Some think that river surfing on the Arkansas started with the Pueblo Whitewater Park in 2005. It actually started in Canon City around 2003 and the first surfers were from Colorado City. Being – or at least wanting to be – surfers, yet living in Colorado made surf magazines our surf “experience.” We read them in between trips to the coast feeling they could somehow transport us to the lineup. In one magazine, we learned about Elijah Mack: the granddaddy of river surfing. River surfing? We knew we had rivers in Colorado! Maybe we wouldn’t have to go to California. The search began.

On our first trip up the Arkansas we passed Canon City and entered the canyon above the gorge. We swerved dangerously along the already twisting road, trying to glimpse the wave off the road edge. There were lots of waves and rocks, but what made a good surf wave? Out of desperation and likely some frustration, we finally stopped the car. Donning wetsuits, vests, and helmets we dragged our boards down to the river. It basically turned into whitewater rafting with a kayak as we banged around the rocks in the river, never really surfing, but the adventure only furthered our appetite.

woman river surfing

We hadn’t even surfed a river so we didn’t realize how seriously water volume impacted wave size. For that matter, we didn’t know how to enter a wave, exit a wave, or really how to avoid drowning.”

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Unfortunately, we didn’t know many kayakers back then, but we did know Bob at the Edge in Pueblo. He had a kayak and he knew the local rivers. He told us about a wave up in Canon on the Arkansas. We still had no idea what constituted a good surf wave, but Bob was a good guy so off we went to Canon. It was our Endless Summer, except I think it was spring or maybe winter.

River surfing hadn’t evolved at that point to include things like flow charts. We hadn’t even surfed a river so we didn’t realize how seriously water volume impacted wave size. For that matter, we didn’t know how to enter a wave, exit a wave, or really how to avoid drowning. We also didn’t find the wave Bob sent us to, but we found a wave in the center of the river park in Canon. It was small, but it was shaped like a wave and so we once again donned our gear and jumped in the river.

After jumping in above the wave we were swiftly swept past the wave and downriver. There no backwash and the wave was weak, but that didn’t stop us. We began using a rope with one guy struggling to hold it while standing in the water and lowering the other guy on a surfboard slowly into the wave. The fat guy - me - always washed out, but the two young guys – Logan Gogarty and Aaron Berndt – both had brief rides on the board. We whooped and hollered like they had just ridden a tube at Pipeline. River surfing – at least as far as we knew it – began on the Arkansas.

Written by Shaun Gogarty

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