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Gear manufacturers have realised that lots of women like the outdoors and they're different shapes from men. Here's what's out there, and where you can buy it.

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Jill Ellis - Adanac Paddles

Jill Ellis Adanac PaddlesJill Ellis describes herself as a “Jill of many trades”, which is probably a bit of an understatement.  Currently Jill owns and operates Adanac Paddles, a company that builds traditional Greenland kayak paddles by hand, one at a time.  Jill’s career has taken many twists and turns, but she has spent much of her time working with her hands in various trades and art forms, even despite ruining her right hand in a car crash midway through her career.  With Adanac Paddles Jill is able to combine her love of the outdoors and kayaking with her talent for wood carving, as well as helping people who are unable to use “normal” paddles access the sport of kayaking.  Don’t miss this profile!  Jill has an amazing story, so do read on…

Jill grew up in rural Ontario, Canada with three older brothers and three younger sisters.  She was closer in age to her brothers and says she wasn’t “the dainty type” - figuring that if her brothers could do something, so could she.  She played many sports, always on the boys’ teams because there were no girls’ teams around, and developed a love of the outdoors from her rural upbringing.  Today she enjoys wilderness camping, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and fishing.  Her favourite activity is kayaking, equipped with one of her own paddles (of course) and her fly fishing gear - and she still lives in Ontario.

Jill Paddling Lake OntarioWhen Jill was in her early twenties she joined the Canadian Military and did a six year stint as a Metals Technician working on aircraft.  Her job was to repair the skin and/or structure of the aircraft, which involved four different kinds of welding and a lot of work with hand tools - obviously it’s not appropriate to carry a lathe around in the field! This was in 1973, at a time when women were not at all common, or even allowed to practice men’s trades.  Jill says that in the 70’s, in that environment, women had to be twice as good at their jobs to be equal to the men.  She says that she was accepted because she was good at her trade and the men could count on her to get the job done, experience that has carried through to her other experiences in male dominated environments.

Jill Ellis Miniature Snowy EgretAfter leaving the Canadian Military Jill opened her own business selling carving supplies and worked as a professional woodcarver, using the woodcarving skills she taught herself while in the military.  Professional woodcarving (which includes competing with other woodcarvers) is also a very male dominated field, but Jill says that she was too stubborn to be pushed aside or treated like an obedient housewife!  She attended competitions, signed her name as J. E. Ellis so she would be judged fairly, and went on to win several world class bird carving competitions from 1988 to 1990.  In 1988 she took two carvings and won first and second place, in 1989 she took one carving which won first place, in 1990 she took two carvings and won two first places and the prize for best miniature overall (for more pictures, visit the Mantisland website).  At this time Jill was also competing in Black Powder Shooting competitions, was the CAN-AM Women’s champion for several years, and won the Ontario Provincial Men’s 100 yard Offhand Championship several times!

Shortly after her success in the 1990 Wood Carving World Championships Jill was involved in a car accident that ruined her right hand and wrist.  Her rehabilitation involved five operations over five years, but Jill has never completely recovered the complete feeling or range of movements in her right hand.  This put an end to her Black Powder Shooting competing, but undeterred and unwilling to sit around feeling sorry for herself, Jill decided to become a left-handed wood carver.  She re-taught herself to carve using ostrich eggs, and when she re-entered the World Championships in 1995 and 1997 with her left handed carvings, she received two third places!  Jill has also used the skills she developed while re-teaching herself to carve to teach wood carving to a wide variety of students, including people with disabilities.

Adanac Greenland PaddlesJill says that she got into the paddle making business by accident, by helping out a friend.  Jill’s friend had suffered breast cancer and her treatment had involved the removal of all her lymph nodes and one breast.  She was an avid kayaker and found that she could no longer paddle using a European paddle, so after visiting Jill went home, did some research, found a piece of wood left over from when she built her own home and carved her friend a Greenland paddle.

After some initial scepticism, Jill’s friend tried the paddle and found that because Greenland paddles are held lower and closer to the body than European paddles, she could now kayak again, despite the fact her surgery was only six months old.  And thus (Jill says) the paddle business was born!

Adanac Greenland Paddles 2Every paddle built by Adanac Paddles is personally fitted to the client and hand carved out of Western Red Cedar by Jill herself.  All Jill’s paddles come with a paddle bootie and the Adanac Paddles logo burned on - you can also “pimp” your paddle with your own logo for a small extra cost.  For pricing and more details, go to Paddles and Pricing on the Adanac Paddles website (http://www.adanacpaddles.com/paddles.htm).   Jill has made paddles for women who have had breast surgery, and for people who have suffered rotor cuff injuries or neck injuries.  She has found that many people (not necessarily injured) want a high quality paddle that will fit them.  Jill says that women especially like the fitted paddles - women’s measurements are different from men’s and some women have trouble finding a comfortable paddle off the rack.

Jill EllisJill sees her business becoming more and more known in the world of women kayakers, growing each year but not getting so big that the quality in the paddles is lost.  She wants Adanac Paddles to remain a custom paddle shop, carving the best paddles available.  Please pass on the word, and consider getting one of Jill’s beautiful paddles for yourself or a friend - she can ship all over the world.  Good luck to Jill and Adanac Paddles!

For more information about Jill and her beautiful paddles, visit the Adanac Paddles website.  You'll find a wealth of information about paddles and paddling, and find out how to order a Greenland paddle for yourself.  You can follow Jill on Twitter as well (@Greenlandpaddle).

If you liked this article, you might be interested in the other paddling articles on GO! Girls Outdoors:

Emmy Hendrickx - another amazing woman from Ontario, who runs her own canoeing business and has an incredible story,
Justine Curgenven - creater of the This is The Sea films and a wonderful sea kayaker,
Freya Hoffmeister - currently paddling around Australia, and
Kelly O'Hagan - white water paddler, coming soon.

P.S.  On a different note, Jill has also made some paddles for Paramount Pictures!  Look out for her paddles in the movie The Last Airbender (the movie version of the cult cartoon Avatar - The Last Airbender), which is being shot in Greenland - the paddles will probably be used for scene authenticity.  You can read this article at the Paddling Instructor blog (@KayakInstructor) for more information.  You can also watch the movie trailer for The Last Airbender, but don’t make my mistake of thinking the paddles are what is being waved around in the movie trailer - apparently that’s a weapon and Greenland paddles were NOT traditionally also used as weapons, even though Jill says that she’s heard that one of her paddles has been put to use fighting off a frisky beaver!  Relish that mental picture - it’s a good one, isn’t it?!

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