There are unusual sights, and unexpected sights, but sometimes in our travels we stumble into something so surprising that it’s impossible not to stop and take notice. Surfboards and wetsuits, in the middle of Munich? These are the Eisbach River surfers.
A quick check of the map shows that Munich is 500 miles from the North Sea, and that’s a long drive for a bit of surfing. Necessity is the mother of invention, and these determined surfers decided to do something about it. Here’s what it looked like from the sidelines.
Slightly outside Munich’s old town, the English Garden, one of the city’s favorite parks, stretches to the northeast. At the south end of this park, the Eisbach River rushes under a bridge on the busy Prinzregentenstraße and into the park. The water gushes into a 39-foot-wide channel, with gritty, concrete walls on each side. With some creative engineering in the form of ropes, pulleys, and large planks, the inventive surf crew created a chest-high wave that peaks and breaks … and is there for some wave-riding fun 24/7/365.
From day one, city officials didn’t like this extreme, dangerous, and break-a-neck sport. In fact, until 2010, surfing the Eisbach was illegal, and the Polizei would drop by periodically and shoo away the surfers. But that same year, in a demonstration of the city’s mindset, the City of Munich bought the land surrounding the wave, and agreed to take responsibility for what happened there, which effectively legalized the sport.
We’d read about the surfers, but honestly, had no idea where they were or how they pulled this off. But as we sat on a bus near the English Garden, a skinny, wetsuit wearin’ dude, carrying a surfboard, rode by on his bike. This was the catalyst and suddenly it clicked. We jumped off the bus, and noticed the crowd on the bridge right down the street. For us, it was one of those serendipitous travel experiences that’s such a pleasure because they just happen – with no planning involved.
One at a time, experienced surfers jump from the wall onto their surfboards, and go for it. Neophytes took a less acrobatic approach, opting to start their ride with their butts on the wall.
But it’s not a wave for novices. A sign depicting a decapitated stick-figure surfer warns eager dreamers of the concrete baffles below the churning waters. In fact, as we were watching, a newbie joined the queue, slipped on the wall, and fell into the rushing water. He was only a few feet from us, and we saw him smack his jaw on the concrete as he splashed into the river. We both winced at his obvious pain, and then went downstream to check on him. He smiled and said he was OK, but he had to be putting on a brave face. To his credit, he tried a couple of runs (unsuccessfully), and then packed up his board and walked away.
We both came away from the experience saying “Wow,” and being happy that we’d seen the location where a new sport was invented (the surfers have petitioned that river surfing be included in the Olympics). Travel takes planning, but sometimes it’s also about chance and the prepared mind.
James & Terri