Richmond VA is where I call home. This city grew up around the James River as it flows across the Atlantic Seaboard fall line creating class IV rapids in the heart of a 1.5 million person metro area. In other words, Richmond has the biggest urban whitewater in the USA. That is why I am here. I grew up near here and paddled and surfed all around the world, but I am always drawn back to my urban whitewater home.
With this amazing resource, it is easy to paddle everyday. I am blessed to be able to paddle everyday as my job. I run the downriver paddleboarding program at Riverside Outfitters here in RVA. Over the last 2 years we have taught 2000 people to paddle in the easier class I-II section west of the big stuff downtown. If you are ever traveling through Richmond, stop by and come paddle. We are minutes from the exits of I-95 and I-64. Check us out at www.riversideoutfitters.net or 804 560 0068. Ben is an ACA level 4 whitewater SUP instructor who rides for BIC SUP, Body Glove and Werner Paddles.
When and where did you start SUP ?
I started paddleboarding in the winter of 2010/2011 in Richmond VA. My first months of paddleboarding were in a full wetsuit and booties, taking very cold swims down class 3 and 4 rapids. I was hooked immediately despite the relatively challenging conditions.
Which sports did you practice before? And now?
I enjoy all sports that get me into the water. I grew up canoeing, surfing, sailing, snorkeling. I found that whitewater kayaking and raft guiding were passable substitutes for surfing when I couldnt make it to the beach. After about a decade of sitting down in whitewater and not quite finding the feeling I get dropping into a wave on the ocean, I tried standing up in whitewater. Right away I knew I could get what I was looking for in river waves as well as ocean waves.
How have the sports you did before helped with SUP?
Whitewater paddleboarding feels most like a combination of canoeing and surfing to me. As I paddle more challenging rivers, I draw the most from those two sports.
What attracts you to SUP?
Surfing down a river gets me fired up. All the waves I used to surf in my kayak and wish I could bring my surfboard out on are now accessible with a Duratec paddleboard. Then I peel off the wave and charge down some juicy rapids like longboarding down a waterslide or snowboarding with the the ability to move my stance around.
SUP race, SUP surf or something else?
Paddleboarding on flatwater is fun on a date, it is more versatile than a canoe or kayak. And I like to race a little bit, mainly for the comradery and to stay in shape. As far as surf, if the conditions are good, I would rather ride a surfboard. Popping up, making the turn, burning down the line, and swimming like hell back outside to do it again is so much more fulfilling to me. On the other hand, a paddleboard makes an amazing day out of conditions that are too small or too choppy to swim into.
Whitewater paddleboarding is where its at for me. There is nothing like sessioning a really challenging drop, eating crow over and over again, until I finally clean the line and am standing on my board floating in the pool at the bottom. The harder the drop, the sweeter the feeling when I pull into the eddy still standing. That is what I ride for.
SUP is booming, do you think this is a fad or a change in attitudes over the long term?
Paddleboards are very versatile and beginner-friendly. More so than canoes, kayaks, or surfboards. If you have been excited by any of these water sports but left discouraged by the challenge of popping up on a surfboard or swimming out of a boat until you learned how to roll: try a paddleboard. Because paddleboarding breaks down that initial hurdle in the learning curve, I believe it is here to stay.
Do you participate in competitions?
Racing boards downriver is so much fun because of the community that is building around it. I enjoy getting to paddle with my friends at events that I wouldnt see otherwise. Watching a buddy clean a line gets me that much more stoked to clean it myself.
As of spring 2014, I am the only American Canoe Association level 4 whitewater sup instructor.
I was the first person, and as far as I know the only, to clean all the rapids on the New River Gorge in WV. Other first cleans of note, Falls of the James (Richmond, VA), Lower Youghiogheny (Ohiopyle, PA), Nolichucky Gorge (Erwin, TN), Ottaelva (Skjaak, Norway), Rio Baru (Dominical, Costa Rica)
2011: 2nd Dominion RiverRock SUP Cross (Richmond,VA)
2012: 3rd Dominion River Rock SUP Cross
2013: 3rd Dominion River Rock SUP Cross time trials (DQ missed gate)
4th New River Gorge SUP Race (Fayetteville, WV) (4th downriver, 4th overall)
2014: 4th Tuck Fest (Charlotte, NC) flatwater 4 mile 12’6”
3rd Northwest Paddling Festival (Seattle, WA) flatwater 6 mile 12’6”
3rd Dominion River Rock SUP Cross (@70kcfs: biggest water ever raced on)
2nd Green River Games Mountain SUP Race (Saluda, NC)
2nd New River Gorge SUP Race downriver (4th overall)