Written by Alex Mauer
Alex Mauer, author of this article, riding a River Wave. Photo by David Marc Photography 2012.
LITTLETON, Colorado - Any ocean surfer knows that there is an unspoken code they follow not only in the water but on the beach and in the parking lot. Following this code keeps everyone safe and happy. The code can also help keep the beaches clean and maintain the respect that "uncles" (older surfers who have achieved a certain distinction in the community) deserve. However, now that river surfing is blowing up for SUPers, what etiquette do we follow in this setting?
Here are ocean rules I have modified to the river.
Rule 1: RIGHT OF WAY
At a river wave you will find a line up much like in the ocean. Because river waves are stationary surfers don't wait for them to break (we paddle into them from the side or from above). A line is formed and the next person in line has the right of way. New comers should join at the end of the line and wait to rotate through. It is also important to remember to keep kayakers in the lineup. I always rotate them through more often! They could be considered the "uncles" In river lineups. Kayakers started riding river waves before SUPers and surfers and they deserve respect. Most kayakers have tried and love SUPing as well. The last thing we want is a feud between kayakers and SUPers to end up like surfers and SUPers on the coast!
Rule 2: DON'T DROP IN!
Most river surfers paddle in from the side of the wave (if the opportunity is available). It is easy to skip the line and just drop in from above without waiting your turn. If you are dropping in from above, communicate with surfers below and wait till they wave you in. Every lineup I have been in has been friendly and this is never a problem! It is also important not to drop in on anyone from the side and push them off the wave. Give respect and you will get respect and friendship in return.
Rule 3: DON'T THROW YOUR PADDLE OR HOOK UP A TOW LINE
After coming out of the back of the river wave don't throw your paddle into the eddy line (the current leading back into the wave). Throwing the paddle makes it easier to swim and hit the eddy but if you miss the eddy it takes a little longer to get back to the line up. You could hit and hurt someone if you throw your paddle. You may also damage your paddle or another persons board. Also, NEVER hook up a tow line! You or another person can easily get caught in it and drown. If you do I am positive you will get some unpleasant words from a lot of people.
Rule 4: DON'T BE A HOG!!!
You could literally surf a river wave all day! Have respect and don't hog the wave for to long. Get a good ride and then try a new trick. Besides who wants to just stand there forever? That's not surfing! If you are trying new tricks it keeps the people watching more entertained and the line flowing smoothly. In my experience kayakers spend less time on the wave, this is why I try and rotate them through more often. Try and keep things fair, would you want to watch one guy stand there doing nothing for 10 minutes?
Rule 5: KEEP THE RIVER CLEAN
Don't litter and always recycle! Before you take off, pick up all the trash you brought as well as the trash around you. Yes, even if it is not yours! It not only keep the rivers and river life clean and healthy but it will also help keep the oceans blue. After all where do you think all the rivers flow? That's right - out into the ocean!!!
Rule 6: ALWAYS FOLLOW RIVER SAFETY
Check out the article called How to Be Safe in the Rapids on SUP (we'll find a link) by Dan Gavere. Wear the proper gear!! The main things include using the right paddle clothing, PFD (personal flotation device), quick release leash, and a helmet.
Rule 7: ALWAYS HELP ANYONE IN TROUBLE
Keep everyone safe. If someone is doing something to put themselves or others in danger let them know in a friendly way. Always be ready to make a rescue!
I'm sure I could go on and on but following these rules will help keep everyone safe and having fun. Finally, remember to apologize if you break any of these guidelines, and in my opinion Ocean Minded says it best in their slogan: Live Protect and Respect!
Paddle fast and take chances!
Written by Alex Mauer