Contemporary surfing is usually identified with tanned, macho types fighting for the next wave in exotic locales. The popularity of the sport has increased so much in recent years that, even in the far reaches of the ocean, it is almost impossible to have a break to yourself.
Yet a new generation of surfers has found a solution to the overcrowding, and, often, it’s hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean beach. Enter river surfing.
Not only is river surfing an elegant solution for the landlocked wave lover, but it also provides a ride — often a ride a surfer can have alone — that people travel the world to capture. When rushing water hits a depression in the river floor or flows over large rocks, a standing wave is created, and a surfer who paddles in can catch a ride for as long as he or she can stay on the board, as opposed to the few brief seconds offered by a beach break.
One of the most popular river-surfing spots in the world is Habitat 67, on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of Montreal. Named for the iconic apartment complex it borders, Habitat’s perfect, seemingly endless head-high wave has hosted surfers for about eight years. Recently, the traffic has picked up, says Chris Dutton, president of Surf Montreal, a website devoted to surfing in the city. Still, the crowd has remained more civil than what you’d find just about anywhere else.
“There’s no localism or competition for the waves,” Dutton says. “Because there is one wave that never stops, we line up single file and take turns, two minutes or so each. It’s a good system. Anyone who shows up with a board is welcomed, and if they are struggling, there are a few people who will always help them out.”
While Montreal may be a hot new surfing spot, there are rivers throughout the world where surfers can absorb that Endless Summer feeling, even in the middle of winter.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
The Lunch Counter Rapids on the Snake River is often considered the birthplace of river surfing in the Americas.
Glenwood Springs, Colo.
These man-made rapids attract surfers from around the world.
A short drive from Philadelphia but with none of the Jersey Shore attitude, Scudder Falls offers surfing on the Delaware River.
San Marcos, Texas
At Rio Vista Falls Park, outside Austin, there’s a new kind of rodeo: one in which surfers leap into the water and try to stay on their boards.
What You’ll Need
1 Lessons / While river surfers are friendly, don’t expect anyone to spend the day giving you free lessons. Surf classes at Montreal’s Imagine Eco Surfboards (www.imaginesurfboards.com) run $99/day, including equipment rental.
2 Surfboard / River surfers prefer short, wide boards (shorter than 6’8”), which allow a surfer to stay mobile in the rapids as well as stable once standing. A good board can cost between $450 and $600, but if there’s a place to surf, there is almost always a place to rent a board, and for as little as $25/day.
3 Wet suit / Depending on the time of year, a wet suit can be either mandatory or just more comfortable. Thicker wet suits allow for surfing year-round. They also provide the benefit of flotation in the rapids without the bulkiness of a life jacket.