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Chattanoogan sets new world record for stand-up paddling

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Ben Friberg was basically born on the water with a paddle in his hand.

From canoes to kayaks to rafts, the 34-year-old Chattanooga native has mastered just about anything that can float on the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers, and stand-up paddling (SUP) is no different.

After picking up the new sport three years ago, the local outdoor enthusiast shattered the 24-hour stand-up distance record in the Guinness Book of World Records by paddling an eye-popping 238 miles of the Yukon River in Canada in late June.

"I grew up here in Chattanooga doing paddling for 20 years, and you're really just re-applying what you're already doing to a different paddle stroke," Friberg said of his adjustment to the SUP style.

Even through the rapids of the Ocoee Friberg manages to maintain his balance, maneuvering his eight-foot board over and around the rocks with one long paddle.

But while the rapids can offer a quick and wild rush, he has also developed a taste for the longer adventures that come with flat-water distance runs.

"I paddled from the Hiwassee to Chattanooga in a day. It's just something I decided to do and it worked out perfect," Friberg said. "Then I started thinking of other places I could go for big distance."

It was nearly a year ago that Friberg set his sights on the Yukon River for a shot at that big distance and possibly a new Guinness World Record.

A 60-mile trip was listed as the top mark for stand-up paddling in a 24-hour period. It's a number Friberg expected not only to beat, but obliterate.

His goal: 200 miles. All on a dangerous and remote wilderness waterway.

"It's definitely moving. There's lots of currents and swirly stuff," Friberg said. "It's really easy to fall off. I fall off here in the Tennessee River all the time."

After climbing atop his board at Lake Laberge in the Yukon Territory, Friberg and a group of four boaters set sail for history up the near 2,000-mile river. Laberge's strong current at the mouth of the river offered a strong starting push, making it ideal for extreme distance runs.

Two drivers traded shifts on a nearby rescue boat, joined by a support staffer and a filmmaker putting together a documentary. Lucky for Friberg and his group, he managed to keep his feet and avoid the trip's most significant threat: hypothermia.

"It was 33 degrees in the water, 40 in the air at night up there. I mean, that's cold," Friberg recalled.

Careful planning put Friberg's record-breaking attempt during the North's two-week solstice, meaning darkness never fell during the 24-hour trek.

Friberg compared his mental state to that of a marathoner, finding his stroke and settling into a zone.

"Your standing for 24 hours, which can seem a little bit daunting, but even that maybe you just go a little numb or a little crazy after 12 or 13 hours," he said.

However, after 24 hours, the only thing crazy was Friberg's achievement: a new world record of a whopping 238 straight miles SUP'd, or roughly the distance between Chattanooga and Bristol.

"If I hadn't hit a head wind that lasted like 60 miles, I could have gone over 250," Friberg said."But I couldn't be happier."

All that's left to cement his place in history is verification from Guiness, which is expected in the coming weeks.

His journey is one of five finalists for Top Expedition of 2012 in SUP the Magazine, and Friberg himself is a candidate for SUPConnect's Man of the Year. 

But that will hardly be the end of Friberg's adventures.

"I'm happy to be back home in Chattanooga training for the next eleven or 12 months, but I've got my eyes on something that involves open-ocean stuff," he said. "There's a lot of people doing that sort of thing, but what I'm planning is something that hasn't been done yet on a SUP."

(NOTE: You can vote for Friberg in both online polls by clicking on the links above, or find out more about Friberg's journey at

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