Dude, what’s up with these surfer geese?

A friend of a friend of a friend (all kayakers) was recently out filming his buddies play in a huge wave. By chance, he recorded this incredible video. It shows a gaggle of geese floating down a river that is at its highest flow in 27 years. They start approaching a fairly intimidating wave (a gnarly wave, in the standard paddler’s lexicon). You can hear the wave roaring loudly..

What comes next is utterly surprising. Take a look at the video:

It looks like a dangerous situation, but these geese appear to be in control.

Seemingly effortlessly, they glide over to center of the river and catch the wave. They have incredible skill and control as they guide themselves right into the wave, while facing backwards. And they manage to surf it without being swept over. It looks like they are making a determined effort to stay there. You can even watch one of the geese that doesn’t quite make it, and it starts flapping its wings to get further upstream.

I did some cursory googling around, and I couldn’t find an example of this behavior being documented before. So what I’d like to know is, what is going on here? Are they in any real danger here? Maybe they are trying not to get separated from the young ones in the rapid, by collecting together at surfable waves. Or perhaps by surfing a wave, they can catch fish that are being swept up in the backflow. My friend Deepak pointed out that fly fisherman often fish near rapids, so there might be something to this idea.

However, I don’t see them feeding in this video. And if they judged a wave to be truly threatening, I would imagine that they could just as easily try to swim out of the way, or fly over it (although this may pose a new set of problems.)

But there is another explanation for their behavior, one that’s harder to verify empirically. Maybe, just maybe, what you are seeing are these geese having fun.

It could be that they’re just enjoying playing in the wave. And in doing so, they’re teaching the kayakers a thing or two about their sport.

What do you think is going on in the video? I’m curious to know. Post your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Deepak Iyer

    Haha, that was quick :)

  • Deepak Iyer

    http://flyanglersonline.com/begin/101/part11.php

    Some info on why fish like to sit around in eddies, and breaking water. One reason is the food flowing past by, other is the cover white water offers from predators.

  • Nikhit Nair

    This looks like the first Goose Water Park. It does look like they’re just having fun. 
    (My cousin Deepti pointed me to your blog – Excellent posts!)

  • Caldwellhotmetal

    The city of Reno, NV built Kayaking rapids in the river at its downtown river park. We watched the ducks there “shooting” the rapids, then exiting the river and clambering up an embankment so they could do it again! We also watched one duck zooming past us down 5o yards or more of turbulent water, navigating between the boulders like she was familiar with the course. It appeared completely intentional.

    • http://www.empiricalzeal.com Aatish

      Wow! That’s really incredible (and hilarious to imagine).  Thanks for sharing.

  • Raphael Pisoni

    Hi! Pretty cool footage. My guess is that what this is not intentional. The little ones are probably too small to fly so they use the river to travel and get cought in the rapids. I think that the one who starts flapping trys to fly out there but can’t because she can’t get up speed. After a while they seem to get that they have to slow down to get out of there.
    Also geese are vegetarians, so i don’t think the fishing theory is right.

    I live near a river and as soon as the water starts getting higher and more turbulent geese and ducks allways swim down backwards.