Solid State

A native Chattanoogan, Justin Burd returned to his hometown about two years ago to further pursue the climbing and kayaking he’d begun two decades earlier. Now back in town, he spends all his time near rock and water, whether teaching his 5-year-old daughter climbing and paddling techniques or crafting a custom piece of artwork from concrete and stone.

Q & A


Justin Burd

You’ve been rock climbing and whitewater kayaking for more than 15 years. What are some similarities to those challenges and what are some differences?

I would have to say that the similarities of rock climbing and whitewater kayaking would be that it's a one-man sport, you don't necessarily depend on anyone but yourself to achieve the goal. I have spent a lot of time soloing both rock and hard whitewater and find it very rewarding to be in that moment on my own. A few differences between the sports would have to be that in climbing it is a very controlled environment and for the most part safe. In whitewater kayaking you are trying to “control the uncontrolled” and harness the chaos. For me, if I'm nervous above a big drop, once I go that fear shuts off and it’s all focused on my line. Yet in climbing it’s kind of the same thing, but I feel that you have more time to psych yourself out. In the end though, that’s what we’re all looking for is that little bit of fear and getting through it.

If the creeks are running and it’s a great day for climbing, which are you more likely to do and why?

If the creeks are running on a good climbing day I would hope for a two-sport day. Start early and knock out a good run or two somewhere and then go pull down till dark. All that would change depending on where my little girl wanted to go. Could be practicing river skills on the water downtown or teaching her mantel moves at Stone Fort. And then of course, ice cream. Perfect day!

Where are your favorite places to climb and where would you most want to go?

My favorite places to climb would be areas of Sequatchie Valley, Looking Glass in North Carolina and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. One of the areas that I would like to spend more time at would be of course Yosemite Valley. My favorite style of climbing is long, Alpine-style free routes and the Valley to me is the Mecca.

What is the wildest whitewater ride you’ve taken?

I feel like I have done some pretty high-water runs on some hard creeks in the past but one that really stands out are a few extremely high-water runs on the Gauley River back in West Virginia. The dam was releasing the max amount of water which was 15,000 cfs and the meadow was putting about 4,000 cfs. The normal release on a season day is about 2,800, just for comparison. That was the biggest water I have ever seen. If you were to swim you would probably never be seen again. The entire Gauley River is about 23 miles and we did the run in a little over an hour.

What has drawn you to stand-up paddleboards lately and how much are you competing?

Justin Burd's Vitals

Occupation: Concrete artisan

Family: Wife: Eve; Daughter: Bella, 5

Favorite movie: “Mad Max”

Favorite music: Anything but country and rap

Favorite local restaurant? Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken

Hobbies: Concrete art, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, standup paddling (both whitewater and flat-water racing)

How long have you lived in Chattanooga: I was born here but moved away at the age of 11. My family and I moved back from Fayetteville, WV about 21/2 years ago.

Favorite thing about Chattanooga: It would have to be the amount of quality outdoor activities there are to do here. The climbing is so good here, nice steep sandstone. When it's raining the creeks are equally as classic to paddle and the Ocoee in the summer poses a fun challenge for stand-up paddling.

When I moved back to town, my longtime friend Ben Friberg got me into stand-up paddling. I started doing runs down the Ocoee River and got hooked on it. It’s a good challenge trying to stand up on whitewater and its hurts when you fall. I guess in some sick way that’s what I like about it. Recently this past season Ben’s got me fired up on racing SUP. It’s an awesome workout and my daughter likes to ride on the back so I have to train harder. One of my favorite circuits is to put on below Chickamauga Dam and crank 7 miles to downtown, get out at Coolidge Park and either run or bike the Riverwalk back upstream to the dam. It’s a good 14-mile workout. In the summer you can add some climbing laps on the Hunter bluffs. It’s perfect to do before or after work.

Set in Stone works to blend materials into home and landscape design in a natural flow. How do your outdoor interests influence this effort?

The outdoors have a huge influence on my work. I am most inspired by rock and water. I use river stones taken from creeks, hand cut them, and inlay them into my pieces a lot. It seems that water always plays a big part in my design, for example the sinks I create have water moving all around instead of just going down the drain. Like sitting next to a flowing river, it’s fun to watch how the water moves and forms around objects. Same thing with a concrete sink, why have water go from point A to point B when it can go from point A to point Z.

What are a few projects you’ve built that best reflect that influence?

Some projects that share that influence would be the elements bench; it’s a three-dimensional bench that has a zero edge water feature, a lava rock fire pit and Earth feature of plant life. Another one would be the stikine sink. The water drops in one side and moves through several smooth obstacles before disappearing under a boulder which acts as the drain.

What are some of your other outdoor interests or things you want to try?

My main interest these days is to get my daughter excited about being outside. She’s been involved with outdoor sports since she was born. She loves to climb and this year she has started to show interest in whitewater. She really likes SUP because she can jump right on and go for it. I had a friend custom make her a paddle so she can have something her size. Actually, my buddy and I are designing some kid-size SUPs to build and we’re using her as our tester. One outdoor sport that I have always wanted to try is BASE jumping. How cool would it be to climb 3000 feet and jump off the top and fly back to the ground...maybe one day.

Where is the one place you would most like to visit and why?

Patagonia. The huge walls to climb and not too far away are some of the most beautiful looking watersheds I have seen. Hard to pick one place but that would be in my top 10.


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