Bellingham isn't known for riverboarding. Most people in Bellingham don't even know about riverboarding, but Rochelle Parry is doing her best to change that.
Parry took fifth-overall in the women's division at the first-ever Riverboarding World Championships on Nov. 10 after four days of competition. Her finish included a first-place victory in the freestyle surf event.
It was hard to train for Parry, she said, since Bellingham's rivers dry up in the winter and the water is too cold. Instead, she hopped on her bike and logged more than 250 miles in October leading up to the event.
She said she wanted to win the event, and although she got outgunned by her French competitors, she was thankful for the opportunity to compete.
"One of the main reasons I went was for the large gathering of other female riverboarders," Parry said. "There was a bit of a language barrier at first, since most spoke French, but by the end we were making more of an effort to get to know each other. It was a highly competitive atmosphere, too."
It was Parry's first time competing against only women, since the sport is heavily male-dominated.
"It can be rough on the body," Parry said of why it's mostly men in the sport. "You can get bruised and injured, even when you're careful."
Women are typically better at the sport though, Parry said. The sport, which is similar to white-water kayaking on a boogie or body board, requires a lot of leg work, and women are usually stronger in their lower body, Parry said.
It's an adrenaline-fueled sport, and that's what Parry says she loves about it.
"When I'm riverboarding, I'm very focused," Parry said. "It's like nothing else is going on around me. I'm just concentrating. It consumes all your attention and physical strength. It's very intense."
Parry wants to continue competing at high-level, even though, at 51, she's older than most competitors, who are generally between 15 and 30.
To compete at a high level, though, Parry said she knows she needs better equipment. A big reason she couldn't keep up with the French riders in Indonesia was because of the type of board they use.
The American board is very flat. But the French board is much more like a boat with steep edges, like a hull and a narrow tip.
Parry doesn't deny that it takes skill to use the different board, but she believes she could have placed better if everyone was using the same equipment.
Parry doesn't have any official sponsors, and that makes it hard to keep up with the equipment. She would have to buy the specialized boards from France, and that would be costly.
But the lack of competitive equipment won't stop Parry from sharing the sport with people in Bellingham. She wants to compete in a large riverboarding competition in North America, and knows the first step is promotion of the sport in local communities.
Last summer, she did a free demonstration at Sky Fest in Sultan and said she is always open to taking anyone who is in reasonable physical condition out on the river.
"When most people hear about me doing the sport, they ask 'Is that where you stand up?," Parry said. "And then when I tell them about it, they always want to try it but the follow-up isn't always there."
Despite not many people participating in the sport, Parry said Bellingham is the perfect place to try riverboarding, because of the abundance of water and long days during the summer season, which generally lasts from April to October.
"It helps keep up your level of fitness and it's demanding," Parry said.
For Parry, the next step is preparing for the next world championships in 2015 in Guatemala.
For more information on riverboarding, visit teamfli.com.
WATCH VIDEO: RIVERBOARDING ON THE NOOKSACK
Reach Joshua Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2271.