Is This the Year for Big Sur?
It’s been more than 10 long years since Colorado’s most epic surf wave, Big Sur, graced the bottom of boaters’ hulls for more than a few hours (it appeared briefly in 2004 when the Colorado River’s flow between Rifle and Grand Junction eclipsed the prerequisite 22,000 cfs). Before that, it was 1997, when Prijon’s Hurricane was still considered cutting edge and Clinton was doling our cigars.
With eight of the state’s ski resorts reporting record snowfall this year, and April adding to the tally, PL is betting that this could well be the year it resurfaces, offering the chance to surf with 15 others side by side on the most unique river feature this side of Skookumchuck.
With the resorts’ record-breaking snowfall (Aspen – 450 inches; Beaver Creek – 430 inches; Crested Butte – 422 inches; Monarch Mountain – 482 inches; Powderhorn – 320 inches; Silverton – 550 inches; Steamboat – 489 inches; Telluride – 353 inches), there’s reason for optimism. As of late March, the Upper Colorado River basin was at 134% of average and rising, while Vail, which feeds the tributary Eagle River, saw its third snowiest winter on record and was at 119% of average—while still weeks away from its average peak date of May 2n. Aspen, which contributes to the Big Sur fund via the Roaring Fork, was at a whopping 158% of average. Copper Mountain, which feeds 10-mile, which feeds the Blue, which feeds the Colorado, and Sunlight, which feeds the Colorado via the Roaring Fork, both landed in the top ten in resort history, while Keystone, which feeds the Blue, had its eight-year high.
The figures are promising. But PL checked in with boaters around Cameo to get the word on the street.
Local boater and WRSI helmet rep Nick Turner is hopeful, but has some reservations. “The thing about the Big Sur wave is that it is not only dependant on the flow from upstream but also on the dam gates downstream,” he says, referring to the Upper Cameo Dam. “It’s dependant on that because the tailwater behind a whitewater feature is super important. Additionally, Big Sur is kind of a flat wave – it might not be the shit in new boats.” His prediction: “Hell yeah it’s gonna be in, and people will need to pull the moldy Xs and Hurricanes out from under the deck.”
Local Steve Conlin, a 12-year Grand Canyon guide who lives on a tributary to the Eagle, is already pulling his big boats out from under his deck. “It’ll be there for sure this year,” says Conlin, whose hit it the last two times it’s been in. “It’ll be like having the surf of the Grand right in our backyard.”
Dagger brand manager Ken Hoeve is also confident, and has other boats in mind for when the big day comes: “I’m 90% sure it’ll be in for at least a few days,” he says confidently. “It came in briefly three years ago and we had less snow then. It’s pretty promising to see this much snow (in Eagle County); we’re near record levels.”
Would he recommend a spudboat or a longboat? “Definitely a modern boat,” he advises. Ten years ago I was there in a Whippet. Last time I was in a Kingpin, and there was a huge difference.” This year he plans to break out the surfboard.
Keep an eye on the gauges, because when the Colorado rises above 20,000 cfs at Cameo the wave starts rising with it. Call friends or cruise forums to find out if the gates of the Upper Cameo dam are open, and if they are you’d better get rolling. Drop whatever you’re doing and get there if the flow exceeds 24,000 cfs.
To get there, head west on I-70 past Rifle, take the Powderhorn Exit at Plateau Creek, and then head back east to the next turn-off. If you’re in a short boat, try dropping in from above before risking the slow-hull ferry from the adjacent eddy…
— Sam Weiss