9 of the Best Rivers for Surfing

Surfer in the middle of the Eisbach surfing in winter with snow on both sides of the river and a forest of trees with brown leaves
Since 1972, surfers have been coming to the Eisbach to ride this standing wave in the center of Munich.

M. Kaercher / Getty Images

Surfing is primarily an ocean sport. The most surfable waves in the world break over reefs, sand bars, or shallow areas near the shoreline. But rivers can also provide surfing excitement, and when waves do occur, they often offer consistent conditions and the kind of never-ending rides that ocean surfers can only dream about.

River waves come in two varieties. The first is tidal bores, which occur when ocean tides are funneled into slow-flowing rivers. The result of this rare phenomenon is a wave that surfers can ride upstream for miles. The other type of freshwater wave, the standing wave, occurs when a high volume of water rushes rocks or shallow areas in a rapidly moving river. This results in a stationary wave that surfers can ride continuously by pointing their boards upstream.

Here are nine rivers around the world that offer challenging waves for surfers.

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Amazon River

Kite surfer in the dark colored Amazon River with a kite flying above a lush forest of trees under a blue sky with a few white clouds

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A wave called Pororoca, which means "great roar" in the language of the Tupi people, is a tidal bore that occurs in the Amazon River. Caused when high tides from the Atlantic push water into the rivers, the Pororoca has waves that peak as high as 15 feet. Because surfers can ride the bore for as long as 30 minutes, an increasing number come to visit when the wave is at its highest, usually during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

While a half-hour ride is attractive to many surfers, only skilled riders take on the Pororoca. Water scooters and boats are needed to support surfers, while wildlife—including venomous snakes and piranhas—often get caught up in the bore and swept along with the wave, as do large pieces of debris, including whole trees. When surfers fall off their boards into the water, they are exposed to all these hazards.

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River Severn

A group of 10 surfers attempt to ride on a rare maximum five star Severn bore viewed from Newnham overlooking the River Severn

Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The United Kingdom is not known for its surfing, but a major tidal bore draws wave riders to the River Severn in the southwestern part of the country. When conditions are ideal, around the new or full moons, waves can reach six feet or more in height. Because tides are predictable, surfers know when the wave will pass certain points on the river. The height of the wave can vary depending on river level and recent rainfall, but the height of the tide is known based on the date, so surfers are aware of the conditions before the bore's arrival.

The Severn bore is not quite as dramatic as the Pororoca, but surfers need to be on the lookout for large pieces of debris, strong currents, and waves crowded with other surfers and kayakers.

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Qiantang River

waves crashing during the Qiantang River tidal bore with a brick bridge in the distance under a foggy sky

John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

The highest river tidal bore in the world is in eastern China near the historic city of Hangzhou. During full moons in the autumn, the wave can reach as tall as 30 feet and can travel at more than 15 miles per hour. Because of these speeds and heights, most of the people who attempt to surf the Qiantang are professionals or experienced surfers with safety and support teams. 

The tidal bore draws thousands of spectators whether surfers are on the wave or not. There is an annual wave-watching festival during the eighth lunar month. Thousands of people line the river to watch the wave when it reaches its highest point.

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The Eisbach

Bright green water of the Eisbach River with one surfer riding a wive while other surfers holding boards stand on a platform nearby, further down the river, the banks covered with green foliage on a sunny day

aluxum / Getty Images

The Eisbach is an artificial river that stretches for just over a mile through Munich, Germany. It runs into the city's famous Englischer Garten, a large public park. Because of the speed of the water, the cement barriers, and the shallow depth, it is recommended that only experienced surfers try to ride this three-foot wave. 

Surfing—which was legalized in Germany in 2010—had long been illegal on the Eisbach. Ironically, the Eisbach's biggest attraction was created because engineers wanted to slow the flow of water in the river and create a more serene atmosphere inside the Englischer Garten. The concrete blocks they used to slow the flow are actually what caused the wave to form.

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Saint Lawrence River

Aerial view of. a surfer on the Habitat 67 wave on the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal

Marc-André Desrosiers / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A standing wave in the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal—Habitat 67—was named for the eye-catching housing complex of the same name that sits on the riverbank. 

The wave—usually waist to shoulder height, depending on the flow of the Saint Lawrence—can be surfed all year round. Of course, during the coldest months, the air temperature is often below freezing and the water temperature isn’t much warmer, so wetsuits are mandatory. The current moves quickly, so riding Habitat 67 is usually attempted only by experienced surfers with strong swimming abilities. Kayakers, who were actually the first to take advantage of the feature, also use the wave.

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Snake River

A person surfing on the white water waves of rapids on the Snake River near large rocks

B Brown / Shutterstock

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a major ski destination, but for a few weeks in the early summer, it becomes a surf town. The Lunch Counter rapids, just outside of town, have surfable waves caused by a high volume of water from snowmelt and runoff from a nearby dam. Conditions can be inconsistent, but the waves are high enough to surf during the summer months.

Though far from the ocean, a strong local surf scene has developed, with a lineup of both surfers and freestyle kayakers when conditions are at their best. Like other standing waves, this one has its own set of dangers. Anyone who falls is quickly swept downstream and must know how to handle the rapids and exit the river safely.

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Waimea River

Waves breaking through the mouth of the Waimea River with sand dunes on both sides of the waves packed with observers watching a few surfers in the water under a bright blue sky

Michael Ocampo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Oahu, Hawaii's Waimea Bay is known for its towering waves. When conditions are right, the waves that break near the mouth of the Waimea River can reach over 30 feet in height. Only the most experienced surfers attempt to ride this and other waves on the famous North Shore.

Occasionally, during the winter, the Waimea River floods because of heavy rains. Local surfers found that by digging trenches, they can help direct the floodwaters into the bay. This not only helped to relieve the flooding and erosion, but it also created a surfable standing wave. Some of the world's best surf pros live in the Waimea area, and when the river floods, locals and enthusiasts have a chance to surf the river alongside them on this artificial, but nature-fed, wave.

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Kampar River

Surfer riding 'Bono' Tidal Wave Of The Kampar River with a forest of tall, green trees in the background and cloudy skies above

Ulet Ifansasti / Stringer / Getty Images

This tidal bore in Indonesia flows up the Kampar River. Known locally as Bono, meaning "truth," the name is a reference to the wave's consistent arrival upon a full moon. The wave can reach 10 feet in height, and those who remain on their board and upright can surf it for an hour or longer. The record for the longest surf on a river bore occurred on the Kampar River. The ride—which continued for 10.6 miles—was documented by Guinness World Records.

Surfers are transported to and from the bore by boat to avoid crocodiles, which are fairly common in the river.

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Boise River

One surfer riding a wave while other surfers stand with their boards at Boise whitewater park

AhXiong / Shutterstock

Finding waves in the middle of Boise, Idaho, is quite unique. Managed by the City of Boise's Parks and Recreation Department, the Boise Whitewater Park on the Boise River also has a wave shaper, which allows the height and speed of the waves to be adjusted. Since the completion of the first phase of the park, the city has added additional waves for all skill levels.

The park offers kayaking and paddle boarding opportunities in addition to surfing. Webcams and a set schedule for wave shape changes are provided so those who want to surf can come when the waves are ideal for surfing.