“Oh that’s OK, he pretty much does all the driving.”
“I’m too scared to try and dock this thing, I don’t want to mess it up.”
“I’ll go last, if there’s time, but I don’t need to.”
“We pretty much only go out when dad’s around, since he’s the one who drives.”
All of these statements, and many more in a similar vein, that are all-too common to hear from women, is distressing–especially in my role as a member of the sales team at a boat dealership (and in so many other professional boating situations). For so long, it seems that a majority of women have felt like an accessory to the boat and filling in the role of mom and caretaker. Does everyone have enough sunscreen, do we have enough water, are you hungry, do you want a snack…
That narrative is finally, at long last, beginning to change. And it starts from within the industry. More and more, creating and cultivating an environment where women are not only encouraged from the beginning to take part in the boat ownership and the entire ownership experience, but to exhibit the confidence to try new things and find comfort in the role of captain. Now that our times (over the last 100-plus years) have changed so much regarding what women are “allowed” to do, and what we’re capable of becoming, it’s exciting to see parts of the boating industry going that extra mile, taking that extra step, to empower women in and behind the boat. That, right there, in its simplest form, is the goal of Let Her Rip.
A movement created and nurtured by MasterCraft Boat Company, Let Her Rip continues to expand and reach more corners of the nation and the world. Throughout this past summer, that expansion came in the form of a series of events. A kick-off event taking place at the MasterCraft factory in Knoxville, Tennessee in mid-June helped spur a snowball of activity throughout the country as the season progressed. Each location, hand-picked by the team at MasterCraft, had its own unique benefits and event structure, but the mission remained the same: encourage and empower women in and behind the boat. Meagan Ethell, a seven-time world champion professional wakeboarder and MasterCraft athlete, also attended a few of these events as an additional coach and source of inspiration.
Meagan first stood up on a wakeboard at just eight-years-old, and was clearly a natural-born athlete, standing right up on her very first attempt. From there her career seemed to just take off as she fell more in love with the sport. Let Her Rip is an extra special event for her personally.
“Let Her Rip means a lot to me because I love empowering women on the water and it’s all about exactly that. Always really fun to get new women involved in water sports and I love being able to give back to the female side of the sport.”
The concept surrounding the event is simple: let’s create an environment that helps women feel comfortable and empowered by having women already involved in the boating industry lead and teach for the day. It’s no secret that there are barriers to entry into this industry- whether those barriers be access to boat-able water, lack of knowledge, or financial. As women, breaking into an industry that not only has all of these barriers to begin with, but is also male dominated, can make it that much more challenging and intimidating. Our goal with Let Her Rip is to limit those barriers a little bit – make the introduction a little less intimidating. Make those entry points a little more encouraging.
Kelsey, one of the attendees, talked to us a little bit about her experience with the event, and made this even more relevant.
“If this event proved anything, it’s important (for) women be in this industry. If women hadn’t been the ones putting on this event, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to try.”
“I was completely enveloped in positivity at Let Her Rip!,” she continued. “ I got up for a split second while attempting to surf and because of the environment the Let Her Rip event surrounded us with, all I wanted to do was keep going! There is nothing more empowering than women supporting women.”
As someone who spent all day on one of those boats with a group of women – helping coach, driving, taking photos- I can tell you firsthand: there is absolutely nothing more encouraging than being on a boat full of only women. That right there is the ultimate hype squad. The positive energy is unmatched. Not to say that it would have to always be only women – but when it comes to introducing ladies to the sport and to the world of possibilities in boating, you can’t beat that being your first experience.
Kelsey told us her favorite part of the event happened when one of the other girls successfully stood up. “We had an 8-year-old girl on our boat trying to get up and surf. This young girl was so determined – it was incredible to witness. She kept getting back up every time she fell, which if you know can be very tiring on the body. When she finally got up, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger smile in my life. I felt like her heart was singing, she was so happy. I’m not kidding when I say every woman on that boat erupted in the happiest screams you have ever heard. It gives me goosebumps just remembering it now. I was crying (sobbing) and screaming at the same time – like the rest of us on the boat when she did it!”
Paige, another participant, spoke to us after her experience.
“It’s really refreshing to simply have events like that as an opportunity. I think we are in a really cool time period right now where organizations and companies are willing to participate in supporting and empowering women – it was really cool to be able to freely be supported with other women – making new friends – try something new and feel. There were no negatives.”
Paige also had the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat for her first time. “I mean surfing was the [main] skill that I learned, but then, more generally, I learned how much more [there is to it] than it looks. It was really cool how we had people [transferring] from boat to boat, and learning different strategies between coaches and focusing on different ways to do all of it, so whenever I can get back on a boat I feel like I have a foundation now”.
The structure of the event allowed for ample time on the water with attendees varying in age and skill level, which overall was incredibly helpful for everyone involved. It’s no secret that you learn from varying experiences of the people around you, and that became even more obvious as our day progressed. Even though each boat had a designated coach and driver, being able to watch each participant learn something new and get time to practice with an instructor created a unique learning environment in which everyone thrived. This was exaggerated even more by the rotation of coaches, including Meagan Ethell, at various points during the day.
Having new perspectives from fellow women, and always focusing on keeping things positive and uplifting, made all the difference. There were also several mother/daughter combinations out on the water with us, which made for an extra special experience. Kate, who came with her mother, Stefanie, had a unique perspective.
“Since we had previous experience surfing,” she told us, “we both learned how to teach others who are learning, and also learned general boating and driving tips.”
Kate went on: “Especially with women, sometimes it’s hard to break down the barriers we all hold up to keep us safe; both physically and emotionally. So, it was great to just be thrown in with those you don’t know and break down the walls throughout the day and just have fun.”
After a full day of fun on the water, with a few breaks and lunch included, the kick-off event day wrapped up with a quick little demo from seven-time world champ Meagan Ethell herself. As the driver for her expo, I can tell you first-hand exactly how terribly rough the riding conditions were for her. Of course, being the true professional she is, not only did she power through, but managed to land several inverts and never once let those rollers and waves take her down. A true inspiration for aspiring athletes everywhere, it was a special moment for so many of the attendees to watch her perform after working with her throughout the day.
This kick-off event in Knoxville truly was just the tip of the ice-berg for what the summer would bring to the Let Her Rip event series and overall movement. Everywhere from Florida to Seattle to Texas were included in the event series, and several attendees traveled in just to attend the event closest to their hometown. Seeing the dedication of ladies to participate in an event specifically designed for them has been eye-opening to say the least. The commitment shows a true demand and a need for the industry to continue to focus on creating these types of opportunities that allow all riders to feel comfortable. Everyone from true beginners to professional level athletes all want to continue getting women more involved. Meagan Ethell may have stated it best.
“I hope that Let Her Rip just continues to grow bigger and better and introduces more women to watersports – whether that’s learning to ride for the first time, or driving the boat for your family, or building the community involved. I want to keep passing the handle and spreading the stoke with more ladies.”
Here’s the truly inspiring aspect of all of this- these environments and opportunities can be created in so many different ways that anyone can assist in cultivating them. If you’re a fellow female watersports or boating enthusiast, use the tag #letherrip on your social media posts. Anytime you’re able, when you hit the water, invite just one girlfriend to tag along. Participate in local grass-roots events, and remember to always Pass The Handle when the opportunity is there. This industry has more potential than anyone realizes- but so many people never have the opportunity to even learn what it has to offer.
The Let Her Rip movement is still just beginning – and we can’t wait to see where it goes.