Summer Fun: Surfing in the City

by Lee Santiva July. 29, 2021 325 views

Loving it!

Loving it!

The Eisbachwelle

After the excessive rain this summer in Germany, it's the river surfers in the City of Munich who are the happiest. The Eisbach river which flows through downtown Munich now has extreme volume and fast flow rate which churn up explosive waves.

Judging by their expressions, it was pure joy to ride the one meter high waves on this bright, warm (26 degrees Celsius) Tuesday at the end of July.

Concentration - I've got this!

Concentration - I've got this!

There were somewhere between 12-20 surfers on this particular afternoon. In my sources below it says that only experienced Eisbach river surfers are allowed and by now over 2000 people have surfed the Wave. (*2) Yet, even world-famous ocean surfers have a difficult time to get onto and successfully surf the Eisbachwelle. (*1)

River surfing on the Eisbachwelle

River surfing on the Eisbachwelle

The Eisbachwelle is dangerous and very difficult to surf, even for experienced surfers because the water moves in ways which is completely unlike ocean waves. In addition, the area to surf is very narrow, only 12 meters wide. Thus, the surfers are constantly turning to maintain their balance and stay on the Wave.

Performing a turn on the Eisbachwelle

Performing a turn on the Eisbachwelle

The surfing scene on the Eisbach is similar to gangs in major cities. In Munich the cliques refer to themselves as crews. Sometimes there's cooperation and comradeship between the crews, for example when it comes to the authorities and use of the river, however, most of the time there's fierce competition.

I observed that the crews made it a point to ignore their competition particularly when a surfer from another crew was showing off or performing a stunt like in the image below.

Performing a stunt and being ignored by the other crew

Performing a stunt and being ignored by the other crew

Unlike surfing on the ocean, there's a direct / indirect dialog with the other surfers and the crowds of observers due to the immediate proximity.

Crew members exchanging glances on the Eisbachwelle

Crew members exchanging glances on the Eisbachwelle

The crowds along the shores and on the bridge ignored all Corona warning signs about social distancing, wearing masks and particularly the notice " no spectactors allowed ".

Eisbachwelle "arena" - the Wave, surfer, surfer crews and spectators

Eisbachwelle "arena" - the Wave, surfer, surfer crews and spectators

For over 10 years, the Eisbachwelle has been a popular tourist attraction and everyone I know has already watched this surfing scene. However, it wasn't always this way.

For decades it was strictly forbidden to surf the river. Police would chase the illegal surfers, arrest them and confiscate their surfboards. Obviously that made surfing the Eisbachwelle all the more attractive and epic.

Surfer, Crew and Spectators on and at the Eisbachwelle

Surfer, Crew and Spectators on and at the Eisbachwelle

The genesis of river surfing in Munich goes back to the 1970's when pioneers installed a cable on the shore and used primitive wooden boards to ride on the river. Today they use surf boards specially designed and produced for river surfing.

The Eisbach is more like a canal than a river since it has a perfectly straight course with a man-made concrete bed. Its purpose when it was built in 1789 was to provide water for the streams in the nearby English Garden. Thus, the Eisbachwelle borders the English Garden and is located in-between the National Museum and the Art Gallery in the section of Munich called Lehel.

River Surfing - Eisbach in Munich, Germany

River Surfing - Eisbach in Munich, Germany


The "architect" of the Munich River Surfing Wave (Eisbachwelle) is Walter Strasser. One day in the 1980's he illegally installed a bulky metal rail on top of the existing submerged stone "step" across the 12 meter Eisbach causing the river to break and create realistic surfing conditions. The authorities didn't remove it but they forbid surfing on the river for decades because of liability fears.

A surfer, his board and the WAVE

A surfer, his board and the WAVE

The authorities were rightly concerned about liability since the Wave rail made surfing very dangerous. The Eisbach river belonged to the Bavarian state government agency which also manages hundreds of properties from the English Garden just a few meters away to famous castles like Neuschwannstein (refer to my blogpost What to Expect When Visiting Neuschwannstein).

Several movies and TV shows featured the surfers and the Marketing department of the City of Munich started featuring the surfer scene in their materials thus increasing the pressure to legalize the activity.

In 2010 the city of Munich procured the rights to the river from the state authority and thereafter allowed surfing as long as the surfers themselves ensure their own safety.

The surfers ride the Wave on the Eisbach river (almost) all year round.

Silhoutte - female surfer waiting her turn

Silhoutte - female surfer waiting her turn

By the way, does this qualify as "street photography"?

Sources: (in German - use a translation tool)

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There are 15 comments , add yours!
Thomas Thompson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Wow what a fantastic series Lee,   I really enjoyed the captures and the story behind it,   I think it looks fun but I would not try it hahaha    Thanks for sharing

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Thomas Thompson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

A series on people and sport activity was new for me, so I really appreciate the positive feedback. Glad you enjoyed it

2 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Nancy Andrea D 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Very interesting series, Lee. Thanks for sharing!

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Nancy Andrea D 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Jay Boggess 2 months, 3 weeks ago

WOW! Pretty "brave souls" to attempt those treacherous waters, I would think!  Yikes!
Excellent camera work to catch these exciting shots!
Thank You!
+1grinning+1

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Jay Boggess 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks Jay, yes, I thought this was an interesting photo story to share. Glad you liked it

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Lee Santiva 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Very well done and interesting! Looks very dangerous!!!

2 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Clare 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Of course the edgy, semi-illegal activities are interesting! The background info you include makes the photo story even more interesting. I'm impressed with the guy not a wearing a wetsuit - I remember the Eisbach being COLD (not that I surfed...)

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Clare 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks Clare, indeed I forgot to mention how cold the water is even in middle of summer. Glad you liked it👍

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Brian Scott 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Love it, great photos and background +1

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Brian Scott 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Rachele Schneekloth 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What an interesting situation! Thanks for sharing. And yes I believe this qualifies as street photography! I think street photography is anything in public, unstaged. Great post.

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Rachele Schneekloth 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Yeah, who would have thought there‘d be a surfer scene in conservative Bavaria?😜 Thanks!

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Benny Law 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This is incredible. So the police are turning a blind eye to this now?

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Benny Law 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It‘s really cool. It‘s no longer illegal, I‘d say its tolerated and very well self-regulated, much better regulated than if the government were to do it 🙂

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
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