Now that we’re getting into the heart of our season in Colorado, it’s time to cover the waterfront when it comes to river surfing surfboards. There are a few areas to cover. River waves are often not quite as steep as ocean waves, and you don’t have the bouyance of salt water to work with. So if you’re coming from an ocean surfing background, you’re often going to want something with a little more volume than you’re used to surfing, which some notable exceptions. Nose rocker (an upwards curving nose) is often helpful as well.
A Word on Soft Surfboards for River Surfing
I’m a big proponent of soft top surfboards, particularly for new river surfers. They don’t have the sex appeal of hard boards, but when you’re starting out, you’re likely to take out-of-control falls. And those falls tend to send your boards careening into rocks and other river features. That means you’re doing fiberglass repair on a hard board, but it means you may have a new small dent on the bottom of your hard board. I know which one I’d prefer.
This isn’t as big of a deal if you are exclusively surfing on high-volume rivers at healthy flows, or on waves where rock hits aren’t an issue. If that’s the case, stick with the better feel of hard boards.
Beginner River Surf Boards
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Wavestorm Taquito as a first-time board. It’s a kid’s standup paddleboard, and it has about twice the volume of most standard surfboards.
The additional volume allows for some modification as well. My quiver now includes the full-size 7′ Taquito, a 6′ I’ve named the Poquito Taquito, and a 4’9″ Loco Poco. I’m a big fan of the high volume + short board + thruster fin combination. Its also relatively cheap. They’re getting harder to find, but the 7′ Wavestorm Board or 7′ CBC Board will do fine.
I’ve also had good luck with the CBC 6’2″ Fish. It goes in and out of stock, but other similar boards are out there. Avoid the super cheap softies like this guy; they tend to taco on river waves over time.
The smaller volume of a 6′ board will let you engage the rails a little better, and the thruster fin setup is the standard for a reason. Lower volume means that low flow mushy waves might not hold you, but greener waves will be fine.
Higher Performance Soft Boards
Depending on your “home” wave, there are a lot of higher performance soft-top boards out there. They demand steep, fast waves like River Run Park. This little 5’2″ Fish is a nice option for fast, steep waves, particularly at such a low price point.
Wakesurf boards are also popular for high performance waves. Their lower volume means they won’t work for softer, mushier waves, but if you’re on something like Bend or River Run Park something like this one from O’Brien might be up your alley.
Continuing the trend of “more volume is going to help you on a river wave,” a lot of “Beater” boards make for popular off-the-rack river surfboards. Like this one from Catch Surf.
Usually designed for shorebreaks and “black ball” days where hard boards are prohibited during busy summer beach days, beater boards tend to cram a relatively high amount of volume into a short board. The main problem I see people having with some of these is that they don’t have a lot of rocker, so the nose can often stab into the wave and pearl.
Others have had good luck with the BIC Sport PAINT, particularly in the shorter lengths.
Lots of other options out there too; if you have a longer, glassier wave you may want a little more length, like a high performance fish in the 6′ range.
Hard Boards for River Surfing
Generally off-the-rack ocean surfboards aren’t great for river surfing – it’s hard to find something with enough volume to float you on a flatter freshwater river wave. Fish and other “groveler” hybrids setup for surfing mushier summer waves often get in the closest, like this:
Since durability can be a concern, keep an eye out for expoxy boards, and some surfers have had good luck with Lost’s exterior layup.
For steep, fast waves, hard wakesurfers can work, both surf and skim-style boards. Some have been having good luck at River Run with boards like the Slingshot Alien Twister:
Or the Ankle Biter:
High-speed waves are a must for these wakesurfing boards though – they don’t have the float for something small or mushy.
Given the unsuitability of most off-the-rack ocean surfing hardboards for river surfing, its worth getting in touch with one of the growing number of shapers who are shaping river-specific surfboards. Head here for a list. If you’re going to be surfing a certain area a lot, its worth contacting someone local, since they’ll know the local waves and what shapes are surfing best for the local conditions.