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The Eisbach surfer phenomenon

For more than 30 years, the city surfers have been riding the Eisbach wave.

When you are from Munich, you know the half-naked cyclists riding down Leopoldstraße with a surfboard under their arm. Newcomers or tourists are often a little confused by this sight. “Why does that bloke look like he’s going to the beach?” their expressions seem to say. But the locals know: the summer season on the Eisbach has started again! The daily returning crowd of people on the bridge that crosses the gushing Eisbach at the edge of the Englischer Garten confirms this. Due to a concrete ramp in the water, a (unintentional) standing wave is created, which can rise up to a height of one metre. No wonder then that every surfing enthusiast wants to have a go. But how did it all start? 

The city surfing phenomenon in Munich is not new. Surfers have already braved the freezing cold Eisbach wave in the mid-seventies. And the first attempts to surf on a river go back further still. Bach then, the sport was still called “Brettlrutschn” (board skidding) in Bavaria. For this, a rope was attached to a branch or bridge crossing a river with a strong current. Then, people clung to a second rope attached to the board and surfed against the current. 

In the 60s, Arthur Pauli was probably the first surfer on Bavaria’s rivers, and he played a great role in turning “Brettlrutschn” into the sport it is today. He preferred to hold the rope that was attached to the shore in his hands, allowing him to pull himself back into the wave, when it no longer supported him on his board – the birth of river surfing, so to speak. While the first daredevils on the Eisbach still used a rope to pull themselves into the wave, today’s surfers stand completely unsupported on their boards. 


The Eisbach wave fascinates everyone 

The impressive sight always draws a crowd, especially on sunny days. And even the international crème de la crème of the surfing scene knows and loves the Eisbach wave: surfing legends such as Kelly Slater, Gerry Lopez, Shaun Thompson, Ross Clarke-Jones, Marlon Lipke and many more have braved the wave. The film director Bjoern Richie Lob even made a film entitled “Keep Surfing” about the Munich river surfers, which won the 2010 audience award at the international film festival in Warsaw. It was probably its fame and popularity that played a big role in resolving the many official prohibitions and disputes surrounding the Eisbach wave. Today, it is an official and legal hotspot for surfers. 


A joy for pros 

And the people love it. All year round, surfers jump into the roaring wave, in summer in shorts, in winter in wetsuits. Sometimes, a few bold surfers even ride the wave at night. But only truly experienced surfers should try this. Because, in contrast to the relatively tame “Floßlände” wave in Munich Thalkirchen, the Eisbach wave is seriously dangerous. Surfers who fall into the water after riding the wave need to remain close to the surface. Because: further down, there are a number of stone posts that have already caused severe injuries on a number of occasions. 

So, if you are still a little wobbly on your board, you should content yourself with watching the pros from the bank. A little consolation: nowhere else in the world can you get this close to surfers without getting completely soaked.