Surf the Ottawa River at Bates Island

Bate Island, Ottawa

As the days get longer and the sun warmer in the spring, the snow and ice that has accumulated over the past couple of months turns into water and trickles down the watershed to fill the Ottawa River. When most of us see this as hope that warmer summer days are around the corner, our fellow paddlers and surfers closely watch water levels to make sure not to miss the perfect wave when it comes in. Surfing a static river wave in the middle of Canada's capital city with the parliament buildings as your backdrop is one must experience for any seasoned surfer.

To surf the wave, the first thing you need to do is check the water level of the Ottawa River at Britannia. We use the Water Office website for this information:

Any primary water level above 59.00m is good to go. Below that, the wave us small and is not surfable. It is also very shallow below 59.00m, and if you attempt to surf the wave, you will likely hit bottom or damage your surfboard.

The water level is typically only high enough to surf the waves in the spring, when the river is in full flood. This means cold water, with the potential for ice and other debris to come down the river. Always keen an eye out for this.

Once at Bate Island, you will see 4 distinct waves to surf. The "Top Wave" is often surfed on SUPs and long boards (you will need a tow rope to catch it on a long board) and is typically best around 59.00m to 59.30m.

The "Wall Wave" is the most common to surf. It is the green shoulder nearest to the wall. This is best on short boards (5'6" to 8'0"). At 59.00m is has a small pocket, but a fast steep shoulder. As it rises (above 59.50m) the pocket gets wider, but the shoulder becomes less steep. Locals often argue if high or low levels are better.

On the other side of the foam pile from the "Wall Wave" is the "Outside Wave". This wave often requires a big swim to get to and get back to shore from. You often have to hike up the shoreline in drop down onto it from above. When you finish your surf, you are far out in the middle of the river and a long swim back through strong current is required. This wave is best on a longboard. Strong surfers will be able to hang 10 on their boards on this wave.

The final wave, and least surf is the "Back Wave". It is inconsistent and also out towards the middle. It can offer up good surfs, but is hard to catch.

Check out this video from John Rathwell from Searching For Sero surfing the "Wall Wave".

Pack List

  • Surfboard
  • Fins
  • 5/6mm wetsuit
  • 6mm neoprene mitts
  • 7mm neoprene boots
  • Helmet
  • Life jacket
  • Towel
  • Tow Rope
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Activities Surfing, Kayaking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring
Easy Parking
Family Friendly


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Overall rating: 

freshwater session

there is always a wave to surf! very nice!

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