Ben Friberg is easy to find pursuing his passions around Chattanooga, whether it's paddling on the river or playing jazz in a downtown club. He took his paddling habit out of town last month to set a standup paddleboard world record for distance traveled in 24 hours by going 238 miles on the Yukon River.
Q & A
Before paddleboarding you were a big creek boater. How long have you been paddling and how did you first get into it?
I purchased my first kayak in 1992. Local boaters Jon Lord and Jamie Casson drove me to the rivers and creeks every weekend since I was only 14 at the time. I'm always looking for new ways to experience and read water currents. When I saw a picture of a SUP going down a small rapid, I obtained my own and took it straight to my main river, the Ocoee. Probably not the brightest idea, but I made it work eventually and I now SUP the Ocoee two days a week on average. After two years exploring SUP on whitewater, I switched over to flat water. There are so many ways to experience flat water SUP in Chattanooga. These include down-winders, quick workout downtown, standup kiting, or even longer journeys of 50+ miles.
How long have you been paddleboarding, and what separates SUP from the other types of paddling you've done?
I've been standup paddling now for a little over three years. It's definitely a different stroke than kayaking. A good SUP stroke uses lots of core muscles and really strengthens your back, shoulders and neck, as well as arms. Kayaks are definitely the craft you want to use if you want to explore Class V whitewater, but SUP is amazing in a completely different way, especially when you are on moving water. You're reading water three moves out at a time usually.
What motivated you to go for the distance record and how long had you trained before making the attempt?
The first time I paddled a 14-foot standup paddleboard, I realized I could move very efficiently on the water. After kayaking for 20 years, my muscles were decently conditioned for the activity. I spent around 10 months training myself to maximize efficiency. I also trained in different conditions during the 2011/2012 winter.
You trained here on the Tennessee River. Did you train on any "wild" rivers and how did the Yukon River compare to what you normally run since the flow is so much higher?
The features on the river were the same as I have experienced on other rivers I've paddled. The Yukon is a big volume river, so there are huge boils, seams, eddy lines and channels you want to stay in. Hazards include strainers (trees) sticking out from the banks and two named rapids, Five Fingers & Rink Rapids. The rapids I SUP on the Ocoee are definitely more technical than the ones on the Yukon, but the board I used on the Yukon wasn't designed for rapids.
Occupation: Funeral director and jazz musician
Family: Karah Friberg (wife) Russell & Linda Friberg (mom and dad) Roxie Friberg (world's greatest sister)
Favorite music: Kurt Rosenwinkel
Favorite local restaurant? Too many
Hobbies: Music & water
How long have you lived in Chattanooga: 22 years (I'm 34)
Favorite thing about Chattanooga: Everything
You're known in the creek boating community for making some major first descents in the region. What are some of your most memorable drops?
"Mike Tyson's Punchout," "Caveman," "Superman" and "SMITFWA9" were all memorable for sure. "Sierra" has a special place in my heart as well. It's a scenic drop that I named in honor of my close friend, the late Jon Lord.
Your wife, Karah, is the founder of the Chattanooga Open Water Swimmers group and has set milestones in that sport. How much time do you guys spend on the river each week and how do you motivate each other to pursue these interests?
We have a lot of common interests as well as pretty cool accomplishments. We are both positive, happy people that enjoy exploring together or providing support, literally, for the other.
Where are some of the best places you've been for paddling and where is one place you most want to visit?
West Virginia is pretty hard to beat! Most of my kayaking adventures have been limited to the Southeast. I like traveling to far-off places, but I'm usually exploring other activities. I'd love to go see my old YMCA Camp Ocoee counselor, David Hughes, who helps kayakers explore the waterfalls in Chile, some day.
Other than water sports, what other outdoor interests do you have?
I love trekking/visiting places you have to work to get to, i.e. Sarek, Ausangate, Sinai, Alaska and Yukon. These are some of the final frontiers; the landscapes are amazing, and the people that live there are so special. I called a friend in Skagway, Alaska today just to ask him how the weather was. I really want to trek to the base of K2; hopefully Pakistan will settle and make the trip feasible.
Does your interest in jazz music counterbalance your interest in extreme sports or do you find comparisons in the free form of the music and the rush of being on the water?
Both involve subjecting oneself to momentous energy. The deeper you can dissect current, harmony, waves, rhythms, momentum, tone, etc. the better you can express whatever your goals are.