Surf’s up, Vermont!

Photo by Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto

Early summer’s frequent rains may have been bad news for some. For me, it meant one thing: surf’s up.

After nearly a foot of rain fell in June, Vermont’s rivers were at near-daily draw, keeping flows and the potential for river waves high. Wherever rapids form, standing waves, which break continuously in one location, come alive. River waves with the right shape and power can be surfed in a canoe, by kayak, or, I’ve discovered, on the old beat-up surfboard I finally brought back from my sister’s house on the coast.

There are several ways to get into river waves, and often it involves paddling alongside the whitewater section in the calm of an eddy, and then angling into the wave from just below it. Once on the wave, it’s a matter of staying balanced and steering with some good footwork, and using the paddle as an occasional brace and rudder. River waves might appear small – often shin or knee high – but their energy doesn’t dissipate the way an ocean wave does. I often focus on a single or a small cluster of waves – “park and play” in whitewater speak, rather than running downstream.

Solid whitewater experience and awareness are essential, so if you are new to river surfing, find an experienced partner, and start small. Gear wise, I use an old, beat-up surfboard, wear sneakers or neoprene booties for foot protection and traction, a whitewater paddling helmet, and a properly fitting PFD. I’m leashed to my board with a quick-release velcro strap, should that ever become necessary. More than anything, I thoroughly study and explore the river where I’m surfing, including its underwater environment and its banks. I never paddle and surf anything I wouldn’t happily swim, and in most conditions I go with at least one other partner.

Inflatable SUPs are a great option for the river, due to their relative durability. BIC’s 10’0” or 11’0” SUP Air models are two options to consider for their all-around river, ocean and flat water performance. Two-piece, adjustable paddles are nice for many reasons, and make traveling with a paddle easy. Some river surfers like to wear shin and/or elbow pads, too—a great idea when the river you are paddling is especially shallow and rocky.

Surfing in Vermont is definitely a unique experience. Instead of open ocea vistas you might have cows moo at you from the riverbank and on the horizon, spot your favorite mountains and ski run. It’s an exciting addition to life’s fun bag of tricks.

Brian Mohr

Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Moretown own Ember Photography and publish They can be reached through their website,