Paddle Like a Girl offers canoeing workshops to women (photo courtesy of Annabis Photography)
Paddle Like a Girl is a woman-owned business that teaches women the skills they need to plan a backcountry canoe trip. We caught up with founder, Tori Baird, to find out more about them and their vision.
Paddle Like a Girl: Audience and Vision
Paddle Like a Girl is located in Magnetawan, Ontario, three hours north of Toronto. Their headquarters is currently Tori’s home on the Magnetawan River, which provides an ideal base for her own canoeing passion, as well as a training ground for women new to canoeing.
Who is their ideal audience?
“My initial idea was this would be for women who had never been in the backcountry before. Introducing them to the backcountry, teaching them paddling skills—really introductory. But I have actually had quite a few who are very familiar with backcountry camping and were more specifically looking for the paddling side of it,” Tori explained.
Paddle Like a Girl offers both weekday and weekend workshops. Some are half-day, some overnight and some two nights in length. Women who sign up don’t need to have any previous experience with either the backcountry or canoeing, as the workshops are taught at the beginning level.
Their main focus is to teach paddling skills. “We teach women how to solo paddle, as well as paddle stern and bow paddle. We teach them how to be more efficient on the water, and safer as well,” said Tori.
Clients are also taught about canoe trip gear, how to waterproof their gear, map reading, canoe trip planning, basic backcountry cooking and meal prep, fire starting and bear safety.
The workshops take place on a small lake just a 400-meter portage away from their base. This gives the women portaging experience right upfront, and a calm, fairly remote setting that’s a perfect environment for beginning paddlers.
Paddle Like a Girl, owner Tori Baird teaches a client to portage her canoe (photo courtesy of Cobi Sharpe Photography)
Biggest Workshop Takeaways
Tori’s vision is for women to be able to leave a workshop ready to plan their own backcountry canoe trip. She shared, “It was something I built from my personal experience. I went out to the backcountry for the first time without my significant other, and realized I was very capable of doing everything I needed to do out there. It was a really empowering experience for myself.”
She wants other women to have that same experience and inspiration to realize that what they learn in the backcountry can be transferred to their day-to-day life with all its challenges.
Each woman comes with her own reasons for signing up for a workshop. Some have never been in a canoe and don’t even know what “backcountry” means. Some look forward to other women with shared interests. Some are mostly focused on the skills training.
“The biggest takeaway, based on feedback that I’ve received, is that it’s a comfortable learning space for them,” Tori said. “That’s really my main goal—that it’s a space where people can come with no idea about the canoe or the backcountry, and feel comfortable asking those questions. By the end of the weekend they’re feeling more confident. They’re with a group of women who are extremely empowering and encouraging to each other.
“They’re given a very comfortable space to learn and try something new. Something women struggle with is showing up and allowing themselves to be a little vulnerable with other people when trying something new.”
Workshops are half a day, all day or weekend (photo courtesy of Annabis Photography)
About Paddle Like a Girl
Tori started Paddle Like a Girl in 2020. Covid lockdowns forced them to cancel a couple of their planned workshops that summer, but they were able to get eight workshops in during the summers of 2020 and 2021.
Another Magnetawan River resident, Shari Hughes, helps with the workshops, too. Tori quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to do the workshops well on her own, so she was happy when Shari reached out to her. Shari has taken on many of the background roles in the workshops so far, and Tori hopes to have her lead her own workshops next season.
Both Tori and Shari are certified through ORCKA (Ontario Recreational Canoeing and Kayaking Association). That gives them training for teaching their clients, as well as the ability be able to train others for ORCKA certification. That’ll open the doors for Tori to hire more trainers and offer more workshops in more locations, all teaching a standard curriculum.
In a normal year (i.e., non-Covid), workshops will run from May through September, and possibly into October, Ontario’s paddling season.
Solo canoeing is one of the skills participants learn in Paddle Like a Girl workshops (photo courtesy of Cobi Sharpe Photography)
Why Should Women Canoe in the Backcountry?
Both Tori and Shari are committed to helping women experience the empowerment and inspiration that comes from backcountry canoeing. Tori says:
“It’s one thing to get out camping with your family. That’s great, but you still have all those responsibilities. You’re still putting everyone else before yourself. You’re still mom. This is one way to get that ‘me’ time.
“The goal was to teach women to solo, to get out by themselves if they wanted to. It’s a very different experience than going for a massage! Moms have a hard time disconnecting and ‘turning it off.’ When you’re out there in the backcountry you’re forced to be in the moment. And of course, you’re out in nature and that’s something that’s so healing on its own.
“So it’s a way to fully immerse yourself in nature and disconnect from life. By the end of it you feel so much stronger, so empowered. You’ve been through a rain storm or a windy lake, and it helps put your day-do-day struggles in perspective. You learn you can handle it.”
Tori Baird, founder and owner of Paddle Like a Girl
(All photos courtesy of Paddle Like a Girl)
What paddle questions can we help you with? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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