Just Another Day of River Surfing in Wyoming

153688414Last month, GrindTV con­trib­u­tor Travis Burke pub­lished a stun­ning gallery of images of out­door recre­ators enjoy­ing the Snake River’s Lunch Counter Rapids, which lie just a few miles out­side Jack­son Hole. Based on that descrip­tion alone, you might assume raft­ing was the sub­ject of this pic­to­r­i­al. Guess again.

Every spring, high lev­els of snowmelt along the Snake Riv­er basin com­bine with excess water released by the near­by Jack­son Lake Dam to pro­duce inor­di­nate­ly large waves that flow any­where from 8,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per sec­ond. These swells nor­mal­ly last between two and six weeks, and dur­ing this win­dow peri­od, Lunch Counter serves as a mec­ca of sorts for a row­dy, dar­ing crowd known affec­tion­ate­ly as ‘riv­er surfers’.

Riv­er surf­ing orig­i­nat­ed in Munich, of all places. The man­made Eis­bach Riv­er, locat­ed inside the Bavar­i­an city’s Eng­lish Gar­dens, has long been con­sid­ered the sport’s gen­e­sis point; riv­er surfers have flocked to this spot for more than 30 years, even though the activ­i­ty was tech­ni­cal­ly ille­gal until 2010.

snake river1Surf­ing is legal at Lunch Counter, as well, but there are some impor­tant guide­lines to fol­low. First, surfers must yield to rafters and kayak­ers at all times. “Gen­er­al­ly the surfers don’t grum­ble about this, as most of them are pad­dlers them­selves,” Burke notes. Sec­ond, only expe­ri­enced surfers should attempt to ride the riv­er waves. Cur­rents are often at their strongest dur­ing the late spring and ear­ly sum­mer, and since riv­er surf­ing involves a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent range of motions than ocean­ic wave-rid­ing, the risk of injury is quite high even for vet­er­ans. “If you fall off your board, you must know how to nav­i­gate the riv­er with­out crash­ing into rocks, and how to make your way to a near­by eddy—because any riv­er play with­out a life jack­et is scary riv­er play,” Burke added.

Riv­er surf­ing sea­son at Lunch Counter has come to an end for the year, but it’s worth not­ing that 2013 was one for the books. Burke not­ed the inor­di­nate­ly strong (i.e., sur­fa­ble) waves were record­ed on the riv­er for more than 40 con­sec­u­tive days.