Carbondale kayaker competes at worlds
The Mini-Bus wave was anything but diminutive. That became clear to Carbondale’s Hanna Farrar. Once the dam opened one day before the start of the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships earlier this month, competitors from around the globe caught their first glimpses of the massive feature as it showcased its full potential.”It was probably the biggest wave I’ve ever surfed,” the Dartmouth college sophomore and Colorado Rocky Mountain School graduate said Wednesday. “I have to figure out how to describe it. It was way bigger and more intimidating. It had way more power and was way more dynamic. “Everything on that wave happens a whole lot faster.”During her first training run, the 20-year-old lost her bearings on the massive feature. The wave crashed over head, swallowed her boat, and Farrar flushed out before attempting one maneuver.And, as she watched in awe as 27 other competitors navigated Mini-Bus with apparent ease and fluidity, it became clear to Farrar that she wasn’t a junior anymore. “They all must’ve been out there practicing all winter,” Farrar said. “Since last fall, the progression in women’s kayaking has moved further forward than it has since I’ve been involved.”Farrar was undaunted, however, as she prepared for her first World Championship as a pro woman, against competitors 10 years her senior – or older. Excitement drowned out any lingering apprehension.After all, Farrar was no stranger to the Ottawa. Just nine months earlier, she overcame fluctuating nerves and a slow start at the U.S. Freestyle Team trials to capture the squad’s third and final spot. In 2002, she made her first of two U.S. Junior National teams on those very same waters.
The pre-med student has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Just two weeks before traveling to Eastern Canada, Farrar, her bags stuffed with textbooks and kayaking gear, flew to Reno for the Collegiate Nationals Whitewater Kayaking Championships. There was a catch: Farrar kayaked for the first time this year during an impromptu practice session the night before the competition.”My friend picked me up at the airport, and then I basically hopped right into the water,” she said. “I was thrown right back into it. I was scared at first, but it’s like a riding a bike. You pick it back up pretty fast.”Apparently one night was enough, as Farrar made herself right at home in the Truckee Whitewater Park. On Day 1, she competed in her first-ever boatercross competition, a full-on, full-contact sprint from start to finish, and won. Between heats, she worked on math homework in a local cafe.The following day, Farrar withstood cold temperatures, a field of eight and a tiebreaker to capture the freestyle crown and clinch the overall title.Farrar and Jamie Cooper were more than willing to concede victory after learning they had posted identical final scores. The two had left their boats – and the relative warmth of their neoprene spray skirts – and were running to change out of their drenched clothes when word of their tie was announced over the loudspeaker.”We were both pretty done at that point,” Farrar said. “The water couldn’t have been much more than 50 degrees. It was so cold. I got an ice cream headache every time I flipped over.”Ultimately, Farrar’s execution of the splitwheel – a traditional take on the cartwheel, in which she spun in one direction, stopped midway through and changed to the other direction – clinched the victory.
Despite sparse training, Farrar was understandably confident in the days leading up to her first meeting with the Mini-Bus. That feeling was reaffirmed after her first ride – Farrar called it the best of the competition – vaulted her into third place. She was well-positioned; each rider would take four runs, of which their two best counted, and the field would then be cut from 28 to 10.
“I had a decent ride, so I told myself I had three more chances to get one more good score,” Farrar said. “When my next two rides didn’t go so well, it got a little scary.” Optimism soon gave way to angst. The wave crashed over Farrar’s head during her second run, and she flushed out the back. She unsuccessfully tried a trick during her third run and was prematurely forced off the wave. Still, she steadied her jitters and strung together multiple tricks on a fourth run that helped secure her a coveted spot in the final 10. By her own admission, Farrar’s next few runs were mediocre, but consistent. She was forced to sweat it out as judges determined who would make the final cut as the field was trimmed from 10 to five for the finals. Farrar took the fifth and final spot.
She was the only American to advance.”That was the thing that hit me hardest,” she remembered. “I said, ‘Wow, I’m all the U.S. has left for the finals.’ I would’ve loved to have them in the finals as well, but I was excited to beat them out.”As Canada’s Ruth Gordon and Australia’s asserted themselves (they finished 1-2, respectively, after struggling at the onset), Farrar remained in fifth for the duration. “I’m excited,” she said. “There’s part of me that says I could’ve done better. There’s room to improve in the future.”While she was occupied with school immediately following the worlds – she had three midterms and one lab in the week that followed – Farrar has now begun to contemplate what lies ahead. Success in Ottawa was encouraging – she proved she could conquer the Mini-Bus and compete with the sport’s most prominent athletes – but now has her thinking about priorities, she said.”I’m in the early stages of my career, for sure. I have a lot of time, but I also have school,” she said candidly. “I’ve kind of been trying to figure out where I want to take kayaking. I’m still excited to compete, but once I hit med school, I might have to change gears.
“Being a professional kayaker would definitely be fun, but I don’t know how practical it is. School’s not quite as fun as surfing waves in Africa during the winter would be, but I think it’s going to be what matters in the end.”For now, Farrar is back in New Hampshire finishing up the final weeks of the spring semester. Once classes are completed, she’ll have two weeks to put down the books and pick up a paddle when she returns to the valley. (Because she spent the winter semester interning at Orthopaedic Associates in Glenwood Springs, Farrar will be back in class this summer.)For two weeks, she’ll visit her favorite local haunts, catch up with family, even compete in Lyons and in Salida’s FIBArk Whitewater Festival. She’s purposely keeping the rest of her schedule open.”I don’t have anything specific planned,” she said. “It’s going to be nice to finally take a break.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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