May 2014 Big Bus beat down Ottawa River
If you don’t know who Tom Paterson is yet… You will soon. This dirtbag is absolutely NEXT LEVEL on the riverboard. After making plans this Spring to do an interview, it ended up taking all year to get together with him because, well, he basically reinvented the entire sport this year, and developed a whole new set of tricks. Being a perfectionist has it’s drawbacks when timelines are concerned, but as the season wound down we finally got together to address what he’s been up to and where he, brother Jon, and the sport as a whole are headed.
DBP: How long have you been riverboarding, and how old were you when you got your start? Tell us a bit about your early days.
TOM: I only truly started riverboarding 4 years ago when I started raft guiding at Horizon X Rafting on the Ottawa River. Horizon X offers riverboarding trips, and so Martin Bertrand, owner at HX, introduced it to me.
My love of moving water started when I was quite a bit younger. At my family’s house in Oakville, Ontario I grew up by a creek, and a few times a year it would flood. I would always be in there floating down on my ocean body board, or even just swimming down. Even though I haven’t been riverboarding long, I’ve been picking up skills that help with riverboarding since I was very young. I’ve always had a very overpowering sense of adventure, and I’ve always had a ton of energy. When I was younger, and still to this day, I would always be on a search for the next adventure.
DBP: Riverboards have changed a lot since the early days. What kind of board did you start out on? What are you running these days, and what are the differences between the two?
TOM: I started out on a one of Horizon X‘s Carlson Riverboards. I liked this board at the time, but I knew I needed something lighter and less absorbent. Around that time Face Level Industries started sponsoring me and bought me a Kern Riverboard. I liked how light it was but I found the handle placements weird and the stiffness to rocker ratio not appropriate for the big volume rivers I was playing on. I knew I needed a board that flexed so I can adjust the rocker to the wave as I’m surfing it. But I also required a close celled foam so it didn’t absorb water and gain weight through the day.
I then started making my own boards with a lot of not only front rocker but also back rocker so it’s easier to spin. This made a huge difference; now I can surf a wave and not have to constantly be focusing on the front end catching.
I still have a lot to learn in my board making, but now I have a board that is specifically designed for freestyle. Tricks that I’ve dreamed about landing for years are finally become a reality. I’m now able to take tricks from other extreme sports such as Skateboarding and BMX, and throw them over moving water.
DBP: You are changing the way that people see the sport, from simply running rivers in the formative days, to now seeing people huck these huge tricks. Can you talk a bit about how this change came about for you personally?
TOM: When I started riverboarding, I would often ponder what tricks would look like in the future. I always loved the idea of releasing my self from the board and having the board rotate underneath me. I knew this was a trick that had a lot more risk than the conventional riverboarding tricks. Because if I didn’t land back on the board there’d be a lot of potential of going deep, with a long swim, without the board ahead of me. I landed one board flip on the Carlson board on Garberator back in 2012. But that was once and it was a fluke. 2014 I landed a couple board flips on Corner Wave. This summer is the first time I can consistently land them, and I often throw more than one per surf. This is a big accomplishment for me and I’ve now made the board flip my stalk trick.
On certain waves they feel so effortless and surreal. I tend to throw tricks depending on the location, style of wave and what sort of down stream consequence there is. Some times its best just to throw tricks that I’m confident I can land and won’t lose my board.
Having my brother Jon out there with me is essential to my recent advancements in freestyle. This is his second season on the river with me, and he has changed the game completely. Now I have someone I can really rely on. He has picked it up so quickly. I have more tricks and technique then him, but he is bigger and stronger then me. He pushes me in ways only a brother can.
Jon has already started pioneering a few tricks of his own such as the Sparta and the body whip. He has started landing his board whips back on to his knees before me. This means he can have smoother combos. On Corner Wave he has the ability to flat spin, board whip back on to knees, and then initiate his last trick… I am kind of jealous.
Having Jon escalate so quickly in the sport has allowed us to go bigger yet be safer. This past spring we started party surfing as a safety strategy. When we’re out there by ourselves it is very important to always know where each other are. With these massive, large volume rivers in northern Quebec it’s so easy to lose sight of each other, considering how low to the water we are. What we often do is drop into the wave together, surf, throw tricks together, and as soon as someone flushes off the wave the bro still on the wave carves off with him; that way we always know where we are.
Another advantage to party surfing is it allows us to throw scarier tricks. Especially on big waves with trashy piles, if you were to lose your board it quite often ghost surfs without you and can stay in the foam pile for a long time if nothing is done. This often results in a very tiring and sometimes scary swim down stream. What I usually do is tell Jon while we are surfing what trick I’m going to attempt so that he can be ready to grab my board and push it off the wave. With waves with down river consequences he will actually grab my board flush off the wave and throw it to me, skipping it off the surface of the water. This technique has got both of us out of sticky situations many times.
With our super light home made boards and our short body boarding fins, the way we look at rivers has changed. I still really enjoy the downstream adventure aspect to river running, but with these advancements riverboarding can be a lot more land to water based. Jon and I really don’t mind hiking in our gear; we often are running to the top of the rapid just to keep the workout going, so it also allows us to get a lot done in a day. It truly makes it an endurance based extreme sport. There is no break in the excitement: run through the woods, jump over logs, climb over rocks, back in the water, punch some features, surf some waves, throw some tricks, climb out of the water, run through the woods, and the cycle continues. I really like how much freedom this style of riverboarding has. Not only are we improving in the water, but we are also improving at running in fins, scrambling across rocks, and launching ourselves into the water. Running at the water is a huge part of our safety, and the easiest way to start a long ferry. It Allows us to get a good 20-foot head start before we have to start swimming. Running at the water also has opened up some freestyle opportunities; I now really enjoy finding drops that have a runway at the lip. I can pick up speed from shore, then bounce off the lip of waterfalls and throw my trick in the air.
There is a huge learning curve here. Depending on the size of the waterfall, there is a lot of time to throw the trick. I think with practice we will potentially be able to throw more and more complex tricks.
DBP: What’s your favorite River and rapid? Why?
TOM: The Ottawa River will probably always be my favorite river. It’s just always big and fun and has so much play. Although this year with our big spring trip to Lac St Jean, the Mistassibi River is definitely growing on me. To me it just seems like a step up from the Ottawa in high flows; the rapids are longer and more dangerous than the Ottawa, with giant holes that must be avoided and monster waves just waiting to be surfed. It’s less forgiving than the Ottawa, but that adds a bit of mystery and excitement. Also, the Mistassibi is home to Molly Wave, which is probably my favorite wave I’ve surfed to date. Its just so big and friendly, and the fact that it has a bridge jump to access it just makes it that much more exciting.
I like to think I haven’t found my favorite rapid yet. I’m always exploring new rapids and somewhere out there (probably on a big volume river in Quebec), is my favorite rapid waiting for me.
But in my mind, my ideal rapid would look a lot like Coliseum on the Ottawa River. This rapid is so different from low to high flows, and at every level there’s new lines and new features to explore and drop into. Even in low water it’s a deep enough rapid that I often find myself trying to go deeper and gain more downtime. Mid levels offer some meaty features, and there are even some beautiful big waves like Big Kahuna, which can get 10ft tall. And then there’s high water Coliseum… just the thought gets my heart racing. Getting butterflies in my stomach from the falling sensation of dropping through the main tongue, followed by massive unpredictable 15 ft waves and rollers, I never know when it’s going to eat me…and there’s no better big water training than doing lap after lap on the main tongue. Love it! …And then there’s Gladiator! I haven’t had the
privilege of surfing this wave yet but I’ve been scouting it for years and it’s been a long-term goal of mine. It’s a 20 to 25 ft wave with a big water lead in, and a giant ledge hole behind it. It’s a workout just swimming out there let alone surfing the wave… and with the potential airtime and limitless freestyle opportunities… its what dreams are made of.
May 2014 entrance to high water Coliseum Ottawa River
DBP: Your home rivers in Canada are the incubators of massive growth in riverboarding and playboating, world renowned for the Stakeout sessions each spring. Draw for us a quick picture of what it’s like up there, playing and innovating with so many world class dirtbags.
TOM: Springtime in Canada is magical; the snow melts, the rivers rise, and we get whitewater gold. The winters in Canada are very harsh; a lot of snow falls over a very big stretch of land and it all has to melt and flow down hill eventually. Because winters are so long in Canada the anticipation for spring can be overwhelming; so much mystery, so much excitement, so much curiosity as to what’s in store for us when the lakes and river eventually do break up. Now, this past year on the Ottawa wasn’t great for Stakeout. Gladiator, a wave I’ve been scouting for years, and have been dreaming of riding, never came in. So our search for big waves took us further into Quebec to the Lac St Jean region, where we surfed H2O Wave, Black Mass, Middle Earth, Molly, and Detonator.
Molly wave is where we spent the most time and where we met the most Stakeout pros. LP the Wolf, Ben Marr, and Nick Troutman were among some of the athletes we surfed with at Molly. I’ve always looked up to these guys and I’ve learned so much from watching them surf. I hope one day I’ll be able to spin and throw combos as effortlessly as they can. Their knowledge and grace on the river truly makes them legends.
DBP: You have got some huge cajones, bro! as evidenced by your footage, notably the surf session you recently released where you start off by launching yourself off a bridge. What scares a fearless dirtbag like you? When the cameras are on, do you take it to an even higher level?
TOM: For me, I just enjoy the freedom of being able to do what ever I can think up. One of my inspirations growing up was Jackie Chan; I just loved that he did his own stunts, and you can see his creativity and passion in the breathtaking stunts he did. To me that’s true freedom, being able to dream up an epic sequence and then make it a reality. In my spring edit this year when I front flipped off a car off a bridge, then surfed Molly Wave on the Mistassibi, to me that was just the next step. It was a progression; I first got comfortable with the rapid and the wave. Then I started jumping off the bridge to catch the wave (this way was much more energy efficient and a lot more exciting anyways). The hardest part is making sure not to land on my board because that would hurt from that height. My new board design with the back handle really makes it easy to control the board mid free fall. Once I got comfortable with that, front flipping was the next step. The whole car situation (standing on the roof) is something I’ve been doing for years, and Jon was driving the car, so I trusted he wouldn’t stop suddenly or anything. Foot placement for the takeoff and timing the jump so I land in a safe part of the rapid was the last pieces of the puzzle.
May 2015 Bridge Upstream of Molly Wave, Mistassibi River
DBP: Every dirtbag loves a WALLACE story. Tell us about your biggest beat down.
TOM: Luckily I haven’t had many really bad beat downs, but don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely had my fair share of sketchy situations. Like times where I wish I wasn’t so deep or times I was surfed a bit longer then I would have liked to. But luckily with a bit of focus and a lot of adrenalin I’ve always been able to get myself out of situations (knock on wood). I did really hurt my back on the second to last Sister on the Rouge last year. But I was lucky enough to swim out of it. Probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever experienced was dropping into Detonator this year for the first time. Nothing could have prepared me for the power of that feature. The water was moving faster than anything I’ve ever experienced and the amount of water crashing down on my back was very overwhelming. I swallowed a lot of water and it definitely gave me a sense of drowning. I only dropped in once more after that before throwing in the towel. That water humbled me.
May 2015 Detonator Petit Discharge
DBP: What does the future hold for Tom Paterson, and riverboarding in general?
TOM: I’m not sure right now; I’m kind of just going with the flow. I’m hoping one day I will have enough sponsors to keep me going year round. I just want to be on the river, that’s where I belong. I’m constantly getting new trick ideas and picking up new skills and techniques, so until the flow of ideas stops or I get seriously hurt, I won’t be stopping anytime soon. This year I introduced a lot of people to the sport, and this is something I really enjoy. Seeing people’s face light up when they catch a wave for their first time is priceless, and I hope I can continue opening people’s eyes to the sport and spread the disease. I also have some crazy new tricks up my sleeve that I probably won’t have the skill to start landing for a couple years. The way I look at it, I’ve only been at the sport for 4-5 years and most whitewater professionals have been pushing themselves on the river for decades. So there is only room for improvement and sky is the limit.
DBP: Thanks for your time, bro! We wish you much luck on and off The River. One last question – let’s say you’ve got unlimited funds, a chopper, and perfect conditions… What are you running, and who’s coming with you?
TOM: If I had unlimited funds and a chopper I’d be on a never-ending search for the perfect wave.
There is so much to explore in Canada, and many potential giant waves are so far out there that the only way to access them is by the air. I would want a rapid air device so that on the really big rivers when I go deep I have a safety supply of air. I’ve been doing a lot of scouting at the Niagara Gorge and I think if I have a compressed air device I’m totally stoked to run it.
I want a really sick helicopter pilot, so he can hover above some massive waves, and I’ll jump out of the helicopter right into the feature, using the free fall to give one giant pass on the wave. I’ve especially been thinking about this for waves like Gladiator and other monster waves with demanding lead ins. That way I’m not tiring myself out before the wave. I’ll drop from the sky into it and be ready to throw down big. Also, I think I’d have Ben Marr there to help find giants and give me advice on how to approach them. And Jackie Chan as my sensei and stunt coordinator.
April 2014 Lovers, Petawawa River
NEXT WEEKEND: Tom breaks down some of the sick new tricks in his bag… STAY TUNED.
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