Watersports saved Erica Lichty’s life and now she wants to return the favor. The Washington-based Lichty is the founder of a new paddle group known as SEASTR, a program for women looking for support on their journey towards physical and mental well-being. Meeting up on lapping shores throughout the Puget Sound, these women come together to test the waters, paddle out, and feel empowered.
“I want to offer a nice, quiet, safe place where women can have the ability to give themselves a little room to grow,” Lichty explains. “So that they can get out there on a body of water with the wind blowing at 40 knots and feel a little more confident after conquering it.”
Since its inception a year ago this spring, SEASTR has drawn in individuals of varying backgrounds; from women who already love the sport to those who are new to paddling, or simply those seeking a community that will lift them up every stroke of the way. And when you meet Lichty herself, it’s easy to see why she has quickly become a lodestar.
You could say Lichty was destined for a life on the water from her first breath of salty air. Her dad was a merchant mariner, her mom a master sculler and designer. Lichty herself has worked on oil rigs and supply boats, and she has spent 22 years as a self-made interior yacht and residential designer. Diving and surfing were as much a part of her as her own two hands, but stand-up paddling has only recently become an obsession in the last three years.
“I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie,” she admits with a chuckle, “which is actually what initially kept me from paddling.”
That all changed on the island of Maui a few years back when a friend introduced her to downwind paddling, a fast-paced paddle sport where athletes harness the power of the wind, chop, and swells to propel themselves across open water at speeds faster than just their paddle can take them. After that initial introduction in Hawaii, Lichty participated in Salmon Bay paddle races back here at home, then the Gorge Paddle Challenge in Hood River. “It was baptism by fire,” Lichty says with a smile.
She was addicted and many of her paddle buddies were gems, but something was missing—female companionship. She didn’t even bother searching around for a female paddling community because, “[I] already knew it wasn’t there. I could feel the hole, I could feel the void.”
Here’s the hard truth: water sports are largely male dominated. As an example, the first women’s wetsuits weren’t created until 1960 and options were extremely limited, so women chose to custom make suits until the late ‘80s. Even then, the technology and features in women’s suits severely lacked compared to their male counterparts, therefore damming up women’s access to watersports before they’ve even had the chance to test the waters.
Lichty herself is no newbie when it comes to male-dominated industries. As previously mentioned, she grew up in the maritime and seafaring businesses, the latter of which is only 1.2% female according to s BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report. “Compared to my time on the oil rig, [these Pacific Northwest] races were nothing,” she explains, referring to being the only woman paddling in a Neah Bay race; one of three women in her next race; and being one-half of the only all-woman team to ever complete the Seventy48 in 2021, a 70-mile, 48-hour paddle-powered race from Tacoma to Port Townsend. (In fact, this very feat is the subject of a new feature documentary entitled “Stand Up” from local filmmaker Carly Vester. The film recently made its world premiere at the Wasatch Mountain Film Festival and will be screening at Surf Ballard in Seattle on May 13, and Broken Branch Surf Retreat in Oregon on May 21, among other spring and summer dates. More information can be found at: standupfilm.com.)
Bringing more women out on the water is certainly one of the elements that inspired SEASTR, but Lichty’s undying passion for a supportive space stems from a much deeper place. Lichty survived rape as a 17-year-old in high school and sexual assault at age 20 while enrolled in a maritime academy. She eventually checked herself into an all-women hospital for depression and anxiety, and found solace in her group therapy sessions, which created one of the first splashes that would eventually form the wake SEASTR is today. “They don’t let you get away with crap in group therapy.” Lichty explains. “They’re hearing you make excuses or defend your defender, and they’re going to call you out on it.” In therapy, you can laugh and cry and touch, and she knew she wanted to provide that same sense of safety and belonging on the water.
Pivoting from her yachting design work, Lichty finished her 100-ton vessel captain’s license right as the world spiraled into the global pandemic. Drawing on her own personal revelations, she embraced her scars and re-focused her energy into a new business idea—one that would provide an inclusive space where women can explore their uniqueness while achieving their mental and physical goals through paddle sports. SEASTR was born.
Today, Lichty offers women-focused, one-on-one and small group, surf and paddle clinics throughout the Northwest all year-long. The meet-ups encompass both flat-water paddling and surfing and are open to all skill levels. For more immersive experiences, SEASTR also offers ten camping-style retreats, each with its own purpose or vibe. For example, her popular Surf Glamp retreats include a two-night getaway where participants slumber in yurt tents, enjoy sunset yoga, and work up a sweat during strength training, in addition to the daily surfing lessons. Some are destination retreats—Baja Sur in the winter, anyone?—but most are local to the Northwest in spots like Westport or on the Olympic Peninsula. Regardless, retreats often bring in guest speakers, yoga teachers, or surf instructors and the like, to complement the restorative time spent out on the water. Lichty will also begin offering “Mom and Me” surf camps late this summer for mothers and their munchkins aged 8 and up. >> For more details on joining the women of SEASTR, and plus information on retreats, clinics, and updates, visit: seastrpnw.com.