River surfing: waves are where you find it | Photo: Shutterstock

River surfing is not a crime. It's a fun alternative to ocean waves and an excellent option for inland surfers who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from the classic surfing waves.

But beware. River surfing can be dangerous. These static, endless waves usually break in shallow waters, and over rocky bottoms, so take care before trying it.

Always wear a helmet and a personal flotation device (PFD), and never embark on a solo session. You also need to make sure someone is watching your back in case of a miscalculated wipeout.

But river waves hide other hazards. In some regions, you'll find pirañas, snakes, crocodiles, trees, and debris that may turn a dream session into a nightmare.

And because river surfers need strong and fast currents and rapids to ride waves, sometimes ropes can help beginner riders get used to the flow of water.

There are several types of river surfing waves. There are standing waves located in urban areas, mountain environments, tidal bores, river mouths, and in the heart of jungles.

If you plan to give river surfing a go, visit the spots, talk and engage with the local wave riding communities, and experience the pleasures of inland surfing.

While ocean waves depend on swell period, the quality of river waves is often calculated in cubic meters per second, the flow rate of the stream. The best river surfing waves on the planet are:

Eisbach River, Munich | Germany


It is one of the best-known river surfing breaks in the world. Ridden for the first time since 1972, this cold water spot attracts thousands of surf tourist every year. It's a tricky wave that will require practice and training. If you're willing to try it, wait for your turn and respect the locals.

 

Bend Whitewater Park, Oregon | USA


This river surf park offers features four waves of various degrees of difficulty -  Jason's Wave (beginner wave), Kricket's Wave (ideal for kayakers), Wave #3 (experienced paddlers), and Eddy's Wave (pro paddlers). It only works when the cold season ends, and the ice from the mountains starts to melt. Surf legend Gerry Lopez has already ridden it.

 

Pororoca, Amazon | Brazil


This tidal bore runs deep in the Amazon River and produces brown waves that can reach 15 feet. The Pororoca is one of the most dangerous river surfing waves in the globe and destroys everything it encounters in the margins of the river. However, this natural beast can also allow you to enjoy 30-minute rides as it runs, unstoppable, up the river.

 

Qiantang River, Hangzhou | China


The banks of the Qiantang River recognize it when it roars and approaches. The tidal bore is locally known as the "Silver Dragon," is the result of the triangular-shaped Hangzhou Bay, which acts as a funnel, and boosts this unpredictable wave dozens of miles forward.

 

Severn Bore, Gloucester | England


The most popular tidal bore in Britain attracts hundreds of European surfers to its waters several times each year. The best sessions occur immediately after the full and new moon days. It was first surfed in 1955 by World War II veteran Jack Churchill. The waves here reach seven feet and can transport surfers for more than seven miles.

 

Snake River, Wyoming | USA


When the Jackson Lake Dam releases melted water into Snake River, the "Jackson Hole" comes to life. And that's approximately 40 days per year. This is a tricky surf spot. If you wipe out, you'll be swept downstream and may crash into pointy rocks. These rapids are often crowded, but the waves truly mimic the steep and fast ocean waves and are worth a visit.

 

Zambezi River, Livingstone | Zambia


This is probably the only African river wave where you can get barreled. When the flow is perfect, Zambezi River's standing wave will make your day. The natural phenomenon is rare and only forms twice a season.

 

River Thun, Thun | Switzerland


In Thun, you can embark on a solo river surfing session and, minutes lates, sit on a nearby cafe and taste a silky smooth Swiss chocolate. The stationary wave breaks in front of a beautiful bridge and sometimes requires a rope to help you negotiate the powerful stream.

 

River Mur, Graz | Austria


In the heart of the city of Graz, there's a river wave attracting the attention of the passers-by. The roller is of difficult access, and the take-off is not easy, but on good days, you can ride without a rope.

 

Bono, Sumatra | Indonesia


In the Indonesian province of Riau, there's a mighty tidal bore producing 10-foot waves. It's called "The Bono," or "Seven Ghosts" and provides some of the longest rides in the world. To surf this dangerous freak of nature, you'll need specially-designed support boat. "The Bono" produces three wave effects named Pemulang (backwash created after the rebound from Bono), Bakat (tight backwash waves) and Bianca (uncontrollable waves). 

 

Turnagain Arm, Alaska | USA


The most famous tidal bore in Alaskan waters takes place in a stunning scenario. The river wave moves upstream at 10-15 miles per hour and can reach as high as 10 feet. Despite the low water temperatures, there's an active community of river surfers who know and ride Turnagain Arm on a regular basis.

 

Petitcodiac River, New Brunswick | Canada


If you're a fan of long rides, this river bore will make your dreams come true. If you catch a wave at Belliveau Village and disembark at Moncton, you'd have ridden 18 miles.

 

Urumea River, San Sebastian | Spain


One of the few places in the world where you can take off on an ocean wave, enter a river, and ride the roller under a bridge, and wrap up the experience in the center of the city. This is not a tidal bore; this is simply a powerful swell that decides to explore a river channel.

 

Benak River, Sri Aman | Malaysia


Despite the presence of crocodiles, the "Batang Lupar" tidal bore is a great wave for longboard enthusiasts. It offers different sections, and long rides surrounded by a tropical environment.

 

Glomma River, Sarpsborg | Norway


Norway's largest river showcases a fast-moving stream and a standing wave that is usually shared by kayakers and surfers. It's a very shallow break, and it often requires a rope to make sure you reach the sweet spot safe and sound.

 

Boise Whitewater Park, Idaho | USA


An urban river surfing park with a man-made adjustable wave shaper that modifies flow rates and water levels. The wave can be adjusted for surfing and kayaking, and it is always super fun.


Discover the complete list of surf pools and river breaks.