When Melissa DeMarie found herself side-lined with a shoulder injury four years ago, her dream of getting more women on the water finally found the right time to come alive. She founded California Women’s Watersport Collective and kicked it off on a shoe string budget with a few meet-up paddles and one weekend clinic for women’s kayaking on the South Fork American River. Once the first clinic’s registration overflowed onto a waiting list and people starting asking what else was available there was no turning back.
Since then, CWWC (aka Cali Collective) has gone from a few women with big ideas to an inspiring all-inclusive community on and off the water. A woman’s experience of the world is different from men’s and that holds true on the water. The way women face challenges, fear and team work is unique. Cali Collective gives women a place to share their experiences and stretch their boundaries in a supportive setting. Whether rafting, kayaking or stand up paddling, the sense of shared accomplishment at the end of the day is something each woman carries home with her. Building confidence on the water translates directly to a greater sense of confidence in the rest of life.
Offering courses for women, by women creates an accessible environment where women step forward with their own ideas of how the organization can grow. While DeMarie guides the ship, she welcomes others to come on board and breathe more wind into the sails. The philosophy is that everyone shares in building an experience and the benefits reach far beyond the water’s edge. In the first year of CWWC, two sea kayak instructors introduced a plan to develop the now robust surf and sea kayaking programs.
Whitewater instructors step forward with ideas for special skills clinics that they want to teach. Participants share their professions with the Collective to bring yoga, nutritionists, and massage therapists to the trips. CWWC even hosts a women-in-business collective. “With the small business collective women can share ideas to build their brands and it all circles back to supporting one another and setting a good example for the population at large,” said DeMarie from her tiny office trailer overlooking the Coloma valley.
Trips and clinics are centered on a paddle sport, but a holistic approach recognizes that people are more than paddlers. Beyond the physical there are emotional, intellectual and spiritual connections being nurtured. Each woman brings something different to the table. “What we’re doing and promoting is empowering women to take leadership roles and build confidence,” said DeMarie. “The goal of what we’re doing here transcends the kayaking part of it.”
As the name says, the Collective isn’t intended to stand alone. CWWC has set its focus on building relationships with partner businesses, not competing against them. When CWWC offers trips outside of its home base in central California, they partner with local companies that specialize in specific locations. And while the name implies that CWWC is only for women, co-ed and custom excursions are open to anyone. It’s also hard to talk about women without talking about moms, so new additions in 2018 include kids kayaking summer camps for boys and girls. Because when it comes to families, what could be better than exploring something fun together?
Women take on myriad roles in life and dividing their lives between them can feel disconnecting. From school teachers to tech gurus, CEOs to stay-at- home moms, CWWC creates a space for all to come home to. Watersports offer a joyful activity that bring people together but ultimately, it’s about making connections to people and building community.
“What we’re doing and promoting is empowering women to take leadership roles and build confidence."