Your Most Memorable Surf May Not Occur In The Ocean

In this biz, exotic rarely shares a bed with obvious. Cloudbreak, Pipe, Snapper; all divine gifts, but they’ve been done. And, breaks that once hid backstage now dance in the limelight, thanks to our loving embrace of Google Earth.

So, what to do when our appetite can’t be satisfied by salty tonic?

There’s answers in the last place you’ll think to look! River waves, tidal bores, tanker wakes; all oddities, but what they lack in wave quality, they make up for in experiential novelty. Autonomous to wind and swell (the holy duo of anxiety), is there anything more curious than a surfable freshwater wave? Let’s consult Jamie O’Brien and Alex Gray, both of whom have enjoyed their share of unorthodox adventure… 

Lunch River Counter, Wyoming.

About three years ago, Google led Alex Gray to imagery of a picturesque leg-burner breaking on the Snake River, in Wyoming, a few clicks outside Jackson Hole. Fuelled by curiosity, Alex immediately made his way to cowboy country to scratch an itch he never even knew he had.

“The scenery you get to surf in is the best part of the experience,” Alex tells Stab. “Walking through the forest down to the wave, and hearing the river roaring… is surreal. And then, actually being on the river and being surrounded by trees while surfing is amazing.

“It’s the exact opposite of going to the beach, and I think that’s why an ocean surfer would enjoy going there. To be completely out of the typical surf element, but have the familiarity of surfing through the standing wave. It's actually really rippable with a bowl on the righthander side of it.”

It isn’t without danger, howevs: “Watch out for the hold-downs after falling,” Alex warns. “The river has a weight to it underwater, much heavier than the ocean.”

Qiantang River, China.

“China is ridiculous, you’re chasing a wave for an hour and a half with almost an infinite amount of chances to ride it,” Jamie O’Brien recalls of his experience taming the Silver Dragon. “For me it was real cool because I like surfing waves that are different and unpredictable, and that’s what that wave certainly is.

“Whether you’re driving a jet ski, or your surfing, you’re having way too much fun. There were parts where it’s fully legit; it will have a Trestle-like right and then a Raglan-style little left will start going. Everything just keep changing, which I love. Sometimes there will even be a giant barrel… everyday it’s different.”

But don’t roll up expecting to jump straight in. Red Bull went to great lengths to gain approval to surf. “Apparently it’s illegal, which is why I had so much fun,” says Jamie. “But it is just so interesting, I want to go every year.” 

Snake River Boise 

Boise River Park, Idaho.

“I love the standing wave centred smack dab in the middle of Boise City, Idaho," says Alex. “How's this: The city actually funded the multi-million dollar project. They can adjust the wave to alternate days of surfing and kayaking. It's very similar to a standing wave pool. 

“Even better, there's no waivers needed to be signed. You just show up and take your turn. Not to forget, the atmosphere is epic. A bunch of locals hanging out – most of whom have never even been to the ocean – surfing. I was blown away at how cool the people and city are. There's also a surf shop called corridor surf right next to the wave, with boards to rent and an epic bar with beers on tap!

"But, I absolutely sucked at it. It was maybe the most humbled I've ever been, being taught how to do it by a kayaker with a nose plug on who just started surfing. And yes, he was way better than me.” 

Oil Tanker Wakes, Texas. (starts at 5:34 above)

Likely still buzzing from his China stoke, Jamie hopped on a plane to the Lone Star state to try his hand at the closest thing to an accidental man-made wave. “You have to wait until the ships are really full, they displace more water when they're heavily loaded,” Jamie says. “Once they are though, the tanker waves in Texas actually remind me of the Silver Dragon. I probably could have been on my shortboard, but I grabbed my soft board.

“So I kinda blew it on the tanker wave. I couldn't hold the right line, and I could have gotten the longest barrel, but it just didn’t work. Texas was still fun, and we scored really hard.”