Archive for November, 2014


The revolution of river surfing and Strongwater Surfshop.

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KB Kevin Benhart Brown throwing buckets of water.

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The sweet wave

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The Strongwater guys getting ready. Luke Rieker Ian Stokes KB Kevin Benhart Brown

River surfing? For real? Who does that?
A few weeks ago, while on a shoot for Outside Magazine in Missoula, Montana, I decided to stop by the Strongwater Surfshop. Before my trip I had called the shop and asked about the river waves in Missoula and I chatted with K.B. Among all the things he told me, he said, “Missoula is turning into a surf town!”. Just that statement sealed the deal for me, I had to check it out. As soon as I got to the shop, I was overwhelmed by everyone’s friendliness. Wait a minute… Surfers are usually jerks. No offence, I am one of them. River surfing is different, friendly people, camaraderie, encouragement, what a refreshing change. I chatted with K.B. and Luke and somehow I got talked into driving two hours to the Lochsa river to go and checkout Pipeline, one of the best waves in the area. Or is it in the landlocked US? Anyway, this was 2pm. The guys were going to close the shop at 5pm, drive 2 hours, arrive on the Lochsa at 7pm at the earliest. Surf until dark, if lucky 9:30 and drive back to Missoula. 4 hour drive for maybe a 2 hour surf session. This is some serious commitment. The sign of that beautiful obsession, that is so familiar to me, of something you love with a passion. An other thing caught my attention at Strongwater. These guys, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, build their own surfboards. Shorter, wider, fatter. Boards designed for a river wave. I had to go and check it out. SInce it was a long drive, I got a headstart and worked my way through windy HW12 to mile 113. The Lochsa, a beautiful river very familiar to me from my many drives to Steelhead water was running strong. I took photos of the wave and started looking for the Strongwater guys starting at 7pm. At 8:20pm it was a no show. “Damn river surfers flakes” I thought. I started my drive back to Missoula thinking I had wasted 4 hours and a bunch of gas when I saw coming down the road a pickup truck loaded with boards and a guy giving me the Shaka sign. “Cool! We are on” I thought. 8:45pm, the guys were in the water and I watched them rip it up. As I was shooting, I was looking at the wave time these guys were getting. On a good Ocean wave I get 6 to 10 seconds of riding.

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Ian Stokes making a top turn

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KB Kevin Benhart Brown in the shaping room at Strongwater

On a good session I catch 8 to 12 waves. We are talking 2 minutes of riding on a very good day. These guys were getting weeks of wave time in one short river session. I was not only impressed by the river time but also by their surfing. They were not just sitting on the wave like I had seen surfers on river waves previous years, they were ripping it. At the end of their session we all sat on the parking lot and chatted well into the night. Their enthusiasm was contagious. “What cool guys”, I thought. They took off for Missoula and I found a place to camp nearby. The following weekend there was an informal event at Pipeline and the guys at Strongwater and other river surfers as far as Jackson Wyoming where going to be there. I decided to make my 5 and half hour drive to check it out and this time not only to shoot, but to surf. After the event, back in Missoula, I also wanted to photograph K.B. shaping one of the boards and the shaping room. Strongwater is the only mountain surf shop in the US. That is pretty cool of itself. On top of that they are shaping their own boards specific to river surfing and they are ripping on them. These guys are taking river surfing to a new level, they are revolutionizing the sport. Strongwater is making river surfing history and I needed to document it.
Good thing for my camera because my river surfing skills sucked, or I should say, my river wave catching skills sucked. I made so many attempts and only a few times caught the wave and got up. Next day I was so sore that I could barely move. I also had the record held down. Of course, the rookie had to have the record. I was under, being pushed by the current and as much as I pulled on my leash, to use the board buoyancy to come up, nothing happened. The current didn’t want to let go and let me back on the surface. “Dude, that was nuts, I have never seen anything like that before…” are some of the words I heard when I came back to the above water world. Next day, I went back for more but in the back of my mind I wondered who would have rescued me if the river didn’t let go.

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Now the fun begins. The wild ride downriver after a fall. The surfboard is your life vest, don’t let go!

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Glassy river wave

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K.B. Doing an ollie