The swell was up on the east coast of the southern United States and I was taking full advantage. It was a 4:30 am wake-up call and the truck was already packed. I arrived at the oceanside street parking still in the dark to find I was the only one there. I was going to have the perfect clean conditions all to myself. I paddled out under the lights of the pier and immediately caught my first wave. Catching the wave was easy with the pier lights illuminating the incoming swell, but when I turned around to face the shore it was pitch black. What a feeling riding the waves all the way into shore guided only by the feel of the wave and the board underneath my feet. Also, what a feeling thinking about "Mary Lee" a 16 foot 3450 pound tagged white shark that was being tracked just off the coast. My mind would play tricks on me everytime something would appear in the shadows. Then the shadows became a reality. The crowds were arriving and my fellow surfers were showing up in force. The break was located next to an urban population of 125,000 and the line up was filling up fast as the sun rose above the horizon. Before to long the fighting for position, the paranoia of a white shark, and the fisherman flinging large hooks and lead weights from the pier was no longer worth it. It was time to go back to my home break in West Virginia.
Thats correct, my home break in West Virginia. Located in an isolated area on the Lower Gauley river where the population of the entire County is under 50,000. The National Park Service has preserved the area and an old gravel road provides access. Don't expect to find this little gem without local knowledge. Even after leaving the maze of paved roads it is another 30 minutes of traveling on dirt. This all adds to the tranquility and isolation of the area. Upon arrival you will experience clear blue water surrounded by towering red sandstone cliffs, lush forests, and waterfalls.
Fast forward a week and I'm headed to this very location. A relatively small feature, but super fast and dynamic with a green shoulder on the surfer left and a breaking shoulder on the surfer right. Kayakers and boogie boarders have been coming here for years but it wasn't until this Spring (2014) that it has really been explored by surfers. I remember taking a board there in 2006 and becoming discouraged and not really figuring it out. I also heard a few rumors of some surfers from the whitewater industry were giving it a go with little success and it just never really caught on. Then something happened. Inland surfers in particularly Missoula Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Montreal, and Europe began showing that river surfing was truly possible and the search for the endless wave had been discovered. Our small surf scene currently consists of about four, but is consistently growing. In fact one year we jokingly stated it grew by 100 percent from 2 to 4 surfers. With the large outdoor industry in the area we are fortunate to have an influx of mountain athletes in the form of climbers, kayakers, and mountain bikers that are curious about the surf scene. These crossover mountain athletes are seeing what is possible on river waves and are always eager to give it a go.
Board specifications began to emerge that also grew the surf scene and made it possible. River waves often require slightly more volume, a wider tail, and in some cases a little more length. These specifications allow the board to carry speed on a river wave which often carries slightly less wave energy then an ocean wave. I use a Mike Hynson 7.0 from Boardworks. The "Hynson" is a Fish design with a nice wide tail and 3 inch thickness and carries ridiculous speed on a river wave. The name may sound familiar to you from the 1966 classic surf film "Endless Summer". Mike Hynson was the American co-star who traveled the globe in search of the perfect wave. If only Mike knew in 1966 that over 45 years later surfers would be searching for perfect river waves on his board designs.
Overall, the surf scene is small but thriving in the Mountain State. The fresh water, the uncrowded surf breaks , the beautiful mountains, and the friendly people are all what being an 'inland surfer' is all about. But don't just take my word for it please come see for yourself. The next time your traveling inland for that mountain biking or climbing vacation you may just be adding a surfboard to the roof rack. Also, please use extreme caution for the mountain river lifestyle is highly addicting.