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