Last winter I found myself city-bound and living in Germany. Living in Germany has its benefits… good beer, pretty ladies, welcoming people and if you’re a meat eater then you’ll be truly surprised by the quantity and variety of sausage on offer. However, for surfing it sucks.
Being slap-bang in the middle of Europe I need to be creative to get my regular surfing fix, which is why I switched my sights to river surfing. One of the most widely known river waves in mainland Europe is the Eisbach (which translates as “Ice Brook”) in the Bavarian city of Munich.
Water runs off the Northern Alps down the River Isar, flowing through a central park named the Englischer Garten. As it exits the gardens the water runs beneath a narrow bridge which accelerates its flow and fires it across a step of rock which causes the water to rear-up. Depending on the volume of snow melt or rainfall at any particular time you’ll get a wave that always forms in the same place, but which changes in size and shape as the water level rises and lowers.
The Eisbach wave has earned itself a reputation and comes with a warning for anyone who wants to brave it. Firstly, I’ve heard rumours that the wave has claimed a couple of lives and caused its fair share of gnarly injuries! Just behind the wave, hidden beneath the surface, there are a series of square concrete pillars that stick up… if you fall off in the wrong way and go too deep there’s a real possibility of getting trapped under water or smashing yourself on the pillars. So, learning to fall flat and as floaty as possible behind the wave are essential.
And it’s also infamous for its localism: The local surfers are very protective of their wave and don’t always welcome newcomers with open arms. To understand and respect this will go a long way if you want to surf their river. As it turns out, it was actually illegal to ride the Eisbach wave until 2010. Now that it’s legal, the local authorities appreciate the tourist attraction it has become… it’s a real stop on the guided tour of Munich! The locals want to ensure that it remains legal to surf there, so they don’t want inexperienced watermen to rock-up and hurt themselves and giving the local authorities fresh cause for concern. It’s all quite understandable.
I didn’t want to go alone on this trip so I bribed two of my favourite people to join me with a promise of beer and the opportunity to point and laugh at my first attempts on the wave. The marvellous support of Sooze and the amazingly talented surf photographer, Julia Ochs, were both instrumental to my success, with genuine support and encouragement. Without Sooze I would have had to run back through the park, in my wetsuit, to collect my fin screws!!
Julie, a professional photographer by trade, has been responsible for more than half of my favourite surf shots over the years. She’s extremely talented and an amazing friend! She kindly agreed to come-along, take some shots as evidence and drink some beers.
Before heading to the main wave for a turn or two I did some research and asked a couple of the local surfers for tips, which really worked in my favour. They advised me to practice my skills on the Eisbach Two, which can be found a little deeper within the park and is the baby brother to no.1. It’s a very friendly spot and I could surf it for a couple of hours to get used to the concept. River surfing is a weird feeling, totally different to the ocean surfing I’m used to.
Once I felt confident that I could pull it off, I headed to the main wave. It’s a different beast entirely to its little brother and not something to be taken lightly! The water is rushing at some crazy speed and it roars incredibly loudly… even the sound is intimidating! Then there’s the local fan club, consisting of 80+ spectators, watching from the bridge and waiting for you to fall.
I’m not going to lie, I was actually nervous!!! So, before suiting up, I watched and chatted to the locals to get the low-down on how to approach the wave. It turns out that on this day the locals were super friendly and helped put me at ease. I got my gear on and lined up for my turn.
I chose the caveman start, which is a trick that involves holding the surfboard in one hand, running and then jumping into the air, landing on the board with both feet on the wave itself. To my surprise and I’m sure to those who witnessed my first attempt, it worked out ok! I managed to avoid looking like a complete moron and surfed along the wave.
I spent an hour getting to grips with the wave and it was heaps of fun. It’s a good way to get a surfing fix and I’m sure I’ll give it another go at some point, but after 3 hours of surfing, food and beer were the next priority and where better to be than Munich! Munich is an amazing city with beer houses that offer litre glasses of some of the finest beer I’ve ever drunk… coming from a guy with a Belgian mother, that is saying something!
The trip was a success and to prove it Julia Ochs very kindly put some shots together as evidence that I was indeed there and more importantly, that I surfed the Eisbach Wave. I’d like to say a massive thank you to Sooze, Julia and the Munich local surfers for making the weekend trip one to remember…see you again soon!
All photos courtesy of Julia Ochs: www.julia-ochs.com