If you think the ocean is the only place made for surfing, this article just might change your mind. Join us on a recon of some of the best river surfing hotspots in the world.
Snake River – Jackson Hole, Wyoming
America’s best-known river surfing community operates on the Snake River at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the location of the famous U.S. ski resort and outdoor sports haven.
The wave on the Snake River is called the “Lunch Counter,” which suggests that surfers might be food for sharks. Thankfully, this isn’t true, since the wave has been surfed every summer by a core of alternative sports enthusiasts for over 20 years.
Surfing this rapid is much like walking down an up escalator, eyes focused down, staying in basically the same place as water churns underneath your board.The constant flow leaves some in a mesmerized tranceCNN Travel
Some Snake River surfers report staying astride a wave for up to 20 minutes. Stand-up paddleboarders also ride the Snake, as well as adventurous kayakers and rafters.
Apparently, the Snake’s resident wave is a tough prospect. One blogger who took on the surf reports that he “got spit out a dozen times and damn near drowned in the whitewater before finally catching my first little ride.”
Severn Bore – Gloucester, England
There is nothing boring about the Severn Bore. In this context, “bore” means a body of water that, during exceptionally high sea tides, rushes up some rivers and estuaries near a coast along a narrow channel. Cue waves and serious river surfing.
The Severn Bore lies in the west of England. Daredevils surf along the wave, which surges as high as 7 ft., in step with a noble tradition.
The first person to surf the river was the extraordinary WWII stalwart Jack Churchill – a Military Cross winner famous for wielding a claymore sword and being the only Allied soldier to kill an enemy with a longbow during the war.
Churchill became a surfing devotee late in life, riding the Severn Bore on a board he built himself, naturally.
Churchill must rank as one of the most unusual figures in the action sports landscape. He was succeeded by a slew of Severn river surfers. The venue is now a magnet for carvers of all stripes.
River surfing the Severn Bore has blossomed into a competitive sport with scores of surfers fighting to log the longest ride. The venue has been described as the birthplace of river surfing.
Eisbach River – Munich, Germany
One of the world’s most picturesque river surfing spots is Eisbach near Munich in Germany. There, alternative surfing enthusiasts head to a spot just beyond a bridge near an art museum. At that point, the river kicks up a standing 3-ft-high wave.
If you want to ride it you had better be agile, because the icy water is shallow – only 16 inches at the lowest spot. But surfers vie with whitewater kayakers for the privilege of experiencing the inland Munich marvel.
Bizarrely, the German town famous for football and a wild beer festival also serves as the setting for two other river waves.
A second, easier wave that unfurls at Floßlände near the Thalkirchen U-Bahn station is broad enough to carry several surfers at a time.
Munich’s third standing wave forms during flooding on the Isar river near a bridge called Wittelsbacherbrücke.
The triple opportunity makes Munich a kind of river surfing mecca, which seems just wunderbar.
Habitat 67, Lawrence River – Montreal, Canada
The surf spot is to be found at Lachine Rapids: a string of cascades that grace the Saint Lawrence River, between the Island of Montreal and the south shore.
River surfing has a strong left-field feel that makes it seem not a million miles from performance art. One of the most strangely named venues in the field is Habitat 67.
Habitat 67 gets its offbeat name from a local housing complex. The Olympic kayaker and three-time world freestyle kayak champion Corran Addison baptized Habitat, being the first to surf it.
Seizing on the opportunity that Habitat offered, Addison, who is also into waterfall jumping, founded a river surfing school called Imagine Surfboards.
A second Montreal river surfing school, KSF, sprang up in its wake. As often applies to standing wave destinations, the area is also a magnet for whitewater kayaking fans.
Another sporty Lachine option is a jet boat expedition to the rapids, which runs from Montreal.
Bulken River – Voss, Norway
Norway has several rivers that are river surfing hotspots, the most famous being Bulken in Voss, which might well be worth checking out.
Voss combines snowy mountains, forests, and lakes with breakneck white water rivers.
Cue skiing, water sports, skydiving and paragliding among other adventure sports – plus, Voss hosts the yearly Ekstremsportveko (Extreme Sports Week), which is touted as the world’s top extreme sports festival.
River surfing also unfolds on a nameless river wave in the Norwegian region of Sarpsborg.
Zambezi River – Livingstone, Zambia
The Zambezi can be found in Africa and is famous for its breathtaking waterfalls. The most famous ones are the beautiful Victoria Falls, but it offers many lesser-known ones as well, such as the Chavuma Falls.
The standing wave over the Zambezi forms only twice a year — in January and July. This makes it an exclusive destination for surfing and rafting enthusiasts.
The Zambezi also offers some of the most challenging river waves in the world. It boasts a tubing wave, known as Rapid 11, which can rival many mighty ocean waves with its power.
The wave is basically a submerged bedrock, so smashing into the rocks is a real danger. Also, you better watch out for those crocodiles!
All of these features combined make this spot a daredevil’s dream come true.
Mur River – Graz, Austria
The Mur in Graz, Austria, can tell a compelling story about environmental revival. Once heavily polluted and considered unsafe, the river is now a proud symbol of the city of Graz.
If you’re a fan of urban experiences, you’ll love the fact this river allows you to surf right in the heart of the city, near the Radetzky bridge.
The main wave, named after the same bridge, is accompanied by “Hauptbrücke” and “Bowl” waves. Artificial bedrock beneath the surface is responsible for all of them.
Murbreak Riversurf Contest attracts river surfers from all over the country and beyond every summer. At one point, its continuation was up in the air.
Luckily, the contest organizers were persistent while fighting to preserve the waves from being destroyed by a planned hydro plant.
Aare River – Thun, Switzerland
The Aare flows through the Swiss town of Thun. It is rich in minerals that give it a distinctly vivid turquoise blue color.
Like many other rivers in Switzerland, the Aare gets much of its water from melting ice and snow of the Alpine mountains. This river, in particular, takes some of the pressure off the Alpine lake Thun after the melting ice and snow make it overflow.
Similarly to the Mur in Graz, the Aare river wave is very close to the main city bridge. If you decide to take a surfing trip to Switzerland, consider visiting in September during River Surf Jam Thun! You can enjoy a lovely view and thrilling rides, as well as meet more fellow surfers.
If you are a skilled surfer, you’ll be happy to know that the Aare allows you to surf very close to the banks. If the conditions are right, you might even be able to surf without a rope.
However, you should be careful. It is rather easy to get thrown off the wave and into the stream if you aren’t watching your moves.
Petitcodiac River – New Brunswick, Canada
The tidal bore on the Petitcodiac River has remained a memorable sight from the times of the first European explorers up to this very day. It is created by the tide in the Bay of Fundy. The tide pushes up the river toward Moncton, forming the bore. The bore forms twice a day.
Depending on the tide, the waves can vary greatly in height. At their smallest, they aren’t really fit for surfing. Yet, at their highest, they can be some of the tallest bores in the world! What’s more, the tidal bore has grown over the years.
Before the causeway was constructed, it could reach two meters in height.
The ride on this bore can also last for a fairly long time. In 2013, a pair of surfers set a record by riding these waves for 29 kilometers!
The Amazon – Brazil
The Pororoca wave forms at the meeting point of the Amazon River and the Atlantic Ocean. Pororoca means “mighty noise” or “clamoring” in the native Tupi language.
This is yet another attraction that requires some incredible surfing skills. This tidal bore, which manifests over the Amazon, is rather dangerous and destructive. It can damage nearby trees, fishing boats, and other constructions by the shore, so you don’t want to slip here.
Still, it certainly makes up for it with a thrilling ride that could last for up to half an hour! There’s also a surfing competition, held at the Pororoca Festival, which features local food, music, and art.
While it isn’t as time-exclusive as the wave over the Zambezi, with the tide rising in September and falling in April, we recommend that you book your adventure for February or March.
Due to the construction of large hydraulic dams and the introduction of invasive species into the Amazon, many consider this tidal bore endangered nowadays.
You better act quickly if you want to experience this thrill ride while it still lasts.
Kampar River – Sumatra, Indonesia
The powerful Bono tidal bore forms on the Kampar in Indonesia. “The Bono” is also known as “the Seven Ghosts,” believed to host the incarnations of seven evil spirits who reside on the river banks.
It produces waves that are up to 10 ft tall. They can also travel for up to 50 kilometers, which makes it possible to ride the waves for up to an hour.
This tidal bore produces three wave effects — Pemulang, Bakat, and Bianca. Pemulang is a wider backwash that happens after Bono rebounds, while Bakat is a tight backwash.
The most dangerous of the three, though, is Bianca, which consists of uncontrollable waves.
This is another river where you need to watch out for crocodiles. Because of that, a special support boat accompanies the surfers over the river.
Turnagain Arm – Alaska, USA
If you don’t mind some cold water beneath you, Turnagain Arm can provide some exciting river surfing waves that go anywhere from 5 to 10 feet in height.
The waterway is located southeast of Anchorage and is the lower branch of Cook Inlet. The tide happens about two hours after the low tide in Anchorage.
Despite water temperatures remaining fairly low, the waves attract a dedicated community of Alaskan surfers. Indeed, with rocky beaches, icebergs, snowy peaks, and a general subpolar vibe, the area is one of the most unusual surfing sights.
It’s certainly far from the original image we had of warm, sunny, sandy beaches and palm trees. So, if you are looking for something truly different, this might be the spot for you!
Urumea River – San Sebastián, Spain
Riding the Urumea river wave is a unique experience that merges ocean and river surfing.
In fact, this ride might be the closest thing on our list to the “traditional” image of a surfer on his board riding the waves in a tropical paradise. As such, it might be a perfect starting location for you to venture into river surfing if you haven’t experienced it before.
You’ll begin this unique ride on a wave over the ocean, at the mouth of the Urumea, which then takes you over the river. Then, you’ll ride the roller under the bridge and finally find yourself in the center of the city of San Sebastián in the Basque Country. Once there, you can make a stop at one of the quaint cafés.
The experience of surfing over a river in an urban environment, surrounded by an old European downtown, is not unlike the previously shown attractions in Austria or Switzerland. Indeed, it’s a joy for urban explorers!
Interestingly, though, this river surfing wave is not a tidal bore. It is just a strong ocean swell that enters the Urumea.
Batang Lupar River – Sri Aman, Malaysia
The tidal bore, also known as “benak” in the local language, over the Batang Lupar (or just Lupar) in Malaysia, is a great spot for longboard enthusiasts.
The locals have been riding the waves in longboats for years now, but the bore gained popularity among international surfers back in 2011 when Anthony “Yep” Colas first took on the waves on a surfboard.
You can attend the Pesta Benak or Tidal Bore festival here. It has been a regular yearly attraction of the region since all the way back in 2001.
Alongside surfing and stand up paddling events, the festival features a food bazaar, a singing competition, and even the Miss Tourism Benak pageant. There is something for everyone here!
However, this is yet another spot where you should watch out for crocodiles! Indeed, getting the crocodiles out of the way is a part of the preparations for the Pesta Benak festival.
Other River Surfing Locations
Surfers can be happy to note that rivers like these are scattered all over the planet. Few others have the established surfing scene present as the venues we already covered, but here are a few more contenders.
Wilder still: the Fly River in Western Province Papua New Guinea also supposedly sports a big surf-able bore – just watch out for the crocodiles.
Oh, and let’s not forget reports of viable standing waves at Kawarau River near Queenstown in New Zealand.