Colorado is pretty much paradise on Earth. Sure, we’re landlocked, but what does that really mean? Can’t get good seafood? No beaches? Can’t surf? No, no and hell no.
River surfing was born, most people generally agree, in Germany in the 1970’s. The story goes that a group of surfers took to the city’s Eisbach River by holding on to ropes attached to a bridge. They balanced on wooden planks in the river and a new sport was born. The Eisbach wave is considered the mother of all river waves, and it is certainly a gnarly one (check it out on YouTube), but we have some awesome waves west of 105. We spoke to Mike Harvey from Badfish SUP in Salida, one of the pioneers of river surfing in Colorado and whitewater park designer extraordinaire, about a few of his favorite spots.
1. SALIDA WHITEWATER PARK
The Salida Whitewater Park on the Arkansas River (one of two on the river, see Buena Vista below) is where Badfish was born. Good for everyone depending on the flow, it is bang in the middle of downtown Salida, making it super convenient.
Outfitter: Totally Tubular is quite literally on the river
2. MONTROSE WATER SPORTS PARK
Montrose Water Sports Park (designed by Harvey) is unique in Colorado thanks to its really long season which in turn is thanks to irrigation releases on the Uncompahgre River - it is surfable until around Halloween every year. There are six drop features which vary in terms of difficulty making it a great place for everyone, from beginners to more advanced surfers.
Outfitter: Montrose Kayak and Surf
3. BUENA VISTA WHITEWATER PARK
Also on the Arkansas River, the Buena Vista Whitewater Park (also designed by Harvey) is the largest whitewater park in the state. Home to CKS Paddlefest, a celebration of river sports, the park has five waves/holes with a couple of spots that are perfect for beginners thanks to moderate flows and good places for recovery.
Outfitter: Colorado Kayak Supply
4. GLENWOOD WAVE
The Glenwood Wave (inside the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park) is an artificial wave that can be surfed in some capacity any time, but when it really gets flowing it is a true world-class wave that attracts surfers from around the state and beyond. Flow can vary from around 2,000 cfs to 20,000 cfs - which in case you aren’t familiar with cubic feet per second, is very high. There is another wave about three miles downstream that is an option to escape the crowds when the flow is over 3,000 cfs.
Outfitter: Glenwood Adventure Company
5. BIG SUR
Finally, there is Big Sur near Palisade. Harvey says this is the “mysto” spot in Colorado. It might only run every five years after a really big winter, but when news spreads that it’s on, people drop everything to be there.
As for how to surf, like most outdoor activities, getting some tips from the experts is, at a minimum, a good idea. All of the outfitters listed will either offer teachers or they can recommend one. Having someone who show you the ropes, will definitely make your surfing experience better. The sooner you can stay in the wave and get to your knees and eventually your feet, the sooner you’ll be hooked.
Known as the “hang loose” sign, which is made with the thumb and little finger is inextricably tied to surf culture. From its origins in Hawaiian culture, it has made its way to the rivers of Colorado. Use it as a greeting or to say goodbye after a successful day on river.
And this is just a sample of places to go river surfing west of 105. In fact, there are more than a dozen whitewater parks across the state with many offering great waves for surfing as well as other aquatic activities.
When it launches next month, the Colorado Whitewater Loop website will have the low down on all of the whitewater parks in the state. In addition to info on the parks, it will also have guides to the communities including listings for all the resources you’ll need to have a successful day on the water, including where to rent gear as well as where to get that sweet post-surf beer or cocktail, where to refuel, and where to sleep for the night.
Look for @ColoradoWhitewaterLoop on Instagram and Facebook and bookmark www.ColoradoWhitewaterLoop.com
Pro-Tec | Full Cut Water Wes Jacobsen 69.99
Wakeboarder extraordinaire Wesley Mark Jacobsen added his personal touch to a classic from the Pro-Tec line. The 1970’s skate helmet has ear protection, a two-stage open cell foam premium liner, stainless steel hardware, and soft tubular webbing. Protect your head and look good doing it. We also tried the Ace Wake and the Ace Water from Pro-tec which are both great, too, and may suit those with more introverted personalities
Mustang Survival | Khimera Dual Flotation PFD $199.99
This slim profile PFD makes this comfortable to wear and increases mobility, but the option to add an additional 13 lbs of buoyancy (to give a total of 20.5 lbs of buoyancy) with the pull cord gives great peace of mind. Initially designed for paddlers, the Khimera Dual Flotation PFD is gaining fans in other areas including sailing and for us river surfing
Xcel | Drylock Hooded 6/5MM fullsuit FA19 $390 and up
Available in both men’s and women’s, the FA19 will keep you warm or at least your core warm down to as low as 38F which isn’t particularly necessary for surfing at the height of summer in Colorado, but with surf available until around Halloween in Montrose, it will be necessary if you want to do more than 10 minutes.
Hydrus Board Tech | Montrose Hyper $904
Lightweight and durable, the Montrose (named after the town) has parallel rails that maximize speed while the wide diamond-shaped nose and star tail means even though the board is relatively short its surface area is maximized. This board blends higher performance with a board that will stay in the wave.
Patagonia | 70L Black Hole Duffel $159
The perfect size for all your gear, Patagonia’s 70L Black Hole Duffel is made with 100 percent recycled body fabric, lining and webbing and is durable and weather-resistant. The full-access main compartment opens wide for quick access and a zippered side pocket can be reached from the outside or inside of the bag. There are also two mesh interior lid pockets as well as padded, removable shoulder straps. And it stuffs into its own pocket when not in use