It’s Wednesday, and I found my shoulders. I had left them on the side of a river in Tennessee, like so many tears and overused banjo references from people who think they know something about the south. Like my one ex from CA who tried to emulate a southern accent, then asked me with a serious eyebrow if North Carolina has a coastline. But I digress before I have even started, like so many niceties exchanged in the south before some quick question can be asked of a stranger.


Chattajack31: A mashup of Chattanooga, the event’s hometown, and “Jack” for many interpretations, all my own. One, we were all Jack’d up for this event, all 300 entrants and many wait-listed folks. What paddling event, in only its fourth year, sees 300 entries fill up within two weeks of opening registration, six months before the start horn? Two, we were all Jack’d up after the race with soreness or blisters or some other ailment. It is said that this brutal race does not leave one unscathed. Third, the field was Jack’d with fine athletes and paddling sport delegates. It was amazing just to stand amidst so much mastery. Finally, we were in Jack Daniels country, especially relative to where so many people hailed from for the race (Florida had the most racers, and plenty of winners!)


I can’t catch them.

There must be a correct reason for the “Jack” part of Chattajack, but I’ll just wait to be scolded. The “31” is for the mileage and maybe a little bit of Halloween action. It was 31-plus miles of downstream, a word which usually implies current assist. Saturday, October 24, 2015 saw very little of that. It was like a lake paddle, especially after the first couple of switchback turns. No boat wakes were available to surf either- the wakes just came from the side and accounted for much of my start-stop action on the 25.5″ wide King’s board I used (14′), thanks to Gulf Coast Paddle Company‘s super southern hospitality.


The Tennessee River Gorge, its layers of ancient rock framed by green, semi-subtropical rain forest and/or intense fall color, is prettier than many places on earth. Geologically it is just amazing. It’s very old, which you can kind of feel. California knows nothing of this sort of slow, tortuous cutting through layers of rock for eras and epochs. The way the Tennessee River twists and turns back on itself is a monument to effort over time and determined charging ahead, like so many racers on Saturday.




Of the 300 racers, there were 179 stand up paddlers on 12’6″, 14′ and unlimited. There were 14 folks running prone. SUP2 represented, including a man with his sitting child. Then there was a SUP4 family. Surfski, outrigger canoe, and kayak were all there as well. For women, there were 68 of us on stand up paddleboards, and get this: 27 were on 14′ boards! That was remarkable in itself, to have so many women to race against in my board class. Many women switched over to 14′ boards closer to the race date, but for the winning females on 12”6″, their shorter board length made no difference in their overall dominance and low times.


Just so you know, the 12’6″ and overall female winners (it was a tie, with the exact same electronically captured time to the hundredths of a second) came in less than a half hour after the top three winning men on 14′ boards. To break this down: Seychelle Hattingh and Kimberly Barnes, both from Florida, came in at 5:26:11.858, finishing this long-ass race less than ten percent behind the top three males on 14′ boards. Larry Cain, Bart deZwart, and Michael Tavares came in first, second, and third respectively, separated just by a few seconds each during the first half of the minute at 4:58. For the prone division, women killed again. California’s marathon swimmer Gracie Van der Byl was at 6:07:47, only minutes behind Reno Caldwell on his 14′ prone board at 5:58:04. Brian Pasternak took prone on his Unlimited board, at 5:24:09. Raise your hand if all of this is awesome to you. Full results can be found right here.


In a quick interview with former Olympic C-1 sprinter, capturing gold and silver for Canada in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, winner Larry Cain said the length of Chattajack is about as far as he wants to go for a race, yet second place Bart deZwart gets off on longer distance paddling. One thing that was made clear at Chattajack is that people are different. Duh, but really- no athlete is the same. Some people got massive, sweltering blisters on their hands, some nothing at all. Women rode shorter boards and were right up there with the men on longer boards. So much of the endurance game is in the mind. We just persevere. I came away 15th overall for women’s SUP, and 7th for the 14′ class; but excitedly, I think I came away with some athletes who want to join us this coming June 11, 2016 for the California100, an epic, one-day 100-mile downstream paddle race on the Sacramento River from Redding to Chico, benefiting Rivers for Change. This distance thing is beautiful.


Thanks again to Ben Friberg and partner Kimberly Sutton for directing this event, and thanks to the many not named here. I am not the only one saying that this event was the best run I’ve ever experienced. Even the next year’s date is already set for October 22, 2016! Everything ran so smoothly, and we were pampered with all sorts of swag and love and preparation and information. The raffle of an Epic V7 surfski, donated by Kayak Trader, and a 14′ SUP from BlkBox allowed the total donation to the Tennessee River Gorge Trust of over $4000 to be ten times higher than last year! The mission of the Trust is to keep the views along the Tennessee River sacred, and the water clean. If you take a look at this magical region, you’ll see why this is important, and it is working so far.

Some photos compliments of pilfering from Facebook that GoJAMMedia is probably happy about.