Gauley River Surfing Etiquette

With river surfing becoming increasingly popular on the Gauley River we have found it necessary to develop this simple guide to surf etiquette.  Gauley season 2017 marked the first year where out of state crowds flocked to the waves, causing parking congestion, long line ups, and even some flared tempers with conflicts between boating traffic and surfers.

Realize this is nothing new for Gauley Season.  Rafters and kayakers have been jockeying for position for many years for parking, camping, and in the line-up.  For the most part everyone has always managed to get along.  There is plenty of water for everyone.

Author Randy Fisher is a Boardworks Team Rider and National Park Service Ranger.


We are all guests of the National Park Service and the local community when visiting the New and Gauley rivers.  In addition, we are all guests of the delicate balance of private land and public access within the Gauley River National Recreation Area.  In the case of the river left Diagonal Ledges access, we are crossing four land owners to reach the wave.  Rafting company properties, railroad properties, and NPS.  These land owners could lock the gates at anytime if we do not tread lightly.  These land owners could also post their property or ask us to leave at anytime.  This is especially true with the active Norfolk Southern rail line.  Always be respectful and yield to local traffic and raft company buses.


  • Always try to carpool.
  • Please do not park people in.
  • Always pick up your trash (wetsuit and gear tags have been appearing at the put-in beach.)
  • Slow down and always yield to local traffic.


Perfect Wave during Gauley Season is another amazing wave to explore.  Once again access can be a challenge.  Parking is limited and is often consumed by boaters by 10:00AM.  If you want a spot, plan to arrive by 9:00AM.  There is a spot for about three cars along the road against the hillside.  When parking here attempt to be completely off the road as rafting buses need room to get through. If there are more then three cars, then drop off your gear and park at the bottom parking lot and walk back.  If an NPS vehicle is at the top of the road then all lots are full and you have arrived too late.  Please do not challenge the Park employee or try to persuade them to let you in.  Parking along the road is on a trial basis and the privilege can be taken away at anytime.  Fortunately, all of this is only an issue for about the first three weekends of Gauley Season.

Once again, slow down, yield to traffic, and be forewarned that the buses do not stop when they side swipe your car at the roadside parking (yes, this has happened).

IMG_8758 2Coauthor and owner of Mountain Surf Paddle Sports, Meghan Roberts, shredding Perfect Wave. 


In a perfect world we would all have endless rides and no river traffic, but it’s Gauley season and thousands of people from around the country come out to enjoy this beautiful gorge as private boaters or on commercial rafting trips. Although it’s tempting to feel like you were on the wave first and the upstream traffic should yield to you, that is not the rule of the river. Upstream traffic that is heading into the rapid has the right of way; which means you should move off the wave to let them through. This is especially true for rafts coming though both at Diagonal Ledges and Perfect Wave. At Perfect Wave it may seem like there is ample amount of room for the rafts to go around you, however, this is a rapid that commercial companies use as a “swimmers rapid” to allow inexperienced customers to experience swimming some whitewater before they go into the bigger rapids. Having a SUP board hovering around the heads of rafting customers swimming can be dangerous. It is easiest to just yield to the commercial trip.  On any wave, even with eye contact and signaling, you should not assume that a boat will be able to avoid hitting you. We have seen several collisions between people surfing/kayak surfing with rafts, kayaks, and canoes; to avoid injury and to respect fellow river users, yield to upstream traffic (see recommended links). Let’s also remember to be respectful of the line up and keep your surf to a reasonable amount of time.

Although Brennan and Bryce coordinated this amazing entertainment opportunity it is not recommended to tangle with oncoming river traffic. 



Overall, West Virginians are good-natured accepting people; although anyone who has lived here long enough has a story of being on the opposite end of a shot gun yielding local.  Those that have been here know that access to most of our waves are on single lane roads with blind curves.  State law provides a speed limit of 25 mph on these roads and areas where there are no signs.  Yield to oncoming  traffic by moving to the shoulder of the road and give a friendly wave as you pass.  Also realize there are children playing and all joking aside there is a friendly dog that consistently sleeps on the roadway to Diagonal Ledges.  Remember cars and trucks with surfboards on the racks are a reflection on all of us.

 IT ALL COMES DOWN TO everyone, regardless of their water craft or sport is on the river for the same reason: To have fun! Let’s all respect one another, be safe, and enjoy these beautiful rivers together.

Slow down, relax, it’s Gauley Season. 

Recommended Links:

NPS Regulations

AW Share the river recommendations

Lets hope this kind of disturbing behavior never makes it to our wonderful river surfing community.  Plus, fighting in a wetsuit is a recipe for heat exhaustion and dehydration.



This week the planets finally aligned and I had the privilege to surf a beautiful wave on the Gauley river called Diagonal Ledges.  The gauges were calling for the perfect cubic feet per second (3500 cfs)  and my mentor Pete Iscaro from Aquaholic Apparel was available to lead the charge.


Pete Iscaro checking to see if Lower Mash rapid could be a go.  Everything looked clean except one missed move would push the paddler into “Nutcracker” so we decided to focus on the destination and keep our bodies and board fins in-tact.


Reaching the wave requires some serious logistics.  One hour of traveling requiring four-wheel drive.  A 1.5 mile downriver class 2-4 paddle and a one hour hike back to the truck.


The Badfish MVP 7’6″ with shark skin was the obvious choice for the day.  The board proved to be the perfect combination of river running and surfing capabilities, durability, carrying  cargo, and the “liftsup” carry handle for portaging and the hike back.  The other important accessory was the Badfish releash (shown in the picture in safety orange).  The releash allows for staying with your board during a swim or an instant separation from your board if it catches on a rock or obstacle.

Diagonal Ledges4 03-06-2014 01



It was a day I hope to repeat very soon.  The fast dynamic ocean like wave made the logistics well worth it.  Endless carves and effortless eddy access made for complete exhaustion, saving only enough energy for the long trek back to the truck.  A special thanks to Pete Iscaro and Aquaholic Apparel for showing me the SUP lines and photography,  Ian Smith for IT support, and Boardworks and Badfish for producing an amazing river and surfing machine.  The Badfish MVP-s.  I hope to see everyone on the river soon!!   Randy