Admit it: We all like watching carnage. And no one does a better job of capturing it from the paddlesports sector and passing it along to the social masses than the IG account of Gnarnivores. Paddling Life took it upon ourselves to catch up with its founders, Will Phillips and Matt Jones, to take a sneak peak behind the carnage-masters…’cuz you never know when it might be your own.
Catching up with the…Gnarnivores!
Paddling Life: Who all is involved in Gnarnivores?
It may be beneficial to distinguish the group of us who call ourselves the Gnarnivores from the Gnarnivores brand and internet presence. The Gnarnivores’ brand and internet presence are managed by two people: Will Phillips (me) and Matt Jones. I started all of the pages and social media channels and have edited all of the Youtube compilation videos. After it started to increase in popularity, I asked Matt to help me manage it all. He has been helping me for the last two years. But the question of “Who all is involved with the Gnarnivores?” is a bit more nebulous, a bit harder to answer. At its heart, the Gnarnivores is a group of about 15 core people who all love whitewater and love paddling different rivers together. We all live in the Southeast, and our home river is the Ocoee River in Tennessee. We all met raft guiding or paddling on the Ocoee, but we have paddled a variety of rivers across the country, though mostly on the East Coast.
Paddling Life: How and when did you start it?
The name Gnarnivores was born about 10 years ago. The Southeast had just received a near monsoon of rain, and we spent a week chasing the high water and paddling several different rivers. We were sitting at the Tellicafe (a small cafe near the Tellico River in Tennessee) at the end of the best week of paddling of our lives. We had just rafted the Tellico at the highest level any of us had ever seen it, and, riding the adrenaline-fueled high of that week, came up with the name Gnarnivores. To us, it was a way to describe this lifestyle that we had fallen in love with: a life of always seeking the next adventure, always chasing the next thrill, always pushing the limit.
Paddling Life: What prompted you to start it?
The Gnarnivores’ internet presence really started with the 2015 Whitewater Carnage Video that I edited and uploaded to YouTube. Ever since I started guiding on the Ocoee in 2008, I’ve been obsessed with whitewater carnage clips and compilations. Also, I had stored up years of GoPro footage, so I had about five year’s worth of carnage to pull from when making that first video. I enjoyed making it and the response I received in person and online was very positive, so I just kept making new carnage videos each year.
Paddling Life: What’s your paddling background?
I’ve been a raft guide on the Ocoee River since 2008, and Matt has been guiding on the Ocoee since 2013. With a couple exceptions, everyone involved with Gnarnivores guides or used to guide on the Ocoee at the same company. That’s how we all met each other.
Paddling Life: What are your “real” jobs?
I work as a raft guide on the Ocoee River in Tennessee during the summer, but the rest of the year I am a high school English teacher in Alabama. Matt works as a packaging consultant in Atlanta during the week and guides on the weekend. The others involved have a variety of jobs from laying tile to linemen to working on ski resorts.
Paddling Life: What’s it take to get onto your reel, and how do you find them?
Early on, all of our videos were carnage clips that we recorded ourselves, but once the Instagram page started to increase in popularity, people started sending us their own carnage. I honestly never anticipated that happening. I am, first and foremost, a lover of whitewater wipeouts and carnage, so the best part of running the page is that I have a never-ending supply of incredible whitewater clips sent to me every day. Each time I open my DM’s it’s like Christmas morning. To get on our reels, the clip just needs to be fun to watch and depict something whitewater or outdoors related, but we obviously have a preference for whitewater carnage. Most of the clips we use get sent to us via DMs on Instagram, but we get so many DMs, if people instead email us the clips, there is a greater chance we will see it.
The one year I kept track of it, I flipped my raft 71 times on commercial trips in one season
Paddling Life: Any carnage clips that are more memorable than others? What’s been your most-popular-ever post?
My all-time favorite clip is the first one that went somewhat viral, and it’s one I’m featured in. It’s called Ocoee Carnage Raft Triple Flip on YouTube and features three boats in a row wrecking at a rapid called Roach Motel on the Ocoee. I’m guiding the last boat that flips. The clip got picked up by several cable shows (including the Weather Channel of all places). The girl filming is cackling throughout the video, and many of the comments excoriate the girl’s callousness and heartlessness, without knowing that she is also a raft guide who would have been stoked to be in one of the boats that flipped. Matt’s all-time favorite clip is an old one we have used several times that comes from the Tallulah River. It features a raft taking the right line on a rapid called Oceana. The boat goes too far right and hits a rock, people explode out of the raft, and one girl actually gets pinned between the raft and the rock. It’s so violent, and such a scary close call, that it’s hard to look away. It’s like watching a train crash. Our most popular post ever is a fairly recent Sunken Sunday post from April 30th that shows a guide tossing a child from a pinned raft into another passing raft as if the child is a ragdoll. It currently has nearly 23 million views.
Paddling Life: What are some of your own worst beat-downs?
In my 16 years as a raft guide, I have flipped and swam a lot. The one year I kept track of it, I flipped my raft 71 times on commercial trips in one season (although most of those were intentional eddy flips) with several other swims and flips on off-the-clock trips. And honestly, that was a pretty standard season for me. Despite this, I have never really had a bad beatdown. I suppose the worst would be when I decided to take my Spud off the bottom drop on Bald River Falls (about a 20-foot drop). It was my first time spudding over a steep drop, and although I didn’t really get beat down, the impact was so jarring, I couldn’t fully turn my head for a week. Another one for me came about 10 years ago on the Tellico River in Tennessee, I broke an ankle guiding a raft over Baby Falls. It was one of my first times guiding a raft over a large drop, and I got tossed, slamming my ankle into the thwart in front of me. Even though the road is right there by the rapid, I still finished the run. Matt’s worst beat in his 11 years on whitewater came his rookie season flipping right off the bat at Grumpy’s Rapid on the Ocoee. Swimming about a quarter mile of whitewater from the ledge all the way to the staging eddy.