VIENNA – For some surfers, no waves are perfect conditions for surfing – especially if it’s on the slow-moving river Danube, running through Austria’s capital. “If the water is flat like a mirror, then it’s the best,” said wakeboarder Jussi Korhonnen, on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.
A long line of people – men, women and kids of all ages – waited at Wakeboard Lift.at for their turn to launch onto the Danube and surf by rope. Warm temperatures – high 70s Fahrenheit, or 26 Celsius – bring out pros and newcomers alike to this river for surfing or wake boarding.
Wakeboard Lift.at uses a 4-mast cable system to pull surfers and wakeboarders around a course about 832 meters (1,000 yards) long.
At the beach bar on the river bank, spectators watch the boarders brave the course’s floating obstacles, doing stunts and jumps, or sometimes sinking into the Danube. Some boarders repeatedly don’t even make it past the starting jump, plunging headlong into the glistening blue water. They float toward the riverside, their helmet-protected heads and orange life vests bobbing through the water as they swim toward the bank, ready for another try.
“At the beginning, you fall off. You fall the first 10 times, for sure,” said Sebastian Spanner, 14, who has been wake boarding for two years.
Turning corners was a challenge for Spanner. He drifted into the Danube’s current, then popped out of the water for another try. Even after an overnight thunderstorm and a temperature drop of some 10 degrees to 26 C (79 F), the line of surfers waiting for their turn was 5 to 10 minutes long.
“I want to surf a bit more. I only have a bit more time,” replied Spanner rushing back towards the starting line, walking away when asked if he had a few minutes for an interview about this pastime.
Rushing to use every single minute is what might happen when enthusiasts buy a one-hour, or a two-hour pass, instead of a day pass. “I think two hours is pretty good. Full day is even better,“ said Korhonnen, who was on a two- week business trip to Vienna.
An engineer from Finland, Korhonnen, 24, biked down Donauinsel, the city’s river island, and discovered the wakeboarding course. He’s done it back home, but there he has to drive to the course.
Donauinsel and its river banks are some of the favorite spots for the Viennese to spend their free time. Hikers, bikers, skaters, parents with children in strollers, retirees and everyone in between can take advantage of the green areas and the nature in the heart of the city.
As soon as sunshine peaks through the clouds, locals and visitors flock to beach bars along the banks, which features sand volleyball, mini-golf course, grilling areas and giant trampolines.
At the wakeboarding course, spectators easily gauge riders’ range of skill levels – from those crashing into water over and over again, to those doing stunts on obstacles along the way. And of course, Wakeboard Lift.at has hosted extreme sports competitions such as Wake Control Vienna, sponsored by Red Bull and other companies.
Asked about the convenience and charm of having the possibility to do this water sport in the middle of his home town, Spanner said it’s nice to do in his free time and with friends. He’s grown up with the Danube and it’s not as impressive as for visitors like Korhonnen.
“It’s a good location,” Korhonnen said. “It’s a capital city. This place is nice.”
The water is much warmer than what Korhonnen is used to in his home country. He’s already skilled, but sees room to improve. “When you start new tricks, it gets a bit knotty,” Korhonnen said. “There’s always something to learn.”
Though Korhonnen prefers to be alone on the course, a warm Saturday brings crowds. On this day wakeboarders of various waist and biceps sizes were in line.
“Just to ride, you don’t have to be in that good of a shape,” said Korhonnen. “When you start doing tricks, it requires more and more. If you do it a lot, you really get fitter.”
One of the really fit people was the operator who was obviously feeling the heat of the day before he briefly jumped into water to cool off and immediately got back to assisting the customers with the line for their start.
When it was Korhonnen’s turn, he landed on the river surface and surfed off in the direction of the sun setting, enjoying the last hours of the day.
Not a bad business trip, if it takes you to Vienna.
The tickets for wakeboarding on the Danube are available for periods from one hour for 17 euros ($19) for adults to season tickets for 690 euros ($760). More details in the box below.