Friday, July 9, 2010

Surfing the Flat Lands

Jim Janney surfing Howell Island Wave in Missouri of all places (Photo Chris Janney)

Sometimes, life takes you away from the your normal whitewater stomping grounds in the mountains and sends you out to the wasteland that is the midwest (I grew up there, I know what it's all about). Fortunately, there are some huge rivers out there that don't require much gradient to have some fun.

The first stop on the tour happened way back in March on a business trip to Indianapolis. Fortunately, Louisville happens to be right on the way from Knoxville, and the Falls of the Ohio happens to be about 2 minutes off the highway. Even though I couldn't scare up any local paddling partners before my arrival, I figured I'd go have a look to break up the drive. Upon arrival, I quickly realized the magnitude of the river. The rapid didn't look that big, but then again the eddy was probably 1/4 mile wide and about 3/4 mile long. There was one decent looking but somewhat surgey wave out there and nothing that looked too dangerous below, although swimming would have been life threatening due to the distances involved.

Sun setting over Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio River. You can see some of the waves in the eddy in the foreground. (Photo JJ)

So, I hopped in the boat to paddle around the eddy and go take a look from a closer vantage point. One thing was certain, it was a huge wave, but still didn't look too threatening. So I paddled up a little ways to try to get out there and give it a try. Needless to say I underestimated the power of the water and didn't come close to making it. Next, I headed up near the top of the eddy and cranked out into the current as hard as I could. 100 yards downstream I had crossed the eddy line, but was still cranking out towards the wave. About 30 seconds after I had left the eddy I reached the wave, caught the huge bouncy beast (maybe 12' trough to crest?) for a brief second before surge threw me up and off. Short, but one hell of a ride. Another 1/4 mile downstream I had made it to the eddy and was heading back up through 5 ft. waves for another go. I was pretty conservative out there, but it was epic none the less, even though I only got about 6 rides in an hour. I snapped a few photos on the way out, but they don't do it much justice as I was probably over 1/2 mile away.

This big guy was one hell of a ride... (Photo JJ)

Looking upstream at the interstate bridge and the dam that forms the rapids. (Photo JJ)

Then last weekend, I headed back to St. Louis to see my parent for the 4th. I had heard that Howell Island, a playspot just off I-64 outside STL had been in a ton this year due to good snowpack and hot weather in Montana, so I brought the boat with me (Wish it had been the Molan, but I was selling the old ZG and only had room for 1 boat). Again, I couldn't drum up any locals to paddle with, but this time I at least had my Mom and girlfriend with me to snap a few photos. The level was 25 ft. at St. Charles, which was probably a little higher than optimal, but pretty nice to get a little surfing in. The access was a 10 ft. carry over a low water bridge for every ride, but eddy access might be possible to other features and at other water levels. Anyways, I'll let the photos do the talking about my lack of playboating ability.

Showing my lack of playboating prowess with the not-so-aerial roundhouse. (Photo CJ)

Getting frothy in one of the smaller secondary waves at Howell Island. (Photo CJ)

Landing my sweetest playboating move, the 180. (photo CJ)


  1. That is awesome! Great surfing!
    Are you guys still surfing this wave at Howell island? I would love to go and surf it too. Looks like the water levels are going up. Could you please contact me at to let me know if anyone is going there to surf. Thank you

    1. I haven't surfed there since this day, and I'm not very familiar with appropriate water levels. Maybe try the forum at for more information on levels and paddling partners.