Surfing mountain waves with Alpha Barrie and Zack Kresge
During the late spring and early summer in the Snake River Canyon, just south of Jackson, Wyoming, lies a magical wave form: the Lunch Counter rapid. During the early summer runoff, a group of surfers can always be found on the surrounding rocks, taking turns catching the standing wave. Local surfers and snowboarders, Zack Kresge and Alpha Barrie, grew up surfing in the ocean. We sat down with them to chat about how this land-locked wave taps into the same feeling. It’s a common thread that motivates all of us—surfers, snowboards, and adventurers alike. It’s addictive–a sense not easily described.
Alpha Barrie grew up in Bureh, Sierra Leone, a small coastal community in West Africa. He learned to surf at the Bureh Beach Surf Club, the only surf club that existed in Sierra Leone when he was 11 or 12 years old. From that early age, Alpha was immediately hooked. “My community is really small and it’s the only place you can find local surfers,” Alpha says. “There are like 10-15 people in a lineup.”
Alpha has been living in Victor on-and-off since the winter of 2016 on a sponsored visa. He spends six months here, and then six months back in Sierra Leone. Alpha’s sponsor Adam Towle brought him to the Lunch Counter wave for the first time three summers ago. “I’m a surfer, I love waves. Once I see waves, I want to make the best of it,” says Alpha.
Alpha borrowed boards from Adam and began frequenting the river wave. Admittedly, he had no idea what he was doing at first. “Lunch Counter is the first river wave I’ve ever done in my whole life, it’s a totally different skill,” Alpha explains. “It’s a constant wave, the tricky part is how to read that kind of wave.” Through practice and persistence, each time Alpha rides at Lunch Counter, he feels he’s getting better. “My second year, I started getting the feeling; every year I’m stepping it up.”
Alpha took up snowboarding to further that feeling. He rides at Grand Targhee Resort and hikes Teton Pass every chance he gets. “I feel like I’m surfing, that’s one of the reasons I love going snowboarding. I love the pow–it’s so floaty and fun. Getting face shots, it’s like surfing.”
Zack Kresge found himself in Jackson Hole the same way many of us do. He showed up for a raft-guiding job in 2017, called his campsite in Curtis Canyon home for the summer, and came back the next winter to ski. Three years later, another passion lures him to stay—surfing. “When the wave is in, I surf every day because it’s only in for such a short period of time, anywhere from three weeks to two months,” Zack says.
Zack has been a surfer his entire life. He grew up in Maui, Hawaii, playing on the beach and surfing with his family and friends, with all the kids learning together. “Growing up surfing made me more comfortable in the water and kind of opened me up to other water sports, but I wish I surfed more growing up on Maui,” Zack reflects.
He sees the wave every day while raft guiding on the Snake River in the summer. “Once I got to Jackson and found river surfing, I had a shitty foam board. I slowly worked my way up borrowing boards from friends and then I started buying boards.” Now he has a full quiver for the river. “I have a 4’10, 5’0, and 5’5, from White Buffalo Shapes. I can surf from about 6,000 CFS to about 13,000 CFS because of the higher volume boards,” he says.
When asked how the river compares to surfing at home, Zack shares, “Mountain surfing is a lot more relaxed, you can throw a couple PBR’s in your wetsuit, paddle over, and be at your own break and your own zone with people supporting you.”
When Zack and Alpha were posited with the question of which waves they love more, the answers came easy. “I still love surfing the ocean more, the unpredictability of something is so fun,” says Zack. Alpha, on the other hand, just loves to surf, “Honestly, I just like waves, I grew up in the ocean, and I’m used to it…addicted to it. I like waves, it doesn’t matter what kind.”
Lindsay Vallen is community reporter for Jackson Hole Buckrail. @itsme_linds