Chattajack 2019: Ben Friberg talks about the coming up 31 Mile SUP/Kayak Challenge

The countdown is on to the Chattajack 31 Mile SUP/Kayak Race held on 26 October 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Over 650 paddlers have registered for this distance endurance race through the Tennessee River Gorge with big names confirmed and set to defend their titles. In the run up to the event TotalSUP, Chattajack’s Media Partner, caught up with the SUPer busy Ben Friberg, Founder and Director of the Chattajack, to talk about this year’s highlights.

Hi Ben, congratulations on the 8th edition of the Chattajack 31 Mile SUP/Kayak Race. Could you share some insights into your background, the origins of this endurance event and its mission?

Hi! Chattajack is directed by my wife, Kimberley Friberg, and myself. We’re both long time paddlers and we love the outdoors. The first race took place in 2012 with slightly over 30 participants. It was super grassroots and all 30 of us enjoyed the course, our new-found friendships/camaraderie, from there the race grew into what it is today.


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What’s your most remarkable experience of organising this epic event?

Friendships we’ve made through the years are pretty monumental (too many names to list but they know who they all are). On a different note it’s been amazing to see people use the race as incentive to accomplish a big personal goal. Perhaps they wanted to beat the 8.5 hour cut off, perhaps they wanted to try and podium. We’ve seen people set some big personal goals through the years and achieve them with dedication.

What is unique about the Chattajack challenge?

The Tennessee River Gorge is quite amazing. Definitely one of those places in the world that makes a human feel small in the universe. Being a distance race, the setting provides a nice place to put your mind while hammering for whatever amount of time it takes one to complete the course.


Dubbed “The Inland Molokai”, Chattajack sells out within hours of the event launch. How many participants are you expecting this year across divisions?

There are currently over 650 people registered to race this year. Check out the current breakdown among the divisions here.

With the SUP scene exploding globally, is the SUP division growing year on year?

SUP 14’ is by far the largest divisions at Chattajack and growing steadily. Prone, OC, surfski, and kayak divisions are all growing as well.

Chattajack is a prestigious event on the global SUP racing scene attracting SUP enthusiasts and world’s top SUP athletes. Could you share a sneak peek of who’ll be competing this year and defending their titles?

Larry Cain has gone undefeated for the past 5 years. He’s been tested a couple times but in the end he’s pulled away with authority at the finish line. This year he will be tested again. Danny Ching will be racing 14’ SUP. Anyone who knows his accomplishments knows that he will be big in the mix on the SUP front lines. Olivier Darrieumerlou coming from France will likely be among paddlers on the front lines as well, sounds like distance races are his specialty.

I’d expect to see John Batson & Brandon Van Elslander towards the front as well. They’re both healthy and racing strong right now, they’ve done well on this course before, they have established rhythms, and they know what to expect. 31 Miles/50 Km is a long race so it will be really cool to see the strategies these front men employ, trains that form, at what point athletes make a break, and who holds up in the final miles.

Among women, Seychelle will be back to defend her title. Seychelle won Women’s 14’ SUP in 2017 and 2018. She also raced in 2015 and won 12’6”. Rumors are she’s going to have some competition this year, we’ll find out soon.

Chattajack 14′ Women’s Podium 2018: Seychelle, Julieta Gismondi and Gina Di Primio

What will the Chattajack challenge throw at contestants this year?

This question is difficult to answer until we’re a little closer to the race. The temps have finally begun to drop. Usually when we’re 3-4 days out we can begin to predict air temp, wind speed/direction, possibility of rain, possibility of current. All of these variables influence the race. Air temp is a big variable to watch. Historically speaking race day temps have varied from low 80’s to low 30’s.

When should paddlers start preparing for this 31mile challenge down the Tennessee River Gorge?

That depends on what their personal goal is and what they’re starting from. If they plan to win, they may need to start today! Every goal is personal….If your goal is just to beat the cut-off then it kind of depends on what the current level of fitness is. Side note regarding planning and preparing: If planning to race in 2020 it might also be a good idea to set the alarm for 12AM EST May 1st to register as the race has sold out rather quickly the past couple years).

What are the highlights of this year’s event?

Lots of amazing athletes coming from 41 states/7 countries, award ceremony will be rad, and a great team of sponsors and volunteers to make the 2019 race the best yet.

425Pro is the official partner of the 2019 Chattajack race and their 425pro 14’ 23” Manea board is up for grabs in the raffle with 100% of proceeds benefiting the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. Could you tell us more about this partnership?

We’re excited to work with sponsors like 425Pro who help us give back to the gorge. Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT) is the organization that helps preserve the wilderness contained within the gorge and having an item like the 2019 Manea is a big draw. Each year the Chattajack raffle raises a lot of funds for the gorge and the TRGT team puts it to good use.

The preservation of the Tennessee River Gorge is a vital part of the Chattajack experience bringing the SUP/paddling and Chattanooga communities together. Could you tell us a little bit more about rising awareness of this unique ecosystem through events such as Chattajack?

The Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT) exists to protect the wilderness contained within the gorge that the race runs through. TRGT protects approx 27,000 of acres and yearly they increase their reach. They study water quality, the health of the forests, plant and animal ecosystems.

What does the future hold for the Chattajack 31 Mile SUP/Kayak Race?

We could only hope for stoke.


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Thank you once again for your time and good luck on the day!


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About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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