Don’t let Randy Fisher’s crisp National Park Service uniform and shiny badge fool you — our next #BackyardBadass plays just as hard as he works. And with a backyard like the New River Gorge, how could you not?
Meet Randy Fisher of Fayetteville, W.Va. When he’s not pulling long shifts (sometimes until midnight) as a ranger for the New River Gorge National River and the Gauley River National Recreation Area, he’s firing up some local surf on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). And by “local surf” I’m not talking board shorts and hanging out barefoot all day. Sometimes, when the surfing’s good in the New, the weather’s shit…like, 30-degrees-and-snowing, shit.
Check out what Randy has to say on work and play in the New River Gorge in this month’s Backyard Badass feature.
BRO: How did you get into your job as a park ranger?
RF: I decided I wanted to be a park ranger in college. I went to Penn State and enrolled in their criminal justice program.
BRO: Did you have an outdoorsy upbringing?
RF: I’m originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is a very rural, cornfields-and-Amish type of place. But as a family we always traveled to do canoe trips, sailing, snowboarding out West, which kinda led me to an adventurous lifestyle. We were always visiting national parks, too.
BRO: Canoeing and sailing isn’t quite surf SUPping. How did you get into whitewater?
RF: I got a call from Zion [National Park] in Utah and went there to work as a seasonal park ranger. Someone gave me an old Perception Dancer kayak that happened to be laying around. I paddled in a reservoir and immediately, I knew what I wanted to do was get to more water.
BRO: So I’m guessing that’s how you ended up in Fayetteville?
RF: I moved to Fayetteville in 2005. About 4 years ago, the same thing that was happening to kayaking in the ’80s and ’90s was happening to stand up paddleboarding. I ended up getting on a board and just knew that I enjoyed the freedom of it and that that was what I wanted to do. Since then, I try to surf every wave in every way I can whether on a SUP or a river short board.
BRO: So why SUP? What do you like about it?
RF: I love just the freedom of movement, and being completely free of having to sit down in a boat or a raft. The view from standing up and seeing down into the water at the bottom of the river and seeing all the wildlife in the river is stuff that I’ve always missed in the past.
BRO: What are your favorite rivers? Favorite waves?
RF: It’s really convenient here [in Fayetteville]. I have two destination rivers right in my backyard. Surfing the Gauley is my favorite closely followed by the New. My favorite waves? Diagonal Ledges and the New River Dries.
BRO: Surfing the New River Dries is pretty full-on. What’s it like?
RF: There’s nothing else to compare to it…the amount of water and the volume of water that’s around you. My first time I spent about half the day just trying to catch it.
BRO: How often are you out on the water?
RF: Almost every day.
BRO: Wow. How do you make that work with your long hours on the clock?
RF: It’s something I need to do to unwind. I live right where I play, there’s no commute to the river, and I try to keep a nice simple life. You get so caught up in your work with the same people and after hours you hang out with the same peole and your only friends and your only life tends to be work, whereas being on the river has allowed me to bridge that gap and build relationships with the boating community.
BRO: Being in law enforcement and surfing big waves makes me think your fearless. Are you?
RF: I have a fear of heights, even though I perform high angle rescues and regularly walk across the catwalk of the New River Gorge bridge.
BRO: What’s your favorite post-paddle refreshment?
RF: Heineken. My fridge if full of the little green cans.
BRO: Favorite post-paddle eats?
RF: Secret Sandwich Society.
BRO: Ever broken any bones?
RF: Right collar bone by skateboarding, left collar bone by snowboarding, facial fracture, my eye socket, from mountain biking…thank goodness, though, so far I’m injury-free in water sports…knock on wood.
BRO: Obviously adventure sports are inherently dangerous. So why do it? Is the risk worth the reward?
RF: Definitely worth the risk. You do your risk management, you know where the line is and you know the line can be crossed. Now, sometimes you end up there accidentally, but most of the time you know where that line is.
BRO: Any words of wisdom for people inspired by your SUP adventures but who respond with, “Gee I wish I had the time”?
RF: It’s so easy for people just to say they don’t have time, but with a little bit of time management, there’s always time in that you just gotta make it a part of your lifestyle.
BRO: What’s your go-to SUP gear?
RF: Depends on the conditions. I paddle Boardworks, either their ocean long board, ocean short board, or SUP. Then of course helmet, PFD, wetsuit or drysuit, and a leash.
Check out more of Randy’s SUP exploits by following his YouTube channel. You can also learn more on the river surfing community in Fayetteville by reading this exclusive article and tuning in to this BRO-TV episode.
Have a suggestion for our next Backyard Badass feature? Send us a name and a description to email@example.com! We’d love to meet the people that inspire you to #gooutsideandplay!