There is no disputing the fact that there are more women participating in adventure sports now than at any other time.
And movies like Wild are sure to inspire a new generation of outdoors women to take on bigger challenges and more technically demanding sports. But inspiration and motivation are only half the battle. Taking on a new sport means learning a new skills set, making new friends, and conquering new fears and challenges, which in the past has meant diving headlong into the established boys club and learning through the school of hard knocks. Now even that is starting to change. Women-centered events, groups, and training is gaining popularity, and transforming the way we think about outdoor skills building and gender differences.
Michelle Emmons is a competitive mountain biker, whitewater kayaker, rock climber, endurance racer and a co-founder of Dirt Dojo, an outdoor adventure company that provides hands-on learning experiences to all kinds of riders, with a particular emphasis on getting women on the trails. She believes that embracing gender differences, and training to them, is key to enjoying the outdoors and learning new skills.
“Women’s instructional experiences are starting to open up. There are a lot of pros that are turning to professional coaching and are bringing new women into these sports and coaching women to do skills training that traditionally they have not had access to. There is an assumption that women don’t go as hard as men do, which isn’t true. Generally speaking though, there are differences. I think women learn a little differently than men and tend to be a little less competitive. I think women like to have a little bit more practice, as opposed to men, who will maybe just banzai down a hill without really knowing what they are doing. Instead, women will take a clinic just to learn how to position their body on a bike so that they can feel comfortable on the trail.”
[bctt tweet=”There is an assumption that women don’t go as hard as men do, which isn’t true. “]
Emmons points out that women have a tendency to apologize for themselves, especially when they are learning a new skill. “They don’t want to feel like they are holding people back, becoming a burden, or a failure. It can prevent them participating or from taking care of themselves. So one of our rules is no apologizing. If you are uncomfortable, say something and do something about it. Sometimes that just means riding at a slower pace, taking a break, or putting on an extra layer of clothing. Even I bring extra layers or food just to make sure that I’m comfortable. What’s wrong with being warm and comfortable? There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself.” On the subject of conquering fear and taking risks, she has this to say. “Women tend to be a little more cautious, they tend to think things through and over-analyze things a little more. Men tend to be a little more simple in their processing and just emulate it and repeat it until they get it. Women really like feedback and the support of groups, there’s a little bit of a mental boost in looking at other women and saying, “Well, if she can do it, so can I.”
Thinking of taking on a new sport?
Here’s Michelle’s advice for learning skills, building community, and making it happen:
Choose your activity wisely based on your needs and limitations. What have you done in the past? What kinds of skills and level of fitness are required?
What are the social elements? What is this adventure to you and what do you want to get out of it?
Seek out training and community. Take a class or intensive and join a local group or participate in a low-key race or event.
Prepare. Research where you are going and what the conditions and challenges will be.
Do what you need for comfort. Bring extra food, water and clothing and take frequent breaks to refuel and hydrate.
Don’t let mental roadblocks stop you. Take it on as a challenge, not a problem.
− Accept the trip you’re given. Don’t assign failure to unexpected experiences.
For more on Dirt Dojo, click here.
Ruby McConnell is a writer, dancer, and choreographer living and working in the Pacific Northwest.