From the Mag | North America’s Top 5 River Waves

brittany parker
Brittany Parker and a whole lot of moving water at Skookumchuck Narrows, British Columbia.Photo: Heather Jackson

From the Mag | North America’s Top 5 River Waves

According to Brittany Parker

Brittany Parker is obsessed with river surfing. The Colorado native got hooked on SUP while working as a raft guide and has been chasing standing waves with a board and a paddle ever since. In 2015, Parker and company released “Can I Surf That,” a film about four strong women and their passion for seeking and surfing North America’s best standing waves. Here, she gives you her top five … so far.
“What excites me the most is the possibility of challenging this list and finding new, undiscovered waves,” Parker says. “The search continues!”

Spencer Lacy carves on Skookumchuck, North America's Finest Wave.
Spencer Lacy carves on Skookumchuck, North America’s finest river wave.

1. Skookumchuck

Location: Egmont, British Columbia
River: Sechelt Inlet (Ocean)
Access: Boat; 45-minute paddle; 45-minute hike
Entry: Eddy Service up to 9 knots. 9-plus knots drop in required.
Working Flows: Tidal
Skookumchuck is a very spiritual place for me and I feel very honored to have surfed there. As the second fastest tidal rapid in the world, ‘Skook’ is not actually a river wave but rather an ocean inlet that fills and empties with the tides. For this reason Skook is not for the beginner surfer. Fast currents can quickly carry a surfer a mile through large whirlpools that can easily suck surfboards and life jackets deep below the surface. Still, this wave is so glassy, so big and the water so clear, that you forget about the swim that’s waiting for you should you fall. The purple starfish and sea lions are an added bonus and another reason this wave rises to the top of my list.

Brittany Parker throwing spray on Pipeline. Photo from SUP the Mag Facebook.
Brittany Parker cranking a turn on Pipeline. Photo from SUP the Mag Facebook.

2. Pipeline

Location: Lowell, Idaho
River: Lochsa
Access: Directly next to the highway
Entry: Eddy service, river right
Working Flows: 5,000-12,000 CFS – Seasonal
Ninety-nine miles of windy road, steep cliffs on your right and Class III-V rapids on your left builds anticipation, not unlike driving up the coast when the tree tops are blowing offshore and the swell’s pumping. As far as river waves go, this is as close as you can get to the ocean, with a nice left shoulder and a peak that builds and breaks back on itself. Glassy, fast and rippable. Surf’s up!

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Brittany Parker dancing at Lunch Counter. Photos courtesy of Heather Jackson.

3. Lunch Counter

Location: Alpine / Jackson Hole, Wyoming
River: Snake
Access: 15-minute hike from highway parking lot
Entry: Eddy service, river right
Working Flows: 7,000-11,000 CFS – Seasonal
Wyoming is filled with saloons and real life cowboys so it’s no surprise Lunch Counter is one of the rowdier river waves on the list. It’s a 15-minute hike to the wave, so make sure to bring all your necessities (fin keys, water, snacks.) At the right flows, the wave bowls out hard, more like something you’d find in a skate park than an ocean. The crux of this wave is the swim out. The rapid’s waves stack as high as six-feet with powerful whirlpools that will take you for a spin. If you can brave the gnarly waters, the steep face and unique shape of the wave is more than enough to put a smile on your face and even more stoke in your stroke.

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Several paddlers sharing the infamous Big Sur wave. Photo courtesy of Heather Jackson

4. Big Sur

Location: DeBeque Canyon, Colorado
River: Colorado
Access: Right off I-70 (a major highway) but easy to miss. Parking is 500 feet from the wave.
Entry: Drop in from above
Working Flows: 20,000 CFS
Big Sur is a well-known legend to the whitewater community in Colorado, sometimes hibernating for up to 10 years without waking up. This wave isn’t known for its steepness or speed, but rather for its glassy river-wide face. I’ve been on this wave with five or even six other people at one time. With rides that can last up to five minutes, it’s perfect for really honing in on your skills. Between the long rides and the long swims that follow, Big Sur will wear you out quickly, so make sure to have plenty of post-surf beers waiting for you…because you’ll have earned it.

glenwood
Zack Hughes charging on Glenwood. Photo courtesy of Heather Jackson

5. Glenwood Wave

Location: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
River: Colorado
Access: Directly off I-70
Entry: Eddy service, river right, but only during high flows
Working Flows: 14,000+ CFS (Spring)
Glenwood is my home wave, so maybe I’m a little biased, but when it’s working, it earns its top five spot. You can surf it at just about any flow but it starts getting juicy around 17,000 CFS. Its accessibility, size and the community surrounding it attract paddlers from around the world and it’s not uncommon to see surfers of all sorts posted up for the day, barbequing and taking naps in their converted vans between sessions. Glenwood is that fun, four-foot surf session with your buddies except that, being a river, the fun never ends.