Specifically, the Women’s Freeride Movement: Lisa Mason, Carolyn Kavanagh, and Berny Jacques. Impressively, all three hold down full-time jobs and don’t earn a penny running WFM in their spare time; this is how they give back to the sisterhood of shred.
Each pillar of WFM does something a little bit different. Their Facebook group is the hub of activity, a curated crowd sourced collection of all things rad and female in extreme sports, with a focus on riding. The new website, designed by Jacques was launched last August, showcases the girls’ own writing and videography. For Mason, who does most of the writing, it’s all about using her words to make people laugh. They have also hosted three ladies nights at the Air Dome in Whistler in an attempt to fill the void left when Crankworx Women’s Worx was cancelled.
Within six months of the first Air Dome night in 2011, the WFM Facebook group had over 450 active members. The group
continued to grow in size and narrow its focus. “We try and inspire women to do different activities or different genres of biking by showcasing what women can do, and thereby empower them to do it themselves, or push further,” said Mason.
What all three of the ladies behind the WFM bring to the table is an insatiable desire to shred. Mason started riding when she was 25 and hasn’t stopped for the last 10 years. “I started [riding] in Whistler so I get to see a lot of women, and get to see all of the best women. I think that it really gave me a drive early on to try to ride my hardest,” said Mason. Her first riding experience sums up her dedication to riding. “We were riding Train Wreck, this Whistler classic trail and we came across a root that was way skinnier than my arm. I turned to my friend and said ‘You want me to go over that?’ and he turned to me and said ‘You suck way worse than I thought you would,’ Ever since then I was like, time to shred. I’m not going to let this guy tell me I suck.”
Kavanagh, now 42, has been riding since 1999. She started out with cantilever brakes on old school North Shore gnar. “It was kind of lonely at first because I didn’t know anybody, but I knew I liked the sport and I wanted to be better at it and persistence paid off,” she said. In the midst of what she calls a major 40-year-old’s crisis, Kavanagh spent her 40th birthday on Crabapple hits as one of three women that represented at the Unofficial Whip Off for Crankworx 2012. She spends a good majority of her spare time with her chainsaw, repairing long forgotten and neglected trails on Cypress Mountain in North Vancouver.
Jacques was lucky enough to start riding the North Shore at 10 years old. Since then she has upgraded from her first bike, a Wal-Mart special, and raced the B.C. cup circuit. In 2013 Jacques raced her first season as a professional. “I did actually stop mountain biking for two years because I didn’t know anyone that would go with me when my friends moved away. Then I joined an extreme sports club and I was the only girl out of 15 guys. From there I was like ‘I can show these guys that I can do it.’ ”
Knowing the WFM is working towards goals similar to her own gives Santa Cruz journalist Joh Rathbun the inspiration she needs to keep pitching stories about women in sport. So far it has been an uphill battle trying to get women the coverage she feels they deserve. “We’re either sexualized or ignored. I don’t want to be sexualized; I don’t want to be marginalized.
“I had one editor at a local mountain bike site, very well know mountain bike site, tell me last year ‘we don’t want any of your women mountain bike stories’. . .he was perfectly comfortable telling me that, and I was just so stunned,” Rathbun said.
It’s WFM’s collaborative, inclusive approach that Rathbun finds unique. The team is interested in celebrating professional riders and the progression of the sport, but they make an effort to profile amateur riders and community members at the same time. “I have a lot of respect for them because they are willing to take the time necessary to highlight any woman regardless of where she’s at with things, as long as she’s passionate about what she’s doing, she’s on the bike — they’re going to be there to support and that makes a huge difference . . . with the Women’s Freeride Movement now, I know I’m not alone and I can rely on my sisters to move forward,” said Rathbun.
Lisa Mason, Carolyn Kavanagh, Berny Jacques, Kat Sweet and other women are taking media exposure into their own hands and creating the coverage they want to see for themselves. Kavanagh aims to produce three films this summer featuring female riders. “I think of guys like the Coastal Crew. They build trails, they make awesome bike movies and they’re all buddies. They hang out and they ride bikes and they have fun,” That’s how Kavanagh imagines the WFM; but as a group of women. “Why can’t girls go build an awesome bike trail and use their chainsaw? And why can’t girls make some awesome videos, and why can’t girls ride those trails and throw down some sick tricks? There’s no reason girls can’t do that,” Kavanagh said.
With growth inevitably come challenges and hard learned lessons. Last summer the trio published Women Behind Crankworx intending to highlight some of the key female players of the festival. The article garnished some heat from readers, some felt it left out some important members of the community. It was a learning experience self-taught writer Mason had to work hard not to take personally. Mason said she felt bad if she left anyone out because she “didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings,” an insight that truly aligns with her bubbly and nurturing character. “I’ve had people be catty with me because we’re new and we’re evolving. I wonder what people think, are they being critical of our writing? Are we projecting what we want to say?” said Mason.
“It’s a labour of love, it’s really rewarding. A lot of it is thankless, a lot of the time you hear more of the negativity,” said Kavanagh, who has been trying to understand why women sometimes have trouble working together. “Maybe because we’re always the underdog and we’ve had to fight for everything we end up fighting each other. I really want to see women succeed and do well . . . that’s why I emphasise I really want us to be inclusive not exclusive.”
WFM is not about winning clicks or counting followers. The most rewarding part of the job is seeing women connect with each other from all over the world. “I know women are coming to this page and looking at stuff and they’re putting their events or linking their stuff, because they feel like they’re part of something and it’s part of a collective; which is what we really wanted,” said Kavanagh.
The team draws their inspiration from some powerful players. Listing off the heavy hitters like Lorraine Blancher, Casey Brown, Katrina Strand, and Claire Buchar as role models, they single out Kat Sweet of Sweetlines Mountain Biking in Seattle, citing her event, the Sugar Showdown, as a possible model for a future WFM event. Sweet is said to have coined the term sisterhood of shred.
“It’s the best women’s mountain bike event. It’s a slopestyle, hang out with your friends thing. We’d like to work with that model and build something there,” said Kavanagh.
Sweet is happy to share her expertise and experience with the WFM team. “One of the really cool things about women in mountain biking in general is a lot of us like to give back and we like to bring other women along with us as we progress. There’s a lot of stewardship going on with women in mountain biking,” said Sweet. Her advice for the WFM: “Stick together, work together and don’t take no for an answer. There’s going to be a lot of noes along the way, a lot of ‘well nobody wants that, nobody’s interested.’ Find ways to get them interested.”
Looking into the future the girls have a simple plan: ride, write, film and share the stories. Tell the stories worth telling regardless of gender or skill level, and in doing so inspire as many women as possible to get on their bikes.
Ash Kelly : Ash Kelly has been riding since 2006. She moved from Edmonton to Vancouver in 2007 to spend some time on the North Shore trails. When not on one of her four bikes, Ash can be found trail building, backcountry skiing, sledding, cooking or reading a book.