by Corky Carroll
I recently had a guest that lives in upstate New York and has a river near him. He was mentioning that sometimes the standing waves in one section of the river look almost rideable. Truth is, they probably are.
Back in the early 1970’s I lived in Ketchum, Idaho for a few years. Ketchum is the town here the Sun Valley Ski Resort is, and I was spending time skiing and playing music right after I retired from professional surfing competition. We rented a house in an area called Warm Springs and had a creek that ran behind our backyard. One spring that creek turned into a pretty fast-moving small river, and low and behold there was this nice head high standing wave right there behind our house. I had a board and wetsuit with me, as I would drive over to the Oregon coast to surf at times, so I figured why not try and ride that wave. It looked so perfect and inviting.
So, I suited up and jumped in the river, a frosty 33 degrees as freshly melted snow tends to be COLD, and paddled my arms off to try and catch the wave as the rushing river was taking me past it. No dice. Then I got battered and beaten through some rapids and rocks before I could get out. I spent the afternoon fixing my board from all the dings and went to the store and bought some dishwashing gloves, a water ski rope and a foam kayak helmet. The next morning I duct taped the dishwashing gloves into the sleeves on my wetsuit as the water was so cold it hurt my hands, put on the helmet to protect my delicate head from getting bashed into the rocks and tied the water ski rope to a big dead tree on the bank of the river. I got in the water and used the speed of the rushing river to stabilize my board so I could stand up and then backed myself into the wave. Perfect, once I was riding the wave I let go of the rope and was surfing. And it was really a good wave, tons of speed and perfect shape. After about five minutes though my legs started to get tired and I caught an edge and fell. Once again I went banging down the river dinging my board on every rock. It was like being in a pin ball machine.
Not easily deterred when it comes to surfing, I spent the afternoon once again fixing my board and coming up with a better plan for the next day. This time when I had backed myself into the wave I didn’t let go of the rope. I just let it get a little slack in it, that way when my legs gave out I could just pull myself back out of the wave and ride over the bank and get out. No harm, no foul. And it might have been a great plan, if I hadn’t got a bit too cocky and overamped on a cutback. After falling off I still had ahold of the rope. The result was about the same as being pulled from behind a boat, no air and no way to get out of the situation other than to let go. So, I let go. And again, went banging down the river. Only this time I had my board go around a big rock on one side and me on the other, with my surf leash wrapped around the rock. This left me drowning in a deep spot behind held underwater. Only way out was to get my surf leash off my foot and release the board. The last I saw of my board was as it went around a bend down the river.
So, I got out of the water as fast as I could and rushed in the house to throw on some sweats before jumping in my car and heading down the river to try and find my board. The creek dumped into the Wood River, which ran all the way down to the Snake River at Twin Falls. The place Evil Knevel tried to jump the canyon, I worked on the film crew for that. I followed the river all the way out of town, until it went away from the road. No board. Then I drown down to the next town and sat on a bridge over the river for a couple of hours hoping my board would come by. Nope, no board. As far as I know it went all the way to the Snake River, then to the Columbia River and probably made its way out to sea at Astoria, Oregon. After that, who knows. Could be stuck in that giant garbage patch out in the Pacific Ocean. Or it could have washed up on some beach and become the property of some lucky passerby. But I never saw it again. That ended my river surfing.
But, the point being, river surfing is a totally viable thing and they are doing in now in many parts of the world where there isn’t an ocean. Yeah, the water is normally really cold and there are hazards, but if it’s the only wave around and you are a surfer then why not? My hats off to the river rats around the globe who brave the elements to shred a few freshwater peaks.
River Rats Article