Surfing the Garden Since '72
A quick check of Wannasurf.com, a Google maps powered interactive surf finder, shows pretty slim pickings for Germany. "Not as good as Hawaii, but better than let's say, Kansas" is how one Munich river surfer who declined to give this reporter her name, described Germany's over all domestic surfing potential. "In the north, I have to go to Denmark, or the Netherlands." Not quite as negative as it might sound, because shortly thereafter she winked and said, "That's OK, I actually like redheads."
Putting aside this rare and positive endorsement of gingers, even in Germany, hope springs eternal and flies on swallows' wings. If you are on your way to Germany and heading down to Munich, Bavaria, your chances of finding the right wave might be better in landlocked Munich than in the northern states that have a coastline, but there is no glass or chop.
Surf slang aside, the river surfing scene in Munich is alive and well. Munich's most popular river wave at the Eisbach, located just east of the famous "Haus der Kunst", at the south end of the English Garden, has been wowing tourists and giving Munich surfers the chance to at least ride something, beyond a flight to somewhere, since 1972.
Even better for those river riders is the fact that they received a helping hand from the City of Munich in 2010, when Munich swapped some land with the Bavarian government to take control of that stretch of the river. This switch allowed the city to legalize surfing at that location. The legitimization of surfing there, although it is still only recommended for experts and done completely "at one's own risk", was a huge step for local surfers who for years had had to endure the possibility of the Bavarian State shutting down one of the best river waves in central Europe.
If this wasn't enough joy for central European river surfing, there are two other waves in Munich worth mentioning. Near the island of Thalkirchen there is a wider wave at a spot called the Floßlände that is more suitable for beginners and surfers who have skills but do not consider themselves an expert. The only disadvantage for this spot is that the water flow is controlled by the public works department, who, depending on the amount of flow they get from the Isar, have to divert water from the Floßlände wave area to generate electricity. Although the city authorities have stated and shown their dedication to keeping the wave up, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few, and when a large amount of water is diverted it literally kills the joy.
The last and rarest of Munich waves occurs in the River near the Wittelsbacher Brücke. It is not a standing wave due to flow but rather a phenomenon that occurs only during the high water season. If enough precipitation occurs in the Alps and converges and the Isar gets full, the wave at the Wittelsbacher can be quite stunning. But, like wine it has to be taken at the right time. "If you hit it too soon after the high water comes, you will be competing with all the flotsam of a flood, tree branches, muck, I saw a bicycle float by once" says Martin Radowski, a Munich software designer, and part time surfer. "You really need to wait a few days to let that stuff pass, but not too long, because then the wave could pass as well." furthered Radowski, "Also, the wave is a killer, if you aren't an expert, it will eat your life."
A problem that all the river surf locations face is that it can be just plain dangerous. The Eisbach is a man made shunt for water from the Isar that flows through Munich's English Garden. There are portions of the river bed that are only 40cm deep. In addition to the shallow bed, engineers long ago placed a number of protruding rocks in the bed to break up and control the flow of the river, those rocks can do quite a bit of damage to boards and bods. As a result of this, visiting surfers will need to bring or borrow a board. Since the river can be especially hard on the equipment, willing renters are in very short supply.
Every year brings a few fatalities. "It is notable that the only people who are injured or die at this location or anywhere else in the Eisbach are swimmers and not the surfers" says Giovanni Smuccatello, a river surfer from Padova, Italy who comes to Munich at least three times a year to ride what he calls a "a very nice wave." This year he says "I am here to enjoy the beer, to surf, and try to forget about Football."
The quality of that wave stems in part from the ingenuity of local surfers themselves. By submerging ropes or boards just before the flow on the north end of the bridge, Munich's surf community has managed to actually engineer better waves with a U shaped head and sharper crest that are both prettier and easier to surf. In a city of so many engineers, this should come as no surprise. "They really are quite clever," says Smuccatello.
And watching his style were a number of attractive female fans who surrounded him and lead him away from our very short interview. One gets the feeling that in choosing to surf here in Munich, that he is also quite clever.