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River Surfing is surfing on waves in rivers. The most common type of river surfing is on Standing Waves. Standing Waves do not change position. These waves are formed by the combination of fast moving water going over a drop or slope and the river bottom contours. The water goes down the slope or drop then comes back up to form the wave.

River Surfers face upstream and the surf boards ride on the face of the wave. To stay on the wave a River Surfer balances gravity pulling them down the face of the wave and the water pushing them downstream. The act of surfing on River Waves is very similar to surfing on Ocean Waves.

River Waves are everywhere! Any place with rivers can have waves. River Waves come in many different shapes and sizes from small mushy piles of white water to permanant barrels that can fit a standing surfer. Board sizes and shapes vary depending on the wave you ride.

River surfers may use different words but we speak the same language.

Stoke & Flow,

For River Surfers by River Surfers

Many thanks to TorbjornFjellestad for the amazing video.

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Done properly river surfing can be quite safe. Done improperly you can die. Rivers and whitewater have dangers much different then oceans but with repercussions just as severe. For your safety and the safety of those with you, inform yourself about river dangers and standard safety percautions.

With knowledge in hand take time and review the wave, the water, the runout and any visible or submerged dangers. Figure out how you're going to enter the wave and where you will go when you bail. When ever possible surf with people who know the location. Rivers are far more powerful then us and a mistake can result in serious injury or death.

We strongly recommend that you read the information in the links below before attempting river surfing. Not reading this information puts your life at risk and more importantly the lives of those who may have to rescue or recover you.

The safety code of American Whitewater - Outlining dangers and well thought out safety practices.

The American Whitewater Safety Program - Contains detailed information on whitewater safety and a comprehensive database of decades of whitewater accidents.

RiverSurfing.ca Safety Notes - Comments on River Surfing Safety by River Surfers
Oceans vs. Rivers
About the Author

Your safety is your responsability.


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To be a surfer you need some water, some waves and the right gear. This here is a list of the basic equipment you need for River Surfing. The kit required is not very complex, and the cost can very greatly depending on the equipment you choose to use. Your gear can be home made or store bought, it really doesn't matter. What matters is you get to surf!

You're going to be surfing! You're going to be riding on fast moving water, just you, your board and the wave. No straps, no ties, just your balance keeping you from getting wetter. You're going to be feeling pretty damn amazing so get used to smiling or you could pull something. Remember, smiles are a phenomenal investment. You share a good one and everyone feels better. I love surfing!

Do you have a name for your board? You should. The board you choose is one of the first major investment you need to make in river surfing. There are many options in boards.
Choose what works for you! Board length will be determined by the size of your wave and the distance between the wave face and any upstream slope. The board needs to short enough that the nose will not go into the upstream slope. If it does your will "pearl" which means your board goes really deep, really fast and your ride is over.
Choose what works for you! A wider board will provide you with additional flotation and tends to make the board more stable. Larger people trying to surf will need more floatation. Experiment with different boards, river surfers are often willing to share boards and let you take theirs for a rip.
Material choice depends on the water depth. Many river waves are in shallow water which means your board will hit bottom. Fiberglass boards are very easily damaged in shallow water falls and by the end of a season they are covered in duct tape and glass jobs. Epoxy boards are much stronger and can take the beatings of shallow rivers. If you surf shallow waves, you board should be made of strong material like epoxy. If you surf waves in deeper water then use what ever gets you surfing.

When you need a wetsuit, you NEED a wetsuit. When the water is cold there is no way you can ride long without one. A quality wetsuit will keep you warm, comfortable and extend your water time.
The appropriate thickness is determined by water temperature and your personal temperature tolerance which can vary widely. A 5/4/3 wetsuit with good gloves, boots and hood will let most people surf for 2 hours in 0 degree celsius water with ice in it. The first number (5) is the thickness of the body portion of the suit. The second number (4) is the thickness of the arms and legs. The third number (3) is the thickness of the joints and high movement areas.
River Surfing can be is hard on wetsuits. Depending on the wave you can spend a great deal of time walking on rocks and through debris as you hike back up to the put-in. Think about where you will be walking and choose a wetsuit that can handle the terrain.

Along with a wetsuit you will need to invest in some neoprene boots, with a nice rubber sole, gloves, and a hood. These articles of clothing will protect you from brain freezes, frozen fingers and toes. The worst experience is to have poor boots or gloves, cause they make being the water survivabile for only a short period of time. The biggest concern with gloves, boots and hoods are durability. River Surfing can be very hard on boots and gloves. Choose equipment that will not easily tear when you grab rocks, trees or concrete to get into and out of rivers.
Ear Plugs
Ear plugs are strongly recommended for cold water surfers to prevent Surfer's Ear. Surfer's Ear is the abnormal bone growth in the ear canal caused by exposure to cold water. Many cold water athletes have lost their hearing due to Surfer's Ear and required surgery to fix the problem.

Leashes in rivers can be lethal. If you leash gets wrapped around something or caught in a rock you will be forced to the bottom and you will probably drown. Rivers are relentless and far more powerful then any person. People caught on lines or ropes have drowned even with two men there trying to keep just the head above water. That said, leashes can be very useful and very safe in the right circumstances. In deep, fast moving water, there is little danger of your leash catching but you may need the bouyancy of your board to keep a float. Seriously consider the risks of any situation and then choose to use a leash. If you do use a leash it should be roughly the length of your board.

Many river waves form in shallow water. When you fall you can fall hard and go deep. Consider a helmet. Look at the situation and decide if it is necessary.

Some of those extra pieces that you'll probably leave home without but wish you hadn't. This includes:
  • surf wax (for the top of your board - it gives traction)
  • fin key & extra fin key (for taking your fins out of the board when you lose the first one)
  • a board bag (helps protect your board during travel and can make a great sleeping bag)
  • repair kit (you can buy surf board/wetsuit/surfer repair kits but you can also just use duct tape)
  • extra fins (shallow rivers eat fins)
  • spare gear (you never know when someone will need a glove.

That's about it. Rip it up!


- Paraphrasing Claudio Realini [5:58]
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We can make waves anywhere. All we need is water and a little ingenuity. We need fast water. Water with energy.

Gravity. It is cheap, plentiful and we can work with it.

How do we harness gravity?
With a drop in ground level.

How big a drop?
About 90 cm (3 feet) for a decent wave.

These drops are everywhere. Fast running rivers, dam outflows, long & slow slopes, all of these can become waves with a thought, sweat and basic gear. There are people all over the world working on waves. Near Calgary, Alberta, the Alberta River Surfing Association is working towards a customizable river wave, a place where we can safely test different wave designs. This is called the Alberta Pipeline Project. There are wave parks across North America, like the Glenwood Whitewater Park in Colorado. Munich river surfers have modified their flows to make the famous Haus der Kunst wave on the Eisbach. There are surfers, like Claudio Realini in Switzerland, who with a few friends, created a wave out of FLAT, fast water. There are more that we don't yet know about.

RiverSurfing.ca contains an ongoing discussion of wave building techniques, failures, successes, safety and ideas (WAVE BUILDING FORUM). Read up, discuss, learn, be safer, be more effective and help each other build waves!

For River Surfers by River Surfers.

Stoke & Flow,


RiverSurfing.ca is for River Surfers by River Surfers. A place for the landlocked to fluidly and simply share media, ideas, stories, waves and stoke from around the world. You can share, add, comment on and find:
  • Waves on our Interactive Surf Wave Map
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Events
  • Blogs
RiverSurfing.ca will expand with technology to match the needs of our community.

RiverSurfing.ca was born out of the The Alberta River Surfing Association and a desire to push & connect River Surfers around the world. The objective of the RiverSurfing is to help facilitate the growth of river surfing as a viable past-time and a constructive part of our lives.

Your quality as a person far out weighs your ability as a surfer. Welcome those who share your waves, they see something in life the same as you. We may not use the same words but we speak the same language.


Stoke & Flow,


By Paul Barrett with research help from Franzi.
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Surfing as a past time has been with the Polynesians for hundreds of years. The earliest days of surfing were on Paipo boards. The Paipo is a small oval piece of wood that was ridden like a bodyboard. As the Hawaiians advanced in their surf riding abilities different boards began to surface that allowed the rider to stand up. By the time Cook landed in Hawaii some of the boards were in excess of 13ft. The largest of these were known as the Olo, and were reserved for the elite amongst Hawaiians.

In these early days History and culture were passed down orally in Hawaii, what modern Hawaiians call “Talking Story”. This article is the first attempt (as far as I can tell) to record the history of River Surfing on a global scale. Like The ancient Hawaiians who discovered the glory of surfing, the majority of the research for this paper was done through “Talking story”, so some facts and dates may not be precise.

The first attempt to stand up and surf on a river occurred in Germany on 5th of September 1975. Two brothers from the small Bavarian town of Trostberg headed to Munich to search out a surfable wave. The Pauli brothers had previously tried to surf rivers before the epic trek to Munich. However, their early attempts had been less successful and required the use of a tow line to ride. On the 5th of September the Pauli brothers, Arthur and Alexander, were the first to surf the Flosslaende on the Iser River in the heart of Munich. They accomplished this without the use of a rope. Within a short period of time word spread throughout Munich that there was indeed a surfable wave in the city. The local scene began growing from that point. Because the river wave happens to be near a local campsite traveling surfers began having a crack at the wave, Australians, South Africans and Americans are counted amongst the pioneers of the Flosslaende river wave.

The growth of river surfing in Munich was so rapid that before 1975 could end Munich was the scene of the first river surfing competition. The competition ended with the crowning of Arthur Pauli as the first Bavarian Champion, and by all accounts the first man to receive a title from river surfing. At the same time the first non-German to receive an award in river surfing was Australian John Vardon who received the International Award during the competition.

With such a growth of the sport over a few months the local riders of Munich founded the first organization dedicated to river surfing, the Muenchen Wellenreiter E.V. (Munich Waveriders Association). It is this association which was the fore-runner to all the current river surfing associations. The Munich Waveriders Association provided the local surfers with a united voice, and with the hierarchy to promote, and facilitate river surfing competitions and events over the next few years. Unfortunately interest dropped a bit and the first casualty was the Munich waveriders association, it ceased to exist only a few years after its inception.

Munich’s river surfing community went without an established organization for some 30 years, until in 2000 a handful of forward thinking individuals re-established an organization to guide river surfing within the city, the Grossstadtsurfer E.V. (City Surfers Association) was born. The main driving force behind the re-establishment of an organized voice for river surfing within Munich is the fact that river surfing is technically illegal within the city limits. Since its founding the Grossstadtsurfer E.V. has been fighting to give Munich’s watermen a voice at the city level and they have brought back organized competition to the FlossLaende Wave. At least once a year the Grossstadtsurfer E.V. holds a river surfing contest. Those contests have grown so that they now include several different categories for the competitors, including a women’s division.

Since Alexander and Arthur Pauli’s September adventure to the flosslaende another 3 surf spots have been pioneered in Munich including, Eisbach, Grosshesseloher Bruecke, and Wittelsbacher Bruecke. The Eisbach deserves further attention when discussing Munich’s river surfing community. The Eisbach is considered to be the best wave in Munich but its downfall is how dangerous it is. To date some of the injuries incurred here have been: the loss of a knee cap, shattered shoulder, ruptured aorta which almost led to a total leg amputation and in 1980 the first recorded death of a river surfer. Eisbach has since become a heavily localized spot with the locals preventing the inexperienced from accessing the wave.

Currently there are about 400 surfers riding in Munich, with more new people constantly becoming involved. Munich has also shown how this sport can grow and support local industry as a surf shop, and several shapers have popped up in Munich to help supply the surfing demand of the city.

In 1976 Jackson hole, Wyoming, saw its first river surfers begin to surface on the snake river. Mike Fitzpatrick and brothers Steve and Moose Hahn all kaykers, took surfboards on to the Lunch Counter wave and began Wyoming's home grown surf movement. It has been incredibly hard to track down a little, if any, information on this piece of river surfing heritage. There is currently a crew who ride the Lunch Counter throughout the spring and summer but numbers are really hard to come accross. Currently there doesn't seem to be any organization in or around the Jackson Hole area.

Perhaps one of the forgotten chapters of river surfing is the work done by the global bodyboarding establishment. Bodyboarders have long realized the rivers potentials and were critical in the exploration of some of the more famous spots. In the 1980s the first pictures of people on bodyboards ripping up rivers surfaced. It was at Waimea bay where the river break through occurred. During the rainy season the Waimea River becomes clogged with sediment which left unchecked results in flooding in the local area. To curtail this problem the local council regularly has the river dredged by heavy machinery. When dredged a series of waves appear on at the mouth of Waimea River. This was where bodyboarders started to play during flat spells. Although it was never more then a distraction during poor surf, the Waimea river riders opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities around them. Had it not been for the fact that professional Bodyboarders such as Jay Reale, Ross Mcbride, Manny Vargas, Kyle Maligro and many others were riding the Waimea River it all may have faded into obscurity.

The next step with Bodyboarding that made huge headlines was riding the Zambezi River. This was done by an elite crew of professionals in the Mid 90’s and it showed just how good the rivers could be. Soon after the adventure on the Zambezi, bodyboarding on the river appeared in New Zealand and by 2000 there were established rafting companies guiding bodyboarders to some of the better waves on the rivers. In 2002-2003 bodyboarding on river waves had yet another boost when a Nissan Pathfinder commercial show cased the sport to an international audience. In the commercial three bodyboarders were shown ripping up a stationary wave.

From the first set of ocean bodyboarders on the river a new sport emerged on the rivers of the world, known as sledging. This is some what out of the scope of this article, but does deserve a mention. Sledging is more like kayaking as people on over size bodyboards actually run sections of the river instead of surfing the standing waves.

Montréal’s growth as a prominent river surfing hub has been much more drastic then that of Munich. While Munich has been growing since the 70’s Montreal exploded onto the river surfing scene in the past 6 years. Montreal is a renowned kayak play spot, and now river surfing spot due to its large, warm, and glassy river waves. There are numerous spots within the city for surfing, over 10 by many accounts and numerous other secret spots on the St. Lawrence.

Corran Addison was the first guy to take a surf board onto the rivers around Montréal. After a year of solo riding Corran was joined by Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis first surf experience was on a home made board, that was constructed from foam and duct tape. Over the years these two riders have explored, pioneered, and promoted river surfing in Montreal. Currently there are between 200-300 riders in Montreal. Montreal now has a stable surf industry including several surf shops, several shapers and the only school dedicated to teaching people how to river surf.

Montreal’s biggest problem to date has been the lack of an organized voice for the community of river surfers. Unlike Munich and Calgary there is no organ to organize the river surfing scene in Montreal. However, over the last few years two surf clubs, Surf Montreal & SurfMTL, have surfaced in Montreal, perhaps this will be able to take up some of the responsibility of organizing river surfing in Montreal.

“All I want to do is find a perfect wave. It is that simple. And when I find it I can ride it all day long.”(Elijah Mack). Eli, Mack, Elijah, is one of those peculiar people in the world who refuses to do as he is told and instead seeks out his own experience. I suppose in a way that’s the same spirit that all river surfers seem to share. We go out of our way to find something new to do, and a reason to get wet. Elijah grew up surfing in the hot bed of San Diego, a city where everyone and their mother are surfers and the rarest of occasions is solitude. In the 90’s Elijah left San Diego’s overcrowded, plastic, soulless surf for his own adventure.

Eventually ending up in Eugene Oregon the owner of Mos Faded barbershop (Elijah) began his spell on the rivers. What started as a curious idea in 1998 soon blossomed into a dedicated pursuit for that holy grail of surfing, the perfect wave. Elijah started to search out and pioneer a huge number of rivers in the Pacific Northwest and amongst his achievements is likely the first guy to surf such fabled river waves as the Lochsa Pipeline and the Skookumchuck Narrows. Elijah founded the World River Surfing Association with the expressed mission of finding, surfing and promoting river surfing in 2004. The WRSA was the first attempt to bring surfers from around the world together under one banner and in its hay day it did just that. Unfortunately the WRSA became defunct, mostly due to the neglect of the surfing industry.

"The hardest thing I find in the promotion of river surfing is that it has not been embraced by either the surfing or kayak industry. The kayak world knows about the waves but don't care about surfing them and the surf community knows nothing about the waves. There is no industry surrounding it. I am starting to poke holes into both. But in the end the blessing is that river surfing has more mainstream appeal than either of its two bigger sisters. It is extremely attracting to the layperson who has never surfed. To see a surfer surfing on a river is a channel surfer stopper and keeper. “-Elijah Mack WRSA-

One of Elijah’s crowning achievements was surfing the Zambezi rivers overland truck eater wave. This massive beastie is a barreling 6-8ft wave in the heart of Africa.

There are river surfers scattered all over the place. But, a few regions seem to be growing more rapidly then others. Two of the current hotbeds for growth are Colorado and Italy. In colorado several people are taking to the water, particularly around Pueblo, but curerently there is no organized movement.

The other movement is in Italy where a dedicated crew have been surfing rivers for at least two years. This crew remains a total mystery to the author.

The local history in Alberta follows the same general pattern as other locations. A few people started to think outside of what is normal and found themselves on the rivers. And, like other place this original group of people were experienced watermen who found themselves landlocked and in search of something to ride.

The first person to surf the Kananaskis was Ben Murphy in 2004. Prior to that bodyboarding had been attempted on the same stretch of river by both Ben Murphy and Paul Barrett but neither new the other existed. Ben surfed the Kan alone for over a year. Unknown to him another two guys were now starting to surf the same stretch of river. In October of 2005 Jeff Brooks and Paul Barrett began surfing the Kananaskis River. A series of coincident and accidental meetings slowly grew the numbers and eventually allowed the small but growing crew to meet Ben Murphy. By the spring of 2006 it became evident that some organization would be useful, and thus the Alberta River Surfing Association happened.

The growth of the sport in Calgary has been immense, starting with three riders in 2005, ARSA’s membership has continued to explode. In May of 2006 ARSA was proud to be only the second organization in the world to hold and run a river surfing competition, the first in the world outside of Munich Germany.

Calgary and Alberta are still feeling out their full potential. There are currently several of surf shops in the city but unlike Munich and Montréal these stores existed before river surfing surfaced. The unfortunate part of this is the industry didn’t grow from river surfing like it did in Montreal and Munich.

River surfing will continue to grow globally as landlocked surfers head for the rivers. More importantly the exploration and pioneering of new river waves will continue as only a very small portion have been tapped.

I would like to thank Franzi of the Grossstadtsurfer E.V. for helping with the research for this. I plan on reworking this article as I gain more information.