River Surfing

River Surfing
Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand


The location was the grade 2-3 rapids on the Kawarau river. The gear was full wet-suit with boots, flippers, life jacket, helmet and a boogie board. Water temperature was about 12 degrees celcius. River surfing is quite different to Ocean surfing. On the sea, you are stationary and the wave is moving towards the shore. To ride a wave, you need to increase your speed in the direction of the wave. With river surfing the wave is created when an obstacle creates a space in front of it, which is filled with water rolling over it. The wave is stationary and you are moving. To ride it, you have to face upstream and paddle against the flow of water to slow yourself down. It is then possible to ride the wave remaining stationary, whilst water is still flowing down-stream all around you. After plenty of attempts we managed to surf for about a second and Mike stayed on for about 3. A very easy move was the whirlpool. All that you do here is move the board and yourself to a vertical position. The edge of the whirlpool catches you, and due to very little resistance, it draws you in and you can stay in it. The water just spins you round and round. Its a very nice feeling (apart from getting dizzy!). To exit, you lower the board into the water horizontally just before you are facing the direction you want to go in. And you go zooming off! This was a favorite of mine and I did it lots of times. Whenever there was a huge wave it was possible to do a barrel roll. This is just a sideways roll where the wave rolls you over. I only managed to do half of one, i.e roll onto my back but not all the way over. Mike managed to do a few. Lastly the hardest, but also the best was ‘squirting’. This happens when water, which is already moving quite fast, hits rock at the edges of the river, and then rebounds colliding with water in the middle of the river. Because both streams of water are moving fast and cannot go up due to gravity, they both go down. This creates a huge amount of suction and the water finds an escape right at the bottom of the river. To do a squirt the board needs to be pushed flat down under water. If you are in the correct spot you get sucked down about 5-7 meteres deep and then follow the extremely fast moving water through the centre of the river. It is possible to stay under for as long as you can hold you breath. To come back up, you just angle the board upwards. Mike and I both tried this but couldn’t hit the right spot. Eventually Mike managed it. To him it felt like he was being sucked down very deep. It was only when he tried to get to the surface that he realised how deep he actually was, due to the time it took to re-surface. We did a 5.5 km stretch and were happy, but exhausted. The bus came to pick us up but for free, they would drive back to the start and let us do it again if we wanted. All 13 of us did! This time around, we were more confident and knew what was round each corner. I was probably a bit less wary and some-how got myself into the wrong areas. I got into danger twice where I repetedly got sucked in and had to shout out for help. At one point I thought I would drown if someone didn’t help. Luckily the instructor was there to rescue me. Both times! Overall the experience was great fun and scary at times, but we have survived to tell the tale.


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