The Legend of Big Sur

You may have heard her on the phone or met her in the store. Angie, Kayak Shed employee, just got back from an epic Colorado trip. Here’s her run-down.

Some say it ran last year. Some say this wave hasn’t really gone since 1989, others prefer 1991 as the date of the last genuine appearance of a legend. Or according to White Water of the Southern Rockies, the last sighting of this feature was in 1997. Sound a little like Big Foot? The Myth of Big Sur is well known by paddlers across the country. This legendary surf wave in the middle of Nowhere, Colorado requires extremely high run off to form. With huge snow packs in the Rockies I set my sights on getting out to Colorado to surf a legend.
Unfortunately, for the first time in years I have a full time job.

Fortunately, I work at the Kayak Shed. A week before I headed out to Colorado I franticly called John, telling him I had to leave the next day to catch Big Sur before it disappeared for another ten years. We couldn’t quite work the schedule out, so instead I booked a ticket for the following week, crossing my fingers there might still be some kind of feature left to surf when I got there. As luck would have it I arrived just in time to ride Big Sur around 30,000 cfs- a truly prime level for the top feature. Had I gone a week earlier I would have surfed the Bonus Wave, while the top wave would have been a river wide prism of brown glass. The top wave Big Sur is famous for only forms above 25,000 cfs, and the first morning we were there it held steady all morning at 29,500.

My friend and I drove up from the truck stop we camped at the night before and got there around 10am. The only other folks at Big Sur were these two dudes from New Mexico. They had been surfing since the sun came up and were happy to share the feature with us. Until around one we were the only people there. It was easy to take turns because the rides were so long and the paddle to the side and hike back up were tiring, especially for my lungs fresh off the plane from White Salmon. Gradually other boaters showed up. There were surfers on long boards, and all kinds of paddlers with everything from squirt boats and Pirouettes to shiny new play boats, all waiting their turn to surf.

It was amazing to see how many people had traveled great distances to catch this novelty wave. I had come from Washington, there were the dudes from New Mexico, folks from all over Colorado, a guy from New York even showed up, and of course the random South East boaters that filter through Colorado every spring were there too. It wasn’t just boaters. The obligatory tourists showed up to gawk and even the local law enforcement made an appearance to make sure there wasn’t anyone on surf boards (apparently the surf board is a banned craft.) As the sun sank behind the canyon the crowds cleared out and the rest of our posse arrived. The boys stayed out until it started to really get dark.

We camped in the canyon and repeated our session the next day. This time we got there at 8am and it didn’t get really crowded until three. The whole two days are a blur of foam pile and glass. The second day I got my longest surf of the trip, clocking in at right around 20 minutes. Honestly, my surf was nothing compared to the length of time the old school boats were clocking in. One chick in an old Red Line surfed the glass on river left for over an hour! The second day was a bit crazier and Queen/King of the Wave was an all afternoon event. We left around six and headed to Glenwood to see what all the fuss was there.

Glenwood was fun, but not at all the same experience as Big Sur. I was surprised to learn The Denver Post had published an article declaring Big Sur to be a waste of time, a thing of the past, and hailed the Glenwood wave as the place to be. True, Glenwood was spectacular, huge, bouncy, fast, and ideally suited for this years cutting edge play boats, but it was not the same experience. Honestly, Glenwood played second fiddle to Big Sur in my book.

Big Sur was smooth, deep, and wide making it perfect for half hour long soul surfs and flat spins until you’re dizzy. It was super forgiving and wide enough for five or six of your friends to join the party, and when you’re sitting in the trough next to two buddies and a surfer drops in next to you it clicks. This is why Big Sur is a legend. It’s a unique experience. You’re not just sitting in an eddy with your friends; you’re down it together, just surfing. Big Sur is pure river magic. Anyone that’s surfed Big Sur knows. It’s not the place you go to impress people with all the cool new tricks; it’s where you go for your soul.

Thanks for reading!


Kayak Shed . .

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