It was 80 degrees and sunny when Josh Quinn and I first pulled the surfboards from his pick-up, changed into wetsuits and lined up to drop into our first wave.
Still, people stopped and stared.
Maybe because it was April in Ohio.
Our chosen wave rushed through Snyder Park, a small Springfield green space about an hour west of Columbus and about 575 miles from the nearest ocean. The swell stood about a foot tall, peaking just beyond a smooth rock slope in Buck Creek.
Buck Creek Whitewater Project Springfield, Ohio Homepage
I initially scoffed when Quinn, who owns Tigertree boutique, contacted me in December about river surfing. After our first trip two weeks ago, I bought a surfboard and wetsuit.
From man-made rock banks that narrow a well-keeled section of the popular kayaking destination, Quinn and I took turns edging into a knee-deep current, jumping stomach-first onto foam surfboards and paddling to where the water rushed with greatest speed.
Each of us held the wave, twisting and turning in the spray, but couldn't stand up. We assured ourselves that this still counts as surfing.
Maybe because it was April in Ohio. (Edit: Quinn reported later standing up on a bigger wave with a better board.)
Most river waves are standing waves powered by something called a hydraulic jump -- what happens when fast-moving water rushes over a drop and pops back up over underwater contours.
Gravity pushes the surfer down the face of the wave, and the water's flow propels him up and back. Ideally, surfers balance in place, facing upstream and shredding laterally.
Catching the wave, you'll be hypnotized by the smooth and continuous rush of water.
"You get on a river wave, and you don't have to get off," said Andy Graham, owner of The Outdoor Source, who's been running whitewater on a stand-up paddle board for about four years.
River surfing has exploded across the globe as seasoned rippers search for vacant swells and landlocked hopefuls look to surf without a plane ride.
Around Ohio, the sport remains mysterious and survives primarily through informal, often legendary info transmitted by word of mouth. Only a few crazy enough to own surfboards in Ohio show much interest in pursuing it.
Here's how it works...
View larger image This man-made feature causes a hydraulic jump, when water rushes down a slope and jumps back up over underground contours. This is one of three waves at Snyder Park. Several others exist between there and the Springfield art museum.
View larger image Wearing a wetsuit, you step onto the rocks and edge as close as possible without getting swept away by the current or slipping off.
View larger image You position yourself above the fastest, strongest section. You lean down and get ready to jump, stomach-first, onto the board.
View larger image After you jump on, you need to paddle until the forward pressure of the current matches the downward pressure of gravity and board mechanics.
View larger image Even a crappy board without fins should allow you to turn and twist in the spray. When you get tired or slip, the current pulls you quickly but gently about 10 yards downstream. Ideally, Josh and I will both be standing standing up regularly on our new Greco foam-top boards.