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Grab your surfboard and head to the rio

Ed Lucero, from Embudo, river surfs at the Sleeping Beauty rapid on the Rio Grande Race Course near Pilar in April. Lucero wants to establish a spot for river surfing on the Rio Grande below the Abiquiu Dam and says Española would be a good location for a river park with surfing. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Surfing in New Mexico?

Ed Lucero believes the state is perfect for it.

“We have great water, even though we don’t have much of it,” said Lucero, an avid kayaker and river surfer. “But what we do have is incredible.”

Surfing river waves is “exploding internationally,” he said and has become a $50 billion industry worldwide.

It’s a clean recreational opportunity and economic driver that New Mexico should tap, Lucero said.

New Mexico’s rivers could be leading candidates for river surfing with a little bit of effort and cooperation, he said.

“This is a huge industry and New Mexico is the prime place for it,” Lucero said. “It’s an untapped resource. It’s a low-hanging fruit in terms of investment.”

Small Colorado towns like Buena Vista, Salida, Pagosa Springs and Durango have all created river surfing parks and that has helped spark significant economic development in those towns, he said.

“These towns have been changed by these river parks,” Lucero said. “You’re bringing more people within the river and connecting people with the river, whether you’re fishing or swimming or surfing.”

What has Lucero particularly fired up is some restoration work New Mexico Game & Fish planned for this winter on the Chama River below Abiquiu Dam.

It wouldn’t take much extra work, he said, to turn the area into a first-class river park with some robust waves perfect for surfing.

Ed Lucero says this U.S. Geological Survey gauging station on the Rio Grande below the Abiquiu Dam could be made to produce the perfect river surfing wave. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Ed Lucero says this U.S. Geological Survey gauging station on the Chama below the Abiquiu Dam could be made to produce the perfect river surfing wave. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

In addition, in the vicinity of the Game and Fish work, there is a U.S. Geological Survey structure that is hazardous, but can also be reworked to create a surfable wave, Lucero said.

The problem is coming up with funding for the project, he said, since it cannot come from state funds, even though the wave creation would have the added benefit of developing fish habitat.

During a recent fundraising event through the nonprofit Rio Grande Restorations, about 30 people came up with about $1,500, Lucero said, which is about one-tenth of what is necessary.

But the fundraising effort shows that there is interest, said Lucero. Additionally, his Facebook page, Surf New Mexico, has about 200 followers.

“Although I may be the only person in New Mexico river surfing right now, there’s a lot of interest in it,” Lucero said.

What makes the sport so attractive is it takes relatively little to get started. A foam board costs about $150, he said, as opposed to a kayak, which can cost $1,000 or more.

“It’s like the cost of a skateboard,” Lucero said. “So if kids can afford a skateboard, they can afford a surfboard.”

He points to Española as another perfect prospective site for a river park at the confluence of the rios Chama and Grande.

“The real gem is Española,” he said. “It helps build communities. You can have a terrain park, a river walk and people will come to use it. There are models of building communities around the river. It’s not like reinventing the wheel. Pretty soon, you have restaurants, coffee shops and economic development.”

What’s more, it’s relatively simple to learn.

“Surfing the waves is relatively safe, because you’re not in big rapids,” Lucero said. “And you have a recycling eddy to get you back to shore. It’s truly addictive. Surfing is mostly swimming, but it’s so immersive and so addictive, and it leads to a healthy lifestyle.”