History Of River Surfing

River Surfing

River Surfing in Idaho – Photo by Heather Jackson

While it has been becoming more visible, surfing waves in rivers is not a new trend.  Landlocked surfers have been surfing river waves for years.  Starting out in Munich, spreading to Jackson Hole, and now thriving in many other locations like the Kananaskis, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and Missoula, Montana. At all these locations and more rivers surfers can be seen out on a paddleboard or surf board.


Two brothers searching out a river wave they could try to surf left their small Bavarian town of Trostberg and headed to Munich. The Pauli brothers had tried to surf rivers but their attempts were not very successful and required the use of a tow in line to try to ride. On the 5th of September in 1972, the Pauli brothers, Arthur and Alexander, were the first to surf the Flosslaende on the Iser River in the heart of Munich. It wasn’t long for word to spread throughout Munich that there was a surfable river wave in the city.

river surfing

Arthur Pauli’s first ride in 1972.

The local scene began to explode. Surfers traveling to Munich wanted to try to surf the wave. Many Australians, South Africans and Americans are amongst the pioneers of the Flosslaende river wave. The growth of river surfing in Munich was so fast that before 1975 could end Munich was the scene of the first river surfing competition. At least once a year the Grossstadtsurfer E.V. now 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. 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.

The Snake River has been pulling people to its banks for rafting and kayaking. 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 kayakers, took surfboards on to the Lunch Counter wave and began Wyoming’s home grown surf movement. There is still a solid crew who ride the Lunch Counter throughout the spring and summer.


Brittany Parker tears it up on LunchCounter. Photo by Heather Jackson


With its numerous surf spots on the St. Lawrence River, Montreal has exploded onto the river surfing scene in the past 6 years. There are a few different waves you can surf on the Saint Lawrence River. The one most people learn on is called “Bunny Wave” near the Lachine Rapids area. Once you master that, you can move up to Habitat 67. Habitat 67 is a much larger & faster wave located behind a famous building with the same name. Surfers park by the tennis courts and walk down a dirt path in back. In addition to those 2 the locals have many other “secret” spots.

standup paddleboard river surfing

Igor Goni Surfing in Montreal – Photo: Mike Hitelman

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.

“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). 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. 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.

Elijah started to search out and pioneer a huge number of rivers in the Pacific Northwest and surfed river waves like Pipeline on the Lochsa and the tidal wave in 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.

river surfing

Elijah surfing Overland Truck Eater Wave on the Zambezi River.

Kananaskis River
The history in river surfing 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. This original group surfers 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 body boarding had been attempted on the same stretch of river by both Ben Murphy and Paul Barrett. In October of 2005 Jeff Brooks and Paul Barrett also began surfing the Kananaskis River. Slowly the numbers grew and eventually it became evident that some organization would be useful, and thus the Alberta River Surfing Association happened.

river surfing canada

Brittany Parker surfing the Kananaskis – Photo Bryce Blkt



Today the development of Whitewater Parks has led to an expansion of river surfing.  While hardly mainstream, river surfing is now possible in places that were never previously thought of as surfing destinations.  With standing waves, the wave is uniform for indefinite periods of time.

Colorado is the place where the whitewater park trend began in the mid-70’s with Confluence Park in downtown Denver and there are currently nearly 30 public parks in the state, making it the Whitewater Park and river surfing hot spot especially during run-off (May-July).  However, Whitewater Parks with standing waves are found all over the US and are being considered by communities in almost every region of the Country.  

river surfing

Anna Fischer surfing Kelly’s Whitewater Park


Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado:  Separated 24 miles apart on the Arkansas River with several features specifically designed for SUP surfing and consistent flows.  This is Badfish SUP’s home “break” and one that has become a popular destination for western river surfers and hosts several big events including the FIBArk Festival every Father’s Day weekend in June.

Missoula, Montana:  Brennan’s Wave right downtown and a thriving surf culture found around the mountain surf shop of Strongwater make Missoula one of the nation’s premier river surfing destinations.  A new wave “Max’s” is in the works.

Springfield, Ohio:  Springfield is a former manufacturing hot bed, turned rust-belt bedroom community to larger neighbor Columbus. John Loftis, former ski patroller and snowcat skiing guide from Steamboat Springs, Colorado came home to run the family business and worked to turn three low head dams into whitewater parks with some of the lowest volume river surfing waves in the Country.  Surf Ohio! 

Charles City, Iowa:  Corn?  Pass through country on your way out west on the interstate? How about a burgeoning SUP hot spot.  With a number of super stoked paddlers and a couple of whitewater parks in various stages of design, Iowa is fast becoming a Midwestern surf destination.  The Whitewater Park in “Chuck” City is the current epicenter of the Scene.

Siloam Springs, Arkansas:  Funded by the Walton Family Foundation this recently completed park (grand opening in May) has a standing wave feature that should generate some river surfing stoke in the Bible Belt.

Sparks, Nevada:  Just downstream of the better known Reno Whitewater Park, Sparks has an underground river surfing scene with everything from crusty locals riding Wave Storms to honed Lake Tahoe flatwater racers looking for novelty surf.  Bonus…Casinos!

Kelly’s Whitewater Park Cascade, Idaho:  Located on the legendary North Fork of the Payette River and funded by Mark and Kristina Pickard as a memorial to Kristina’s sister Kelly, this whitewater park is home to the nation’s fastest growing river sports event the Payette River Games which includes a river surfing contest as well as SUP races. 

San Marcos, Texas:  At the failing Rio Vista Dam REP created a whitewater park with a standing wave on the San Marcos River which is a spring fed river in the Texas hill country running Caribbean clear, consistently, throughout the year at a near perfect temperature in the mid-70’s. 

Bend, Oregon: Bend Whitewater Park is owned and operated by the Bend Park and Recreation District (BPRD). This river recreation park was conceived of through a partnership between Bend Park and Recreation District and the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance in 2007.

Ryan Richard is the lead wave shaper at the Bend Whitewater Park.



Paul Barrett and the Alberta River Surfing AssociationThe original article is at http://www.riversurfing.ca/about_riversurfing.php