Boardworks to Manufacture Badfish River Boards; Plus, a PL Q&A with Founder Zack Hughes

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“Badfish represents the ultimate in cutting edge designs for the growing sport of river SUP,” says Phillip Rainey of Boardworks. “Paddling whitewater rivers is all about dealing with opposing hydraulic forces, and it requires a craft that can remain stable in a chaotic environment. Basdfish is leading the charge with unique SUPs designed specifically for those conditions.”

Harvey and Hughes walk the walk. Since 2000, Harvey has worked with Recreation Engineering and Planning (www.boaterparks.com), the country’s leader in whitewater park design, to design and build whitewater parks. He was also the project manager for the first two river surfing specific, standing waves in the U.S. in the Salida Whitewater Park in 2010, providing Badfish with the ultimate river surfing laboratory. Hughes, born and raised in San Diego, has been surfing and skateboarding since the days when mullets and Trans-Ams were cool. Drawn to Colorado as a whitewater rafting guide, he quickly became one of the top freestyle kayakers in the golden years of the mid-90s. With his surfing and kayaking background, he’s dialed in to the whitewater SUP world.

“We’re honored to become the newest member of the Boardworks team,” says Harvey. We understand that we have the dual responsibility of constantly improving SUP boards for river-based paddlers and also promoting river SUP to existing paddlers and new users alike. As long time surfers and kayakers we’re passionate about the new direction that SUP is taking river paddle sports. We look to the Boardworks team not just as partners in our growth, but as mentors.”

PL caught up with Hughes before the news to shed some light on Badfish’s humble beginnings.

Where’d you learn to surf/SUP?
I grew up surfing in San Diego and spent a lot of time at a YMCA camp in Imperial Beach called Camp Surf. I also had the coolest grandmother in the world shuttling me and my friends to the beach constantly. I first paddled SUP in Colorado on the Gunnison Gorge. A friend said I had to try it, he was right.

When did you move to the mountains, and how did you decide to start Bad Fish?
I left San Diego in 1992, for Prescott College in Arizona, where one of my first classes was Whitewater Guide Training. That brought me to Salida, Colorado. Badfish was nothing more than my after work project in my garage for three of four years. I made small hybrid surfboards for the river out of blue board home insulation foam. Then I started to dabble with some real blanks and refining my skills. Then one day Mike Harvey came by my garage requesting a specific board. He wanted a short stand up paddle board that he could rip our local waves on. I went to town trying to figure out what that board might be and the original Chubby Stick was born, now known as the River Surfer. Mike took that board to the river and after his first surf, hands dripping with water, he called me and committed to be a partner. Badfish was born. Making river SUPs is a culmination of my life skills. I grew up in an amazingly creative household and spent most my life pursuing boardsports in one way or another. And I’ve spent 20 years learning about the river. Badfish is a true blend of all these random life experiences.

How different are the boards?
Our boards are different than any other boards on the market. We’ve tried to combine basic kayak and river concepts and melt them into a surfboard while trying to maintain some of the roots of surfing. Our board designs are a reflection of boards I surfed and loved as a kid. I grew up surfing the old classic fish kneeboards.They were short, wide and usually twin fin. They also had a bit more volume so they had a distinct, beveled rail.

What are the challenges and potential of whitewater SUP?
The biggest challenge is creating an educated base of people that understand the risks of Riversports. Once we can establish a basic set of standards of safety, and awareness of the river environment, the sport will grow like crazy. There’s potential for people to be surfing all across the country in ways they never thought possible. I also think whitewater parks will continue to be built with waves specifically for stand-up paddleboards and surfboards will be sold in places far from the ocean.

You’re a pioneer – the first board shaper to start from the river. Do you plan to expand the line? Do you think this sport has legs to carry your business?
Just to be considered a pioneer is very cool. I’m lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the skills to make these boards. Badfish will have an expanded line for 2012, including a new downriver board called the MVP in two sizes as well as two sizes of the board that started it all, the River Surfer.

What’s it like Supping a river wave vs. ocean wave?
River waves could not be more different than ocean waves. In the river you have to deal with less energy, you just don’t have the steepness of the face to help generate speed like you do in the ocean. River waves have a very tight trough whereas an ocean wave has no trough in front of the wave.

How do the beat-downs compare?
Let’s just say I’ve been held down plenty long in the ocean. In the river getting worked should be avoided; you need to more time to look around a scan the scene for potential risks and hazards. The wave probably won’t hold you down too long; it will be a tree, bridge abutment, or some other hazard to avoid. I’ve had a successful and safe career on the river because I’m aware of the risks in any given area that we’re surfing. You need to use good judgment and river safety tactics.

What’s the most important safety thing to consider?
Don’t wear a standard leash in the river. Always use a quick release system, always paddle with a buddy and always carry a river knife.

Is river Supping gaining momentum or just a fringe sport for whackos?
We’re a fringe sport right now, but the interest is out of control. This sport will grow quickly over the next few years. Let’s just hope people get educated about the river at the same time.

Where do you see the sport heading?
We’re just opening the doors to SUPing in the mountains. Rivers offer many different levels of challenge — you can paddle flat water to whitewater and surf waves in-between; you can fish; you can day paddle; you can put your kid or dog up front and paddle across a lake. There’s truly something for everyone in it and I think it has a great future. It’s just downright fun.

And cool?
It’s cool to those with an open mind for something new. Being a lifelong surfer, I’m the first to admit that I scoffed at SUP at first. But when I tried it, I had a blast. A fun activity is a fun activity; the cool part will follow in time. The evolution of tricks will only add to it. But you need the right tools. If you’re paddling boards that you won’t let you make turns on river waves or an eddy turn without falling, then river SUP will be a passing fad, too hard for most people to enjoy. But with the right tool you can rip river waves and paddle rapids with style. We’re now spinning 360s on our River Surfers and we haven’t even begun to unlock their potential.