From the Mag: Core Commentary with Zack Hughes

How was Badfish born? 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. Badfish was an after-work project in my garage. I made small hybrid surfboards for the river out of blue board home insulation foam, then started to dabble with some real blanks, refining my skills. Two years ago, Mike Harvey came by requesting a short standup board he could rip our local Arkansas River waves on. After his first surf, hands still dripping with water, he called me and committed to be a partner.

Compare surfing a river wave to an ocean wave. River waves could not be more different. You’re dealing with less energy, and you don’t have the steepness of the face to help generate speed. They also have a very tight trough.

So what’s different about the boards? We’ve tried to combine basic kayak and river concepts and meld them into a surfboard while trying to maintain some of the roots of surfing. Our board designs are a reflection of boards I loved as a kid, especially the old classic fish kneeboards. They were short, wide and twin-fin, with more volume and a distinct, beveled rail.

So what’s next? We’ll have an expanded line for 2012 but just being considered a pioneer is cool. I’m lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the skills to make these boards. Making river SUPs is a culmination of all of my life skills.

And what about the sport of river SUP—is it fringe or for real? We’re a fringe sport right now, but the interest is out of control. This sport will grow quickly over the next few years. We’re just opening its doors. Rivers offer many levels of challenge: You can paddle flatwater to whitewater and surf waves in between. You can also fish. There’s truly something for everyone in it. It’s just downright fun.

And cool? It’s cool to those with an open mind for something new. Being a lifelong surfer, 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 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 new boards and we haven’t even begun to unlock their potential.

— As told to Eugene Buchanan

This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2011 Issue of SUP magazine.

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