Australia has the Gold Coast. Hawaii has the Pipeline in Oahu. Missoula has a 20-foot wide dip in the Clark Fork River.
Welcome to river surfing. It’s just one more thing to add to the list of what Missoulians claim as their unique weirdness.
So, what’s the deal? Are oceans and lakes not good enough for the surfing community anymore?
Apparently not. Brennan’s Wave is the man-made whitewater play spot next to Caras Park in downtown Missoula. Almost 10 years old, the wave is named after Brennan Guth, a world-class kayaker who died paddling in Chile in 2001.
Today, the $300,000 project has created a niche river surfing community.
Strongwater Mountain Surf Company, just down the street from Brennan’s, has infused surf culture into the mountains and is the first inland shop to sell stand-up paddleboards. Strongwater offers board rentals, surf lessons and a totally rad company motto. One step inside the shop and you’re surrounded by southern California vibes (and merchandise, a lot of merchandise.)
But the wave isn’t just a local phenomenon. Over recent years, Brennan’s wave has received some national attention. National Geographic featured it in a 2014 adventure blog, Montana by Dirt.
In June 2010, over 200 competitors came to Brennan’s wave for the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking Championships, which drew thousands to Missoula.
Local competitions take place at the wave, too.
In fact, last year surfers and kayakers competed in the Best of the West. That competition also aimed to raise money — for another man-made wave in Missoula.
The Max Wave is a proposed memorial for Max Lentz, a Hellgate High School student who died in 2007 in a kayaking accident.
About 10 months later, the Max hasn’t made it past the permit stage. In part, that is because the city is not sure it can afford more of a gnarly cool thing. Missoula has spent over $240,000 to maintain Brennan’s Wave in the past decade.
Regardless, Brennan’s Wave is still open for shredding. Wetsuit Californian-wannabes still lug their river-specific surfboards over the bridge and down to the single wave that gets so much attention.
So next time it’s nice out, go catch the wave. Not that is really going anywhere.