River Surfing the Potomac River with the PBC
When Badfish started in Zack’s garage we had no idea if anyone else would want to surf river waves on stand up paddleboards. We just knew we were having fun, we figured there must be other paddlers out there like us.
From the first email that came in from Greg “Suggz” Miller, a local paddler and SUP instructor on the Potomac River near Washington, DC, it seemed pretty obvious we weren’t alone. Over the first couple of years through emails and phone calls we got to know a group of paddlers based on the Potomac who started calling themselves the “PBC” Potomac Badfish Crew. When you are pouring your heart and soul (and cash 😉 into something, to have kindred spirits reaching out to you and sharing the stoke keeps you going. With names like Cobra, G-Mo and Suggz and images and videos of these guys out charging on Badfish boards all over the internet I realized we had to meet this crew and paddle with them on the Potomac.
Team rider Miles Harvey and I headed to Denver International to catch a flight to DC last week with a plan to meet up with team riders Mike Tavares and Haley Mills on the Potomac River for a week of river surfing and paddling with the PBC. A few days before we left a high energy email thread, originating from Wayne “Cobra” Cohen, started flying around with talk of flood stage on the Potomac and ocean swell at the nearby Maryland shore….I started getting the sense we were in for a good time.
By the time we landed in DC, met up with Mike T and headed for Cobra’s house the rain was coming down. And it rained. I live in a place that gets an average of 13″ of rain a year, high desert, so from my perspective the rain we experienced the first day and a half was biblical in nature.
We met up the first day with PBC members Suggz, Guilermo “G-mo” Loria, Frank Cook, Cobra, Eric Astor and Jason Kopp with a plan to start on the Offut Island wave. The rain descended in steady waves and the Potomac was a churning river on the rise. We surfed the small wave hole at Offut for about an hour before the Crew had us on the move. With huge trees floating downstream and gauges on a steep incline it was time to go surf the Center Chute wave.
A quick note about what makes the Potomac River so unique. The Potomac is a huge river channel with high volume flows, which is split into multiple channels around large bedrock islands, creating a variety of whitewater play spots, waves and holes, flat water and class II/III whitewater; all downstream of the spectacular Great Falls. All of the various spots come in at different flows and everything is accessible within about 1.5 miles of a central access point. You can put in where you park and attain upstream to waves and then float downstream back to your car. Or put in on the historic canal that runs along side the river (note to visitors from Colorado…don’t call it a ditch) and paddle upstream to the base of the falls in flat water. It all adds up to a really unique paddling experience in a beautiful setting.
The Center Chute Wave is a really fun wave, about waist high with a foam pile. We caught Center for three sessions over the course of the time we were there. We surfed MVP’s and River Surfers primarily. I was surfing the 8′ River Surfer a lot which is rapidly becoming my go to board in 2014. The 8′ River Surfer for me (6′ 180lbs) is a great blend of stability and performance. On a wave like Center Chute with a little room to operate, the speed of the 8′ River Surfer helped me to easily cross the boiling eddy line and establish a surf on the wave and then the high performance tail and rocker profile ripped once I was surfing.
By the end of first day paddling on the Potomac 2 things were clear. One…the PBC is a super stoked, really fun group of paddlers that embody what I love about SUP. Not a single ride or attempt at a ride went with out hoots and hollers. Two…this river was fixin’ to flood! It rained all day and by the time we woke up in the morning the next day the Potomac was around 9 feet or roughly 90,000cfs.
Since all the waves were washed out we decided to put in below the falls and paddle through the Gorge. Paddling and walking our way upstream along the canal folks out walking and cycling were giving us sideways looks. “You’re not going to paddle down the river are you?” I started feeling like an abusive parent. I took Miles out of school to go paddling for the week and now I am going to send him down this river at 90,000cfs?! The river was a boiling, frothing stew…we put in among the trees and while all the whitewater was washed out the river was absolutely charging downstream.
With most of the surf waves washed out we decided to head to the Maryland shore to surf the swell being created by the same storm cell that was dumping rain on the Potomac watershed. I have never surfed on the east coast and I did not know what to expect. We headed out to a beautiful National Park barrier island called Assateauge Island. The surf was stormy and cold in the evening when we arrived, but by morning it had cleaned up and we had a spectacular morning session with the PBC. We surfed in a pack, whistling for each other’s rides, catching short fast rights and lefts on the sandbars that line the coast. There are wild horses on the island and without a building in sight I could not believe I was only 3 hours from our Nation’s capitol.
We headed back to DC in the afternoon for a barge party on the Potomac in downtown in sight of the Capitol and all the famous monuments. After a couple more fun sessions at Center with the Crew and a few more beers at a Suggz-a-q Miles and I staggered back on the plane to head back to Colorado absolutely worked, but 100% sold on the paddling on the Potomac and in the surrounding region.
There is no doubt that the coolest part of Badfish for me is the experiences I have had paddling with my good friend and business partner Zack, with my son, with my wife and daughter and with every other person I have been lucky enough to paddle with since we all started exploring this new sport together. That we could fly across the country and be welcomed by this crew crystallizes what I love about paddling. All of us that love to paddle and be on the water are part of an extended tribe…a community. The PBC embodies this spirit. I feel lucky to call myself an official member of the Potomac Badfish Crew! For more information on stand up paddleboarding on the Potomac and in the region check out Potomac River SUP. -Mike Harvey, Salida, CO