The Women of Badfish: Hannah Ray J
Hannah Ray J is an Iowa native. She, like us, is drawn to the river. It all began with kayaking and she now includes SUP and river surfing in her whitewater adventures. When she’s not paddling she works as a graphic artist for a lip balm/body care company and is a freelance graphic designer specializing in logos, t-shirt designs, print media and more. She also spends about 25 hours per week caring for her border collie, Bella, who suffers from canine mega esophagus. Let’s get to know Hannah a little bit better…
Hannah, Iowa doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking of stand up paddling and river surfing. How did you get into it?
Iowa has hundreds of miles of meandering streams flowing throughout the state well suited for recreational paddling. Now if you want to paddle whitewater in Iowa…you have to look a little harder. With virtually no natural whitewater in our state, whitewater parks have become the hotspots for whitewater paddling and surfing. Iowa has relatively consistent flows in our rivers throughout the year providing regular opportunities for paddling and surfing.
Communities are embracing their underutilized and neglected rivers flowing right through downtown and engineering whitewater parks in place of existing deadly low head dams. These parks provide recreational opportunities, restore aquatic habitats, and encourage river stewardship for generations. The waves and features engineered at our whitewater parks are just plain fun in a boat or on a board!
My first experience with SUP was when my good friend Ty Graham showed me how to surf on his custom Badfish River Surfer. I had never seen a SUP so short and maneuverable, it was so much fun!!! After that initial surf I was hooked and have been surfing my own river surfer and SK8 and much as I can.
You spend most of your time at the Charles City Whitewater Park, where did you paddle before the park was put in?
Before Charles City Whitewater, I paddled at our local spot Clay Hole in Cedar Falls Iowa. A former low head dam that had deteriorated over time. Local boaters had cleaned it up and utilized the area for whitewater paddling. I learned to roll my first kayak and sup surf my first wave at Clay Hole, many thanks to Ty Graham and friends for helping me along the way!
You’ve got tricks like 360’s and pop shuv-its dialed!! How long did it take you to land these tricks? What advice would you have for someone trying to learn them?
After first learning to surf and carve around on my home wave at Charles City, it took me about a season to learn 360’s and shuv its. With no one in my area to show me the tricks, I spent numerous hours of trial and error. I watched videos of Miles Harvey, Mike Tavares, and Spencer Lacy. Then more trial and error. I took video of myself trying tricks, then studied and compared what I was doing and where I needed to improve. I only thought about tricks and surfing twice a day (when awake and when asleep). After hours of practice, 360s and shuv-its are so much fun!
If you’re trying to learn new tricks don’t give up and keep trying! Practice as much as you can, as often as you can. Even if you don’t have anyone to show you how, watch videos, video yourself, practice again and again. You’ve got to think about it, dream about it, want it so much you can visualize yourself on the wave spinning til you’re dizzy. When those first tricks start clicking, you’ll have even more smiles for days.
A couple years back you traveled to some well known surf spots like Lunchcounter in Jackson, WY. What was your favorite place to surf and why?
Each surf spot has its own unique qualities. Lunchcounter was fun and fast, a great learning curve and it definitely showed me how to swim better! Glenwood was a little lower than ideal when I visited but still was a blast to surf surrounded by mountains and fellow surfers. Diagonal Ledges was a very cool spot. I loved chatting it up with all the kayakers and surfers in the eddy while I waited for my turn on the wave.
You’ve recently started shortboarding. Do you like shortboard river surfing more than SUP surfing?
I can’t choose just one, both are fun! My home wave utilizes the rain mother nature provides. Being able to shortboard, sup, and kayak, presents me with the best opportunities to get the most out of fluctuating river levels. I’ve also been using my SUP paddle with the SK8, exploring new opportunities yet to be discovered.
You organize an event at the whitewater park called the Charles City Challenge. Do you have any advice for anyone trying to get a whitewater festival in their hometown?
Go for it! Volunteer your time wherever you can, help more people become involved, and remember to smile, this is fun!
And last but not least, how has river surfing impacted your life?
The river has taught me numerous things through surfing and paddling. A few of which are: going with the flow, being in the moment, focusing on the things most important to me, and keeping balance in all aspects of my life.
To see more of Hannah visit her website http://hannahrayj.com/ and follow her on Instagram @hannah_rayj.