At this point, the unchecked items on Dylan Graves’ surf bucket list are likely much different than your own. He’s spent most of his life traveling the globe, chasing high-quality waves in some of the most competitive lineups in the world. Nowadays, however, it’s the unsung breaks, the freak peaks, the uncrowded novelty peelers that get him the most fired up to pack a board bag and jump on a plane.
Dylan’s new series “Weird Waves” is a celebration of strange surf and the unique communities that spring up around it, and it’s allowed him to cross off many of those remaining bucket list items. Get barreled in a lake? Check. Ride a party wave in Montana? Oh Yeah. Go river surfing in Bend, Oregon with living surf god Gerry Lopez? Yep, that, too.
Before Dylan drops the Bend episode (coming in hot this Sunday on Surfer.com), we caught up with him to talk about all things river surfing and what it is about weird waves that he finds so appealing.
Why weird waves? What is it about imperfect or overlooked surf spots that gets you excited?
Its just the feeling you get from riding different styles of waves. I think every surfer loves that feeling, when you find a new kind of wave that really surprises you. I guess with all the wedges and novelty spots where I grew up in Puerto Rico, I've been into weird waves for years.
Yeah, I remember a clip in "Los Zapatos" where you take off on this freaky wedge that changes directions like four times.
So that wave that you're talking about, on a way smaller day, was where I landed my first air. I think I was 13 or 14 and that was it for me–I was just in love with that spot. I'd been trying airs for years at that point, and then that wave gave me enough speed that I was able to do a little Ollie–although who knows what it looked like or if I even got above the lip [laughs.] But that was my first air, and I think that really taught my to appreciate weird waves.
What's your criteria? How do you pick where to go?
I wanted to go to places people don't think of as surf destinations, and places I'd never surfed before. I'd been trying to go to the Great Lakes for years, and meant to go with Dane [Gudauskas] a few years ago when he went and met up Burton [Hathaway, a Great Lakes surfer Dylan linked up with in the first episode], but it didn't work out that time. For this season of the series, the first few waves we decided to go check out to were all in lakes and rivers, so at some point we ended up deciding to just commit to the theme of freshwater surfing.
WATCH THE GREAT LAKES EPISODE HERE:
So in the episode dropping this weekend, you surf the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon. How trippy was that experience? I saw that they have all kinds of metal gates and things that actually control the wave. How does that all work?
So there are 27 gates in the surf park, and they have the ability to control each one remotely, which changes the way that the wave breaks. The gates were built to protect the local wildlife–basically to keep the water levels ideal for endangered frogs and certain other species. But at some point when they were designing and building those gates, they were like, "Hey, while we're at it, why don't we make a standing wave for people to surf?" I think Gerry [Lopez] was influential in that because he knew the guy in charge of the project or something. It's a really rad setup. I'd actually been to Bend before, but I just had so many questions about how it all works and I wanted to go back and really geek out on something that's just so alien to me. And that's what's so cool about all these trips: I'm going to these places and surfing, which is a very familiar thing for me, but doing it in these settings that make me feel like a beginner again. I'm learning how to surf these freshwater waves where the water is less buoyant and you need a different type of board and it all just feels really new and fun.
So you were surfing the river with Alex Lopez [Gerry's son] and he was riding a 4'7". Did you know that those waves required a really unusual type of board?
Having been to Bend before, I knew that the angle of the wave meant you needed a shorter board—anything over 5'6" doesn't really fit, because it's so vertical. It's like a small, steep mini-ramp. But I didn’t realize just how small river boards get. Alex's board was 17" wide and 2" thick. It looked like a Tech Deck [laughs.] But he was ripping on it, and it really makes a lot of sense for that wave because you aren't paddling. You're basically jumping onto your board. But it's fun to figure out the specific details for every wave and how to best surf them. Even for river waves, each one is so different, and the best board for one isn't necessarily the best for another. For Bend, the 5'2" Haydenshapes that I had was feeling pretty good, though.
How cool was it to surf that wave with Gerry? He seems like a grom when he talks about it, which is pretty crazy considering the lifetime of perfect barrel's he's gotten at Pipe and G-Land and every other perfect wave.
For sure. I'd met Gerry briefly another time when I was with Tanner Gudauskas. We'd just gotten out of the water and were changing out of our suits and there's this angelic man walking by, and we're like, "No way! That's f–king Gerry!" Even in a fullsuit with a hood, we still instantly recognized him. We ran up and said "Hi," and he was super cool and friendly. We surfed with Alex that time, which is how we knew him and connected with him on this trip. But we didn't know Gerry would be around this time. When we walked into their shop and he was there I was still kind of starstruck. I was like, "Oh shit, I don't want to say something stupid around Gerry," feeling more worried about being a kook in front of Gerry than in front of the camera [laughs.]
It seems like one of the coolest things about surfing in Bend is how everyone just hangs in this orderly line, waits their turn and then they all get to surf. Is that refreshing compared to the jockeying we all deal with in the ocean?
One thousand percent. I loved it. There's no urgency to get on the wave, because the wave is just always there. You don't have to worry about being in the right position or timing it right—whether you get a wave now or in an hour, it's going to be exactly the same wave. It blends the lines between the vibes you get skating a mini-ramp and surfing. It felt like the best of both worlds. If you could wait in line for a wave at Pipeline, I'd be happy to wait for a week straight, just cruising and chatting with whoever is around you in line. Like, "How sick is this? We're gonna get so barreled!"
How was the wave to surf in terms of how fun it was to ride and what it let you do?
It's totally high-performance. Some of the guys who surf there every day were doing gnarly stuff on it. I would love to spend a bit more time there and figure out how to do airs. One of the guys actually did a boardstall on the railing. It was insane, and the progression is so quick. The difference between the way you ride your first wave to the way you ride the second, it's just a crazy learning curve.
Do you feel like there's a common thread between these spots? Is there something these surfers and these communities have in common that you don't usually encounter surfing more conventional breaks?
Yeah, I'd say that these surf communities are what I'd picture all surf communities felt like in the '70s or something before it got so crowded and when people were more stoked to see other surfers. There's a lot of camaraderie and a sense of exploration as these surfers figure out the best ways to surf these waves. It's this rad little subculture of surfing. They're surfing in the mountains and it's this totally unique thing. But then again, the core of it is still the same—they're just trying to have fun and mess around and enjoy surfing. There's just a certain magic and innocence to these surf spots that you don't see very often at well-known waves. I love the trips for that reason, because you find these awesome surf scenes with these very real people who are amped to share their waves. It’s really awesome to experience that.