If you are planning a visit to the upcoming Octoberfest in Munich you might be surprised to see the occasional surfboard-toting person on a bike or streetcar or just walking down the street. It happened to me and after doing a few double takes I found myself standing next to a woman on a tram with surfboard in tow. “Are you surfing somewhere around here?” “Ya, of course” she replied with bewilderment at my ignorance. To me it was not obvious at all. Munich, being hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, does not naturally shout out “surf capital”.
I guess one needs to fully understand the Bavarian spirit of innovation and propensity to enjoy the outdoors at all costs in order to comprehend how a small river in the heart of Munich would become the river surfing capital of the world. Intrigued and wanting to find out more, I asked around and was able to find a few of the people who pioneered this sport. Now in their late 40s many of them are still surfing, now with kids in tow.
The Unlikely Story of How River Surfing Started in Munich
The story goes like this: One day years ago where Prinzregentenstraße passes over the Eisbach River it occurred to someone that it might be a good idea to throw a beer table into the river, tie it to the bridge and climb on board. Sounds ridiculous right? And dangerous. But there is no dissuading a Münchner with a plan, no matter how ludicrous.
As it turned out the beer table was great fun and worked okay as a flotation device. Soon beer tables gave way to surfboards with riders holding the rope. Then one day the rope momentarily went slack. The rider suddenly realized they were actually surfing and voila “river surfing” was born.
Without easy access to commercial surfboards, people started making their own and a local industry was born. Today that industry generates over 500 boards a year, and there’s a thriving business in racks to carry the boards around.