Men dominate the world of whitewater kayaking today. In the first race of the North Fork Championship in Banks, three women paddled alongside more than 80 men down the Payette River.
Nineteen-year-old Hannah Kertesz was one of them. She started rafting at a young age.
“My first river trip was when I was 7 months old,” Kertesz said. “Santa brought me my first kayak when I was 7.”
Kertesz’s father encouraged her to kayak all her life. She received a scholarship to a world-class kayaking school her junior year of high school, traveling down to Chile for two months.
“I had a Rubbermaid bin that I had all my clothes in,” Kertesz said. “I’m not a valley girl. I have a valley girl side to me, but I really had to suck it up and be a granola.”
Kertesz struggled with the gender imbalance throughout the trip, though.
“I was the only girl out of nine boys,” she said. “It actually helped my Spanish. I didn’t want to talk to those guys so I made friends with people in Chile.”
Kertesz said it’s tough being one of the only girls in the sport. She said she keeps up with the boys, but has “more brains and less balls.” One of her many nicknames for the men she kayaks with is “walking erection.”
But she finds the men she paddles with on the North Fork of the Payette to be supportive and fun.
“This community that I’ve found, even though it’s mostly boys and immature men who will never grow up, the people I’ve found here are humble,” Kertesz said. “They kayak because they love this river so much.”
And Kertesz said she does it for the same reason.
“This river is my momma,” she added.
Kayaking has taken Kertesz around the world. Last year, she paddled with the Junior Women’s U.S. Team in Germany, where she had her 18th birthday.
But for now, she lives in Boise and is studying nursing at Boise State.
“BSU has a great nursing program,” she said, “but they’ve got better rivers.”
She finds time to paddle in between her summer courses in Anatomy and Physiology, with a thick stack of flashcards to study in her car.
Kertesz didn’t take one of the five wildcards awarded after the qualifier race on June 8. None of the women did. Winning one would have placed her in the next race down Jacob’s Ladder on June 9, and put her in the elite division. But she wasn’t upset by this.
“I kayak because I don’t need to prove myself to anybody,” she said. “I’ve proven it to myself. It’s fulfilling.”