Every landlocked town with a river running through it should have a surf wave. No excuses. Aside from certain energy-sucking artificial waves in the news lately, river surf spots are arguably the greatest innovation in wave riding – it’s a wave that never ends, you don’t have to rinse the salt off your wetsuit, and you never have to worry about getting a leg full of shark teeth.
But sometimes, good surf waves are just too gnarly for the general public. Surf and whitewater enthusiasts are currently fighting the good fight in Bend, Oregon, attempting to perfect their wave in the new Bend whitewater park, on a short stretch of the Deschutes River. But unfortunately, casual floaters (ie recreationists on Costco rafts and rubber tire tubes) were experiencing problems with flipping, falling off their crafts, and even being injured in some cases.
A specific passageway was designed for people floating the river wishing to avoid the whitewater features. But it was still tough for the inexperienced as officials tried to get the park dialed in and people have openly questioned the safety of the channel.
Record high temperatures have drawn thousands of people to the river and the park’s officials pulled the plug and closed the park down temporarily. Floaters are now required to bypass the whitewater park by portaging or getting out and re-entering downstream. Executive director of the park, Don Horton, said, “A lot of tubes were turning over, a lot of scrapes and bruises and that’s really not the experience we were expecting to have.”
Injury is a small price to pay for an amazing wave, but unfortunately the wrong people were paying that price. Currently, efforts are being made to improve the safety of the area while still maintaining a well shaped wave to surf. This has proven to be somewhat of a struggle, as the wave became too flat for surfers due to the changes made to make the river section more accommodating for floaters. Ryan Richard, the park’s “wave-shaper” who took the job with the parks department after working in Boise at the same position, is confident that the Bend wave will soon be back at its full potential. “There were some minor injuries but it’s kind of a normal thing to go through when opening a whitewater park,” Richard told me.
On Thursday, June 9th, members of the community placed sandbags in certain spots of the river in an attempt to effect the tale water elevation, however, about a third of the sandbags washed away. More work is needed to get the Bend wave up to its full potential, but the surf community is working hard to get it there. Says Richard, “If we can get the sandbags to work, then there’s no reason it can’t remain open.”
The Bend wave has been lauded as a fun inland wave, even being enjoyed by surfing legend Gerry Lopez. But it’s going to take some serious work and calibrating of flows to keep this piece of inland surf culture open to the public.