The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 16, 2013

Small group of surfers ride waves in Chattahoochee

— COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — This month hasn't exactly been surfing weather in downtown Columbus. Surfing? In Columbus?

Welcome to a brand new world of possibilities created by the Chattahoochee River Park and the new urban whitewater course that opened in late May.

It isn't Malibu, Calif., but a small pocket of surfers -- river surfers -- is developing in Columbus. Locals such as Dare O'Ravitz and Jake Koehler have been surfing the Chattahoochee since the Eagle & Phenix Dam was breached a year ago and the new whitewater course began to take shape. Give or take, their group numbers about a half dozen.

"The last thing people in Columbus think about is river surfing," O'Ravitz said.

Few people in Columbus may be thinking about it, but last month the local surfers got a visitor from the Pacific Northwest. Elijah Mack, a 44-year-old barber who has pioneered the sport of river surfing in the United States, flew into Columbus to ride the Chattahoochee wave.

"You guys have what the surf world wants, but the surf world doesn't know that you have it," Mack said.

What Columbus has, even at low flow, is a consistent wave that surfers can ride year-round. The swell that has attracted surfers and their boards is at the end of a man-made wave just below the Eagle & Phenix powerhouse, about 50 yards below where an industrial dam was breached in 2012.

O'Ravitz, a Fort Benning Infantry officer enrolled at Columbus State University, learned to surf off the outer banks of North Carolina. He moved into the Eagle & Phenix Apartments earlier this year, only to discover he was walking distance from a surfable wave.

"I had heard of river surfing, but I had never done it," O'Ravitz said. "I was down at the river and saw one of the engineers of the whitewater project, and he had a surf board and was surfing the wave."

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