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.

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.  Park along the hillside only, vehicles need the other side for passing oncoming traffic.  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 through both 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 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).

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


We received some feedback last year from our readers.  One common topic was time on the wave, and time at the wave.  This topic is too subjective to give a straight answer however it all boils down to how many river users are at the wave.

  • If you are the only person at the wave then enjoy yourself and your endless surfs.  Everyone dreams of the endless ride.
  • “Two is company, three is a crowd” (Stab Magazine)  Please bring a friend, but please don’t bring a crowd. * A note on bringing friends: Diagonal ledges is not a whitewater beginner friendly surf wave, with a shallow shelf, technical swim, and rocky ledges below. Rescue/evacuation would be extremely difficult.
  • As river traffic increases use your own discretion to shorten your surfs so everyone can enjoy.
  •  Usually around noon there is a heavy surge of downstream traffic.  This is a good time for the “park and play” crowd to take a nice break and give them the right away.  The surge in river users soon passes by.
  • Respect the line up – Kayakers, surfers, and sometimes rafts are all waiting in line to surf. If you are choosing to wait in line on the rock, be sure you know your spot in line and communicate with the kayakers who are on the water waiting.

Said best by:

Surfing is a great feeling. The joy of a stoke-filled session – unfettered by work, family and societal pressures – makes surfing appealing and, at times, addictive. But the thirst for great waves needs to be balanced with respect for your fellow surfers.

To put it in perspective, think about how excited you were as a 10-year-old on Christmas morning. Now imagine having to give the majority of your presents away to siblings and even strangers. Just as you don’t always get the biggest or best present under the tree, you don’t always get to ride the best wave of the set –and you definitely have to share.

Surfing etiquette demands that we divide the waves up as equitably as possible. Imagine the chaos if we didn’t! All it takes is patience, charity, and willingness to follow some basic guidelines.



I and many other kayakers appreciate this article. Some might say it is passed due.
The surfers at diagonal ledges are becoming increasingly frustrating to many in the local whitewater community.
As a whitewater veteran and a native to West Virginia, I spent 6 weekends straight of waiting in line to surf (for sometimes 10-20 minutes on end for 1 kayak surf), I have a few things to say and reiterate:
1) welcome to West Virginia gauley season. We hope you enjoy your stay.
2) no one owns the river. You are not entitled to 15 minute surfs or cutting line.
3) upstream does have the right away. This goes for rafts AND kayaks. If you see someone coming, get the heck off the wave; not everyone has the boat control to dodge surfers, too.
4) stop being stuck up
5) if you can’t comply with these simple rules then don’t come to WV to surf.
6) hope to see you next year


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.

sign 1


 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