Victor Myers’ ocean-surfing friends react with disbelief when he tells them he owns a surf shop in Idaho.
He gets it. Sometimes he can’t believe it, either.
“I regularly laugh about that,” he said.
Myers’ shop — Corridor Paddle Surf Shop in Garden City, just 50 yards or so from the Boise River Park — has capitalized on the growing popularity of river surfing. He estimates more than 100 surfers use the River Park on a regular basis and 30-40 use it several times per week.
They’re joined by a long line of curious beginners.
“There’s an incredible amount of beginner surfers,” Kai Miller of Boise said. “Every day, you get a new surfer out here or someone who is a surfer but has never river-surfed before. You count that as a new surfer. The ocean is not the river. They are very different.”
Surfers have been using the wave at the Boise River Park for at least a decade, Myers said — long before engineered waves were installed for kayakers, surfers and other water users. The sport received a boost when the River Park opened in 2012 and the waves were well-suited to surfing.
“The interest in surfing has continued to grow,” said Paul Schoenfelder, the recreation manager for Boise Parks and Recreation.
The waves in the two man-made features change on a daily basis between a kayak focus (foamier) and a surf focus (glassier) — although the park is open to anyone all day. The surf wave is put in at noon Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and alternating Sundays (it’s surfing this week). The kayak wave takes over at noon the other days.
That gives surfers access to a good wave at least six days a week. Some are out there year-round (wetsuits are necessary except in late summer).
“This is church, for sure,” said Tashi Miller, Kai’s brother. “This is where I love to be and love to spend my free time. It’s super fun when there’s a big crowd of people out here because no matter what the skill level is everyone’s always hooting and hollering. You always feel like you’re accomplished when you land a new trick or you get a good ride.”
The waves act as a surfing treadmill. Water gets directed back upstream by the waveshapers, creating a wave for surfers to ride facing upstream. They can cut across the wave, make turns and do tricks — but they don’t travel more than a few yards until they crash and are swept downstream.
“You’re moving zero miles an hour relative to the shore,” Myers said, “... but you’re hauling. You’re going fast relative to what’s underneath you.”
It’s like riding a cloud. Boise surfer Tashi Miller
Surfers use shorter and often wider boards than they would in the ocean because of the spacing in the wave. Most boards in the river are 5-foot-8 or smaller, Myers said.
Riding the river wave is similar, he said, but accessing it and getting on the board is much different than the ocean.
There’s another key difference, too.
“The best part about it is there’s no sharks,” Kai said.
The people are nicer, too, surfers agree. Ocean surfers can be territorial about their waves. At the River Park, surfers wait their turn in line and encourage the newcomers.
“Everyone helps each other out — laughs and talks and plays and listens to music,” Kai said. “It’s a very friendly atmosphere.”
And maybe that’s what keeps the newcomers coming back, because learning to surf is not easy.
Kai started a year and a half ago. He spent four hours a day in the river for a week — “falling off 50 times in those four hours and maybe surfing it once,” he said.
Tashi has more ocean-surfing experience. Still, it took him a week to get the hang of the river wave.
“Once I got to my feet, that was where I was comfortable,” he said.
Myers frequently rents gear to beginners. He offers a complimentary ground school by appointment but isn’t able to teach lessons in the water. You’ll need strong swimming skills and a never-quit attitude to succeed, he said.
“The nature of the setup out there, it’s pretty easy to emulate other people,” he said. “And also, people are helpful. It’s Boise — people are nice here. They’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong and then you come back and we give you a little more information. You’ve got to be persistent and a little stubborn.”
The reward? That comes when you get on your feet.
“It’s like riding a cloud,” Tashi said.
Want to try surfing?
The Corridor Paddle Surf Shop (surfboise.com) in Garden City rents surfboards for $20 for two hours and wetsuits for $15. The staff provides complimentary pointers in the shop by appointment. In-water lessons aren’t available. Corridor is at 314 E. 35th St., adjacent to the Boise River Park. The phone number is (208) 615-4787.
Can waves talk?
Boise State graduate Tim Ronan is collecting seismic and infrasound data at the Boise River Park as part of his studies toward a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina. The hope is that the information can be used to help adjust the wave for optimal performance.
“His idea was to do a research project to try to understand what ultrasonic, seismic signature is produced by different whitewater features,” said Paul Schoenfelder, the recreation manager for Boise Parks and Recreation. “One thing that might come from that is the ability to more objectively define features. ... Theoretically, it may be possible, depending on continued research, to use that to control the shape of the waves — to adjust not just on visual cues but you could adjust based on the ultrasonic feedback that you get from the wave.”