Wyoming Surf & Culture Report: A Legit River Wave

Cooper Kahlenberg | | SurfSurf

In a canyon tucked away a little south of the resort town Jackson Hole you can find a surf spot known as a Lunch Counter Rapid. This rapid creates a glassy wave that is surfable at certain river levels, usually in between low and higher flows. In it’s prime season it is an easy walk to the river edge where you can see kayakers and surfers taking turns riding this natural phenomenon.

This wave is legit.
This wave is legit.

The wave forms when a combination of runoff water from the snow pack, and releases from Jackson Lake bring the river to the range of 8,000cfs to 12,000cfs. Anything higher and the wave flattens out, lower and it dies out, not to mention at low levels you can hit your feet on rock going through the rapids.

Lunch Counter surf session.
Lunch Counter surf session.

Rapids you say? The most intimidating factor about surfing the wave a Lunch Counter is the class III rapids you get to swim after your ride is over. Eddy lines will push you back in the current, whirlpools will grab you, spin you around and suck you under. I think of a quote from surf legend Buzzy Trent, “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear”. As a first timer you will think this thing is 100 feet tall.

The Class III swim after the wipeout is for real.
The Class III swim after the wipeout is for real.

After a few runs through the rapids, if you lucky enough to get a feeling for it and stand up you will actually feel like you are surfing an ocean wave, but the riding is where the similarities stop. After all you are hundreds of miles from the nearest beach. Compared to an ocean wave where the wave is pushing you down the line toward shore, at lunch counter the wave is not moving. You are confined to the area of the wave face, which ranges from a few feet to 15-20 feet depending on the river flow. And don’t let this 3 foot tall wave fool you, the amount of water moving under your feet is comparable to a head high ocean wave which allows for some pretty good wipeouts.


If you want to give it a go the best thing you can do is go observe and ask questions. Most everyone that surfs at Lunch Counter is very friendly and knowledgeable. I would also suggest being a strong swimmer if you haven’t surfed before, because you are going to get worked! Anyone you see riding the wave has a story or two about being sucked down in a whirlpool, getting a leash stuck on a rock, or being unable to eddy out and being pushed down to the next set of rapids.

Ridin' high.
Ridin’ high.

Last of all be respectful to everyone out there! If there is a line of people waiting to ride be aware of the amount of time you are standing on the wave. Boats have the right of way going down river, many times you can avoid them as they go to the side of you, but if one is coming at you get out of the way, you don’t want to get pinned under a 16 person raft!

Lunch Counter
Lunch Counter entry


Here are a couple links to some videos:


Here is professional surfer Alex Gray and snowboarder Bryan Iguchi getting after it last summer.


And another with Bryan Iguchi and Cam FitzPatrick.


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2 thoughts on “Wyoming Surf & Culture Report: A Legit River Wave

  1. So why no PFD? Would make the swim after way better and it is not like they are trying to dive under/ through the waves like in the ocean.

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