HAN-GNAR: A GIRL WITH A VISION by Lee Turner and Hannah Groves. And post-interview by Ollie El-Gamel

Editor’s Note: Each week we highlight a fabulous lady who is expanding our sport and pushing forward the frontiers of what is possible, our Woman of Whitewater WEDNESDAY. This week we chose Hannah Groves, not only because of her great passion for whitewater, or the work she does with the Gnar Fairies to promote paddling within the community, especially in regards to reaching out to young ladies and encouraging them to hit the River, but also because she is a FANTASTIC ARTIST! What better way to kick off the month of mARTch’s WOWWs than with a talented lady like Hann-Gnar? We asked fellow Fairie Lee Turner to introduce us to this awesome person and dirtbag paddler Queen! 

“I first met Hannah Groves during the festivities at Gauley Fest this last year. As we got to know each other, I saw first hand a kind of passion for the river I could only describe as inspiring. This girl talked as if the water was an old friend and a kind of spiritual guide that carried her to where she is now. However, her words were nothing compared to how her art brought to life a story of conquering fears and finding one’s true self in the essence of nature that enraptures a community such as ours.
She began her journey at an early age with a kind of attraction to the water that left her curious and craving more. Into her teens, she continued to pursue greater challenges that eventually led her to whitewater.  And thus, the Nantahala River became a part of her life as she happily lived as a raft guide on its waters. Still, after two years, she desired a more intimate connection to water, one in which she could further understand herself and her own limitations. Kayaking provided that.
Up to this point, I had never met anyone with a desire such as Hannah’s to improve upon her skills every time she hit the river. It’s as if whitewater spoke to her, and every single experience it gave her imparted an enriching lesson. Even now, she continues to grow in strength and talent every moment she has to paddle.
However, even as the river became her guide, it also became her muse. Hannah’s creativity breathes a refreshing twist to the river mentality, which is simply embodied in all of her pieces. Using various media and techniques, she continues to illustrate a kind of mystical otherworld with her art that conveys a kind of rough soul whitewater brings to all our lives.
In a sense, she embodies what the Gnar Fairies stand for as we reach out and encourage women to join us in our wild river escapades. She will not just reach you with her words, but literally show you her vibrant passion with her amazing artistry that, like her paddling, continues to grow into something truly incredible. Keep an eye on this gal, cause she’s destined for great things.”

Tim Holbert took the raft guiding photos.

Marley Cunningham took the photo with Hannah, Lee, and friends in the raft. 

Lee took the kayaking photos.

We asked Hannah to ruminate on her art. “Art has always been my number one passion in life,” she told us. “I mean I feel like I was born with a pencil in my hand.  I love using it as a form of communication and therapy.  I can communicate my mood, my personal triumphs and challenges, my other passions, or just fleeting thoughts. Through that release, I can feel more at peace with myself and I can explore the world in a very personal way.”

“For awhile now my passion for art has been becoming entwined with my growing passion for whitewater.  The river has become a never ending source of inspiration and challenge.  Many of my recent pieces have been river related. Either through subject matter or use.” Here are some of Hannah’s remarkable pieces. The floral paddle pictured last is her entry in the mARTch contest DBP is hosting in support of the International Day of Action for Rivers, on Saturday March 14.
“The pieces that I can’t wait to see on the river are the decorative paddles I have designed. My latest one was for a friend and fellow raft guide. I did a mural on either side of her guide stick. The murals were both full of different flowers and herbs. I loved designing this paddle because I wanted to make it just for her and be inspired by her passion for gardening and herbal remedies.”
GNAR FAIRIES on Facebook
“We are a team of female paddlers wanting each to make our mark and push ourselves to the limit. We hope you’ll enjoy all the adventures we intend to share!”

DBP Admin Ollie El-Gamel also interviewed Hannah for DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE. 
SO I’m lucky to know and work with this very talented Woman of Whitewater HanGnar Groves, and was stoked to do this interview with her to get to know one of the driving forces between the Gnar-Fairies, an all woman kayaking team. DBQS for SURE!
Q: So let’s start with the roots. Where are you from and what do you do when you aren’t out shredding it?
A:I was born in Asheville, NC raised in Gainesville, GA.  I moved back to Asheville about three years ago to start college and have recently moved to Boone. I am a Graphic Design major at Appalachian State University.
Q: Ashville, a true American legend of whitewater! With all that classic white water around its no wonder you ended up paddling. But how’d you get started?
A: I got interested in whitewater kayaking when I was about seven. My Aunt, who lived in Hot Springs, was “baby sitting” somebody’s kayak while they were out of town for an extended period of time. My curiosity was spiked by this tiny bright orange boat. She eventually took me out to a calm section of the French Broad and I got to paddle around the calm current. I didn’t know it then, but I was hooked. Later on when I was rafting with a camp group I saw some crazy kayakers going down the river with us and I just remember thinking, “That would be the coolest thing ever!” The want to learn how to kayak would become even stronger after my first year guiding for Rolling Thunder on the Nantahala.
After that summer I finally took it upon myself and started going to roll clinics at UNCA.  I kept going all throughout the winter and spring before my second summer on the Nantahala. Once I got to the river I would constantly nag people to let me bum some gear and to take me kayaking.  This trend continued with little success until I met Lee and we started Gnar Fairies and then I finally felt like I was becoming a kayaker.  

Q: The Nantahala? So is that your home river?
A: As you can infer from my story above my home river is the Nantahala. It is right down the highway from my grandparent’s house and it will always be my first true river love. No matter how cold that river gets, a small part of me will never mind going down for a fun run!
Q: We know where your home is, now tell us where’s your dream paddling destination?
A: Although if I could go anywhere for kayaking I would have to say my dream destination is New Zealand.  I would love to go there and follow the locals down their favorite runs and experience the river culture and environment down there.  That would definitely be the trip of a lifetime. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to buy that plane ticket!

Raukawa Falls, an awesome 40 foot park and huck in the central north island of New Zealand!Photo by Ollie El-Gamel
Q: I hear Okere Falls is nice! Now what has been the best thing you’ve learned on your kayaking adventures?
A: Right now probably my favorite thing I have learned while kayaking is how far I can improve when somebody has faith in my ability. I can’t express how wonderful it is when I am doubting myself and my paddling partners look at me and say, “Go on you’ve got this!”  It gives me the push to go beyond my limits and try something new. Even if I don’t make it and end up screwing up or swimming I still feel like I have improved after each tiny leap of faith.  
Q: Now to end on a toughie, any day on the river is better than any day in the office. However, everyone has a most memorable trip… What’s yours?

A: My most memorable river trip… Dang that’s a tough one. I’d have to say my most memorable river trip was when I went down the Middle Ocoee when it was running around 6,000 cfs.  We had just gotten done with our last trip on the Nanny when my friend Andy got a call. He comes around the corner, freaking out saying the Ocoee was running at six grand! Of course I go crazy thinking about that much water. It took us about an hour to get enough people rounded up to go and to get all of our gear together.  Then once we got there, we had to commandeer an old raft from the Ocoee outpost and head back up to the put in.  After we had parked and we were blowing up the raft I go to look at the dam with my friend Jackson. (Poor Jackson hadn’t even been a guide on the Nantahala for a week.) I couldn’t believe my eyes. The dam was pouring out so much water and a good bit of the put in ramp was completely underwater and creating a new wave.  We all ended up watching a boat of eight guides go down the ramp and successfully make it, only to get caught in the terminal hole in Grumpies and flip their boat.  We immediately got on the river to go help them. Thankfully they were okay and we were able to go down this swollen river. All four of us. Yep, only four people in a beat up old Riken raft with some blown baffles.  Only two of us had more than a season’s worth of whitewater experience and the other two had up to half a season and barely half a week!  Yet we somehow made it down without flipping our raft or losing anyone.  I still have to give my friend Andy mad props for guiding us down!
​All right thanks Hannah that was awesome! See you on the water!

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