2011 Boater Chick Festival. Photo: Anne Connolly


On May 18, a little campground tucked deep in the woods between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala forest will swell with women from around the country, all gathering to experience the fifth-year celebration of female paddling: the Boater Chick Festival. During that weekend, female paddlers will boat together, learn from each other, and even race one another on the lower Cheoah, a two-mile stretch of Class IV-V drops and holes.

The Boater Chick Festival grew from 25 friends in its first year to 400 participants, spectators, volunteers, and supporters in 2011. In a sport otherwise dominated by the harrier gender, the festival offers a supportive and enthusiastic outlet where women get to learn what being a boater chick is all about.

It's For Women by Women: The trips, clinics and competitions are ladies only, and the festival is put together by women. It's about female paddlers getting together and having a good time and feeling like they can be themselves. Women go to the Boater Chick Festival for a chance to connect with other female paddlers, and organization leaders like Anna Levesque from Girls at Play and Juliet Kastorff from Endless River Adventures come to teach and tell about other outlets available when Boater Chick isn't happening. When the weekend ends, women leave the grounds with their little black books filled with the best hookups—new boating connections.

A paddler on Bear Creek Falls during the 2011 Boater Chick Festival Cheoah Race. Photo: Anne Connolly

Proceeds go to a Good Cause: The Boater Chick Festival is all about helping the paddling community, and this extends beyond women boaters. Every year, the proceeds raised during the weekend go toward a whitewater nonprofit organization. Past recipients include American Whitewater and First Descents.

Volunteers are the Festival's Backbone: The Boater Chick Festival couldn’t happen without the support of its volunteers. Paddling enthusiasts donate their time to teach clinics, lead river trips on the Nantahala, Ocoee, Cheoah and Green, and organize festival logistics.

So Much to Do: By day, women participate in standup paddleboarding, creeking, and playboating clinics and compete in the freestyle competitions and slalom/downriver races. By night, everyone (men allowed here) gathers around food, music, and friendship. The committee also announces the Boater Chick of the Year—one who has worked to advance women's roles in whitewater paddling. People share boating stories, bid at the auction for river art and join in on the raffle for cool kayak gear and goofy boater swag.

You Can Really Step it Up: Whether plunging down Nantahala Falls for the first time or finally putting on at the Green Narrows, women can discover their potential at the Boater Chick Festival. Female paddlers can also expand their skills in other areas like leading trips or safety boating. The Cheoah boater-cross race embodies the spirit of female boating badass in a nonstop, big drops all out sprint down the river. Ultimately, the support women receive from other women on and off the river during the weekend is what makes Boater Chick work the way it does.