Scout Wave- Know the Flow and When to Go
Not ready to put up those surfboards just yet? We’re here to give you the rundown on river flows and gauges so you know the best times to get out there and keep surfing. The Scout Wave in Salida, Colorado was designed to work at the lower range of flows. The Upper Arkansas River is blessed with higher flows than many rivers in Colorado because it serves as the west to east conduit for moving water to Front Range famers, ranchers and cities. So let's go over how to understand if the wave is in or not so you can plan your surfing.
Understanding River Flows in Salida
River flows are measured in cubic feet per second (CFS). The Arkansas River is controlled to some degree through releases of west slope water into high mountain reservoirs like Twin Lakes and Clear Creek. Then water is released down those tributaries into the Ark. Flows change, very often on a daily basis, based on variables including calls for water by downstream water users, snow pack/snow melt, and rainfall.
Starting typically in mid-May, spring runoff bumps the Ark up to anywhere between 2,000-4,000 CFS. By late June the river typically levels off to summer rec flows, which are maintained at 700 CFS on the Wellsville gauge, to support boating recreation in the Valley. This release is part of the voluntary flow program (VFP) and on years where there is sufficient snowpack it ensures there will be 700cfs from the time when native flows drop below 700 through August 15th. Wellsville is just downstream of Salida so 700 in Wellsville is typically going to be around 650cfs in Salida and roughly 500cfs in Buena Vista.
After August 15th the river is allowed to drop to native flows for the fall Brown Trout spawn. What the actual flow rate is this time of year depends a lot on how good the runoff was and wether we had a robust monsoon rain season. Generally in the fall you can expect the Ark in Salida to be between 250cfs-300cfs.
Native flows are maintained through at least November 15th. From November 15th-March 1st water managers can increase flows as needed to move water downstream to reservoirs or in anticipation of a better than average runoff. Very often winter flows will increase to somewhere between 350cfs-500cfs in Salida.
After March 1st flows are generally dropped again to native for the Rainbow Trout spawn and then we wait for spring runoff when the whole cycle starts again.
That was boring...what does this mean for surfing?
I hear you...here are the details.
The Scout wave performs best between 300-1500 CFS. Too far below 300 and you spend most of your surf trying not to flush out, but diehards with high volume boards surf down to 250 CFS. Starting around 350 CFS get ready to bust out those foamies and lower volume boards and rip some turns! Over 400 CFS is game on. Based on our first year of surfing the wave a flow rate of about 1100 CFS is the most prime, drop-everything-call-in-sick, level.
250 CFS Too low unless you are a sicko. Higher volume boards
300 CFS Minimum Flow. Bring the foamies.
350 CFS It's getting good. Can ride most shortboards like the Wave Farmer
400 CFS-800 CFS It's really good.
800 CFS- 1100 CFS It's really really good.
1100 CFS- 1500 CFS Still super fun, but swim is a little more intense.
Over 1500 CFS. Too high, wave starts to foam out.
Here is Jamie O'Brien and team rider Miles Harvey ripping the Scout Wave at about 1000 CFS this past summer.
Where can I check the flow?
The most accurate gauge to check is the Arkansas River at Salida, CO gauge on the Colorado Department of Water Resources website.
At low flows there are only a few inches of water on top of the concrete, so buckle up that helmet and starfish (lay flat) when you fall. Be mindful not to reach out your hand or step onto the concrete. Use a low water entry where you step onto your board, and be aware of rocks and hazards in the eddy that weren’t visible at higher water. Layer up with booties, mittens, and a thicker wetsuit. A hooded 5/4 is our go to for winter surfing. As flows increase the swim below the wave gets more intense so make sure you're looking out for your fellow surfers and don't just put the blinders on. Make sure you confirm the last surfer got out of the water safely. Remember we have a lot of boats running down the Ark every summer and as a surfer you must yield (kick out of the wave) to upstream traffic. Please keep in mind that the local State Park has a life jacket law in the whitewater park in Salida and ankle leashes are always a bad idea on a river.
We are right there with you hitting refresh on that gauge. See you on the river!