On the River: ‘Surf’s up’
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Last weekend, there was an anomaly on the Colorado River west of Glenwood Springs: a standing wave stacked higher than a couple of hippie buses surged and folded over itself in a froth of chaos. And kayakers came from far and wide for some of the state’s most epic, gnarly surfing.The life of the big standing wave in South Canyon is short, like a hummingbird or a high-mountain flower, and it is only in its perfect incarnation for a few days when the waters of the Colorado are waning from peak runoff to lower summer flows.I was lucky to catch it Monday.After a good run through the raging Shoshone section, higher now than when I paddled it in early spring and last fall, I drove down Interstate 70 to the South Canyon exit, crossed the river near the old steel bridge and stood on the bank high above the wave to watch some expert paddlers get their freak on.One by one, the rodeo punks skipped out onto the wave to spin, side-surf and flip in the gushing mammoth, following a circular route from the frothing top of the wave to the lower section where the water flowed flat and fast.And I watched as, one by one, each got thumped, flipped and spit out by the big curl.Daunted, I nonetheless decided to suit up and join the eddy cue.Another paddler assured me there were no consequences – that when the wave gives a beating, you simply washed downriver – so when it was my turn, I paddled into the breach.I don’t do any of those rodeo punk moves (yet); I’m thoroughly satisfied with simple, old-school front surfing, but this wave was one of the biggest I’ve surfed.I just leaned back and recirculated from the high frothy top to the gushing trough, angling the edges of the boat and making sure not to lean the wrong way.I can only imagine the frightened “Oh! Face” I made.And, just like when you’re wrestling a 800-pound gorilla, it’s the gorilla who decides when the game is over; so, too, it was with the wave in South Canyon. At one point, I tried to peel off downstream, but the trough was too sticky, and I was stuck for another few recirculations before it spat me out.I didn’t get trashed and had a few good, long rides before calling it a day – until the wave rises again next year.
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