A Play Wave Is Coming to Asheville, North Carolina

Fun for surfers and freestyle kayakers
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Every summer, thousands of tubers flock to the lazy French Broad River in Asheville, but soon, the historically mellow waterway will attract surfers and freestyle kayakers, as well.

In 2016 the town of Woodfin, a small community of around 6,500 located just north of Asheville, committed to building an artificial whitewater wave on the French Broad, and progress toward that goal is well underway. To date, a preliminary design of the wave has been completed and $13.3 million of the estimated $18.1 million cost has already been raised.

“Everything is moving forward as planned,” said Ben Dannemiller, the assistant town administrator for Woodfin and project manager for the Woodfin Greenway & Blueway. “The town is committed to seeing the wave built. We see it as a key part of a larger initiative to increase the recreation opportunities within the town and increase access to the French Broad River.”

A preliminary park design illustrates the location of the play wave, with features for watersports enthusiasts with varying skill levels.

A preliminary park design illustrates the location of the play wave, with differentiated features for water-sports enthusiasts. (Photo Credit: S20 Designs)

Artificial waves, also known as standing waves, like the one planned for Woodfin, have become a popular municipal amenity. Think of them as river-based public parks, where paddlers gather after work and on weekends. Durango, Colorado, has a popular wave with a similar design to what will be built in Woodfin. Boise, Idaho, also has a mechanical wave that can be adjusted to accommodate surfers or kayakers. A small wave was built on the Nantahala River, about 75 miles southwest of Asheville, which hosted the Freestyle World Championships in 2012. Standing waves are typically built by adding concrete and stone ledges to the riverbed, and each wave is unique because of the shape of the riverbed and amount of water moving through the channel.

Because of the French Broad’s high volume of water, the ledge in Woodfin, made from rock and concrete, will create a perfectly shaped wave ideal for both freestyle kayaking and surfing.

“Very few natural waves provide perfect surfing and play-boating opportunities,” said Marc Hunt, a longtime boater and the fundraising coordinator for Friends of the Woodfin Greenway & Blueway. “It’s gonna deliver an awesome place where people can park and play, really close to downtown Asheville.”

Hunt said the Woodfin Wave will be similar to the feature at the center of Camphill Surf Park, on the Hawea River in New Zealand, which is often billed as one of the best freestyle whitewater parks in the world.

“There will be nothing else like this on the East Coast,” Hunt said. “Expert paddlers will use it to perfect freestyle kayak skills, stand up paddle boarders and surfers will be able to surf it, and because it’s located above a large, calm pool it will be a friendly wave for intermediate kayakers, too.”

The Woodfin Wave will be modeled after a similar feature in Camp Hill, New Zealand.

Woodfin's wave will be modeled after a similar feature in Camphill Surf Park on the Hawea River in New Zealand. (Photo Credit: Marc Hunt)

The wave will be located a few miles north of downtown Asheville, at Woodfin’s Riverside Park. The park will be enhanced and expanded by three acres, with new restrooms, a boat launch, a river overlook and seating, as well as land-based play features and potentially a pump track. A separate four-acre park will be built a mile upstream of Riverside Park as part of Asheville’s expanding greenway system.

While the artificial wave will be the last feature of the park plan to be constructed, and represents only $2 million of the overall $18.1-million budget, the new play wave is intended to provide local paddlers and visitors with a unique river-surfing experience, on par with the best whitewater parks in the world.

“This park and wave will give people a real destination in Asheville,” Hunt said. “You’ll be able to pedal from West Asheville, through the River Arts District north and end at a world-class surfing wave.”

Dannemiller said construction on the riverside greenway will begin this spring, with construction for the wave tentatively set to begin in 2021.

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