Play.Hope’s very own freelance writer

It’s no secret that kayaking is a male dominated sport, and I have definitely had many guy friends ask me if I knew any single girls who paddled, or for tips on how to get their girlfriend interested in the sport.  I think men and women tend to learn and experience kayaking in very different ways.  Here are a few tips from a girl who spends a good amount of time paddling with my boyfriend, Zach (who happens to be way better than me) and has stuck with the sport for about six years now.  Hope it helps!

Jackson Kayak

(Photo: Me, Johanna and Mallie and the Nolichucky, Credit: Phil Ellis)

1. Make it Fun

Kayaking is a lot of things.  Brown, gnar, epic, stout.  But most importantly, kayaking should be fun.The more you manage to make it fun, the more likely she is to enjoy it. Have a “date night” where you take a picnic, some beer and a kayak to the lake just to paddle around, get comfortable flipping/getting out of the boat, etc. Paddle something low stress with mutual friends. Positive association has long been a staple of advertising psychology. If you want to get a person interested in something, make it a positive experience.


Game Face

Me at the Kennebec my first year paddling in my Jackson Kayak Fun, with my signature look of sheer terror.  Photo: Rapid Shooters Maine

2.Take It Slow

The Upper Green isn’t that hard right? I mean you’ve run the gnarrows like 800 times and the upper only has like two easy rapids. She’ll be fine. But then she get’s recired at Wanda’s hole, swims four times, and has to carry that stupid heavy boat forever to the parking lot and ends up wondering why anyone even likes this stupid sport. I know a lot of women who tried paddling and had traumatic experiences early on that turned them off to paddling. On top of that, most of us want to make the person we’re with happy, so that adds another level of pressure. For any beginner kayaker, the more comfortable you feel with basics, i.e. eddies, ferries, rolling, strokes, the more confident you will feel navigating a river and handling the inevitable difficult situations that are inherent to kayaking.

3. Encourage Her to Have Other Paddling Friends


It’s raining and the Scary Fork of the Dark Prong is running. Zach is super pumped. He loves the Scary Fork of the Dark Prong. It’s his favorite river! I have about as much interest in running the Scary Fork of the Dark Prong as I do in pulling out my own teeth. Luckily, I have my own group of paddling friends, and we are all going to Fairy Boof Land. Encourage your girlfriend to have her own paddling friends. Not only will you get to go to the Scary Fork of the Dark Prong, but having your own crew gets you paddling with people of all levels, which can be a nice change from always paddling with someone way better than you. (Photo: Hanging out at the Ocoee.  Credit: Phil Ellis)

4. Use Your Words

So your girlfriend just swam out of her kayak, she’s upset, maybe even crying, and you have no idea what to do. So you decide to do what you would for any of your bros (though they would definitely not be crying), keep your mouth shut and give her some space.This is NOT a good idea. Let me repeat: NOT a good idea. Because while you are silently giving her space, this is what she is thinking, “OMG why isn’t he saying anything? He’s mad. I’d bet he’s mad. He probably doesn’t want to kayak with me anymore. I hate this sport. Why isn’t he saying anything?” So let me save you some drama. Go over, give her a hug, tell her that everything is ok, and continue to say nice things while you help her bail out her boat.  For most women, this shows caring and acceptance despite a “failure” of swimming, and will help her move on and not dwell on it. This also goes the other way. Giving compliments. The other day Zach told me I looked really solid, and it inspired me to go run Section 4 at 2.4’, the highest I’ve ever run it. A few positive words can go a long way.

5. Listen and Communicate

At the lip of a 300 foot waterfall! Horsepasture River, NC take-out

So you think your girlfriend is totally ready to run the Big Hole Slide Drop, but even though you told her like six times she’d be totally fine she’s still going to walk it. What gives? And earlier, she totally freaked out at you because you peeled out of an eddy and didn’t wait for her. Women. They’re all drama. The reality is that following someone down a new run requires a huge amount of trust. As with any boating partner (and probably any sort of relationship period), it’s important to communicate what you need, listen to the other person, and listen to each other. If she doesn’t want to run something, don’t push her. If she wants you to wait, wait. When I run something new with Zach, I tell him that I want to follow him pretty closely through the big rapids, if I feel overwhelmed I signal to eddy out, and if I don’t want to run something I don’t run it. Talking about all of this beforehand can take some of the stress out of the intimidating experience of paddling, not to mention prevent a fight or two. (Photo: Zach and I after a sunny day on the Horsepasture, Credit: Andy Perkel)

Comments on “How to get your Girlfriend into Kayaking”

  1. Carin
    June 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Good tips all around! Thanks for sharing them. As a boater chick I’ve paddled with tons of guys and many couples. If I may, one thing I see lots of guys who paddle with their significant others do is they sometimes feel the need to provide unsolicited advice to their spouses and girlfriends. Guys would you do this to your buddies? Lol (shudders at the thought). The “Tendency to Teach” often results in frustration when their comments are met with likewise frustration, clenched jaws, or “I knows” or even worse, a snappy retort. Often times, the guy is only making the comment because he sees what the gal is doing incorrectly…or perhaps he thinks he knows a better way…and indeed he may. Still, success in this department all comes down to communication. Every person has a different learning curve as well as style. If you have the “tendency to teach,” knowing how to approach your significant other is absolutely crucial. Also for the gal, realizing where the comment is coming from (hopefully with a desire to see you succeed), is equally important. One thing I recently learned about myself and my paddling beau is to ask “what do you think? How can I do that better?” Asking an open ended question gives him a tip off that I’m open for suggestions at that time. And at other times, well, it’s all about having fun…and is not a paddling clinic. This little tip trains both parties toward better communication on the river.

  2. Brenda
    June 17, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Oh man! This is a good article and I encourage any guy hoping to get his lady into paddling to read it and plan to follow it BEFORE you get started. My husband and I broke about every one of these recommendations when I was learning and now I road bike while he paddles.

  3. Jen
    June 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Just warn her up front that at some point she is going to swim and it is going to leave a mark (or a dozen). Hiding the truth about the sport will turn anyone off.

    I just had my first swim last week on the Nantahala of all rivers. The easy river. Where people learn. But I am not going to give up on the sport! I really love it!

  4. June 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Good stuff and all very true!!!

  5. David WOod
    June 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I know very few couples that kayak together. I’m fortunate enough to be one. You guys you don’t know what you’re missing. Print out this article and duct tape it to your sprayskirt. Do it. It’s an investment with huge returns.

    June 21, 2013 at 4:43 am

    I was sceptical when I saw the title, thinking it was written by a guy… but brilliantly written from the female perspective. Very entertaining and lots of important truths.

  7. John
    June 21, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I’m just about to teach my girlfriend intro to paddling 101 this weekend, and this put me in the right state of mind, thanks so much! I laughed my ass off at the Scary Fork of the Dark Prong, especially since I usually gravitate toward Fairy Boof Land (it’s so PRETTY there!).

  8. Kate Walsh
    June 30, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for all the comments, glad you found the article helpful and humorous. Hope to see you guys out on the river!

  9. Marcia
    August 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    This article can go the OTHER way too- as in when you as a boater chic are ready and willing to run something a step up, but your boyfriend, who has always paddled with you, does not. Thats a whole different article though! 🙂

  10. Katie Dean
    August 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Awesome stuff Kate! The Scary Fork of the Dark Prong! Hilarious.

  11. Noah
    September 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Wow! Great advice, many thanks for sharing it!
    I’ll try to take my Slavic girlfriend from Sevastopol, Ukraine into kayaking in Crimea. It would be really great to do it together!

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