Secrets Of The Gauley River: How Do You SURF West Virginia?

If you’re coming to West Virginia to go whitewater rafting on the Gauley River, you’d better be ready to learn how to surf.

That’s right. Surf.

It’s a little secret we river-types keep about whitewater: waves in rivers stay in the same place. That means we (you) can surf on them.


Okay, maybe not forever. But for a long time. Like, long enough for you to say, “Holy. Moly. I’m surfing in West Virginia!” Just don’t swallow any water while you say it.

How’s it done? Funny you should ask; that’s exactly what this post is about.

The Secret To How Whitewater Waves Work

Let’s start with a little bit of a basic overview. Water flows downstream, right? When there’s an obstacle, the water can either go around it, or over it. Easy.

Say the water is high enough to go over the obstacle, in this case a rock. If the current is big and strong enough, there will be a depression in the water, a dip, behind the obstacle.

And then, soon after, there’s the wave.

And guess what that white, foamy crest of the wave is trying to do? Right. Fill in the dip. Of course, it never will. It’s just a wave that breaks and breaks and breaks.

Surf That Thing

So, here’s what we do: Pull our rafts onto those waves and surf them. And then, voilas, you’re surfing.

The type of waves that are best for surfing rafts on are of a particular shape (steep), size (big), and quality (foamy). The technical term for a wave like that is a hydraulic. We call them holes. You can too, if you want.

Lucky for us, the Gauley River is chock full —FULL— of holes that are perfect for raft surfing. Which goes perfectly with rapid running.

And that’s how we go downriver during Gauley Season. We run some rapids, then surf. Then run some more rapids. Then surf some more.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Know Your Holes

The guides know the river. We’ve been down it thousands of times. All of the best spots for surfing are well known and loved. Guests (hey, that’s you!) generally get a taste for surfing and become ridiculously addicted to it in a matter of seconds.

The only thing you have to watch out for on the Gauley are the holes that are too big to go in and surf them. Intentionally, at least. When you find one like that, everybody in the boat learns fairly quickly that there’s a big difference between surfing and getting surfed.

Especially on the Gauley.

So, how about it? Got a great Gauley surfing story? Share it in the comments, because we’d really like to hear them (surfing stories are some of the best river stories there are; we collect ‘em).

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