“It’s a bit like flying or how I imagine flying would be,” said Ali Howard. “Any time you can get out on the water is a good day and if you can surf too, it’s just gravy.”
Howard said she is one of the few women in the province who take on the rapid rivers in the Bulkley Valley, not on a canoe or kayak but on a river board.
Riverboarding is a sport where the participant lies on a board with fins on their feet for steering.
The Smithers resident is no stranger to local waters, having canoed with her father when she was young.
It was five years ago as she was swimming on the Suskwa River that she first learned the importance of riverboards in areas with rocky terrain.
“I smoked myself really hard on a rock,” she said. “[It was] bad enough that I understood why you have the board for protection on rocks.”
Since then, Howard has riverboarded on most of the major rivers in the area, including the Babine, Suskwa, Kispiox, Telkwa and the Bulkley.
“It’s a really fun feeling,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be out on the water.”
Though she is an enthusiastic riverboarder now, Howard admitted, her first time on the board wasn’t easy.
“The first few times I tried to get on a wave were tricky, and then once I finally figured out where the tractor beam was, it was alright,” she said, noting that balance and the right water levels are the keys to riverboarding.
Howard brought the sport of riverboarding to the annual Tatlow Fest last weekend at Tatlow Falls.
The annual event, which started in the ‘80s, was hosted by the Bulkley Valley Canoe and Kayak Club.
More than 40 whitewater enthusiasts from Prince George, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat and the Bulkley Valley gathered at the festival.
“It’s mostly an opportunity for our regional members to get together and connect, plan some trips, and share some good food by the fire,” said club president Tlell Glover.
According to Glover, Tatlow Fest also gives members the chance to try other watersports.
“Ali is just starting to get into whitewater kayaking, but [riverboarding] is her thing,” said Glover.
While Tatlow Fest provides locals with an opportunity to connect with whitewater enthusiasts from other regions, Howard hopes more people will take up riverboarding.
“I’ve never met anyone else who does it,” she said. “But I would like to because I’d like to learn how to spin on a wave. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but I haven’t quite figured it out.”