If you think the ocean is the only place made for surfing, these awesome river surfing hotspots just might change your mind.
Toward the end of April, flooding hit Michigan and prompted some adventurers to exploit the record-breaking river levels to go surfing. Opportunistic Adrenalists took advantage of this moment, but many rivers across the world flow with waves ready to be shredded throughout the year. Join us on a recon of some of the best river surfing hotspots in the world.
Severn Bore, England
There is nothing boring about the Severn Bore. In this context, “bore” means a body of water that, during exceptionally high sea tides, rushes up some rivers and estuaries near a coast along a narrow channel. Cue waves and serious river surfing. The Severn Bore lies in the west of England. Daredevils surf along the wave, which surges as high as 7 ft., in step with a noble tradition.
The first Adrenalist to surf the river was the extraordinary WWII stalwart Jack Churchill – a Military Cross winner famous for wielding a claymore sword and being the only Allied soldier to kill an enemy with a longbow during the war. Churchill became a surfing devotee late in life, riding the Severn Bore on a board he built himself, naturally. Churchill must rank as one of the most unusual figures in the action sports landscape. He was succeeded by a slew of Severn river surfers. The venue is now a magnet for carvers of all stripes. River surfing the Severn Bore has blossomed into a competitive sport with scores of surfers fighting to log the longest ride. The venue has been described as the birthplace of river surfing.
One of the world’s most picturesque river surfing spots is Eisbach near Munich in Germany. There, alternative surfing enthusiasts head to a spot just beyond a bridge near an art museum. At that point, the river kicks up a standing 3-ft-high wave. If you want to ride it you had better be agile, because the icy water is shallow – only 16 inches at the lowest spot. But surfers vie with whitewater kayakers for the privilege of experiencing the inland Munich marvel. Bizarrely, the German town famous for football and a wild beer festival also serves as the setting for two other river waves. A second, easier wave that unfurls at Floßlände near the Thalkirchen U-Bahn station is broad enough to carry several surfers at a time. Munich’s third standing wave forms during flooding on the Isar river near a bridge called Wittelsbacherbrücke. The triple opportunity makes Munich a kind of river surfing mecca, which seems just wunderbar.
Lachine Rapids, Montreal – Habitat 67
River surfing has a strong left-field feel that makes it seem not a million miles from performance art. One of the most strangely named venues in the field is Habitat 67. The surf spot is to be found at Lachine Rapids: a string of cascades that grace the Saint Lawrence River, between the Island of Montreal and the south shore. Habitat 67 gets its offbeat name from a local housing complex. The Olympic kayaker and three-time world freestyle kayak champion Corran Addison baptized Habitat, being the first to surf it, surprisingly recently: 2002. Seizing on the opportunity that Habitat offered, Addison, who is also into waterfall jumping, founded a river surfing school called Imagine Surfboards. A second Montreal river surfing school, KSF, sprang up in its wake. As often applies to standing wave destinations, the area is also a magnet for whitewater kayaking fans. Another sporty Lachine option is a jet boat expedition to the rapids, which runs from Montreal.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
America’s best-known river surfing community operates on the Snake River at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the location of the famous U.S. ski resort and outdoor sports haven. The wave on the Snake River, is called the “Lunch Counter,” which suggests that surfers might be food for sharks. Thankfully, this isn’t true true, since the wave has been surfed every summer by a core of alternative sports enthusiasts for over 20 years. “Surfing this rapid is much like walking down an up escalator, eyes focused down, staying in basically the same place as water churns underneath your board. The constant flow leaves some in a mesmerized trance,” writes CNN. Some Snake River surfers report staying astride a wave for up to 20 minutes. Stand-up paddleboarders also ride the Snake, as well as adventurous kayakers and rafters. Apparently, the Snake’s resident wave is a tough prospect. One blogger who took on the surf reports that he “got spit out a dozen times and damn near drowned in the whitewater before finally catching my first little ride.”
Adrenalists can be happy to note that rivers like these are scattered all over the planet. Few others have the established surfing scene present at the venues we already covered, but here are a few more contenders. One is Austria’s river Mur in Graz. Then there are several in Norway, not least Bulken in Voss, which might well be worth checking out. Voss combines snowy mountains, forests and lakes with breakneck white water rivers. Cue skiing, water sports, skydiving and paragliding among other adventure sports – plus, Voss hosts the yearly Ekstremsportveko (Extreme Sports Week), which is touted as the world’s top extreme sports festival. River surfing also unfolds on a nameless river wave in the Norwegian region of Sarpsborg. Oh, and let’s not forget reports of viable standing waves at Kawarau River near Queenstown in New Zealand. Wilder still: the Fly River in Western Province Papua New Guinea also supposedly sports a big surf-able bore – just watch out for the crocodiles.
If you’re looking for more killer waves beyond the shorelines, check out our list of wave pool surfing spots with some of the best locations for artificial waves on Earth.
Cover Photo Credit: Seth Schoen / Flickr.com