Montana River Surfing - Sean Jansen

Montana River Surfing

A low-pressure system forms at the polar regions of our planet. With cold ferocity, the winds whip in a hurricane like motion while having a barometric pressure measurement similar to that of what poverty looks like in a bank account. That pressure and wind create waves that curl outward from the storm and march thousands of miles in a fan like motion until it reaches a coastline.

Surfers study these storms and how long they take to get to where they are located. Timing swells perfectly with utmost accuracy and precision to meet these waves at the beaches, point breaks, or rock and coral shelves that waves then peel over and along where surfers catch and enjoy the sometimes long rides the waves offer.

Enter Montana.

The storms at the polar regions of our planet have the same effect to the waves that grace the coastlines like California but instead bring the snowfall needed for our waves to form in Montana. The same Low Pressure system that was spinning in Alaska that sent waves to Washington and Oregon continue to march inland as precipitation creating snowfall. Once our days in Montana begin to thaw and the temperatures climb above freezing, the snow melts and drips off our roof’s and mountains and into the rivers. Swelling the waters to flood stages where the national weather service warns of the dangers associated with the flooding river. Surfers lick their chops at the report.

Surfers on the Pacific Coast for example study wind, swell and buoy charts memorizing the swell heights and periods between the waves to dictate size and shape once breaking on the shore. Surfers in Montana study snow pack from the winter previous, with the water flow charts of their local rivers with discharge they hope breaks flood stage. I know no other surfers with such gratitude and drive like those who live in Montana. And Brennan’s Wave in Missoula is a classic example of the stoke associated with the coming spring, warmer days, and the flood of Spring.

Sitting smack dab in the middle of town in Missoula, Brennan’s Wave, a man made wave, has a concrete structure submerged underwater. Once the Clarks Fork River hits a certain CFS in flow, the surfers come out of their winter dwelling habits and slap their wetsuits on and hit the river. Long are the days when kayakers and fly fisherman were the only enthusiasts on the river.

The rise in popularity of surfing the river wave has grown to coverage in Distinctly Montana, Local News sources, Outside Magazine, NBC, and even surf magazines on the coast, bringing professional surfers like Dylan Graves of Puerto Rico and Kai Lenny of Maui, inland to Montana to check out the action.

Kevin Brown, a local resident of Missoula, has been surfing the wave since the wave. He even has his own surf shop in Missoula and shapes specific surfboards designed just for river surfing. Similar to waves in the ocean, the river wave curls and forms what is known as white water, where the wave breaks creating a white, oxygenated foam that the surfers use to help propel through the water. With a curved face and white water following behind, the surfers can carve and turn while some can even pop airs like snowboarding or skateboarding.

As a surfer born and raised in California having grown up surfing ocean waves for the better part of two decades, the challenge of river surfing to ocean is as night and day as anything. An ocean wave pushes you in toward the beach. Where as a river waves stands in motion with water surging upward and curling, keeping you standing and moving in place. The first couple of tries I fell flat on my face, but with anything, practice makes perfect and before long I was having the time of my life, giggling at the fact that my surfing life had all but gone with my move to the mountains of Montana. Man was I wrong about that, and to be honest, happily surprised that I was stood corrected but yet another surprise Montana had to offer.

Distinctly Montana