Stories Ryan-Hughes

Published on February 26th, 2017 | by Ryan Hughes

Photo by Ryan-Hughes |  4

What it Feels Like to Transition from Ocean to River Surfing

When I applied for a summer internship with The Inertia, I imagined warm beaches, good surf, and sunny Southern California days. I would be writing about surfing, and working alongside all the heaviest hitters in the surf journalism industry. Late tequila nights on the beach, and early dawn patrol sessions.

I was in for quite the surprise when I received an email from the website’s founder, Zach Weisberg – it went something like, “We’d love to have you as an intern! I see you go to school out in Reno, Nevada. I don’t know if you were banking on coming out here to Venice, but we have an opegning in Boise! I’m going to forward your portfolio to our Mountain editor, Joe.” Though it wasn’t quite what I expected, I took the opportunity with little reluctance. Boise, Idaho – I’d never been there, and I knew little about the place.

When I finally received a phone call from my boss-to-be, I was fly-fishing at Pyramid Lake. Joe Carberry was his name, and he had nothing but great things to say about Boise and the work opportunity ahead of me. “Oh you’re into fly-fishing? Dude, you have to come out here to Boise, man. You will dig it! You surf? No way? Me too! Dude, bring your wetsuit!” I did not question the guy. For the first time in my life, I let the chips fall as they did, and just went with it. Naturally, I was stoked on the opportunity ahead of me. I called my mom and told her I would not be coming home much at all that summer.

For the first time in my life, I let the chips fall as they did, and just went with it.

Fast forward a few months – I had spent the morning drinking expensive beer on the shore of Lake Tahoe, with a beautiful girl. It was from there that I had driven my loaded down Subaru straight to Boise. It was a long drive, but a beautiful one at that. The tobacco-filled hours buzzed by as the same Jawbreaker album played on repeat. When I arrived, I was greeted by a living room futon in the small apartment of an old high school friend – living with two sorority girls was not as glorious as it sounds, but it was an experience to say the least. My new home was a short walk away from the Boise River and a short drive away from my new office in downtown Boise.

Corridor surf shop in Boise, Idaho

My first day working for The Inertia went down in history as the best first day of a job in my entire life. I had expected to walk in a small office filled with a small staff of outdoor writers – there would be some radical snowboarder guy, a gnarly kayaker dude, and of course a beautiful Boise mountain babe who I would share a summer love affair with. None of that became a reality. I was greeted by Joe and only Joe. He long-boarded up the sidewalk to meet me at the entrance of a start-up business office, 10 minutes late. I didn’t mind – this was only an indication of how laid back my work environment would soon be. He gave me a shockingly brief run-down of what he expected from me, and we soon began writing on our laptops. Most of our conversation consisted of him telling me about a man-made wave on the Boise River and how we were going to surf it. Not even two hours into our work, Joe looked up from his computer and said the words “Let’s go play”. He told me to go home, grab my wetsuit, and meet him at the Boise Whitewater Park. I followed his instructions, not quite knowing what to expect.

I followed his instructions, not quite knowing what to expect.

Joe and I arrived at the river and suited up. He had a surfboard for me. A dinged up short-board thinner than anything I’d ever surfed before – even in the ocean. I was pretty envious of the board he was going to ride. It made me wish I would have brought my entire quiver out to Boise. Unfortunately, all I had was my 5/4 wetsuit. I neglected to even bring my booties, due to the expectation that we would be doing much more working than river-surfing – I was so wrong. And I was also wrong in not bringing my booties, because the rocks that line the Boise river are a hell of a lot more treacherous than the sand on the Northern California coast. Needless to say, my feet got ripped to shreds during my stay in Boise. But even bloodied feet cannot strip me of the stoke I earned from that river-wave.

Even bloodied feet cannot strip me of the stoke I earned from that river-wave.

We stood in line behind a handful of river-surfing Boise locals. Boards-in-hand we watched as surfers paddled into the massive river break one-by-one. To put things lightly, I was a bit scared. Actually I was very scared – mostly of making a fool of myself and becoming the new Boise River kook. I was still trying to figure out exactly how these guys were getting into the wave. They would paddle straight into to edge of this massive onslaught of water, put the board in front of them like some sort of boogie-board, then somehow end up in the pit of this gigantic wave. I was at a loss – each time it was my turn, I would be washed away 70 yards down the Boise River. Only to walk back and stand in this line of river-surfing freaks of nature. I would question the surfers aside me in line, asking how to get in. I would introduce myself as an ocean surfer to establish some sort of credibility, then express my confusion and extreme will to get this down.

Wave One, Boise Whitewater Park

These guys made up one of the most fantastically unique surf community that I’d ever found myself in.

Each surfer was extremely kind and helpful. These guys made up one of the most fantastically unique surf community that I’d ever found myself in. After a few days of continuously being washed down the river, I finally found myself getting into the wave each and every time I paddled towards it. What an exciting sensation it was, but I still was not ripping like some of the locals – cutbacks, airs, you name it. These guys were good. Joe would be stoked on my progress as if it was some sort of big article I was writing for his website. I ventured into the Corridor surf shop to seek tips on river surfing, and maybe even find a banged up soft-top to buy. I came up short with the board, but one of the guys who worked in the shop, who’s name was actually Guy, gave me some quick tips to improve my riding.

It was probably the second week when I showed up to the wave, only to be stumped by its configuration. The river flows decreased, and the wave had to be reshaped to match the flows. It was now a smaller wave, and was unable to be paddled into like before. Just after I had learned how to successfully enter this massive river wave, the thing completely changed. Surfers couldn’t even enter it from the parking lot side. We had to enter the river upstream and paddle our butts off to cross it before we would be swept down by the wave. Though I had an entire new technique to learn, it ended up working to my advantage. The new wave allowed for me to drop in to the wave on my feet, kind of like how a skater would drop into a half-pipe. It made for much easier rides, but I would soon be lusting for the larger size and wider wave of the previous configuration. The new wave was about half as wide and two-thirds as tall. Regardless, it was just as rugged, difficult, and exciting.

Female shred power in Boise

To put things lightly, I was a bit scared. Actually I was very scared.

The most amazing thing that I found in river-surfing was not the diversity of waves, nor was it the steep learning curve or incredible difficulty. It was not the novelty and it was not the fact that I didn’t have to rinse my wetsuit after each session. The most incredible part of it was the people who did it. The Boise surf community is one like none that I have seen before. A mix of California transplants, adrenaline junkies, fun-seekers, a Tahitian, and maybe even a few guys who have never even surfed the ocean. Together they formed a welcoming group of folks, young and old, who surf like few surfers ever have. These guys rip in the water, and they are devoted to their craft. The river-wave lineups were as fair as fair can be. Whether there was three guys in the water, or 20. Whether it was a dawn patrol river session, or a couple of turns on lunch break. These guys respected each other and seemed to respect anyone else who wanted to give this sport a shot, including myself. I have no doubts that I would be accepted back, and even remembered by name, come the day I return to the Boise River wave.

The river-wave lineups were as fair as fair can be.

I went on to surf that wave almost everyday for the remainder of my time there. It was almost like a part of mine and Joe’s daily work-flow. Some days I would be a bit too frustrated with getting thrashed around in the rocks and ripping current, but Joe would get me to go anyways. We truly had an awesome time. I spent my time in Boise writing articles, drinking at college bars, surfing, fly-fishing, camping, meeting great folks, and not to mention becoming well-acquainted with the bottom of the Boise river. How many other places can a guy do that?

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Ryan Hughes

Originally from Santa Rosa, California, Ryan Hughes is a surfer, hunter, fly-fisherman, and all around outdoorsman. He is a senior journalism student at University of Nevada, Reno. Ryan writes for several websites, including and He was recently acquainted with river-surfing during a summer internship in Boise, Idaho. He hopes to spend his next summer in Missoula, Montana, surfing and fly-fishing.

  • Dave Green

    Actually there are a couple of surf shops in Idaho. Idaho River Sports, on the Boise side of the river plus legendary shaper Chris Peterson whose boards are very prominent on waves throughout Idaho. Otherwise, nice article.

    • Riverbreak Magazine

      Thanks Dave – just updated this part of the story! We actually have a short piece on Chris here on Riverbreak, see, but not much information on Idaho River Sports unfortunately. Happy to spread the info if you know more!

      • Dave Green

        Thanks!! Idaho River Sports’ owners Jo Cassin & Stan Kolby worked on making the park a reality for 14 years. When PH1 opened in 2014, they helped introduce the world to the park during the Boise Surf/Kayak Rally! Video: Website:

        • Riverbreak Magazine

          Thanks for the update Dave. If you know Jo or Stan, let them know that we have a site where they can submit Idaho River Sports to our brand/shop/community list! Here’s the link:

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