Carving Up the River: Spotlight on Brittany Parker

River Surfing suprimo Brittany Parker from Rifle, Colorado, started out as a raft guide on the Colorado River, now she has grown into a full on river SUP surfing pioneer, if there is a river with a wave on it, Brittany will be near!

Hello Brittany, Where did it all begin?

I saw some people paddling down the river on stand up paddle boards for the first time and with much enthusiasm asked if I could join them the next time. I’m obsessed with board sports and have always wanted to move to the coast and become a surfer. This seemed like the next best option and much more realistic. This was before I even knew you could surf river waves. 

I went into the sport full force. I don’t know if I had ever been so obsessed with something. I caught wind of some whitewater events with SUP competitions and thus began the start of my SUP “career”. Since then I’ve become a sponsored paddler, placed in some events, co-created a sup river surfing film, and I have traveled all around the world to paddle. It’s been a real dream come true. 

Where is your local spot?

My local spot, I am proud to say, is Glenwood Springs, Colorado. There’s a really incredible wave there if we get enough water. It’s right in town and an overall fun spot to hang out. Tall red mountains covered in vibrant green bushes surround it and provide for a stunning backdrop that resembles that of Hawaii. I have a deep seeded love for that place. 

What do you prefer x cross or river sup surfing?

River SUP surfing hands down! Competition is fun but what really fuels my soul is surfing, SUP and shortboard. I love the community aspect of it and the opportunity for exploration. I rarely ever plan ocean surf trips but I spend my Winters planning river surf trips…I LOVE IT! 

How different is river sup surfing to ocean sup surfing? What is the difference in the technique?

Whew! Well, where do I begin? From a technical aspect the wave stays in one place, and the current is rushing past you rather than propelling you forward as an ocean wave would. Catching the wave all together is a completely different process and requires a unique set of skills plus basic river dynamic knowledge. Safety is very different as well, hazards are completely different. Take ankle leashes for example, these are a BIG no no on the river. Every river surfing death has been because of ankle leashes, here’s a great article from Riverbreak that talks about all the risks involved with wearing an ankle leash. There are many potential hazards which is why doing research or talking to a local before you jump into a river wave is highly recommended; just as you would do at a new surf break. 

The beautiful thing about a static river wave is that it’s not going anywhere (well at least not until the water levels drop off). So there is no vying for position. Everyone waits in line and gets there turn. It’s a great time for you to cheer on the person that’s in the wave and shoot the snizzle out of the wave with your fellow surfers. But I have experienced a bit of localism within the river community, as river surfing becomes more popular. But for the most part everyone is very welcoming, that’s really what is so special about the community. It’s what makes us unique and I believe it’s very important to preserve that. Colorado is a great steward for the sport, localism really isn’t tolerated at any of the waves. And here’s the icing on the cake, there are NO SHARKS!!! 

You competed at Fibark, what are the judges looking for in a river surf competition?

Ourselves, BadfishSUP & Ben Smith with SUPfortheSOUL and Surf Anywhere are really writing the  book when it comes to judging river surfing in the USA. We take scoring systems from the ocean surfing criteria but we have to modify it to suit river surfing. Every year we learn something new and have to adjust our judging criteria accordingly.

Scoring differs from flow (control and ability to connect turns fluidly) to technical tricks (spins, pop shuv-its, etc..). It’s really cool to see the growth and to be at the heart of this new stage of river surfing. Right now, Badfish Stand up Paddle has a very solid group of riders that are pushing the bar in river surfing. It’s really cool to see the likes of Badfish team rider Miles Harvey leading the way in discovering whats possible on a river wave. 

What type of board is essential to river surf? 

If you’re looking to get into stand up river surfing and are completely new to stand up all together I would start with something stable and durable. My personal opinion would be the Badfish Inflatable River Surfer (IRS). Eventually you will grow out of it but it’s what I’ve always taught people to surf on. It really sets you up for success. 

If you’re looking to get into shortboard river surfing I would recommend the Badfish Inflatable Sk8. It’s stable and again you don’t have to worry about breaking it, plus it’s sooooo easy to travel with. 

Once you have the board you’ll need to get the proper gear to make sure you’re safe out there. Getting yourself a lifejacket, helmet, proper footwear, wetsuit, and a quick release leash (these attach at the waist and are within arms length, the Badfish Re’leash is a great option.

Any exciting adventures on the horizon? Trips to Europe? 

Oh man! Yeah, Europe has been on my list for a long time. You guys have some really beautiful waves there. I’ve got some expeditions in the works for this spring but thats on the hush hush for now, check back with me in March ;). Next Winter I’m hoping to go back to Africa with my paddling buddy Nadia Almuti. We’ll be traveling around the continent for at least three months trying to explore as many rivers as possible while getting to know the paddling community a bit better. There’s so much there and we had so much fun in Zimbabwe last year when we paddled the Zambezi, we’ve been itching to go back ever since! 

About the Author

Helen Trehoret

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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