I am a River Surfer

“Could you please stop calling what you do river surfing?”

A fellow river surfer asked me rather abruptly awhile back. He exclaimed that what I do, because I have a paddle, is not river surfing. The truth of the matter is that, HE didn’t want to be lumped into the same category as a stand up paddler; that would hurt his reputation. Stand up paddlers are “kooks”, after all, and he was certainly not a kook.

Well then, good friend, would you please do me a solid and call it shortboard river surfing; you’re hurting my reputation.

If I put a photo up of me surfing with a paddle or no paddle I suspect those that know about river surfing or surfing in general can distinguish between the two. Am I wrong?

I’ve noticed a common theme amongst “shortboard” river surfers and ocean surfers alike…a fixation with one’s image. The fear of not looking “cool”. Which, honestly, one of the things I really love about stand up paddling is that fear hasn’t hit yet. We know we look like total dweebs, with our helmets, bulky lifejackets, and drysuits. Our falls are often clumsy and comical. Stand up paddling teaches people to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously.

I understand, somewhat, the issue with stand up paddlers in the ocean. There’s a lot you can do wrong out there (stand up paddler or not) which can result in pissing off some already agro “local” surfers; waiting for a reason to peacock all over the place. Correct me if I’m wrong, But in the river there’s no room for this, you’re not getting cut-off, a stand up paddle board isn’t getting launched into you as you try to make your way through the break (hopefully), and there’s a solid chance the stand up paddler knows more about the river than you do.

We wait in line. We surf. We fall. We get back in line. We surf again.

One is not better than the other.

I’ve also heard the word “cheating” used to describe surfing on a stand up. I’d love to see each person that says that to paddle into a wave on their feet and still tell me it’s cheating. As someone who both shortboards and stand up paddle surfs I do not subscribe to this notion that one is cooler than the other.

They both present their own challenges, one is not easier, and they both deserve the same amount of respect. I’ve said this so many times before and it bums me out to have to continue to reiterate it. I suppose I don’t HAVE to but I feel a sense of responsibility to my community and to preserve what I believe to be so special about it–camaraderie.

Will some river surfers take offense to this? Probably, and if so I know it’s only because they know that deep down some of it rings true.

If you take anything away from this post let it be this — when you’re in the line-up take a look at that kayaker, stand up paddler, boogie boarder. Instead of seeing them and labeling them for what craft they’re using see them as the a surfer, the same surfer you believe yourself to be.



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