Nick Troutman on the best river waves in the world for kayaking
Spring is around the corner and with that comes the spring melt that helps form a lot of the biggest and best river waves around the world.
It may not come as much surprise that my top five river waves are all found in Eastern Canada were I grew up and learned to kayak. It is also no surprise that the paddlers from these regions happen to also be great wave surfers. Coincidence? I think not. I could babble on about how much I love the rivers of Eastern Canada and how Eastern Canada has some of the best geology and amount of water volume to create the biggest and best waves of the world, though to keep it short I will cut straight to my fave waves.
5. Bus Eater/Mini Bus
I couldn’t post a list about the top river waves without including this historic/ classic wave. First off, it’s actually two separate waves Big Bus and Mini Bus, both being quite different and coming in at different river levels. These waves are located on the Lorne Rapid of the Ottawa River in Ontario. Mini-Bus, which is commonly referred to simply as Bus Eater, is quite possibly the most famous of all big waves in kayaking. It has been surfed for over 15 years and was really the first “big wave” that kayakers would surf and stakeout all spring waiting for levels to be ideal. Mini Bus was also the wave used in the 2007 ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships and is the largest one on which the ICF has ever held a World Championship event. It also happens to be quite user-friendly (as far as big waves go) with a giant eddy and easy wave train behind it. The cherry on top is the tow-in rope that the locals set up to pendulum carve your wave out from the eddy onto the wave to make it even easier to catch and surf. Without a doubt, big wave kayaking would not have seen the progression it has without the years of progression that was founded on Bus Eater.
The Detonator wave is located on the Petite Decharge, which is an outflowing dam of Lac-Saint-Jean. This is one of the larger waves and gives up some of the biggest airtime I have ever seen. Though like all great things, you must be patient, and for this wave, it is in more ways the one. First, the wave doesn’t come in very often, and when it does, it requires an eight-hour drive up to northern Quebec. After you get to the town of Alma you have to get a visual of whether the wave is actually in or not. Then, you get in the water, which is usually just a couple of degrees warmer than frozen and you charge out of the eddy trying to surf the curler waves out onto the green triangular face. This is where patience becomes key, as my typical sessions include 45 minutes of trying to catch the wave for every actual surf. Once on the wave, you will find that the water is hard and the wave is sporadic, so you better throw a trick when you get a crazy bounce or else you might just bounce off the wave and spend another 45 minutes trying to get back on. Without a doubt, this wave requires the most physical and mental work.
Molly in Northern Quebec
Molly is a dream wave for pretty much everyone who has had the opportunity to surf it. Molly is located in northern Quebec outside the town of Dolbeau-Mistassini. You have to drive more than 45 minutes down a gravel logging road until you find a random bridge with one of the best river waves in the world below it. If you have ever been there you might wonder how you’d find it in the first place. Though beyond the fact that it is located in the middle of nowhere, it happens to actually be of the best river waves as it is bowled out with both right and left shoulders. It is very user-friendly, and definitely is the easiest of all the large waves, especially of the East Coast Stakeout waves, as it is eddy access and has a massive pool and slack water behind the wave. If you want to get into big wave surfing, this is definitely a great place to start.
The Ruins wave might not be the biggest, but its unique double shoulders and steep face enable some of the best combos in wave surfing. The Ruins is located near downtown Ottawa, though the access is through Gatineau on the Quebec side. This wave is actually formed and gets its name from the old dam walls that have now turned to ruins. To surf this wave you pretty much always need to paddle out the wave itself and get a close of visual, or better yet, try a surf. Regularly it looks too ‘green’ to surf, though being it is so steep once you eventually get on it is like surfing a wall. It is also a tricky spot with a powerful curler that you need to surf across into the wave, as well as a tight eddy that you need to sprint for after flushing off the wave. If you miss the eddy, then you’ll have to make the big ferry back to shore and hike up the pathway back to the top, that whole cycle takes about 15 minutes, so its best to try really hard just to catch the eddy in the first place. Recently part of the dam wall had fallen in and may have changed the wave forever, though I am still hopeful that we just have to find the right levels that still work for this wave. From my knowledge, Ruins was the wave that saw the first triple wave move combos, and it still one of the best waves for multiple tricks and combo moves.
Gladiator, Ottawa River
The Gladiator wave holds the title as my favourite wave on earth for a multitude of reasons. It is one of the largest river waves I have ever surfed. I am a bit biased towards it as I helped find it back in the day when we stumbled upon it during a flooded river run down the main channel on the Ottawa River. The Gladiator wave is found in the Coliseum rapid on the Ottawa only at levels above 20 (usually above the gauge, so you’re kind of guessing anyways). This wave holds claim to being the largest on which a freestyle competition has ever been held — the Whitewater Grand Prix and several of the Ottawa XL events have competed on the Gladiator. This Goliath of a wave is not only big and fast, but you have to run the whole Coliseum rapid (the largest rapid on the Ottawa) every time you want to surf it. But the excitement is just beginning. The most stressful part of surfing Gladiator is the fact that there is The Ledge close behind, which is a massive pour-over hole that spans at least three-quarters of the width of the entire river. Once on the wave, it definitely gives off massive airtime, though it is hard to not also be thinking about The Ledge lurking right behind. Since 2006, when it was first found and really surfed, there have been many that attempt it though only a select few that keep going back for more.
Skookumchuck tidal bore in British Columbia: This wave was close to being in my top five, and is possibly my sixth favourite as it is just so glassy-smooth easy to throw tricks, reliable and predictable with the tides. It is simply just a ton of fun to surf. It is impossible to surf Skooks without smiling, it’s just that great.
Skookumchuck Rapids, Sunshine Coast, BC
The Cuban on the White Nile, Uganda: This is another rowdy wave, mainly because it is was a big foam pile with a nice shoulder but the three-hole filling directly behind it might toss you around way more then you would like to admit … seriously.
Rogers wave, France: I actually haven’t been fortunate enough to surf this wave yet, though it looks incredible and you can see tons of footage of Tom Dole and other locals ripping it up. Though there is rumour that something could have changed and the wave might not be in anymore.
Black Mass on the Mistassibi River Quebec: This is another one of the classic big waves on the Stakeout tour. This wave builds and crashes and can give up some of the biggest air if you’re willing to wait, and hike up every time.
Black Mass, Mistassibi River
Glenwood wave in Glenwood Springs, Colorado: This wave was the first really good man-made wave, (though honestly, I think it was an accident as I thought they were trying to make a hole). It is a great surf sport in downtown Glenwood and is regularly filled with kayakers, surfers and SUP’ers.
Habitat 67 on the St. Lawrence River, Montreal, Quebec. This is another one of those epic smooth and glassy waves with a nice catchers mitt foam pile, similar to Skookumchuck though a bit smaller. I have regularly had rides that last more than 20 minutes where I throw every trick I know at least three times. It’s that good.
Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence River, Montreal, Quebec: This is more common for kayakers as it’s a little more secluded and is more than a mile paddle out into the middle of the river. Another awesome part about the Lachine Rapids is there are actually three good waves to surf. Pyramid, which is a glassy triangle wave; Mavericks, which is a nice right shoulder (though you usually need a jet ski to session this wave); and the most common “Big Joe,” which has a bowled out surfers left shoulder, a wide pile and a nice surfers right shoulder that allows for easy random surfing.
Lachine Rapids, Montreal
High Tension on the Gatineau River, Quebec: This would be another one of the most popular waves on the East Coast due to its slightly more gentle environment and glassy smooth face. The High Tension wave is located on the High Tension rapid of the Gatineau River in Quebec, named after the high tension power lines that are strung overhead. This wave has arguably the best surfers left shoulder in the world and regularly gives up massive rides filled with tons of tricks and long surfs. It is easy to surf out from the eddy, though if you get pushed out the surfers' right-hand side you will run down through the wave train and have to make a quick hike back up over the rock island outcropping. If you want to ease into the ‘Big Wave’ scene of kayaking whitewater kayaking the ‘High Tension’ wave is a perfect entry point.
Southern Fried Stakeout, Columbus Georgia: This is another great wave located in a large-volume rapid located pretty much downtown Columbus Georgia on the Chattahoochee River. Some of the major perks of this wave are the fact that the water is quite warm compared to the northern snowmelt alternatives in Eastern Canada. It is also really cool to have this large wave in an urban environment with plenty of epic restaurants and all the amenities of a city.
Lucifers on the Gatineau River, Quebec: It’s a burly big wave that gives up big air. Most people don’t go to the Gatineau when levels are high enough for Lucifers, so you can always count on the line up being short. Extra bragging rights for surfing the hole in from the eddy!
Lucifers, Gatineau River
Big Brother on the Black River, New York: This is another epic wave that is large and pretty much in the city of Watertown, New York. I have only ever seen it high enough once where it formed the massive green wave, though I know it has happened more often. You just have to keep on the lookout for rising river levels and make a quick rally to Watertown. Also, watch out for floating debris and a low bridge downstream.
New River Dries in West Virginia: This is another one of the few massive waves that reside in the United States, and it has been a well-known wave for a while. With locals such a Bryan Kirk ripping it up for over a decade. There are actually a couple of different waves at the New River Dries depending on the flow. It starts out with some waves on the right side of the river that are actually eddy access and super fun, and as the flows get higher and higher there forms a massive beast of a wave out in the centre of the river.
Get Out There's kayaking ambassador NIck Troutman is one of the world's best freestyle kayakers and a former world champion. He's a native of Beachburg, Ontario and currently spends much of the year in search of outdoor adventure with his partner Emily Jackson, current world champion kayaker, and their two kids. He is sponsored by Jackson Kayaks and GoPro.