Senior Editor

The Inertia

One of the easy things to love about this job is that when you write something, cool people hit you up with interesting side angles. Last week, I looked at adjustable river waves and how they’re a better option than Disneylandish wave parks for communities–namely because they put a lot of money back into those communities. The analytics prove it.

But one important point from that piece was that river waves sometimes lack in quality. People are out there trying to change that. People like Allen Tanner Davis.

Davis is a surfer who lives in Florida and became interested in river waves when he saw Andrew Matthews surfing Africa’s famous barreling wave on the Zambezi River, one we’ve hyped before as well. “That was mother nature showing us that it’s possible, and a pro surfer showing us just how similar river surfing and ocean surfing are,” Davis told me. “If a river wave is the same size and shape as an ocean wave, then the same maneuvers are possible.”


Davis began toying with artificial waves to make more environmentally-efficient park waves but changed directions once he discovered rivers. “I was unaware of river surfing when I was inspired to build the prototype,” he said. “My design concept was a 98 percent more energy efficient wave pool with half the construction cost and one percent of the operational cost. While doing a bunch of internet research to see who else was working on this I found many strong river surfing communities. It was a perfect fit.”

Davis’s design has been done in his laboratory, and he claims it has a much wider shoulder than the Zambezi wave and much broader general use: “It’s more than just a barrel. We have simple upstream and downstream gates that adjust the water depth, speed, and angles, allowing the wave to act like a point break with different swell angles and tides. We can create a deep square barrel, a thin-lipped playful barrel, a tall performance lip for smacking, a longboarder’s delight, a soft-mounded beginners’ wave, and other variations; all with real-time adjustments.”

river surfing, barrel, artificial wave

Davis says that one of the keys to a barrel in the river is the depth of water behind the wave.

That will also help with changing river levels. The barrel is a mechanism of higher water, as Davis says his wave needs about 4,500 CFS to create a solid pit, but then can be adjusted as river levels change. He’d like to implement the feature somewhere like the Ruins Wave, a steep, fast series of waves in the city of Ottawa on the Ottawa River in Canada that is littered with old cement pilings and rebar (ripe for redevelopment).


Davis is in the “9th inning” of getting his design patented but wants partners and communities to help. “Our best chance of making this happen is to show municipalities the economic benefits of having a river wave in their town,” he says. “It’s no different than building a skate park or other sports venue. The athletes will come, the spectators will follow, and the vendors are never far behind. Equally important to the residents is the social and community building aspects. Having a coffee, watching the morning surfers, and catching up with friends and neighbors is commonplace. Bend, Boise, Munich and a few others are all proven examples of the social and economic benefits. We will see it live, but I can’t say when.”

Check out more from Davis, here.


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.