'Spirited Away: Chasing Whitewater and Culture in the Land of the Rising Sun'

My article about my time in Japan has now been made available online on SUP the Mag's website. I'm very proud of this piece.. Here's an excerpt from the article..click the Read More button below to read the whole article and to see more of Zach Mahone's stunning photography.

Photographer: Zach Mahone

Photographer: Zach Mahone




Words by Brittany Parker
Photos by Zach Mahone

Paddling the Mitake River on the main island of Japan brought the crew all back to zero. The tension built up in our bodies from missing our connecting flight and having to stay the night in Beijing dropped from our shoulders, moved through our hands and into the water. We had arrived, we were present.

Our first teacher was Masayuki “Yacu” Takahata, an adventure racer, turned raft racer, turned standup paddle competitor. The waters of the Mitake are his training grounds and he knows every eddy, rock and drop. We paused above a technical rapid I was trying to run clean. The currents met each other rather abruptly, making entry angle and paddle placement crucial for setting up the rest of the rapid.

“Every stroke is like I’m shaking hands with the river,” he said to me."

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What's the Future of Whitewater SUP and Who's Contributing to it?

2014 or 15 Fibark SUP downriver race

2014 or 15 Fibark SUP downriver race

What is the future of whitewater SUP? I’ve been getting this question a lot and I don’t really know the answer to it. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed, our numbers of participants in events have dwindled, especially in the women’s division. Athlete’s who were stoked on the sport just two years ago are fading out. I’ve heard some complaints about the fact that there is not a whole lot of money in the sport. People think being a sponsored athlete means getting paid to compete and be awesome but in this sport that’s not really a reality. This isn’t professional skiing or surfing; this is whitewater SUP. It’s a niche sport just like snowboarding use to be. 

For all of you who are questioning your involvement in this sport can I ask you to ask yourself one question? Are you doing the work to encourage the growth of the sport? If not, what could you do to change that? 

Every sport started at the bottom, look at snowboarding…there was no money in it. Now, it’s a multi-million dollar industry. How did that happen? It happened because people believed in it and were so passionate about making it succeed that they put on their own events, they taught freestyle clinics, and they made the sport accessible. 

You’ve got to do the work. Simply showing up to an event to just compete isn’t going to do the trick, regardless of if you win. If you want there to be more competitions and if you want there to be more money in the sport than you’ve got to help it grow. Show people why you love this sport and share that with them. 

We’ve got to take the initiative. We all have something different to offer to the sport, play to your strengths. There’s a bunch of roles that you may not have known about within the industry that are begging to be filled. Getting burnt out is a real thing but if you can create your own opportunity it may just be that fuel that you need to re-inspire that passion you had in the beginning. This is our community let’s not sit back and let it disappear. 

I want to acknowledge those that are making a difference in the sport and continuing to help it grow. Thank you and please help us keep this sport alive. 

  • Mike Harvey & Zack Hughes with Badfish SUP for always coming up with innovative designs specific for the river and having an instrumental role in the SUP event circuit.
  • Dan Gavare for being there in the beginning and continuing to push the sport, offering instruction, and hosting SUP events.
  • Charlie Macarthur with Aspen Kayak & SUP Acadamy teaching the highest level of SUP instructor certifications on the river. 
  • Benjamin Smith with SUP for the Soul who is always putting out information on boards, waves, helping organize the surf comps, and creating fins specific for the river.
  • Ian Smith, co-founder of the First Waves organization, that offers hands-on education in watershed conservation to under-served youth by making stand up paddling on their local waterway accessible and safe. 
  • Mike Tavares been there from the beginning, pushing the sport, and offering instruction to get paddlers comfortable surfing river waves and paddling downriver. 
  • Norm Hann, Gabriel Gray, and Christian Shaw for all their work on the conservation side of stand up paddling. 
  • Masayuki Takahata, with River Base Halau, for putting all of his love and energy into the growth of the sport in Japan by teaching whitewater SUP and holding the first ever whitewater SUP event in the country. 
  • Melanie Seiler Hames in Fayatteville, West Virginia at www.activeswv.org and her organization of whitewater SUP events in WV and donating her time to get people out on stand up paddle board who otherwise couldn't afford it. 
  • And to everyone else is offering instruction in river SUP and river surfing. Making it accessible is the first step to growth.