Minus the saltwater and add a whole lot of stoke and you’re left with some of the weirdest waves around the world. Read about some of them below and feel free to let us know if you’ve ever surfed a strange wave.
Surfers are an intrepid bunch. Willing to forgo modern comforts and explore the unknown if it leads to an undiscovered wave. Or fly halfway around the world just to catch one unforgettable run of swell.
We blame the fact that surfing is addictive. But many surfers are also born with a curious spirit. So it’s only natural that we’re always looking for the next best ride. Even if it takes us hundreds of kilometers from the nearest beach or ocean. To rivers in Indonesia of dubious hygiene; under bridges in the middle of the Austrian countryside; or alongside crocodiles in Africa who’ve developed a taste for neoprene and fiberglass.
Yep, when it comes to decent waves, surfers throw logic and any shred of self-preservation out the window. So with that in mind, here’s an article about some of the weirdest waves around the world. You won’t be rushing out to surf these breaks, but we guarantee you’ll have a hell of an adventure if you do.
The Bono, Indonesia
When many of us think of surfing in Indonesia, we picture those peeling points of the Bukit Peninsula where our surf camps are located. Or perfect barrels rifling off a secluded Mentawai reef. What doesn’t come to mind is a surfable wall of brown water rolling down a river in Sumatra. But lo and behold, that’s exactly what the Bono is.
Located about 800 kilometers from Jakarta, this tidal wave originates in the mountains of West Sumatra and runs along the Kampar River. Before exiting into the Malacca Strait on the island’s eastern coast. First popularized as a surfing destination by a team of surfers from Rip Curl that included Tom Curren, the Bono has been known to deliver rides of up to 1 hour long. Talk about a leg burner.
It works during the wet season and can reach heights of 6-foot plus. On most of the days that it does break, however, the waves are considerably smaller. This means that the Bono is regarded as being relatively user-friendly. With local tour operators now offering beginner and intermediate surfers the chance to try their luck on what is definitely one of the weirdest waves around the world.
If you go to Indonesia, you’ll no doubt be taking a surfboard with you anyway. But a trip to Austria with a boardbag in tow? Verrückt! Or at least that’s what we used to think. Until we discovered that one of the weirdest waves in the world is located smack bang in the middle of the Austrian countryside.
Welcome to Graz. A city in the southeast of the country that’s home to a few souls shy of half a million. With a burgeoning surf scene that revolves around a few different waves that break every summer along the Mur River. One of which is named Hauptbrücke: a small yet challenging stationary wave located directly under one of the main bridges in town.
Paddle yourself into position and try to stand on your own. Or grab the rope that’s tied to the bridge and use that to stay on the wave. Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a ball surfing this novelty wave. Even if you don’t have a board you can enjoy watching experienced locals shred. Many of whom compete in the “Murbreak Riversurf Contest”. Which is held at a nearby bridge every other year and features some of the best river surfers in the country.
Lake Superior, USA/Canada
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located on the border between the USA and Canada. Made up of five different bodies of water, they’re so expansive that they’re more commonly referred to as inland seas. With Lake Superior, in particular, large enough to hold rolling waves whenever powerful storm fronts sweep down from the north.
Far from being only just surfable, these waves can barrel and deliver sections similar to waves formed in the ocean. The only difference is that you’re 1,900 km away from any saltwater. Not to mention the temperature here hovers around 1˚C. This means surfers in the Great Lakes have to contend with freezing conditions plus the occasional chunk of ice floating through the lineup.
If you can handle frigid water, the reduced buoyancy from being in freshwater and random blocks of ice dropping in on you, Lake Superior will be right up your frosty alley. But if the only ice you want to see is in the post-surf gin and tonic waiting for you at the bar, maybe take a raincheck. To say it takes dedication to surf this weird wave is an understatement. I think we’d prefer a surf camp in Costa Rica, to be honest.
Probably the most famous river-surfing spot on mainland Europe and possibly the world, Eisbach is a stationary wave in the Isar River in Munich, Germany. In fact, talk to any one of the staunch locals who surf the wave regularly and they’ll tell you it’s the undisputed capital of river surfing. And who are we to argue?
Once deemed illegal by order of Munich’s council, riding waves at the Eisbach is now encouraged. With surfers from all over Europe and the odd professional flocking to see what all the fuss is about. Rain, hail, sun and snow, you can always find a core crew of keen surfers lining the banks awaiting their turn. While their friends put on a show and throw buckets of freshwater spray into the crowd. A spectacle that definitely cements it as one of the weirdest waves around the world
Protection such as a helmet and a mouthguard are worn by some of the locals because of the number of rocks on the river floor. So beginners should stick to playful ocean waves unless they’ve surfed similar setups before. Then again, watching from the shore and cheering the surfers on is just as fun. Especially if you’ve got a bottle of Bavaria’s finest beer in your hand.
Tweed River, Australia
Every now and then when enough sand has built up in the Tweed River, surfers in Australia get to experience firsthand a crazy novelty wave. With righthanders created by massive ocean swells traveling up the Tweed and barrelling off a manmade rock wall.
Short, intense and chocolate brown in color, this is a wave that only experienced surfers can handle. Due to the large amounts of water rushing out of the river. This ensures there’s always a strong current pushing you out to sea. Manage to stay in the right spot and you could just score the barrel of your lifetime. Mistime your takeoff and there’s a chance you’ll be washed up on a farmers paddock by lunchtime.
The Tweed River break is fickle, too. That means it only works on big swells and a certain tide, and only for a couple of hours. As opposed to waves such as Snapper and D-Bah though, you can almost guarantee there will be only a small crowd riding it. Still, on the days when it’s working and there have been massive storms, you can expect to see all sorts of debris from farm runoff in the lineup. Which makes us wonder… even though it’s one of the weirdest waves from around the world, is it worth the ear infection?
The Silver Dragon, China
The Silver Dragon tidal bore in China is a thing of beauty. Not only is it a spectacular event to witness, it’s also been the site of a Red Bull sponsored surfing competition. Needless to say, the waves here in the Qiantang River where it’s located can get pretty incredible. Especially when it’s a particularly large tidal bore, such as those that occur during a full moon.
Surrounded by towering skyscrapers on either side, the Silver Dragon may not be as gnarly as some of the other tidal bores. It can, however, pack a lot of punch on rare occasions when combined with a typhoon. Chinese tourists looking to glimpse a sight of this watery beast as it makes it way downstream are often swept off their feet. Such is the power of the water when it spills over the river’s banks.
Waves on the mighty Qiantang are therefore measured in miles per second, rather than feet. A feature that makes it one of the weirdest waves around the world. Check out the carnage it caused back in 2013. When a massive tidal surge combined with the influence of Typhoon Trami turned it into the freshwater version of a runaway train.
Zambezi River, Zambia
A river wave is a novelty wave, there’s no doubt about it. But a river wave that barrels and is always offshore is like something out of a surfers dream. Take the Zambezi River in Zambia for example. You could nearly call it the original wavepool, given how perfect it breaks. Although the crocodiles prowling the lineup make it a little more risque than Kelly Slater’s tub.
Still, for most surfers the risk of ending up as a crocodile’s lunch is worth it for a barrel that never ends. You will have to time it perfectly though if you want to maximize your chances of riding it. That’s because Rapid 11 as it’s called by locals only works about twice a year when there’s a huge flow. Luck out though and it’s safe to say you’ll score the best freshwater barrel of your life.
The only drawback, besides the crocs and the potential for drawing that is, comes in the form of human advancement. With the local government planning on building a hydroelectric dam further upstream. If this goes ahead, it would effectively eradicate Rapid 11. So if you’ve got a taste for surfing a weird river wave in Africa, you’d better move quicker than a crocodile with an empty stomach to surf this one.