As summer snowmelt runs down the Rockies to Pueblo, water-sports enthusiasts flood the Arkansas River with activity. The area teems with kayakers, boaters, water-skiers, and – surfers? Yes, surfers. Lured by the waves at downtown Pueblo’s Whitewater Park, river surfers are quickly turning the city into Colorado’s top surfing destination.
Surfing Capital of Colorado
“Pueblo is the surfing capital of Colorado,” says Chad Parson, an experienced river surfer and founder of the Colorado River Surfing Association, or CRSA.
“Whitewater Park has a lot of great waves and eddies, all in one place. They’re all different and very fun to surf.”
River surfing is similar to ocean surfing, but with one key difference: hang times are out of this world.
“The waves never close out, never get to shore – it really is an endless ride,” says The Edge’s Bob Walker, whose shop has been outfitting Pueblo’s outdoor and recreation enthusiasts for more than 15 years.
After several years of sparse interest in river surfing, Walker has recently seen a dramatic increase in the number of surfers and body-boarders visiting Whitewater Park. The uptick is due in part to the CRSA’s efforts to showcase Pueblo’s surfing scene. The organization hosted its International Surfing Day celebration in Pueblo in 2009 and plans to do the same again in 2010.
Parson would also like to add a high-flow contest to the calendar, to give surfers a chance to try their skill at riding peak waves. Tina Sotelo, a Pueblo resident who regularly surfs Whitewater Park, is not surprised that more and more people are showing interest.
“It’s a great sport for both men and women. Even kids as young as 10 or 12 can start out on a body board if the water’s not too high,” she says. “Anyone who wants to learn can go to The Edge and talk to Bob or just come on down to the river—anyone there is willing to help anytime.”
Pueblo Surf Locals
That openness is part of what makes Pueblo’s surf scene so appealing. “The people who are in the park surfing are so nice, so approachable,” Walker says, and Parson concurs.
“The Pueblo surf locals are some of the best and friendliest surfers in Colorado,” he says. “It’s always fun to hang by the river with them.”
Pueblo surfing is also noteworthy for its relative safety.
“There is a surfable wave just outside Glenwood Springs, but it’s a really big wave across the Colorado River,” Walker says.
“If you get washed off, you could end up half a mile downstream, bouncing around in the rocks. Here, if you fall off, it’s just a big pond behind you. The recovery is much easier.”
But the biggest draw, he says, is convenience. Whitewater Park’s downtown location makes it an easy stop on the way to or from work, and the sport requires less equipment—and expense—than an activity like kayaking.
For Sotelo, the growing surf culture is an exciting addition to the mosaic of Pueblo life.
“It brings a different vibe and a different energy to the area,” she says.
Parson sees it as a model for other river cities around the globe.
“Pueblo is a great town,” he says. “They’re showing the world what can be done with our rivers to make them enjoyable for all.”
Read more about sports in Pueblo, CO.