As summer approaches in West Virginia we begin to reach the inevitable low water time of year. In other words, no surf!! Or at least not until we catch a short glimpse of relief from the occasional thunderstorm or hurricane. Even further into summer we reach August. August brings biting horse flies the size of hummingbirds, and swarms of mosquitos that threaten to carry off even the burliest of river raft guides at their overnight camps.
For most, August means barbecues and long days at the local swimming pool. For a river surfer it means low water, long hot days, and no surf. Even worse, the river surfer can find themselves in a disorder known as SAD: seasonal affective disorder. Also known as "Angry August" for the river community, a time of immense summer heat and low water for the New River Gorge.
On a good note, as the end of August nears, it is a time of excitement because September brings "Gauley Season" and the start of the Fall surf season. During low water that continues into Fall the commercial whitewater industry is promised six weeks of releases by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers from Summersville Dam. Four days a week of 2800 cubic feet per second flowing through the Gauley River Gorge that forms a perfect wave known as Diagonal Ledges.
A steady flow of about six surfers consistently take on the 45 minute hike to the remote section of river. From there it is an all day surf session sparing just enough energy for the hike back to the truck. Rarely do surfers return the very next day due to the lactic acid build up in their legs and the need for a recovery day. It is assuring knowing there will be several more releases that weekend and many more for the next several weeks. With rides lasting as long as five to ten minutes it is the legs that give out first instead of the arms like in the ocean. Several ocean surfers who have transitioned to river surfing in West Virginia claim that it would take a month to surf as much water in the ocean as you can in one session at Diagonal Ledges.
It's Gauley Season that brings us relief from seasonal effective disorder (SAD). Once the Fall surf season begins we have reliable surf until June. We are river surfers!!
by Randy Fisher
Randy is a professional river surfer, Boardworks Team Rider, Boarders Mag contributor. He surfs on a Hinson Black Knight quad on his home surf spot- Diagonal Ledges.