Interview with Heather Herbeck


When and why did you start kayaking?
The first time I had ever heard or had seen the sport of whitewater kayaking, was right after I met Nate (my hubby). A little over 9 years ago, I watched Nate and his dad paddle through rapids, surf and hang out with some really cool, chill people . . . This sport looked so fun to me, though I had no adventurous, river experience at all. So, with the patience and knowledge of Nate and his dad, Steve, I started to learn. The one thing that intrigued me the most to progress in this sport, was that there were only the rare occasions when I saw female paddlers. I wanted to see more women in the sport AND I wanted to prove that “us girls” can paddle difficult, class V rapids if we want to and style them just as perfectly as “the boys!”

What is your favorite river? My favorite river is the White Salmon River in Washington (Columbia River Gorge).  It has something for everyone . . . class I to class V.  Best of all, it’s at my front door.

What sort of cross training do you do? I have started training through a program called Crossfit. It’s sort of like a boot camp type of class. We train using 3 modalities – gymnastics (using your body weight to increase your strength), metabolic conditioning (cardiovascular exercises) and power lifting movements (lifting using resistance to increase power and strength). After each workout session, I cool-down and work on releasing any tension in my body and mind. Balance is so important to remain injury free . . . so, I will finish my workout with 15-20 minutes of mobility work and deep, relaxed stretching & yoga. My workout isn’t finished until this time, as it leaves me feeling calm, relaxed and re-energized.

Since crossfit workouts vary each session, it keeps me fresh and excited for the next workout. One thing I do have to mention about Crossfit training, is that it is very intense and to avoid injury, you must have a good coach to work with you on technique and form.

My favorite kayak specific training program is as simple as this:
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 squats
20 sit-ups
Continue through this cycle for 10 minutes (work your way up to 20 minutes) . . .
Finish with 5-10 minutes of full-body stretching or your yoga practice.

During the off-season (which is hard to find in the Pacific Northwest), I will train using Crossfit 3-5 times a week.  During periods of time where I’m paddling 5-6 days a week, I will back off of my crossfit training to 1-2 times a week and add an extra day of stretching and yoga.
*Please visit a personal trainer if you want to implement this program and have any questions about the movements.  And visit your doctor if you have any health risks associated with starting a fitness program.

How does cross training help your kayaking? Since starting this new training program, the most significant things I have noticed in my paddling are an increase in stroke power output and ‘boofing’. With a stronger core from the functional movements that I train with, each stroke I plant comes directly from the center of my body, giving me ‘more bang for my buck” in each stroke placement. That powerful stroke along with a strong core and legs have given me the power to aggressively “pull” when I need to during an important boof stroke.
Flexibility isn’t one of my “natural gifts”, so I have to make a conscious effort to make this a priority. Since stretching and yoga has now become a regular part of my routine, I have noticed that my torso rotation has improved, as well as my rolling technique.  So ladies . . . DON’T FORGET TO STRETCH!  Flexibility helps with the kayak roll :-)
I can’t express how important off-river training is for paddling. I will say that a strong body does create a strong mind.  A strong mind creates confident paddlers!

What advice can you give women who are looking for a cross training program? My biggest pieces of advice are . . .
1.  “JUST DO IT!”  There is no excuse not to!  You know why? Because anything is better than nothing. Even if you have only 10 minutes out of your 24 hour day to run in place, do 10 push-ups on the wall or squat up and down off of a chair 20 times, YOU ARE MAKING YOURSELF BETTER! It doesn’t take hours and hours in the gym to get fit and improve your paddling. YOU CAN DO IT FROM HOME . . . “JUST DO IT!”  I like to tell my personal training clients to make a commitment to themselves for at least 6 weeks. Cross-training should become as “normal” as waking up and brushing your teeth!
2.  Working out doesn’t have to be painful! Remember that it’s all about balance. Strength training, cardiovascular training and flexibility are all needed to improve . . . don’t do one without the others.
3.  See your doctor or a personal trainer if you have any questions about whether a workout routine is right for you.  Don’t hurt yourself . . . if you do, you’re setting yourself back even further than where you started.

How do The River Angels promote women in kayaking? The River Angels consist of 5 women from 5 different countries – Ruth Gordon, Tanya Faux, Mariann Saether, Nouria Newman and myself. Our goal is to empower women through outdoor activities. The team of River Angels come from a variety of backgrounds – playboating, competitions, expeditions, motivational speaking and more. If there is one thing we hope to inspire women to do, it’s to “get out there and do it!” There are so many girls and women who feel limited by their physical, mental and/or emotional state. We’ve all gotten to where we are today by experiencing hardships, challenges and successes . . . every experience becomes “learning moments” to help us achieve our dreams and goals. We want to help others realize their full potential and forget about “perceived” limitations, and we do this through “sharing our stories” and encouraging women to get out and paddle. Visit www.riverangels.com to learn more.

What do you think it means to be a woman paddler? We like pink kayaks, pink helmets and blue drytops . . . haha! But seriously, I hear people say, “Woman are more timid than men!” Well, in a way that’s a bit true, as we don’t have the hormone “testosterone” as heavily in our body as men do. But, I think more than anything, women “voice” their fears more often then men. There’s nothing wrong with that . . . it’s just a different way of approaching the same situation. I don’t think men are used to this approach quite yet, as kayaking has been a male dominated sport since its’ beginning. However, with the increase in women paddlers over the past few years, I think the approach of “just paddle hard and go for it!” is being replaced and accepted as “if you don’t feel like running that particular rapid today, no big deal!”  . . . And, this is a great breakthrough for the sport.

What advice can you give to women who would like to be more confident paddlers?
1.  Paddle with people you feel safe and confident with and most of all . . . paddle with people you enjoy being with!!!  Kayaking is all about having fun. There should never be that negative pressure to perform. If you want to do something, ‘want to do it’  for yourself!
2.  Paddle with other women.  For the first 4 years of my paddling career, I was always ‘following the guys’.  It was only until I started paddling with other women that I became a more confident, individual paddler. Just go out there, be safe and have fun!
3.  “No one is perfect!”  You may watch kayaking video’s that showcase all these awesome paddlers and notice that each stroke is perfectly timed and executed and each rapid is navigated without a flaw. But, remember . . . these video’s are edited!!!!!!! Paddler’s don’t paddle perfectly ALL THE TIME! Everyone makes mistakes . . . every paddler swims! So relax . . . if you miss your line or your roll, remember that it happens to everyone! Brush it off and create your ‘learning moment!’

What inspires you to keep getting out there? The feeling of ‘satisfied accomplishment’ is what keeps me going. Whether it’s playing around in class III, learning how to slalom boat or paddling class V . . . it’s the feeling accomplishment and the look on my hubby’s face that says without words, “Nice job, I’m so proud of you!”

To paddle some of the rivers where Heather calls home, check out our Idaho adventure, or paddle with us on the next Summer Tour!