Kiya encourages women stand-up paddlers
When prone paddleboarder Kathryn Tubbs, 45, first saw another woman on a paddleboard, she was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Seeing another woman by herself on a board was such a rare occurrence she thought it was an apparition.
“I yelled ‘helloooo’ as loud as I could until I got her attention,” said Tubbs. “Most of the people on prone paddleboards were men those days, and the women who did learned how to paddleboard from their boyfriends. It was so exciting to see a girl — you would introduce yourself to anybody within ear shot in the water.”
Two other women, DJ O’Brien and Christina Powers met the same way and quickly connected with other women in the South Bay interested in the sport. They started teaching their friends and finally, about 10 years ago, the women paddles decided to make it official and formed an all-women paddleboarding club called the South Bay Mermaids. The group quickly grew to 25 members.
They wanted to change the way women learned the sport. Instead of having women learn from their boyfriends, Tubbs and her fellow women paddleboarders invented the “girlfriend” model of teaching. She asked herself, “What do women need to start paddle boarding?” Her answer? Support, knowledge and a community.
In early February she founded Kiya Sports, an all-women paddle boarding school. The name Kiya, derived from the Chamorro language from native Guam indigenous peoples, means boat keel, which Tubbs thought was perfect. “The keel is the foundation of the boat, and Kiya teaches women the foundation of paddleboarding.”
“We break it down,” said Tubbs. “Most are complete beginners. We start on the sand, break down every stroke, how to carry the board and even how to put it on the car. We don’t take anything for granted.”
When started paddleboarding, there was nobody to help her learn how to do it. “I went on my knees and fell off about 50 times.”
The all volunteer group, mostly comprised of South Bay Mermaids, answers any questions the women have about the sport. From what clothing to wear, to what board to buy, they help their students every step of the way. The most important part for Tubbs is that they talk about the stuff nobody thought to teach them, but they would have liked to know.
“After starting it I just thought, ‘Wow, look at this! What if we would have had this when we started?’” Tubbs said.
Questions like what top or bottoms to wear that won’t rub, what board is best and giving the women the confidence to walk into a surf shop and know what board they want to buy, are the questions they strive to answer.
Madeline Jordan, a mother of four and volunteer instructor, first got into paddle boarding as a result of a hamstring injury that limited her running. She borrowed a surf board and kept seeing guys with bigger “surf” boards and, sometimes, a paddle. “I thought, ‘What’s that?’ I kind of discovered it on my own; and I just paddled on the surf board.”
“It’s not just teaching how,” said Jordan. “It’s teaching about the equipment and the terminology and teaching them what to look for so they’re not embarrassed when they go to a shop. Giving women knowledge is the key thing Kiya does.”
The most important part for the women in Kiya Sports is supporting a new generation of South Bay women paddleboarders.
“Everything’s set up because we wanted a safe, supportive way to teach women,” said Tubbs.
Their teaching ratio is five to one and they begin lessons in calm harbors like Marina del Rey and Long Beach. They are split into different types of paddle camps for different periods of time, ranging from 90 minutes to full day camps.
“So many of us live by the water but don’t experience it,” said Jordan. “It’s rejuvenating and exciting for women.”
Kiya Sports offers a variety of classes, from half-day and full day lessons to a three-day camp at Catalina Island featuring yoga, paddle board movie night, basic instructions and a long island paddle. They teach both prone and standup paddleboarding.
“For the half-day camp we teach logistics, different kinds of boards and we go for an extended paddle,” said Tubbs. “It’s a fun day with a bunch of women.”
They also have a six week program, a fitness program and a program that prepares women for paddleboard races. Their month-long On Ramp program, experiments with different boards during every lesson.
“People just don’t know what’s out there,” said Tubbs. “It gives them time to explore the sport and different boards without the financial investment.”
Even though Kiya Sports is an all-women’s company, Tubbs said that they aren’t anti-guy. “It’s not us versus them, we just want to expand the sport for women.”
Another important aspect of Kiya for Tubbs is encouraging people of all sizes and ability. Paddling is a sport you can do no matter what your size, she said.
“You don’t have to be beach skinny or even fit. You just have to want to do it.”
Ten percent of Kiya Sports’ proceeds are donated to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders. For more information, visit www.KiyaSports.com. B