Anna Levesque paddles through whitewater.
A world freestyle kayaking bronze medalist and international kayaking guide, Anna Levesque is the founder and principal of Water Girls at Play, a business devoted to making paddlesports more accessible for women.
To accomplish this goal, WGP produces instructional DVDs and sponsors classes to help women develop their kayaking skills. The company also schedules kayaking trips for women to such far-flung destinations as Africa, Australia, Europe and Latin America.
For her presentation during Canoecopia weekend (March 9-11), Levesque will address differences in the ways women and men approach kayaking -- and suggest that they can enhance their time on the water together by recognizing and acknowledging these differences. "Tend and Befriend vs. Fight or Flight" is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11.
The five-time Canadian national freestyle team member will also appear at noon Saturday on an impressive panel featuring seven of the world's most accomplished women paddlers. In a Q&A conducted via email, Levesque previews her Canoecopia appearances and explains how her background in downhill ski racing, collegiate rowing and a job with a North Carolina rafting company led to kayaking -- and how she incorporates yoga, meditation and other activities into her paddling pursuits.
The Daily Page: How would you describe the differences between the way women and men approach kayaking?
Levesque: This is a loaded question that is a bit difficult to answer in one or two sentences. In general, women approach kayaking much more conservatively than men. Men are much more likely to 'just go for it' without worrying about the outcome or about consequences.
What accounts for those differences?
Men and women are different! This shouldn't be news to anyone and yet a lot of people ignore this fact or don't want to acknowledge it.
Why is it important for kayakers to recognize and acknowledge these gender-based distinctions?
It's important if men want to see more women out on the water. The more understanding we have of one another the more fun we'll get from kayaking together.
Back when you were introduced to kayaking, how did your own experiences compare to or reflect these gender differences?
I learned a lot from women. The guys didn't even really give me a chance or take me seriously because, at the time, I wasn't a guide yet -- I was working in the kitchen at the rafting company. The fact that they didn't believe that I could do it is probably a big reason why I started Girls at Play.
What did your experience as a downhill ski racer and collegiate rower contribute toward your aptitude for kayaking? And how do yoga and biking complement your kayaking?
I've always enjoyed dedicating lots of time to athletic pursuits so it was natural for me to want to pursue kayaking when I first started. Skiing is also an adrenaline sport so I guess I've always had a penchant for those kinds of sports. Yoga complements my entire life, not just kayaking, in cultivating focus, concentration, relaxation and compassion -- not to mention flexibility and strength. Since kayaking isn't very cardiovascular, biking, swimming and hiking keep me in good cardio shape.
Why did you gravitate toward freestyle and whitewater kayaking?
I started in whitewater kayaking because it looked really fun and I enjoyed the lifestyle of and the people involved in the sport. The excitement of whitewater really drew me in.
What can people expect to carry away from your Canoecopia presentation?
I hope that people take away some in-depth knowledge of how women approach adventure sports and how we can all make kayaking a more attractive sport to women. Also, a lot of what I talk about in the presentation applies to other aspects of life, not just kayaking. I'd really like to see more compassion for how women are different and see women accept and be proud of that.
Why should women attend your presentation? And what might men gain by their attendance?
Women will be empowered to feel good about how they approach and react to trying something new and maybe risky. I think that men are really the ones that need to come to the presentations so that they can gain insight into how they can encourage the women in their lives to kayak or try another sport. In my opinion the better men and women communicate and understand each other the better off we'll all be.
What do you hope to contribute to Saturday's impressive panel of women paddlers? And what do you anticipate learning from the other six women on the panel?
I'm sure I will learn something. I learn from my students all the time and I hope I never stop learning. All I can do is contribute my experience and my thoughts.
Between and besides your presentations and the panel, how else will you be spending your time at Canoecopia?
I'll be based mostly at the Confluence booth helping Dagger Kayaks out. I'll also have some new Girls at Play products for sale and will be catching up with students from the area who will be attending the show. I teach at Bear Paw Outdoors every summer and this year we had a lot of people from Chicago and Wisconsin join our kayak trips in Mexico so I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. I'm also looking forward to meeting new people.
You've paddled all over and around the world. What's your next kayaking destination?
That's hard to say since I spend a lot of time in Mexico and Africa running kayak trips with my fiancé, Andrew Holcombe. I'm finding less time to travel abroad outside of those trips, but that's fine since the trips are awesome!
Canoecopia opens from 4-9 p.m. Friday, March 9 at the Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall, continuing 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday with more than 50 speakers and presentations and more than 70 exhibitors, plus demonstrations in the adjacent Clarion Hotel pool, special events and more. Admission is $10/day or $15 for a weekend pass.