Surf … Montana?

River surfing has become a global phenomenon, and Missoula is the sport's Mecca


by Eric Johnson
Oct. 7, 2014—Okay, this is weird—according to Outside Magazine my beloved former hometown has become the Surf City of the Rocky Mountain West.

Today's Outside newsletter points to an amazing slideshow by photographer Paolo Marchesi, documenting a day he spent with a bunch of surfers on the Lochsa River.

From the newsletter's tease: "America's best kept surfing secret? Missoula, Montana. While the town's Strongwater surf shop doesn't have any beachfront access, the store has cultivated a loyal following of dedicated wave junkies."

The photographs are uncanny—they look like what you'd expect to see on Santa Cruz Waves—except for the steep, pine-covered hillsides in the background.

Marchesi includes one shot of a shaper at Strongwater Mountain Surf Company—reportedly the only surf shop in the Rocky Mountains. (Um, yeah.) According to Outside, Strongwater's surfboards "are built for the longer rides and endless waves found in the river—they're shorter, fatter, and wider than a traditional ocean surfboard."

Hear that about long rides? River-break rides can last four minutes. "These guys were getting weeks of wave time in one short session," says Marchesi, who is himself an avid surfer. (Do we now have to say "ocean surfer"?).

The Lochsa, it should be noted, is actually in Idaho, two hours east of Missoula across the 5,233-foot Lolo Pass. It makes sense that Marchesi would want to document the surfers there: a magnificent piece of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it's a destination for river-sports enthusiasts, with more than 60 rapids rated Class III-IV.

But the headline isn't deceiving. Smack in the heart of downtown Missoula, on the Clark Fork River, surfers can now be seen all summer on Brennan's Wave—an "engineered whitewater masterpiece" built in 2006. In a move reminiscent of the work of our own San Lorenzo River Alliance, a local group came together to build the wave to encourage more use of the river, and build a constituency for its conservation. (Missoula, by the way, is the setting for Norman McLean's masterpiece A River Runs Through It.)

As for river surfing, it's a growing phenomenon, as documented on Riverbreak, "The International River Surf Magazine."

Here's proof: "Riversurfing 2013 in Missoula MT Lochsa River Idaho and Boise ID:"

And, a Munich River Surf vid from our friends at O'Neill:


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Hellots, thanks for spreading this great ALOHA river surfing vibe in hilltromper. River surfing has recently started to explode across the planet and we're beyond stoked to be able to surf in mountain towns like Missoula and elsewhere. Keep this great spirit alive, check for videos, pics and more stories on river surfing at our community site Riverbreak.