Riders on the storm: Surfers shred on the American River near Sacramento

The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Weather News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Surf's up on the American River.

With water on the river running high, friends Mark Divittorio, Tyler Lausten and Steve Sylvester grabbed their boards over the weekend and hit one of their favorite spots near Carmichael. It’s been five years since the river has been high enough to surf the spot, Lausten said.

The three men have more than 50 years of whitewater experience between them, Sylvester said, including white water rafting, kayaking and surfing. He’s scouted the location when the water is low during the summer.

“It’s pretty hard to get started river surfing because it’s fairly unforgiving,” said Sylvester. “I would not just buy some stuff and come down here and try this. You’d be in for a hell of a surprise.”

The flow of the lower American River is controlled by water releases from the Nimbus Dam on Lake Natoma, which ramped releases up to 30,000 cubic feet per second on Friday. For a few days in January, releases hit 35,000 cfs. That’s significant, the surfers said, because the higher flow clears out dangerous debris.

“The danger of the rivers are pretty numerous,” Lausten said, listing debris, secondary waves, foot entrapment and ropes as potential risks that could lead to drowning. The three men rely on specialized gear and the buddy system in an effort to increase safety.


The county park system agrees with Lausten’s assessment of the danger.

“Sacramento County Regional Parks urges individuals to stay off the American River. Surfing and kayaking with outflows to the American River as high as they currently are is very dangerous and can very easily turn deadly,“ the department said in a statement.

Before this year’s storms, the last time releases had exceeded 30,000 cfs was in 2017, according to California Department of Water Resources data. That year, they maxed out at 83,000 cfs. A typical summer flow could be 2,000 cfs or less.


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