Local kayaker riding wave of success
July 19, 2006
Carbondales Hanna Farrar loves to flip and spin whether its in her kayak or on her skis. When she finds a good hole on the river, the 19-year-old strings together freestyle maneuvers, some with names like Space Godzilla, donkey flip and blunt, in her 6-foot kayak. She mimics the flips and spins she used to watch her older brother perform, as well as the those shes seen in films and competition.For nearly eight years – she first took a rolling class when she was in sixth grade – Farrar has been perfecting her craft on local whitewater. Freestyle kayaking has become a passion, she said Wednesday – one that has taken her life in directions she could never have predicted.”I sometimes take time to think about where I’ve come, and it’s pretty amazing,” said Farrar, a 2005 graduate of Colorado Rocky Mountain School. “The places I’ve been able to go. The rivers I’ve been on. I’m happy I stuck with it.”Farrar, a two-time U.S. Junior National Team member, said she is grateful for the order in which her life has unfolded.She was always drawn to the water, Farrar remembered. It seemed only natural for her to follow in the footsteps of her brother, Matt, once he started paddling.
“Being his little sister and watching him compete, I thought it’d be cool,” Farrar said. “It started out as something that was just for fun.”Farrar followed Matt to CRMS, where she was one of a small group of girls statewide who competed in freestyle. Quietly, she racked up some impressive results. Maybe it wasn’t so quiet: In August after her freshman year, Farrar received an unexpected call. David Hughes, executive director of a program called Huge Experiences – a secondary school with a focus on whitewater sports – had seen her results and was impressed. He offered the Farrar, then 15, the opportunity to try out for the U.S. junior team at trials on the Ottawa River in Ontario.Farrar’s mother, Cathie, was hesitant: “I thought she was a little young,” she said. Matt was unsuccessful in a tryout for the national team as a high school senior. “We wondered if it was a good idea. He [Hughes] was very persistent.”CRMS kayaking head coach Peter Benedict eased Farrar’s parents’ concerns and urged the family to take advantage of the opportunity. Farrar was on her way to Canada soon after.”My mom and I always joke that if I hadn’t gone to the trials, I wouldn’t come nearly as far as I have,” Farrar said. “It’s kind of by chance that it all happened. It changed everything.”Farrar competed in a two-week trial with nine other promising young female freestylers in the fall of 2002. She made the team as the second boat, which qualified her for the World Championships in Austria the following spring. “It was exciting. I couldn’t believe it was happening for a while,” Farrar said. “I had all winter to think it over. I was definitely nervous.”The stress of a world-class competition took its toll on Farrar. In the days before her competition, she remembered feeling sick to her stomach – so much so she thought she had the flu.
Farrar was able to overcome her fears on a large and “terrifying” water feature to take bronze in Austria – not bad considering she had dislocated her right shoulder skiing at Snowmass two months before.”I was hitting a jump and over-rotated a front flip,” said Farrar, who competes in slopestyle and halfpipe. “Doctors didn’t know if I’d be able to go. Having the goal of being able to go to Austria gave me a lot of motivation to get my strength built back up.”Farrar was invited to U.S. team trials in 2004 – this time on the Black River in Watertown, N.Y. – and again earned second boat. For her efforts, Farrar had a spot in the World Championships in Australia – her final world competition as a junior.Nerves bothered the young boater once again. Farrar said she went into competition with a well-rehearsed routine; after watching other competitors, however, she put more pressure on herself and froze. During her execution of a loop – the competitor places the nose of the boat in the hole and completes a front flip – Farrar crashed. She wound up eighth. “I thought I had a chance of winning, and that was part of the pressure,” Farrar said. “It was a humbling experience, and I realized anything could happen. In the end, it’s how you paddle every day, and the impressions you make on other people that really matter.”Farrar shook off the disappointment as she made the leap to the professional ranks. She competed sparingly during her freshman year at Dartmouth College, and found time to be an active member of the school’s Ledyard Canoe Club. Through the club, she taught other students and took various trips throughout the East. She left school early this spring to come back to Colorado. She juggled her remaining exams with training for the summer season. There was hardly a moment of respite.Farrar tries to take her boat out five or six times each week, although that number has gone down of late because of unfavorable conditions and her summer job at Four Mountain Sports in Highlands Village. When she does make it out, Farrar heads for familiar spots on the Roaring Fork River, and occasionally finds time for a trip to Salida’s whitewater park. She also spent a few weeks riding a wave that formed on the Colorado River.
Farrar has a well-rehearsed routine. When she spots potential holes or waves, Farrar spends her first couple rides looking for the feature’s “sweet spot,” while performing easier maneuvers. As she builds confidence, she rachets up the difficulty and sometimes throws in new tricks. She has yet to showcase most of them in competition – or even name them.”The standard [for names] is very high,” she joked. Farrar, depending on the feature, spends up to seven hours on the water.The tricks she has pulled off in competition this summer have garnered impressive results. In the past few months, Farrar finished first at both the Lyons Whitewater Festival and the Colorado Adventure Sports Festival in Gunnison, where she was the lone female competitor. She also finished second at the Yampa Whitewater Festival in Steamboat and fifth at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail.And, at the 2006 Freestyle Kayaking Nationals, June 15-18 in Salida, Farrar took second among U.S. competitors and third overall.She is setting her sights on another U.S. team trial Aug. 23 in Ontario. Before she heads back to Dartmouth, she’ll compete in the first-ever World Cup events for freestyle kayaking: It’s the sport’s attempt to prove to the Olympic committee that kayaking is a viable option.”I always play that idea through my head. There’s a possibility I could be there,” Farrar said of the Olympics. “I can’t even imagine what that’d be like.” Farrar and women’s freestyle kayaking have come a long way these past few years. She and her family hope they continue to ride the wave.”It’s exciting,” Cathie Farrar said. “She’s always been the kind of person who, when she puts her mind to something, accomplishes it. Everything she does, she does well. There’s a part of me that’s not surprised at all.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org