‘Making the Impossible Possible’: The Gravity-Defying Freestyle of Tom and Jon Paterson

Photos and interview by Seth Ashworth

For a couple of years, I had seen Tom and Jon Paterson carving around the waves of the Ottawa River, Canada, but I’d never taken much notice. It looked like a cold way to swim through rapids. My opinion changed one cold spring day, however, as I sat in the line to surf Mini-Bus. I watched Tom and then Jon run and jump from the rocks into the river, make it onto the wave, then take turns flipping over and around each other like a pod of dolphins. The standout moment was when Jon pulled off a huge front flip–head, body and board all well clear of the water–and landed in control back on the wave. I had to find out what it was all about, so I sat down with the brothers to get the lowdown on freestyle river boarding.

CanoeKayak.com: First things first. What is freestyle riverboarding?

Tom & Jon Paterson: To us, riverboarding is the ultimate adventure. Taking a beefed up body board and swimming in rivers is the greatest part of that adventure. We wear fins on our feet for extra propulsion, bracing, and control. Fins also help initiate tricks and they act as an extension of the board, allowing us to catch greener waves.

The freestyle aspect can be anything you want. It is about getting creative and having fun, not staying with the norm. The aspect that we have focused on the most is big wave surfing and aerial tricks.

How did the two of you start out as freestyle riverboarders?
Jon: Tom got into riverboarding first when he was working as a riverboard guide at Horizon X Rafting, on the Ottawa River. Being a guide forced him to build strength and learn how the board reacts in a variety of situations. Once he started, he couldn’t stop. Tom’s pivotal freestyle moment was throwing airscrews on Garburator on the Ottawa River. His eyes were opened to the possibilities when he realized the boards that seemed tied to the water were able to take flight.

From there, it became an obsession–a mission. What was possible? How could he get bigger air? Could the tricks get more exciting? Where was the limit? What can he do to make the seemingly impossible possible? This fire drove him to filming.

I joined him when he wanted a videographer who could keep up with him. I have a background in swimming, which made the transition easier. It was during that first year that I too fell in love with the sport and the workout it involved.

Where do you see your niche of the sport progressing to?

The more comfortable we get in the water, the more possibility we see for the sport. At this point we are trying to do freestyle everywhere we can, on slides and waves, in holes, and while moving downstream. We even look for opportunities when we’ve just entered the water and are getting to the wave.

The best places to include freestyle are wherever you are getting bored. If a movement is feeling like it is no longer exciting because you have done it repeatedly, then it is time for freestyle! There is freestyle everywhere if you want there to be. Swimming onto a wave can become running and skipping onto a wave. Eddying onto a wave can become flipping off a bridge onto a wave.

How could someone get started with freestyle riverboarding?

Anyone can get started riverboarding if they want to try! Initially, I would suggest going out with someone who knows whitewater and starting small. Just like any sport, it is all about progression. Find a place that is safe for you and have proper safety gear and trustworthy backup. This sport is much more fun and a lot easier to learn with friends.

What about your boards? Where are they from?

From the beginning we haven’t been satisfied to do things in the traditional way. As we challenged the limits of riverboarding, we realized we could rethink the equipment we use to help us further explore freestyle. We started to design and make our own boards with great results. We make our riverboards with the sole purpose of big water and surfing. This means our boards are going to be different from a board intended for creeking. Since our boards are for large waves, they have softer foam. We did this intentionally so that if you fall on it or take it to the face it won’t hurt as much. At this time we are working on our website where you can buy the freestyle boards we make and design. Our company name is Earth Veins or EV for short.

Anything else?

The past few years have been a significant time of discovery for us in the world of freestyle riverboarding and we are really passionate for it. We hope by sharing what we do on our Instagram (@freestyleriverboarding), we will be able to get more people interested in the sport and we hope they’ll be willing to give it a try!

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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