Inside Chattajack: Q&A with Ben Friberg and Kim Sutton

It’s been a couple of months now since the 2015 Chattajack 31 endurance race down the Tennessee River Gorge.  We caught up with race organizers Ben Friberg and Kim Sutton and asked them to reflect on how this iconic race has developed and what might be ahead for 2016.

Distressed Mullet: Looking at back at the first year of Chattajack and then fast forwarding to 2015 – what surprises you most about how the race has evolved?  Why?

Ben and Kim: The growth of the race is definitely surprising.  We never really dreamed we would have had a year like what we just had.  The race has the element of adventure and stepping into the unknown so perhaps that’s the draw.  Racers have to find the balance with nutrition, cadence/power, gear, weather conditions.  It’s fun to solve problems while competing at a high heart rate! We’re also a little surprised by how competitive some of the divisions have become.  Men’s 14’, Women’s 12’6”, Men’s surfski, OC-1…If you’re going to be on the podium of one of these divisions you are a gun.. Other surprises…the diversity of crafts competing, the number of youth competing, and the support the racers have generated for the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. Chatajack

DM: What are you most proud of?  

B&K: Getting people to step outside of their comfort zone to try something they never believed they could accomplish.  Who knows what they’ll attempt next?!  Also, The team of volunteers at Chattajack are amazing too!

DM: Are you meeting your goals with how Chattajack is developing?  

B&K: There appears to be a lot of stoke so “Yes” haha!

DM: What do you think really sets Chattajack out among the other distance races out there? 

B&K: The Gorge and the camaraderie amongst racers.

DM: This year, perhaps more so than in years past, it seemed like post-race, most of the racers were commenting on the “ohana” or the camaraderie the participants have with each other, for the “vibe” or “stoke” that comes with completing the 32 miles and how different and special it is compared to other events.  What do you think accounts for that?  

B&K: Not sure if there’s one thing that creates this.  Having a large group that completes the same challenge definitely adds to it.  We all left some skin on the course so we’re all brothers and sisters for the day.  We also all kind of know each other from other races or previous Chattajacks. Chatajack

DM: So many paddlers talk about being inspired to do Chattajack – How does it make you guys feel knowing that you both play such an important role in getting those folks out on their boards and getting them to challenge themselves?

B&K: That’s the fuel in our fire.  Creating a platform where folks can achieve a dream and then helping them achieve it.  It’s a good feeling.  It’s cool to see folks try other challenges as well post-chattajack.

DM: SUP continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and prone and outrigger canoe are starting to (at least here on the East Coast) – what excites you about that growth? Are there any growing pains that are a concern, especially from the standpoint of how they might effect Chattajack?

B&K: The diversity of divisions is really great to see on race day.  We embrace any muscle powered watercraft that can confidently complete the course within the 8.5 hour cut off.

DM: You guys have inspired folks in other ways – your Yukon race and your trip to New Guinea—can you talk about what motivates you to make those kind of epic paddles? What do you hope people will take away from that?  

B&K: Those trips are a derivative of enjoying the outdoors, culture, and physical challenges.  Perhaps dreaming up something then figuring out a way to experience it.  If anything maybe it will motivate someone to do their dream.  Researching something they remember reading about as a kid then figure out a way to go explore it.

DM: How important is it for paddlers who have been in the sport for a while to pass on the stoke? Is the fact that so many do pass on that stoke, from the pros to the Joes, something that sets out sport apart?  

B&K: Many non-paddlers think what this community does is un-attainable.  Maybe they think it’s too physically demanding, requires some type of pre-training, or involves risk.  Fortunately there are a lot of people in the community willing to put a board under their feet so they can stand, take the first stroke, and live the unforgettable moment.  Maybe they catch a wave later that year or paddle a whole mile or compete in a 3 mile race.  Next thing you know they get their stroke dialed and there more cool paddlers willing to share a 5 or 10 mile paddle with them.

DM: Can you share any hints about what you might be planning next? 

B&K: We recently got engaged, so we’re currently planning our wedding!  We feel lucky to share this life together and are enjoying creating the moment when our worlds will become infinitely one.

DM: Anything you would like to ad, especially where stoke and inspiration are concerned?  

B&K: Reminding ourselves of this as well but, never take a single day for granted.


The 2016 Chattajack31 is on October 22. Registration for the 2016 race will open on May 1st.

For more information on the Chattajack31, go to