Surfers can catch a wave in Montreal’s Lachine Canal. // © 2014 KSF
First came whitewater rafting, followed by jet skiing, cliff diving and, most recently, stand-up paddleboarding. Now, urban surfing has taken the world by swell. From Montreal to mainland China, outdoor enthusiasts are grabbing their surf boards, capitalizing on natural phenomena in worldwide waterways and riding waist-to-head-high river breakers in the heart of the city.
Ready to hang 10 with big city nine-to-fivers? Here are three destinations to try out the world’s newest extreme sport.
Montreal, Canada - Nearly 2,000 miles long, the St. Lawrence River has been a source of North American commerce and community since the 17th century. Now, in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers, Montreal residents swap their urban attire for wetsuits and surf the St. Lawrence’s naturally occurring, standing river wave. Due to a steep underwater depression, the river produces an ongoing breaker some 500 miles from the Atlantic. Surfers paddle or swing out on ropes to reach the wave, which crests near Montreal’s Habitat 67, a Moshe Safdie-designed architectural landmark in the Cite-du-Havre district.
KSF, a watersports center based in Montreal’s Parc de Rapides on the Lachine Canal, offers beginner and intermediate river-surfing classes that teach technique and get participants riding waves in no time.
Bordeaux, France - This southwestern port has Haussmannian architecture, literary heritage and nearly 300,000 acres of world-renowned vineyards. It is also home to the Mascaret, a monthly mega wave on the Dordogne River. Called a tidal bore, the uninterrupted swell is the result of fluctuations in lunar tides, bringing ocean-worthy waves into the river. Every month, urban surfers take off from St. Pardon harbor, paddling downriver until the Mascaret creates five consecutive waves. Those who catch the first two can ride at 15 miles per hour for nearly 30 minutes out of the city, passing Peter Mayle-worthy landscapes and the 11th-century Chateau de Vayres.
London-based Feral Surf Tours specializes in French surfing itineraries and can book both group and a la carte trips to the Mascaret.
Hangzhou, China - Two hours south of Shanghai, Hangzhou is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, West Lake, as well as a thriving textile industry. The 285-mile Qiantang River, which links Hangzhou to China’s ancient Grand Canal, has the world’s oldest tidal bore. Known as the Silver Dragon, the 30-foot-tall wave crests through downtown Hangzhou every autumn. Traveling at up to 25 miles per hour beneath glinting skyscrapers, it is a bucket-list ride for competitive and casual surfers worldwide.
China Odyssey Tours offers packages in Hangzhou and Imperial Tours can organize group or individual river tours.