When you think of surfing, you probably think of beach towns and ocean waves. But the new sport of river surfing is taking off, and Salida, Colorado is at the heart of it all. With the Arkansas River running right through this picturesque valley, Salida, Buena Vista, and Chaffee County are the perfect spots to try out this up-and-coming adventure sport.
What is River Surfing?
River Surfing entails riding standing waves in rivers instead of in the ocean. River waves have less surface area than ocean waves for the board to make contact with. Therefore, you will want a smaller and harder board as you get better at river surfing. You can usually find standing waves in man-made whitewater parks with hydraulics designed specifically for river enthusiasts. At one time these types of parks catered to kayakers, but as the SUP and river surfing scenes grow, more waves are designed specifically with river surfing in mind. River surfing gives the feel and look of ocean surfing, nestled in the mountains.
Finding the Best River Surfing Waves in Colorado
Salida and Buena Vista are hubs of the river surfing movement in Colorado. You’ll find both the Buena Vista Whitewater Park and the Salida Whitewater Park in the heart of these colorful mountain towns. In Salida, local river hydrologists built a new wave called the Scout Wave 2.0. This new wave is designed for river surfing and mimics an ocean wave. It’s designed so river surfers can play on the wave all year, even if the river is at lower flows. Scout Wave 2.0 is perfect for experts or those new to river surfing. Even if you’re not interested in surfing, watching the locals ride the waves is a great way to spend an afternoon.
River Surfing Gear
Gear for river surfing is similar to gear for ocean surfing. Depending on the type of wave you’re on, the board might be long and inflatable or short and carved, like a small surfboard. As the sport takes off, river surfboard technology is, too. We wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t think to bring your surfboard to the mountains! But, no problem. The locals have you covered. Totally Tubular in downtown Salida rents riverboards and wetsuits. Badfish SUP doesn’t rent gear daily, but they are at the forefront of river surfing technology with more than 15 boards designed just for this exciting sport. Their downtown shop is steps away from the Scout Wave 2.0. If you try it out and decide you want to purchase a board of your own, talk to one of the local shop experts about a demo before you decide to buy.
Learning to River Surf
Your first step as a river surfing enthusiast might start on the bank. Salida is famous for its river surfing scene, with plenty of people carving the waves daily. However, Salida’s most popular upstream wave (known to locals as the Office Wave) is located in the downtown river park next to High Side Bar and Grill. You can start there, walk the path down the river, and see all four of Salida’s surf waves, from the upstream Office Wave to downstream Scout Wave 2.0. It’s a great way to absorb the scene and pick up some tips from experienced riders.
Ready to jump in, get wet, and try river surfing? You can rent a board at Totally Tubular, immediately adjacent to the water. If you’re ready to go but think a lesson would be helpful, try Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC). Their three-hour session includes all the gear you’ll need to pick up this exciting river sport, including board, wetsuit, and helmet.
Summer River Fun
If you love the river but are still determining if you’re up for standing on a board, there are many ways to enjoy the Arkansas River. Totally Tubular also rents boogie boards and tubes. Boogie boarding on the river allows you to experience the fun of surfing a standing wave without the pressure of standing up on a board. If the river is too high to tube, board, or surf safely, whitewater rafting allows you to get on the river in the hands of an experienced river guide. Independent Whitewater can provide any level of whitewater fun, and their float trips run right through downtown Salida.
Chaffee County is jam-packed with exciting summer activities near Creekside Chalets if you’re looking for seasonal adventures on dry land. Our central location helps make any experience possible, even if that’s watching the creek go by from your private hot tub. Our knowledgeable staff wants you to have a perfect vacation, and we’d love to advise you on the river or anything else you’re looking to do here in the Heart of the Rockies. We can’t wait to see you this summer!