When asked whether river surfing is possible in Summit County, avid river surfer Josh Underwood put it bluntly.
“There are spots that could be surfed,” he said, “if you are willing to get cold and don’t want to drive.”
Josh and Mandy Underwood are two of the avid river surfers who live in Summit County. For a typical excursion, they will travel outside of the county to well-known, long-ballyhooed spots near Glenwood, Golden and Denver to enjoy the atypical outdoors activity they’ve grown to love.
The 37-year-old Josh did find himself in a rather alien situation the one time he tried to river surf in the county.
While donning his wetsuit, he carried his board and a bucket of warm water to a spot on the Blue River just beneath the Dillon Dam high above. On his way to a relatively hidden spot between the softball fields and the outlet mall, he strutted by a couple of fishermen and passing-by recpath cyclists to access the small wave.
A few moments later, he’d pop out of the trees to the surprise of those along the river. His goal had been accomplished: He’d shown surfing this spot could be done.
“I can’t believe you surfed that,” fellow Summit County river surfer Michael Mawn, 18, said.
LISTEN: Summit County locals Josh and Mandy Underwood and Michael Mawn chat all things river surfing
River surfing in Summit County certainly isn’t common. Among the passionate few who regard the sport as a hobby, there’s almost no reason to hit spots within the county lines when there are such great river surfing spots within a few hours drive.
This summer, Josh and Mandy, 29, took a trip up to a river surfing spot in Wyoming. They’re familiar with spots like the one in Glenwood, probably the most surfed wave in the whole state, but the Wyoming experience was new to them. That is, until they dropped in. After a couple of tries feeling out the wave, Mandy was back into the familiar flow state of riding the river.
“It just looked pretty gnarly,” she said.
After this past winter’s relative lack of snowfall, the river surfing season was abbreviated for most any and all spots throughout the state. At the Glenwood wave, a typical season can last from the end of April to the middle of August, with conditions peaking sometime in late May and into June.
On the other end of the spectrum, for less-heralded spots, such as the play wave on Tenmile Creek in Frisco, days to river surf are so fleeting that carvers like Mawn and the Underwoods may be confined to just a couple of weeks, if that.
The Underwoods also highlighted how differences between snowboarding and surfing influence riding style. A native New Mexican with no surfing background in the ocean, Mandy said she routinely fell when she was first learning to river surf because of her penchant to lean toe-side and backside. This, the Underwoods realized, was due to her reliance on snowboarding bindings on the mountain. Soon, though, her style in the river would evolve, as would her style on the mountain.
As for the spread of the sport moving forward, the Underwoods and Mawn see social media and the internet evolving it for the modern age. When speaking of his trip to Wyoming, Josh described a scene full of men in their 30s or older, some of whom had been hitting that spot decades ago, long before the age of Instagram.
The Colorado River Surfers group on Facebook currently has just over 900 members, many of whom recently got into the hobby.
Mawn himself found the sport thanks to the internet. It came on an evening a couple of years ago when he Googled the term “river surfing,” after his tube got stuck in the Clear Creek River.
“I told my man, ‘hey,'” Mawn recalled, “‘we should try to surf this thing.'”
The internet also plays a role in the Underwoods’ passion for river surfing. Josh described how he and other river surfers use Google Maps, scrolling north, south, east and west down digital mountain rivers to see if they can spy some never-before surfed spot.
That’s maybe where ocean and river surfing differ the most. On the ocean, most every spot has been discovered. But out on Colorado and America’s rivers, there is still a frontier-like element to this adventure activity.
“You show up to the wave,” Mawn said, “and even if you don’t have a board, ask somebody and they’ll be happy to lend you their board and life vest.”