‘It’s like the endless wave’
For 24 years, Ali Wade of Aspen listened wistfully to stories from her father of the legendary wave that sometimes forms on the Colorado River near De Beque.
On Wednesday, she was about to experience the famed “Big Sur” as she pressed on her nose plugs, stretched the rubber skirt over her kayak and scooted her boat into the water. Within seconds, the current swept her downstream into the mammoth standing wave as she paddled furiously and darted about in the frothy rapids.
“This is just, like, historically a hot spot before people were making water parks,” Wade said before launching into the swift current.
Whenever river flows hit about 20,000 cubic feet per second, the site of a former, submerged bridge at the mouth of the De Beque Canyon, nearly half the river’s width, crests into a glassy mound.
Runoff at a little less than 29,000 cfs on Wednesday thrilled a number of kayakers and surfers who played in the wave for minutes before pulling themselves out to rest and run it again.
“It’s like the endless wave,” said surfer Dan Gavere, who was filming the ride with a camera taped to his paddle that he held above his head.
Gavere, and his girlfriend, Nikki Gregg, stand on paddle boards and propel themselves with a paddle.
“That was the longest surf of my life,” Gavere said after pulling himself wearily to the shore.
“No surfer surfs for more than 15 minutes. It’s the perfect place for us to have fun.”
The Big Sur wave should be ripping through the weekend. Water levels are expected to lower to 23,000 cfs by Saturday evening, the longest range prediction yet available to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Big Sur, when it occurs, has exhilarated kayakers over the years. The swell last occurred in 2008, and except for a weak showing in 2003, it was more prevalent in the 1990s, especially in 1997, according to rafting lore.
Water parks such as the one in Glenwood Springs now creates similar waves for boaters to play on.
But the rarity of Big Sur still delights rafters. Kyle Gosnell of Vail said he waited two decades to run the wave in his kayak. In the 1990s, boating companies would set up and test kayaks on the wave, he said.
“There’s just a few things you don’t want to miss when the river’s this high. Big Sur is one of those,” Gosnell said before shoving himself off the bank.