Some might need an ocean to surf, but in Chaffee County, it only takes a river — as it turns out the right conditions on a river — to river surf. Since early September, Ark Valley Voice contributor Merrell Bergin has been following the progress of the newly rebuilt “Scout Wave”, on the Arkansas River in Salida, just downstream from the Rotary Scout Hut.
While finishing touches to the riverbank are still underway and a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony is yet to be scheduled, river surfers are taking to the Scout Wave in droves. “It’s made the news all around the state and people are headed this way,” said Salida Parks and Recreation Director, Diesel Post.
Alex Norton from Crested Butte (clearly an expert surfer) said he rides in Montrose and Gunnison, heard about the new wave here and came over on Sat. Oct. 8 for a perfect fall outing. He said it took awhile to figure out the hydro dynamics, then he shared his technique with other riders. Putting his weight on the board’s rear, facing straight upstream, then stepping off from river left and shifting his weight, he made it look oh-so-easy to glide across the river and stay upright.
It’s not. When asked, Norton said he preferred to not have his board strapped on: “the takeout is so mild” that he said he was not worried that his board would end up in Pueblo.
Other wave riders appeared less sure of that, and given the concrete structure below and massive boulders along the riverbank, helmets are definitely advisable.
With everyone learning and gaining valuable practice on the not-yet-final wave feature, there were numerous faceplants. It took at least a half dozen tries to even get upright for most but everyone was having a good time and sharing fist bumps and cheers at both success and attempts.
What is evident is that even with late-season, low-water flows, it takes skill, stamina, practice, and courage to hang in on this wave. To the casual observer, river surfing here looks to be liking riding bareback on a bronco.
Close-up views of the river surfer action can be had on the riverwalk itself just after the down ramp or from the shade tree area up top, behind the Scout Hut itself.
One can only imagine the thrills that tubers will have, come next summer.
30 Days of key construction steps are shown.
Speaking with Salida Parks and Recreation Director Diesel Post, regarding the construction of the wave area he said, “This is the first time the entire river has been diverted.”
While the local team including Mike Harvey and Lowry Contracting have been involved for years in building wave features and the riverwalk, this project placed special demands on the crews.
“Mike Harvey really outdid himself on the design this time”, Post added.
According to Terry Hadley of Salida’s Hadley Construction, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required equipment to be out of the river by October 1; a very short window for all the riverbank rock removal, cofferdam work, concrete pumping and putting the riverbed and bank back.
“I’ve been building bridges and doing river work for 49 years in this area, but this project is really fun,” said Hadley as he and his crew hammered the last of the forms into place.
Hadley, his son, and their team worked in challenging conditions, picking their way over the maze of rebar and forms, wrestling the gushing concrete into place, then raking it smooth – grueling physical work.
On Sept. 16, concrete was pumped from many trucks, with an operator standing on the riverbank using a radio-controlled device. The longest boom to be found in the area – 124 feet in length, was stretched to the maximum width to reach all corners of the form pour.
Then it was time to let the concrete cure and put the river and its bank back in place. All the equipment had to be pulled out of the riverbed to meet the deadline.
“The community can’t thank Larry Sherwood of Lowry Contracting enough,” said Post. “For those who remember the old days when the riverbank was a trash-filled, dirt drop-off, to today, none of the river corridor would be what it is without him and all of our partners.”
Featured image: Alex Norton of Crested Butte shows his cool surfing style. Not the Pacific Ocean, this is the new Scout Wave on the Arkansas River in downtown Salida, CO. Merrell Bergin photo