Rise in River Surfing Threatens Supportive Community


     As you may know, river surfing has become a rising sport among the river community in Missoula. Origins of the sport are widely debated, and while it is impossible to know where the sport truly originated, river surfing on standing waves has been documented as far back as the early 1970s in Munich Germany on the Eisbach.

Win Duerk on the Snake River Courtesy of Adam Duerk

     In North America, river surfing most likely originated on the Snake River near Jackson Hole, WY. Nevertheless Montanans are some of the earliest river runners to pioneer the sport.

     For those unfamiliar with how it works, the wave is formed from a high volume of water rapidly running over a drop on a constricted section of river. The quality of the river wave varies based on many factors but primarily the amount of flow and the water level as it runs over a drop in the river. 

     In Missoula, most surfers ride Brennan’s Wave. It used to be a dangerous hydraulic only played on by kayakers. In 2006 debris was removed from the site and rocks were placed in the river making two waves that many Missoulians have grown to love ever since. 

     Over recent years, many new surfers have been drawn to Brennan’s wave wanting to join the sport. While many surf breaks on the coasts have developed a serious localism vibe, the Missoula river community has remained accepting and inclusive of anyone wanting to experience the excitement of the outdoors. As other surf spots around the globe have been overrun by crowds, the Missoula river community will soon be put to the test on whether we can remain supportive, or if we will succumb to frustration and become sour towards newcomers. 

     Ollie Long has been river surfing for a long time now and notices a big increase in the number of surfers at Brennan’s wave “especially in recent years,” and thinks that expanding upon different wave options could be a solution to beating the crowds. 

     Long said, “There is a point where you would get too many people but sometimes it’s the more the merrier but there are things you can do to prevent overcrowdedness, like other waves and making sure people get their time on the wave.”

Closest to farthest: Jack Duerk, Jackson Parish, Win Duerk, Ollie Long on Brennan’s wave. Courtesy of Adam Duerk

     Henry Naughton, a sophomore at Hellgate who has been surfing for two years, said, “It’s a fairly intimidating atmosphere at first but once you get to know the people, they really come around to you and you just have fun out there.” Although he was naturally intimidated at first, Naughton’s perspective shows the extent to which everyone is nice to each other from underclassmen at Hellgate to old men.

     Other Hellgate surfers, Conor McMahon, Simon Wilson, Hailey Flamand and Lars Thorne-Thomsen, have all noticed that there has been a large rise in the number of surfers at the wave. Hellgate river surfers all think the way to avoid the inevitable overcrowdedness could be solved with the creation of Max Wave near Ogren Park and Broadway Island.

Win Duerk and Kody Heaton on Brennan’s wave.
Courtesy of Adam Duerk

     Although the threat of losing the supportive atmosphere at the wave is not ideal, a new wave is sure to protect the supportive environment at Brennan’s wave and keep the Missoula river surfing community happy.