Presenting Bunny Johns, Boater Chick of the Year!

During the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Boater Chick Festival, I had the honor of presenting Bunny Johns with the 2008 Boater Chick Award. It could not have gone to a better person!I always tip my helmet to fellow-boaters that recognize the achievements of those paddlers that came before us. There were so many valient paddlers who trundled down rivers in the likes of 13 foot+ boats, at a time when words such as “boof” did not even exist. So when Anne–organizer of the 2008 Boater Chick Festival, asked me to help her present Bunny Johns with the 1st Boater Chick Award, in my tongue-tied way I was honored–and fired up to do so. 

Here’s my take on Bunny Johns:

When I arrived in the Nantahala Community in 1990, I found myself surrounded by so many great paddlers. There were Olympic gold-medals being won, powerful rivers being run, new countries being explored-all by awesome paddlers both male and female. The Narrows of the Green were just being explored, as were the Bear and other steep runs of TN, the Futaleafu of Chile was new territory, and Nepal was luring many world paddlers. As a female, it was cool to cross paths on the river with the likes of KB Boyln, Mary Hayes, Arlene Burns, and to take in the tales of the likes of Risa Shimoda and Carrie Aston…and that does not even include the awesome male boaters that were out there really making things happen!

One of the individuals to really earn my respect was Bunny Johns. It did not take long to figure out that Bunny was a great many things to a great many people. As president of NOC, she was a powerful boss; a leader that flat out earned people’s respect. I listened to folks that had been in the paddling community for a long time and learned Bunny, small and demure in person, was a serious athlete. She had raced C2 and Wildwater with the likes of Payson Kennedy, Carrie Ashton, Jeanie Braxton and Mike Hipsher. In fact, Bunny and Mike won the Wildwater World Championships in C2-mixed in 1981 (the last year that the C2 mixed event was ever held); as well as placing 12th in the men’s event in the same World Championship. In the ‘70’s Bunny ran the Grand Canyon in a C2, one of seven trips down the Canyon in C2, canoe or kayak. Wow, this girl kicked ass!

One of the favorite told stories about Bunny–and a reflection of her spunkiness, is a late-70’s Overflow story. Bunny was working over at the Chattooga with the likes of Ken Kastorff, Bob Beasley (Beaz) and company. The river reached cut-off for commercial trips and a handful of crazies decided it was time to run Overflow. Overflow is a Class IV+ creek that runs into the Chattooga; its rapids carry names such as “Great Marginal Monster.” While this would not be a first descent, it was one of just a time or two that the river had been run. Ken immediately cornered Bunny, who was more than willing to go but did not have a boat. It did not take too long for Ken to dig up two Quests [Quests were one of the very first plastic boats. If today you ask Ken or Bunny to remember the length of the Quest, they will remark “at least 13’ long if not more!!”] Nor she did not have a paddle—“not to worry- I will find us paddles,” stated Ken optimistically. Soon the two of them were headed to Overflow with borrowed boats and paddles. That day in a big ol’ 13’ boat and borrowed paddle, Bunny ran Overflow, probably handling the run with the same grace and panache with which she does everything else.

Over the years, respect for Bunny and her leadership skills spread far outside our small boating community. In the mid-70’s Bunny helped bring together the likes of Ken Kastorff and a host of equally incredible instructors to build the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s instruction program. During those early years there were many long days on the river for Bunny, followed by long nights in the office hammering out guidelines for developing the American Canoe Association’s program. Years later, when Duke Energy prepared for their sweeping FERC relicensing projects, they needed a leader, an ambassador, someone who could work behind the scenes and bring opposing groups together. They found that person in Bunny. I feel confident saying that her influence now extends far beyond just the Nantahala Community and we are all very fortunate for that.

There is no better example of a great female boater than Bunny: bold, seasoned, an unabashed leader, a team player, an inspiring instructor, and a gracious friend. Compliments to Anne and the Boaterchicks for recognizing Bunny Johns as deserving of the Boaterchick Award!

With all due respect, Juliet