TEARING DOWN WALLS ~ Iran’s Woman of Whitewater Hanieh Goharipour.

by Mike Toughill

EDITOR’S DESK: It’s a fact. Although we are all human beings, constructed of the same strands of DNA, breathing the same air, dependant on the same clean water, born into this world the same way seeking the same shelter, existing because of the same love… we are surrounded by walls that divide us, and governed by forces beyond our control. This is the world we have inherited. This is the system we must coexist in, regardless of our feelings to the contrary.

So it is with Hanieh Goharipour and I. You see, she is an Iranian rafter and I am an American rafter. The gulf between our people has grown wider than ever. It has made our communication very difficult, and delayed the final interview in this month’s series.

Hanieh, the fourth Woman of Whitewater gracing the cover of our February edition, has been a DBP Admin since 2014. We have had many cordial conversations over the years, not just about boating and raft racing (she is a member of the Iranian national rafting team that competes in International Rafting Federation events, and served as a judge at the 2016 World Championship in Dubai), or about water conservation (Hanieh has lectured at international symposiums), but also about life as it is on the other side of the Wall. 

My fellow Americans would be surprised to learn how urbane a city Tehran is, that Hanieh is highly educated and free to move about her country and the world, that she enjoys vacationing and traveling to beautiful settings and historical locales, that she does not regularly wear a burka or be dominated by her religion, but lives peaceably and comfortably in Islam. I suppose she learned a few things about America through me as well, but it seems the lessons are more for the people on my side of the Wall, particularly the stone masons.


But I can’t call Hanieh like I can the others I collaborate with on stories. I can’t easily communicate with her. We trade messages on Facebook and Instagram, but it is strained. The distance is great, but the gulf between our people makes it even worse. Maybe it’s unfounded, but each time I don’t hear from her for awhile, I worry that our relationship has put her in harm’s way. 

So it is with our planned interview. Hanieh was game, and I sent her some great questions, but she hasn’t returned them. I did hear from her a few days back, and she quickly explained that she has been busy being a new aunt (congratulations!) but still we haven’t been able to finish the article. So I’ll post the pictures we planned to use, and tell this tale, until her replies eventually make it to my desk and get posted here. That’s the beauty of online publication! 

I will tell you that a passion Hanieh and I share is the idea of using our sport to break down this wall. Even though the world has slipped backwards in the time of our friendship, this has been a unifying theme since day one with her and I. We both recognize that the vast majority of people on both sides of the wall are the same: common people who simply want to exist in peace. Poor people who don’t have the means to hate so much, but who are motivated by fear and the unknown by the powers that be into considering the humans on the other side as animals and hateful enemies.

A raft guide in America and his or her counterpart in Iran share more in common with each other than their neighbor living down the street. Our rivers run the same, there are the same features to conquer, the same methods of propulsion, the same consequences, the same safety techniques, the same customer experiences, and yes the same LOVE OF WHITEWATER. Hanieh and I hope that one day we can travel together to a place and raft, and not be seen as traitors to our countries, as suspicious people. We hope to unite the world through whitewater, in much the same way as the teams of Russian and American rafters helped end the Cold War in the 1980’s.


So until I receive her interview replies, I simply ask you to reflect on what it means to build a wall, and what that looks like to a river runner. Imagine one side of a mighty river with a wall running the length of its bank, the impact on the natural world as well as on humanity. Is this the sort of society we want? Is there real security behind such a structure? Is this the legacy of our times we embrace and bequeath to our children and the generations to come? Or have we been sold a false bill of goods by powers beyond our control?

Enjoy the pictures. Tell me if you see an enemy… Or simply another Woman of Whitewater.

AND THEN… With only a few hours left in February, my phone buzzed! It was Hanieh! Here is our original interview with a true Woman of Whitewater!!


DBP: Hanieh, you’ve been a DBP Admin for a few years, coming in as one of the first women in the group that now numbers 200 reps and scores of awesome ladies. It is a pleasure to interview you! How did you get your start in rafting?

HANIEH: I am one of the founders and board members of Iran Rafting Association, and I’ve been in the world of rafting since 2007. I’m a river guide and ecotourism expert with good experience in promoting river ecotourism and working with local communities. I’m also an International Rafting Federation judge.
The Iran Rafting Association (IRA) was formed by a team of experts in the fields of River Eco-tourism, Raft Guiding, and River Rescue, with support of the International Rafting Federation (IRF). Our plans were based on Ecological Tourism principles and River Safety Standards to achieve the main aims of promoting swift water and whitewater responsible and green activities, preserving nature and conserving rivers, empowering local communities by employment and economic development.
Some of Our achievements are:
Explore rivers and develop ecotourism in some rivers of Iran including Karoon, Zayandeh Roud and Khersan (Chaharmahal o Bakhtiari Province), Haraz and Chalous (Mazandaran Province), Sefid roud and Poleroud (Gilan Province), Karaj (Alborz Province) river, Karaj River, Sezar River etc. since 2006 by a team of Iran Rafting and international experts.
Make local communities familiar with conserving rivers, tourism opportunities, and importance of having clean river for a better life by holding classes and workshops. Many locals have become involved in commercial rafting and cooperate as raft guide, driver, accommodation and food provider, and even managing tours.
We have done many international courses and workshops in fields of Rafting, River Guiding, River Safety and Rescue, Employment by rafting etc with cooperation of some international organizations such as IRF and Rescue 3.

We make government organizations and NGOs familiar with River Ecotourism and encourage them to cooperate developing Responsible Tourism in rivers and surrounding areas and establish a good cooperation with government organizations and NGOs.
Involve many travel agencies in the field of eco-rafting.
Run the first ever Rafting Festival which included Judges Workshop, rafting competitions, clean up river, swimming competition for villagers in Karoon river.
Educate and Train river guides and river rescue technician with the help of Rafting Assessors and Rescue 3 Instructor.

DBP: The rivers and wild places of Iran are absolutely beautiful! Please tell us about some of the major whitewater stretches of your home.

HANIEH: Iran has a long tradition in the use of the river because nomads of Iran used rafts made from animal skin for passing the river as you can see in the picture. We have many rivers in Iran. The best rivers are located in Alborz and Zagros region.


Rivers of Alborz: There is no high volume river in this region. The rivers are mostly steep and good for creek kayaking with some exceptions. April to September is the best time for paddling according to volume of the rivers and weather condition, but you can paddle in autumn and winter but the river level is low and weather is cold. Here are some rivers to paddle:
Haraz River: Haraz is located in Mazandaran Province, it is near to Tehran. The river goes through amazing landscapes and gorges.
Haraz Upper part: It’s a good Creek section with many class 4 and 5 rapids only possible for professional kayakers. From 1 to 2 day kayaking expeditions are possible on this part.
Haraz Lower part: The River goes through forests and rice fields. This part is more green and good for rafting and intermediate kayakers. There are lots of class 2 to 4 rapids. April to June is the best time because the volume is more and you can have more exciting challenge with the waves. For the lower part you can spend 1 to 2 day.
Unfortunately because of river bed and some mines near the river, the water is not clear and looks muddy! There is a possibility of combining upper and lower part, so you can have 3 to 4 day expedition.
Sefidrood: As a rather high volume river, it is an exception in Alborz region. It is located in Gilan province and starts from Manjil to Caspian Sea. But there are only a few easy rapids with two class 3 rapids in first 8 kilometer and after that it is totally flat going to Caspian Sea. This river is not recommended as there is not many rapids and also it is after a dam and many times it is dry. Also there is a strong wind opposite river flow in the afternoon that makes paddling difficult, but can be a different experience.
There some other shallow rivers in Gilan and Mazandaran nice to explore but most of them are short and you cannot spend more than one day on each such as: Kargan Rood, Polrood, Dohezar and Sehezar, Karaj and Chaloos rivers.
Rivers of Zagros: There are lots of great rivers in Zagros suitable from beginner paddlers to world class kayakers. This big part of Iran consists of high volume rivers and good for expeditions. The best time to paddle in the most rivers is late March to July, but there are some rivers you can paddle even till winter. Here are some examples:
Karoon Upper part: It is located in Chaharmahal Province with beautiful dry mountains and great gorges. Some parts are explored and some other parts still need to be explored. In the explored part you can paddle more than 40 kilometers and there are lots of great class 2 to class 4 rapids. It is good for 1 to 2 day expedition for rafting and kayaking.
You can also continue another 20 kilometer which is not that hard, but can be a good finishing day with some class 3 and 2 rapids. This part is recommended for families and beginners.
Khersan River: It is an amazing river in Chaharmahal Province with great landscape in a really remote area and no road access except start and finishing points. You can have 2 or 3 day expedition in about 45 kilometer river full of class 3 to 5 rapids good for professional kayakers and rafters.A good idea can be combining Karoon and Khersan and have two expeditions 5 or 6 days on these rivers.
Sezar and Bakhtiari River: It starts from Lorestan Province and extends to Khozestan Province. We have not explored these rivers, but the famous British Kayaker Dave Manby has done first descents on these rivers. It can be a great 6 to 8 day expedition in remote gorges with class 3 to 5 rapids. The best time would be late March till June.
There are some other rivers needing to be explored in north-west of Iran such as Sirvan in Kurdistan and Zaab in Azerbaijan. These rivers are also located in remote areas and feature great rapids.

DBP: You paddled on the Iranian Women’s National team in International Rafting Federation competitions. Can you give us an idea of what it’s like to compete with some of the best female boaters in the world?

HANIEH: I think participate in competitions has huge potential to empower women and girls. Sport can be a force to amplify women’s voices and tear down gender barriers and discrimination. Women in sport defy the misperception that they are weak or incapable. Every time they clear a hurdle or kick a ball, demonstrating not only physical strength, but also leadership and strategic thinking, they take a step towards gender equality.

DBP: The IRF is extremely competitive at the world’s level. What sort of training does a team do to prepare for racing?

HANIEH: The formula for success to prepare for racing is simple: practice and concentration, then more practice and concentration.



DBP: Where else in the world have you had the opportunity to paddle, and which was your favorite river? Did you see other women running whitewater?

HANIEH: I had a great experience O the Ganga River. I participated in a Rafting Expedition in Alaknanda for 5 days.


The Alaknanda (or Alakananda; Sanskrit: अलकनन्दा) is a Himalayan river in the state of Uttarakhand, India and is one of the two headstreams of the Ganges, the major river of Northern India and the holy river of Hinduism. In hydrology, the Alaknanda is considered the source stream of the Ganges on account of its greater length and discharge; however, in Hindu mythology and culture, the other headstream, the Bhagirathi, is considered the source stream.


There are a lot of inspiring women who are thriving in the world of wet adventure. They can help break down gender stereotypes, improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and contribute to the development of leadership skills.


 DBP: You’re not just a rafter, you’re also a river activist, giving a presentation at the 19th International River Symposium in New Delhi, India. What was your topic of discussion? Give us an idea of what that experience was like.

HANIEH: My topic was about river ecotourism and case study is Haraz River in Mazandaran province in Iran. It was a great opportunity for me to participate in The International River symposium. The International River symposium brings together river managers, policy developers, scientists, consultants, students, NGOs, indigenous and community organizations and business and industry representatives from around the world to share their knowledge, learn from others and collaborate on innovative ideas to improve the sustainable management of river basins.

DBP: You are a citizen of a very metropolitan city, home to millions, one with tremendous history- Tehran. The picture that many people have in their minds of life in this city is very far from reality. What is it like to be an educated young woman in this urbane capitol?


HANIEH: I think Community and institutional resources are often limited for girls. Well-designed sport programs can serve as a way “in” to gaining much-needed support. They can help link girls to health, education, and other critical sectors as well as provide access to powerful and important information for their healthy development. Sport programs can also provide girls with access to mentors, strong female role models and the social support of a team or group of peers.

I believe educated young women in Iran have the opportunity to grow into the heroes they were born to be.


DBP: One vision that first brought us together was the idea that perhaps one day you and I could use the platform of whitewater rafting, the ultimate team sport of human vs. river, to bring our cultures together. The Soviet Union and the United States came together in much the same way that in the 1980’s at the end of the Cold War to raft together on an expedition. I have always wanted to visit places of ancient history and cradles of civilization. In today’s political climate, this dream seems further away than ever… Do you think we will ever be allowed to cement our friendship with a joint trip of Iranian and American boaters on an expedition, sharing the trials of running rapids during the day and meals around the campfire at night?

HANIEH: I thinks Peace and Sport brings together an international team. We can be a team, paddle together and the voice of peace. We can call it “Rafting for Peace”.

It could be a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and networks, and to promote ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence, tolerance and justice.

DBP: Thanks so much for your time, Hanieh! It’s a pleasure to honor you as a true #WOW Woman of Whitewater! Any last words of inspiration for young girls looking for role models to follow into our sport?


HANIEH: Don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, you can’t go wrong.


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