How This Travel Group Is Helping Women of Color Connect With the Outdoors

Black Women Who Kayak+ is changing lives one paddle stroke at a time.

Missy Wilson on a backpacking adventure across Alaskan wilderness

Courtesy of Missy WIlson

In 2018, Tanya Walker shared her very first post to Black Women Who Kayak, a Facebook group she started in the hopes of befriending like-minded women of color around Austin who shared her interest in her favorite water sport. They didn't need to be professional paddlers. They just needed the desire to learn. She was sure she'd find at least a few interested locals. But what she didn't know was that she was starting an outdoor lovers movement that now has more than 3,000 members stretched across 12 chapters in the U.S. (and counting). 

Things started slow for Walker, a 46-year-old who repairs computers and provides backend tech support for the City of Austin, but she still found the time and passion to encourage others. After hosting several slimly attended kayaking meetups, Walker branched out to another outdoor retreat: an exploration through Austin's Whirlpool Cave. It was a huge success in more ways than one, drawing several first-timers to get out, see more of their community, and make a few friends.

"After three hours of army crawling, encouraging one another, and facing tremendous fears, I knew I had to use this platform for a more meaningful purpose," Walker shared. "I also needed to add the 'plus' to Black Women Who Kayak because that event showed me that I needed to continue breaking down those barriers of what Black and brown people will do given the opportunity." 

Black Women Who Kayak clubs enjoying rock climbing and outdoor recreation

Courtesy of BWWK+

With each chapter hosting at least one monthly meetup and several groups hosting multiple events, the members of BWWK+ are now doing much more than heading to the water for some paddling. While kayaking is still a mainstay of the group, they also get together for hiking, biking, camping, surfing, sailing, and hitting the green for golfing. This includes partner events with organizations and businesses around the nation, including events with PGA instructors, the Texas Rowing Center, British Swim School, REI, and the National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS), to name a few. 

"Our mission and vision are to place Black and brown people in spaces you typically don't see them in. We do this by educating, empowering, and providing opportunities for members to hold space continuously," Walker shared, adding that the group is open to any women of color who align with this vision. And for many BWWK+ members, these opportunities have deeply impacted their lives. 

"This group has encouraged me to try new activities I've always had an interest in but never wanted to do alone," Houston chapter administrator Missy Wilson said. "[BWWK+] is also important because sometimes you want to see other BIPOC doing outdoorsy activities. It's very encouraging and reminds you that these activities are for everyone."

For Wilson, a lack of diverse representation in the world of outdoor recreation, coupled with the political and racial climate in the U.S., often held her back from joining other outdoors-focused groups. 

"I wanted to be with women that looked like me while enjoying these activities. I didn't want to discuss the troubles of the world while trying to find peace in nature," she explained.

Black women kayaking

Courtesy of BWWK+

In the end, Wilson's active participation in BWWK+ not only gave her the outlet she needed to enjoy Mother Nature, but it also recently led her to the opportunity of a lifetime: an all-expenses-paid, eight-day backpacking trip in Alaska. 

As part of its partnership with NOLS, BWWK+ received an invitation for one member to go on an all-women group expedition sponsored and hosted by the nonprofit global wilderness school. The spot was raffled off, with member Kim Fields winning the lucky draw.

"I didn't want Kim to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being the only person of color on that journey," Walker said. So, she decided to raffle off another spot on the trip and tap into her own savings to pay for it. 

Wilson won the second spot and set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for the Alaskan adventure, and along the way was again surprised with the kindness of strangers. Or rather, the kindness of one very helpful breakfast cereal. In honor of its 125th anniversary, cereal brand Grape-Nuts scoured through GoFundMe pages with the goal of donating up to $125,000 to pioneering women who were looking to blaze new trails on an adventure. Through the program, she received a $12,500 donation that more than covered her Alaskan trek.

"I cried tears of joy, and reality hit that I was actually going on this trek," Wilson shared about the moment she learned about the Grape-Nuts donation. 

Better yet, the trip turned out to be all that Wilson expected and more, including a surprise pink-frosted cake to celebrate her 35th birthday.

"I experienced so many emotions on this trip. I pushed my body and mind to the max and made it through," Wilson said. Throughout the eight days of trekking through Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains, the group hiked for hours on end, forged rivers, gazed upon sheep and caribou meandering through craggy cliffs, and set up camp every night, learning the basics of wilderness survival and battled the elements at every step. 

Kim Fields and Missy Willson holding a Black Women Who Kayak flag in Alaska

Courtesy of Missy Wilson

Despite the challenges, Wilson said it was an incredible experience to connect so quickly with the group of adventurous women, who chose happiness over pain as they played games and sang songs to keep their spirits up in the toughest moments of the trek.

"It's amazing how you can bond with women you've never met before, all from different walks of life, in just eight days," Wilson shared, adding, "I have a sense of accomplishment after backpacking through the Talkeetna Mountains. I feel like I can do anything I truly put my mind to."

And Wilson said she'd do it all over again with the hopes of inspiring other women to join BWWK+ or similar groups to help them get outside of their comfort zones. 

"I hope other women will be encouraged to try something new and not let fear or doubt hinder them from joining," Wilson said. "If there is anything you've been wanting to do and something is keeping you from doing it, stop. Go and make plans to do it now. Joy and happiness is right around the corner." 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles