Women on Water: Kayaking at Deep Cove

A travelling Kiwi gives paddling another chance with Women on Water in Deep Cove

Credit: Lydia Millett

Women on Water meets weekly at Deep Cove for the aquatic version of girls’ night out

Deep Cove’s Women on Water: Combining girl power, paddle power and lots of laughter

Since moving to Vancouver, I’d heard nothing but good things about Deep Cove and was told that the best way to check it out was in one of those narrow, yellow floating things that I had spent most of my adult life trying to avoid.

The last time I was in a kayak was when I was about 15 years old at school camp. I remember being terrified as I battled my way through the surf, tipping out numerous times, taking in mouthfuls of water and swimming back to the beach with sand-caked hair. Not exactly what you’d call fun.

However, when I heard that the cove is as calm as a lake, no surf involved, and that Deep Cove Kayak organizes an event called Women on Water, a sociable, non-competitive paddle for Vancouver ladies, I decided to give kayaking a second chance.

Connecting Women Through Kayaking

Women on water provides an opportunity for women to get out and away from it all after a busy day at the office.

In 2001, Erian Baxter, who runs Deep Cove Kayak, with business partner Bob Putnam, found herself spending every hour of every day in an office doing paperwork. She started looking for something that would get her out and about regularly. “I really wanted to get out on the water, and I figured there would be other women in the cove who might want to have a women’s night,” she said.

As it turns out, there were lots of women who were in the same boat (pun intended). Baxter told me: “The first night it was me and 13 friends, but by the next week there were 33 people, many of whom we didn’t know,” and so Women on Water was born.

Now, 10 years down the track, the girl-powered paddling nights can attract anywhere from 30 to 90 women who come out to the cove to paddle, socialise and take advantage of the longer summer evenings.

Baxter admits that the popularity of the evenings surprised her at first: “I was expecting it was going to be a few women I knew from the cove who just wanted a night away from the kids, but it’s ended up attracting women from all over the Lower Mainland.”

While Deep Cove Kayak has had popular racing nights for many years, the women’s night is something very different. Instead of a focus on competition, most women come out to meet up with friends, make new friends and take advantage of the beautiful waters of the cove.

Chatter, Laughter and the Occasional Splash: The Sound of Women on Water

A sociable paddle, and even some wildlife spotting, on a stunning evening in North Vancouver.

When I arrived at the cove it was around 7.30 and women were already heading out onto the water. It was a gorgeous evening and everyone was in good spirits. Clear skies and sunshine are not something Vancouverites take for granted.

There were around 50 of us, and we paddled together small groups and pairs out of the cove. The evening light was absolutely perfect and the views of the forest-covered hills and mountains in the distance were outstanding. It was hard to believe I had been in bustling downtown Vancouver only an hour prior.

We had been paddling for awhile when Baxter suddenly stopped abuptly and said, “listen to that.” Not sure what I was listening for, I stopped paddling too. What had been a quiet cove moments before, was now humming with the sound of 50 women chatting and laughing.

Not long after we left the cove we were surprised by a friendly seal who followed us, popping up when we least expected it, splashing about and generally showing off to the ladies.

As we paddled and Baxter told me the story of Women on Water, I realized I had nothing to worry about. No flashbacks to my teenage kayaking trauma. The water was so calm, it really did feel like we were on a lake. So far so good.

Dresses, Hat, Gloves, Spray Skirts and Life Jackets

Gillian Hansen dons pearls, gloves and a dress for the occasion.

The evening I attended Women on Water was dress up night. Why? Well I think we can all agree that who really needs a reason to dress up? But Baxter says it all started one evening when she didn’t have time to get changed, and so wore the dress she’d worn to work, out on the water. And dress-up night was born.

I had been advised on the appropriate attire but in my little summer dress I had nothing on these ladies. Some went all out: pearls, long gloves, and bright red dresses, only giving up their stilettos for crocs at the last minute as they hopped into their kayaks. 

Many of these women had been paddling for more than seven years with Women on Water, and are serious paddlers who, from the looks of things, don’t like to be serious while paddling.

When we returned from the cove, it was getting on to dusk and after Deep Cove Kayak did a quick prize draw we headed over to the local yacht club for more socializing over wine and nibbles, a tradition that started when the participants’ children were younger.

“Women on Water was my on night off so I definitely wanted to stay out longer and make sure the kids were in bed when I get home,” Baxter said, “so after our paddle we’d always go to a restaurant and now we go to the yacht club for a drink and food after.”

The Women on Water ladies pose for a picture in their slightly impractical kayaking attire.