Everything You Need To Know About River Surfing and How To Get Started

Everything You Need To Know About River Surfing and How To Get Started

You live hundreds, maybe thousands of miles from the ocean. Maybe you’re like me growing up in Cleveland, Ohio skateboarding and snowboarding and dreaming of riding waves like the guys in Endless Summer. 

As much as it is a sport, surfing is a lifestyle, and as a kid in the 80’s I wore the clothes and listened to the music of surf culture. 

Badfish Co-Founder Zack Hughes skating at the legendary Oasis Skatepark in the early 80's in San Diego.

In many ways, surfing is the foundational action sport. You might argue that all other action sports are derivative of surfing. Early surf culture introduced the concept of someone who is motivated by the stoke of riding waves instead of the desire to make money or climb the professional ladder.

As a kid, I was captivated by this image. I knew I had to learn how to surf. 

Moving to the mountains of Colorado when I was 18 didn’t get me closer to that dream. But I did learn to paddle a kayak through whitewater… and I learned that you could use your boat to surf standing waves on rivers. After a fun session in my kayak, sipping a beer at the takeout in the golden light, with water dripping off my skin, I felt the stoke all the same. 

The Birth of Mountain Surf Culture

In 1993, during that first summer in Colorado, I met a guy through mutual friends who had grown up a surfer. Zack was one of the coolest guys I had known. He kayaked in real surf trunks and had grown up surfing the waves of Southern California near his home in San Diego.

Zack guiding a raft trip in the 1990's on the Arkansas River.

Zack and I became friends and paddling partners. Later, in the late 90’s, our shared love of the Arkansas River led us both to settle in Salida, Colorado.

I started working on developing whitewater features in downtown Salida and eventually became a whitewater park designer with Recreation Engineering and Planning. Zack and I continued to have adventures together. Skating in the Salida Skatepark, riding mountain bikes, snowboarding, and paddling whitewater. 

Zack, on the other hand, had always been the consummate designer. He would get a new kayak and immediately begin to tear apart the outfitting and figure out ways to make it better. 

A Piece of River Surfing History

Mike surfing in Pueblo, Colorado in 2007

 In 2005 I completed a whitewater park project in Pueblo, Colorado. When I went for an inspection the first summer at high water, I saw people surfing one of the waves we had built on surfboards. 

I was aware of river surfing. I had seen a few random folks surfing a wave that comes up on the Colorado River during big runoff years called Big Sur. But, to me, river surfing was more of a novelty. 

Seeing people surfing a wave I had helped build for kayakers in Pueblo got me fired up! I immediately called Zack and we traveled down to Pueblo with some boards. 

For the first time in my life, I surfed a wave from a standing position, not sitting on my butt in a kayak. Of course, with Zack’s background, he ripped immediately and I sucked. But no matter — I was a surfer! 

A video of one of these early sessions still lives on YouTube

 On our drive home from that session, Zack immediately dove into how the boards we rode, designed for riding waves in the ocean, weren't ideal for surfing on a river. 

He went home and started watching surfboard shaping videos on YouTube.

He bought some blue board home insulation, fiberglass, and epoxy resin and made his first ever river surfboard. He modeled it after the fish shapes he rode as a kid in the summer in mushy waves. The thought behind the design was that a fatter, wider board would be the best tool for surfing river waves. A mutant fish. A Badfish. 

That same first board now hangs on the wall at the Badfish Surf Shop in Salida. It’s a reminder of where we came from and an inspiration for where the sport of river surfing is headed.

Zack shaping an early river surfboard

Mike and Zack during the very early days of Badfish.

The Definitive Guide to River Surfing For Beginners 

The concept of surfing on a river has been around for decades. There was even a classic Mountain Dew ad that featured river surfing in Wyoming back in the 80’s. In some places, like on the Eisbach Canal in Munich, Germany river surfing has been popular for years.

However, in much of the U.S., river surfing had for decades been reserved for the biggest runoff years and often involved challenging logistics. That all changed in the mid-2000s when whitewater park designers began designing features for whitewater parks with river surfers in mind.

The Role of Whitewater Parks in Bringing River Surfing to the Mainstream

Whitewater Parks are public parks in rivers that utilize engineered features to create waves. 

Some of the most famous spots are in Denver, CO, Bend, OR, Boise, ID, and our local wave, the Scout Wave in Salida, CO. Whitewater Park waves have greatly increased the accessibility of river surfing by creating surf near population centers where surfers have easy access and predictable conditions. 

More and more communities are embracing river surfing and new features are being added across the country. There are even artificial pools now with river surfing waves like Lakeside Surf in Lake Chelan, WA, and Fireside Surf in The Colony, TX.

What is a standing wave?

The Scout Wave in Salida, Colorado is an example of a standing wave in a whitewater park.

River surfing takes place on a “standing wave”. 

A standing wave is a stationary wave that forms when water flows downhill over an object like a rock, ledge, or — in the case of a whitewater park — an engineered structure.

The water speeds up and, if the geometry of the obstruction is correct and the water hits a slower-moving pool, the water “jumps” into the shape of a wave. 

Unlike surfing in the ocean where you’re moving towards the beach on the face of the wave, river surfing is like surfing on a treadmill. The water is moving under you while you surf back and forth across the face of the wave. 

When you are river surfing you can make the same types of turns you would make while surfing in the ocean. You can have long rides (unless there’s a long line of people waiting to use the wave). Unlike the ocean, the waves remain predictable. They won’t change with changes to the swell direction or wind. 

3 Types of Waves for River Surfing

River Surfing waves can be found on rivers across the U.S. and around the world. In general, there are three types of waves to be aware of.


Natural River Waves 

Miles Harvey surfing a natural river wave in Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River.

There are rideable waves that occur naturally in rivers. These waves often have a shorter window when they’re working depending on river flows. This is how river surfing got its start with enterprising surfers finding rideable waves around the country. 

Natural waves come with their own set of challenges and safety concerns. Try to connect with a local to help familiarize you with the spot the first time you decide to surf at a natural wave.


Whitewater Park Waves

The Scout Wave in Salida, CO.

As I mentioned earlier, there are more and more whitewater parks being developed around the U.S., and the fastest-growing user group in these parks is river surfers.

Whitewater parks are public and free to use. 

Whitewater parks are a great place to learn as they are accessible and generally are a more controlled environment. However, keep in mind that whitewater parks are still located in natural rivers so many of the same hazards exist. Make sure you have proper safety equipment and never surf alone.


Wave Pools

Lakeside Surf in Lake Chelan, WA is a standing wave in a pool.

Artificial wave pools are red hot all over the world, and standing waves are the least expensive to install and operate. You can now find 3 of these pools in the U.S., with more venues in the works. 

Standing wave pools eliminate many of the hazards that form in a river and are a great place to learn with onsite coaching. 

A recent blog with more detail about the different types of river surfing waves.

Essential Gear to Get Started River Surfing

There are five pieces of gear essential to river surfing

River surfing is a distinct sport from traditional surfing in the ocean and requires specialized gear for the conditions. In addition to the differences in the style of wave, there are safety concerns specific to surfing in a river.

River Surfboard 

Obviously, you need a surfboard to surf in a river. However, it's important to understand what type of wave you are riding to choose an appropriate river surfboard.

Generally speaking, a flatter, slower wave requires a board with more volume (thicker), and for a faster more powerful wave, you’ll want a lower volume (thinner) board. 

Wetsuits and Booties for River Surfing 

Here in Colorado rivers are cold year-round. There are places you can get away with less insulation, but you want to wear a wetsuit thick enough to keep you comfortable during your session. 

We mostly wear a 4/3 (which means 4mm neoprene blended with 3mm neoprene) wetsuits for river surfing in Colorado. In the middle of the summer, you can switch to a 3/2. In the winter we recommend a 5/4. 

Depending on your local conditions and water temperature you might need two suits. In some places, you can get away with one suit that works most of the time your local wave is rideable. 

Wetsuits aren’t just for keeping your body heat in. They provide some protection against abrasion and light bumps and bruises. In addition to a wetsuit, it's important to wear booties that keep your feet warm and protected while wading and walking on rocks. 

We recommend 3mm thick booties most of the time. You can switch to 5mm in the coldest months. 

PFD (Personal Floatation Device)

A PFD or Personal Floatation Device should always be worn while river surfing. Especially in natural environments like on a natural wave or whitewater park. A PFD keeps your head above water even if you’re unconscious. If you’re being held underwater by the currents in a river, a PFD will help you to resurface quickly. 

Since you generally don’t have to paddle on your stomach like you do when surfing in the ocean, comfort while lying on your board is not a big issue. Many rivers in the U.S. have laws requiring a PFD to be worn by everyone on the water. A U.S. Coast Guard approved vest provides the most flotation. It is the best choice when you’re new to the sport. 

Once you learn a spot and if the flows are appropriate, you may be able to wear an impact vest or non-USCG approved flotation aid. These are less bulky options but do not provide as much buoyancy. 

Helmets for River Surfing

When you fall and resurface while surfing in a river, your board can hit you in the head. Rivers are also rocky environments and river surfing features are built out of rock and concrete. All of this means you need to protect your dome.

Choose a helmet that fits well. If your helmet slides back on your head and exposes your forehead while you’re on dry land, it surely will in the water — that’s no bueno. 

Choosing a Leash for River Surfing

A releasable leash should be worn at the waist so it's easy to reach in the event you need to get away from your surfboard.

A leash is both a critical piece of safety equipment and a potential hazard. 

In a river, having your board attached to you is critical so that you can use the volume of the board to keep you on the surface of the water and paddle to shore. However, attaching a leash to your ankle is a serious hazard. A leash can become entangled in rocks or vegetation and act like an anchor, holding you underwater. 

The solution is to use a releasable leash like the Re-Leash

The Re-Leash is designed to be worn on your waist either attached to a strap on your PFD or a belt like the Badfish Surf Belt. The leash has a release mechanism that allows you to pull a canopy ball causing the leash and board to release away from your body. 

Never wear a traditional ankle leash in the river.  

Want to learn more about the 5 pieces of gear you need to go river surfing? Learn more about the essential gear here.

What to Expect When You Go River Surfing

Anytime you try something new there’s going to be some nerves. But one of the things that makes river surfing so cool is the strong community ethic of inclusion. Unlike its counterpart where the sport was passed down from, there always tends to be a welcoming vibe for newcomers to river surfing. 

In river surfing, the wave is consistent unless the river is coming up or down quickly. There’s enough for everyone so there’s no reason to be too aggressive. That said there are a few points of etiquette that keep the vibes positive and everyone having fun. 

Be Cool and Know Your River Surfing Etiquette 

Keep your rides short

In river surfing the only limiting factor to the length of your ride is the strength of your quads. However, after a while, your friends in the lineup will get tired of watching you surf. Be polite by keeping your rides to 1 minute or less. 

When it's really busy, try to keep each ride to 45 seconds or less. Trust me when I tell you that’s plenty.

Jump out of your seat right now and do 60 seconds of squats. I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty solid effort. As you get better, you can make your turns in the first 20-30 seconds then try that 360 you’ve been working on in the last part of your ride. 



If a wave has access from both sides of the river, lines will form on both sides. The side you’ll line up on is based on whether you're a goofy foot (right foot forward) or regular foot (left foot forward) rider. 

Be cool to your friends by alternating sides. If one line is longer than the other, two riders from the longer line can go for every one rider in the short line. 


Yield to upstream traffic

Rivers are public waterways. There are going to be other people out enjoying them. 

Here on the Arkansas River, we have all manner of craft floating downstream in the summer — rafts, kayaks, paddleboards, river tubes. Everyone has a right to use the river. When someone is coming down through the wave, be ready to get out of their way. That means you want to kick off the wave completely and give them a clear path. 

You will see surfers try to hang on the shoulder (like the photo above) of the wave and give someone room to pass, but boats need space to maneuver. Look upstream before you launch to avoid having your ride cut short. 


Watch out for each other

Keep your eyes on the surfer who just fell off the wave. It's easy to get mesmerized by the wave. But remember, when you’re out river surfing, you’re a part of a community that watches out for each other. 

If you’re a few back in the lineup, you can do your part by confirming that the last surfer got out of the river safely after their ride. This is particularly important in larger rivers or when the water is high on a river. People can be swept away quickly.  

Surfing Your First Standing Wave

When you’re ready for your first river surfing session the best way to figure out the best spot is to watch what more experienced surfers are doing. 

Don’t be shy. Ask someone in the lineup if you have questions. Every spot has its own unique characteristics. 

That said, there are a few techniques that every river surfer needs to know to get onto any standing wave. You can drop in, pop up, or start on your feet. Each technique is suited to a specific style of wave. Some waves have multiple options for entering and sometimes the technique changes based on the flow rate for that day. 

How To Stand Up While River Surfing: Dropping In

Dropping into a wave from above is the most challenging method to get onto a wave. This technique is most often utilized on natural river waves or whitewater park waves at high flows when the eddies (calm spots next to the downstream current) no longer provide access to the wave. 

  • Assess which part of the wave will most easily stop your downstream momentum. Look for the stickiest part of the wave. This means the part of the wave that has whitewater.
  • Lie on your stomach on your river surfboard. Paddle out above the wave keeping an eye on the portion of the wave you want to catch. 
  • Approach the wave at a slight angle to keep yourself lined up for the portion of the wave you want to catch.
  • Drop over the crest of the wave. Point straight upstream and paddle hard. 
  • When you enter the current, you’ll slide downhill at the rate the river is flowing. The whitewater will help catch you and stop your downstream momentum.
  • Lean your weight forward on the board to help shift your momentum upstream. Be ready to shift your weight back as soon as you catch the wave to stop your board from purling (nose diving). 
  • You’ll come to an abrupt stop when you hit the wave. Be ready for a moment of instability as your body’s downstream momentum abruptly stops. 

Dropping into a wave from above takes practice so don’t be discouraged. Keep working on it and watching how other surfers do it. You’ll get there too!

How To Stand Up While River Surfing: Popping Up

river surfing on the Arkansas river in Buena Vista Colorado

When the river’s current flows around an obstacle, the shadow that’s created behind the obstacle is called an “eddy”. Eddys are places where the river’s currents flow back upstream to fill the space behind the obstacle. For a river surfer, eddys are places of refuge in the river where you can hang out next to the current without going downstream. 

Whitewater parks are designed with eddys adjacent to waves. That way users can slide sideways out onto the wave. 

When you’re coming out of an eddy on your stomach to enter a wave, you have to learn how to cross the current onto the wave first, before you even worry about popping up to your feet. 

When you show up at a new spot, focus on finding the correct approach angle to make sure you can get to the wave. Each wave has a shoulder you’ll need to aim for and a seam between the eddy and the wave that you have to cross. 


  • Set a 45-degree angle to the eddy line and start far enough back to have some speed when you cross. 
  • Aim so that you come out of the wave parallel to the face of the wave. 
    • If you approach from an angle that puts you into the current too far below the wave, the speed of the current will block you from getting over the hump and you’ll float downstream.
    •  If you approach too high above the wave you’ll essentially be dropping in and have to stop your downstream momentum. 
    • The perfect approach is to be parallel with the wave face when you cross the eddy line so that you slide right out onto the face of the wave. 
  • Practice this technique a few times without worrying about standing up. Simply practice getting onto the wave and surfing on your belly until you’re comfortable. 
  • Work around in the wave until you’re on top of the wave. When you’re just about to get kicked out downstream, pop up so that when you weight your front foot, your weight shifts forward, and instead of your nose diving, you slide down into the wave and you’re surfing.

Once you’re in place on the wave and ready to pop up, the key difference between surfing on the river and surfing in the ocean is… you can take your time. 

Remember the scene in Point Break where Tyler is teaching Johnny Utah to pop up on the beach? (Any Gen Z’rs reading this post who haven’t seen Point Break, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it. Trust me.) 

She keeps yelling at Johnny because his pop up is too slow. That’s because in the ocean you need to get to your feet and get going down the line before you miss the section and the wave closes out. On the river, nothing is going to change — you can take your sweet time. 

When it comes to river surfing, you can surf around on your stomach until you’re comfortable and in the right spot, then get to your feet. You can go to your knees first, or one knee up. All sorts of techniques that are sloppy in the ocean will work just fine in the river. 

Just like dropping in from above, sliding into the wave from the eddy takes practice. Be patient with the process and just like Johnny Utah, you’ll be surfing and taking down bank robbers in no time. 

How To Stand Up While River Surfing: Start On Your Feet

Many of the modern standing waves like the Scout Wave in Salida, CO or Lakeside Surf (shown above) are designed with concrete walls along the side to preserve the green wave face across a range of flows. When you have a wall next to the wave the best way to enter is to start with your feet on your board. 

To do this, you’ll typically have to… 

  • Sit on the wall with your river surfboard.
  • Pin the board down on the water with your feet. 
  • When you’re ready, simply stand up. 
  • Once you’re up, think about pointing your arm where you want to go and looking up in that direction to get your board carving. 

It takes a lot of the challenge out of getting on the wave, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to consider. Again, river surfing is like a surfing treadmill. When you get to your feet on a wave, get moving. 

Imagine trying to stand still on a moving treadmill. You’d be flung off the back and into internet meme infamy real quick. River surfing is similar. Be ready to start surfing across the face of the wave and building momentum right away. 

Progressive Techniques for Getting Started River Surfing

At different flow rates, you’ll also see people “bomb dropping” onto the wave. AKA dropping their board onto the wave and jumping onto it. This can be an intimidating move, but it’s surprisingly easy. You’ll be there before you know it!

Also, always keep in mind that goofy footers generally take off from river left. Regular footers from river right. This assures you’re facing the direction you want to travel. As you advance and become a more confident rider you’ll be able to get started backside, from either side of the river. 

The Fun Part: How To Ride the Wave River Surfing

You made it. You’ve been grinding through this article for the payoff and this is the fun part. One thing that makes river surfing so addictive is that once you can stand up, you can cruise turn after turn and really dial in your edge control. 

Zack demonstrating really good surfing technique at Lakeside Surf.

If you think about most waves in the ocean, you might be lucky to get one or two really good turns on the face of the wave. But with river surfing, you can link frontside and backside turns for as long as your quads can take it — or until your 1-minute ride is up. River surfing also allows more advanced riders to work out tricks like 360’s or chop hops with a consistent canvas to play with. 

River Surfing Terminology for Beginners

Before we dive into foundational techniques for riding standing waves, here are a couple of key terms to know.

In river surfing, and board sports in general, there’s a lot of confusion about frontside and backside. Familiarizing yourself with these helps you better understand the techniques I’m about to describe.

Miles Harvey making a backside turn.

Frontside: A frontside turn means you are facing the direction of your turn. You might think of it like you are looking at your spray. In snowboarding, you might call it “heel side”. 

Backside: A backside turn means you are facing away from the direction of your turn. Your spray is traveling away from you behind your back. In snowboarding you would call this a “toe side” turn. 

Foundational Techniques for Surfing Standing Waves


Miles Harvey with knees bent and foot in the driver's position. 

Bend your knees 

Everything in athletics requires a supple base. Standing up tall and stiff like Frankenstien means you can’t absorb any little impacts or subtle weight shifts. Watch a really good surfer, for example. They crouch down, bent at the knees, and ready to unweight when coming out of a turn. 

Your body is like suspension on a mountain bike. Load and unload as the terrain requires. 


Lead with your eyes

Almost everybody starts river surfing with their eyes glued to the deck of their board. It's a normal response when you’re focused on staying attached to the thing supporting your body. However, with your eyes down and your head fixed you are limited on the flow and power of your turns. 

Look up then look where you want to go. When you get across the wave and want to go back across, lead with your head. It's also helpful in a river to keep your eyes upstream from time to time. You'll want to see if another craft is going to pass downstream through the wave. 


Where is your back foot? 

You’re driving your board with the fins. That means you want your back foot over your fins. Your back foot is what provides the drive. 

A common mistake beginners make is keeping their foot too far forward, ahead of the fins. It often feels safer and more stable because your board will feel “tighter”. However, you’ll never be able to feel the speed and fun of making a turn on a river surfboard if your foot is too far forward. 

There are times when you’ll need to step your foot forward to maintain control and stay on a wave, but get back in the driver's seat when you want to make turns. 

What Happens When You Fall River Surfing?


Falling while river surfing is part of the game. When you’re learning, you’ll fall. When you’re an expert, you’ll fall. No big deal — falling is inherent.

Here are some tips to make your falls and and recovery as safe as possible.


Fall flat

Maybe you’ve heard people say “fall like a starfish” when surfing in the ocean over a shallow reef. While there are no starfish in the river (no sharks either) the idea is to fall flat. Keep your feet up to reduce the chance you land on a rock or the face of the drop making the wave.

Don’t stand up in the river

Never stand up in the current. As you know, the riverbed is rocky. If your foot becomes entrapped by a rock, the current can fold you over and pin you on the bottom. Keep your feet up until you are in shallow, calm water on the side of the river. 


Swim to the side and tow your board

Sometimes it makes sense to swim to the side and drag your board. The reason is that if you collect your board, get up on the board, and paddle the board to the side, you’ve taken a lot of extra time while the river continues to carry you downstream. Also if you paddle your board over a shallow rock you increase the chance of damaging the board. 


Paddle your board

Other times it makes sense to use the volume of your board as a tool and paddle your board over to the side. In larger rivers and during periods of high flow, getting on your board and paddling is much easier and more effective than swimming. 

The Best Places to Surf Standing Waves in the U.S.

New waves are coming online all the time. Multiple projects are in the works and by the time you read this section, the landscape will probably have shifted again. Regardless, here are some of the tried and true spots to go river surfing.

Where to River Surf in Colorado

Colorado has more river surfing waves than any state in the U.S. 

Zack surfing the Glenwood Wave on the Colorado River at high flows.

There are roughly 30 whitewater parks in Colorado. Almost all of them have something surfable depending on flows. River surfing conditions in Colorado are dependent on snowpack. Rivers come up in the spring and drop in the fall. 

I’ll cover some of the best spots in this article, but you can also check out this map compiled by Endless Waves to find other waves. 

Scout Wave. Salida, Colorado

The home spot. We first built this wave in 2010. In many ways, it’s the wave that launched Badfish. The wave was rebuilt in 2022 and modifications were completed in the winter of 2023/2024. 

The Scout Wave is located in the Salida Whitewater Park; in downtown Salida (one block from the Badfish Surf Shop) on the Arkansas River. It’s a modern, sheet flow style river wave that allows surfers to ride high performance shortboards. 

Optimal flows are 300CFS-1500CFS. The Scout Wave is often surfable in the offseason. 

River Run Park. Denver, Colorado

There are two high performance standing waves on the South Platte River at River Run Park. Number 6 and Bennihana’s provide shortboardable waves when Chatfield Reservoir is releasing over 150CFS. 

The Staircase Wave. Buena Vista, Colorado

This is the hub of river surfing in Buena Vista, CO. It's an older wave that requires a higher volume board, but it's a great place to learn with a fun scene for the whole family. It is located right below the wood staircase, just upstream of the South Main town square in the Buena Vista Whitewater Park. 

A surfer riding a standing wave in Buena Vista Colorado on the Arkansas River.

The river surf community gathered at The Staircase Wave in Buena, Vista, CO.

The Glenwood Wave. Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Located on the Colorado River at the West Glenwood exit off I-70, the Glenwood Wave comes in at high flows >5000CFS. It really pops at flows over 15,000CFS.

At these flows the swim is fairly serious. You want to be wearing a good PFD and surf with friends. At high water, this is an amazing, powerful wave. 

The Montrose Water Sports Park. Montrose, Colorado

Located on a section of the Uncompahgre River supplemented by irrigation diversions, you’ll find a unique whitewater park. The waves at The Montrose Water Sports Park run from March to October most years. 

River surfing on the Uncompahgre River in Montrose Colorado.
The Montrose Water Sports Park has one of the longest river surfing seasons in the State of Colorado.

The waves at this whitewater park require a quiver of boards. It’s ever-shifting depending on your skill level and the water level, but there’s always something fun to ride. 

Where to River Surf in Idaho

While Idaho doesn’t have quite as many whitewater parks and standing waves to surf as Colorado, it’s a hub for river surfing in the U.S. There’s an active surf community along the Boise River and there are some awesome waves to ride in Idaho.

The Boise Whitewater Park. Boise, Idaho

The Boise River has an adjustable wave that is tuned some days for kayaking and some days for river surfing. You can get all the details including a schedule for days when the wave is in here

Kelly’s Whitewater Park. Cascade, Idaho

Kelly’s Whitewater Park is a really cool destination whitewater park in the town of Cascade on the Payette River. The park has adjacent park facilities and a visitors center. 

They run instructional programs and it's a beautiful place. The top wave can be world class depending on the flow. Other waves here offer great places to learn. Check out more here

More Places to Surf Standing Waves in the United States

Like I said, with the expansion in popularity of standing wave surfing, there are more and more facilities that offer inland surfing experiences cropping up around the country. There’s likely a location to surf a standing wave near you and, if not, many of the waves on this list are well worth traveling to!

The Bend Whitewater Park. Bend, Oregon 

Ever the outdoorsy town, Bend has a very popular, adjustable river surfing wave on the Deschutes River. With relatively stable flows on the Deschutes, the Wave is in a lot. Check Bend Parks and Rec’s website for details. This is a high performance river wave that is rideable on performance shortboards. Learn more about Bend Whitewater Park here.

River surfing in Bend Oregon.

A river surfer at the Bend Whitewater Park in Oregon

Great Miami River. Dayton, Ohio

There are two river surfing waves on the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton. This project was completed in 2017 and there’s a vibrant scene in Dayton supported by our friends at Surf Dayton. Connect with those guys for all the details or instruction. 

Lakeside Surf. Lake Chelan, Washington

Surfer catching air at the Lakeside Surf wave in Lake Chelan Washington.
Miles Harvey taking flight at Lakeside Surf.

Located in Lake Chelan is an artificial standing wave pool that is probably the best “river” wave in the Country. This is an amazing facility in a beautiful setting. Lake Chelan is a huge lake with all the “lake life” activities you could ever want. 

Lakeside Surf is located in a family-owned water park along the shore of the lake. It’s well worth the price of admission (and is very reasonably priced for the experience).

They have boards and coaches. You can sign up for a beginner’s session to get started or an expert session to go and rip with other surfers. There’s also a taco truck and bar with incredible views of the lake. 

This is all around a really fun destination to hang out or visit on vacation. I highly recommend it. You can learn more about Lakeside Surf here. 

River Surfing Destinations in Iowa 

There are also a few whitewater parks in Iowa including Charles City and Cedar Falls (slated to be completed this year). 

Final Thoughts: The Rising Tide of Inland Surfing and Getting Started as a Beginner

If you’re just discovering river surfing, you’re right on time. When Zack and I started river surfing together around 2007, we practically could have named all the river surfers in the country. 

Today, river surfing is the fastest growing river sport in the world. The interest in inland surfing has exploded and, while it's a great time to learn to river surf now, the future is going to be even better. 

The waves are getting better. The equipment has become specialized for the sport. More and more communities are turning to river surfing as a unique way to provide healthy, accessible outdoor recreation opportunities. 

A young person surfing a body board on the Scout Wave in Salida, Colorado.

One of the coolest things about river surfing is the diversity of the community. River surfing is accessible and enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Families love doing it together. It's not uncommon to see moms and dads out surfing with their kids. 

If you thought this guide was helpful, give us a call. We truly live and breathe this stuff and can talk about it all day long. Reach out to us directly over email, phone, or social. We love to help people get started river surfing. 

The future is bright for inland surfers! See you on the river.

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Grate vid homes. Was in SALIDA this week did not know BAD FISH was there talked to LAURA. Very nice girl. Gave me some insight on the water park there. Coming from many years of surfing in CALI,HAWAII, MEXICO, I got on the water here in Gunnison with a couple boards I brought from cali. Definitely not the right boards. I have to get over there again LAURA said BADFISH RENTS BOARDS. Sounds good THANKS LAURA 🏄🏼‍♂️🏂🤙🏻🚵🏽‍♂️


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