"Women are just male paddlers with more reason and finesse."
I have mostly a historic viewpoint on women and their love for paddling.
I've paddled for 27 years (since the Earth cooled and paddles were clubs.) I was taught by John Sweet at PSU who was all about slalom. Cathy Hearn was my hero. I saw her in a film called "fast and clean." For the first 3yrs I never needed a roll, mostly because I didn't jump into holes. But also I saw ALOT of girlfriends being screamed down the river by their boyfriends. I decided that would never be me. Paddling was my own private thing and remains so. On 2 occasions I recall the gals ditched their drill sergents and came with me and my crew.
So I taught 3 boyfriends to paddle, who stayed at my same level III sometimes IV. I paddled out West w/o a combat roll and Canada (Ottawa) Kenebec, Penobscot and The Black (NY.) After 13 years I got myself to NOC because I wanted to side surf and endo. Mary DeReimer (DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking) & Tom DeQuir (Grace Under Pressure Video) were there. They were teaching a more graceful-less-effort style and running the Green in its first year. Mary and I ran a small 15' fall on the French Broad. It was my first and last waterfall, not enough testosterone, I said. The next year I got serious about paddling and teaching and was living in D.C. I paddled 200 days that year and took 2 yrs. off to race, living in my van, paddling lots of stuff. I lived with folks trying to make the US team. During that time E.J. and Jason Beakes ran the MD side of Great FAlls. I truly never thought I'd see the day someone ran THAT thing.
But I never thought I'd see someone make a living at designing mostly play boats either.
Women started showing up for rodeo events and squirting, but still less than 5-6 at a time. The Dancer XS was considered a revolution. Then Tanya Shuman showed up and it seemed like in DC the ratios went way up (1993?) and women showed up alone. Wave Sport came out with the XXX with more open hips and cockpits made more sense.
Now its a whole new ballgame. Women are in every aspect of the sport, including the business end (nice work, Dana, Nancy and Cara!)
I think if you polled "old school" paddlers like myself they would agree that only MEN make comparisons or see women as "less strong" versions of men in paddling. I paddle JUST for me. I don't THROW myself down a river, I NEVER say "what the hell" but that also doesn't mean I'm not aggressive. When I AM attacking something I'm a bad-ass. But like one other post said, I'm more about power ferries and USING the water. I love the sensual feel of something much larger than me being unpredictible, but me finding my own flow through it, using it. I am rational but I'm easily bored too. I like being in charge but I want a thrill. Mostly, however, I paddle for the "glow factor." That factor has nothing to do with either estrogen or testosterone or the volume (make, design or year) of my boat. Seratonin is king.
You've asked a tough question. NOW that I can choose a boat as though it were a golf club, I can get more challenge with a smaller boat. I can spend more time on a wave with a shorter boat. I can bomb down something in a race boat. I can go down a class or river and make it difficult by borrowing a new boat. So glow factor is the only way I have to measure why I paddle.
Lastly, Instruction. I think instructing is ONE thing that many women more readily enjoy as part of paddling than most men. Its a tribal-nurture thing. Tribal men are off running creeks and howling at the moon (ha! ha!) When I taught my kids to paddle it was ecstacy and I didn't need to have new rivers to accomplish for over two years. I got a glow from instruction.
In my humble opinion its a marketing idea that women gain by teaching women. Mary D. started a Women's Week of Rivers in the early 90's for NOC. I didn't do that course. I had some kick-ass male instructors those years: John Weld (Riversport,) Scott Coulter (Outdoor Excursions,) Tom DeQuir (NOC.) They all share a viewpoint of paddling for self-inquiry and challenge and they all have won titles of one sort or another. So like men, women like myself learn from someone they respect but don't need to impress (or be impressed by.) I find my respect turning more and more to young women paddlers, though, too. But I really respect men who love to instruct and can bring home the titles. (I like their bodies!)
There's a gal who won the Cheat downriver that placed in the top 12% of ALL men and women. The race had less than 25 women and over 110 paddlers. You do the math, she's aggressive, rational, and has finesse. Nice work Susan! Perhaps the question fades here by 2010.
Today I no longer teach my boyfriends to kayak. I look for a fellow-boater with no one to impress but themself. Back then I'd NEVER be a shuttle-bunny. Now I'm happy to provide the service and ask him to do the same. Afterall, what are men for, other than the heavy lifting?
But then, my historic perspective makes me biased toward utility!
I'm "less strong" than a man my size!