A surfer since the 1960s, a snowboarder since before they let you on the ski resort with a board, a martial arts instructor, a musician and a pioneer in the outdoor sport of river surfing. Stevens County resident Seal Morgan is all of these.
You’d need more than one book to write about the things he’s done in his life, but if you’re interested, here’s a slice of Morgan’s experiences that can fill you in on his days of river surfing:
“The Lunch Counter Trilogy” is a conversational-style chronicle on Riverbreak.com tells of Morgan’s experience pioneering river surfing with his best friend Don Piburn. In the late 1980s and early 90s, the two took to the Lunch Counter standing wave in the Alpine Canyon section of the Snake River in Wyoming.
“When DP and I started, there were very few others doing this and none were consistently surfing it weekly every Spring,” said Morgan, who lives north of Springdale on a ridgeline running a snowboard apparel company. “It’s gotten huge in Europe now and gets more and more popular. We had no idea it would turn into this.”
Don Piburn (DP) and Seal met in Mission Beach in the 1970s since they both shared a passion for surfing and skateboarding. Seal had been surfing since the 1960s and had a board shop where he could repair and sell boards. For years the two kept in touch even though they may have been in different parts of the country and doing different outdoor sports. Morgan said the inspiration for heading out to Alpine Canyon was a ridiculous Mountain Dew commercial in 1986 that featured the big river waves. They were intrigued by the perpetual wave concept.
“We wonder who the first person to river surf the Lunch Counter was,” Piburn said in the Lunch Counter Trilogy. “We have no idea what year or years he was there or what his name was, but if it was in the 70s, he likely was riding a single fin or even a longboard.”
The flow of the Snake River rushed at 14,000 cubic feet per second at 35 m.p.h. in the canyon. While the typical ocean wave allows someone to make about ten moves before it breaks, the waves on the Snake River allowed for 20 to 25 moves.
“After about two minutes, your legs are just jelly,” Morgan said. “The water doesn’t get this big anymore. There just isn’t the snowpack. Today they talk about it flowing at 8,200 cubic feet per second and DP and I were like ‘we didn’t go out unless it was 10,000 and 12,000 feet.’”
The two set out for the Lunch Counter in the spring of 1988. After getting a tip from the kayaker community about the best time to river surf, they loaded surfboards in their little pickup with a pile of camping gear and food and headed through the farmlands of Central Idaho.
“Surfboards atop my truck invited more than a few bewildered stares from the locals in the fields and small towns we passed through,” Seal said in the Chronicles. “They’d get used to us over the next few years.”
When they began river surfing in Wyoming, it was a learning process. Since the sport was new, there were no procedures, tips, suggestions or systems on how to do these things. Kayakers suggested certain things but they weren’t practical to a surfer. In general it was trial and error.
“I leapt in first and just got completely trashed, industrial machine laundered, and spit out upside down and backwards below the rapids,” Seal said in the Chronicles.
They got the swing of it, however, and tackled monster waves in all types of weather and conditions. What the two didn’t realize was they were on the ground floor for a sport that would go worldwide.
“Riversurfing is huge in Europe,” Seal said. “Bend just opened a River Surf Park, Missoula did too and Spokane is talking about it. We never thought the sport was going to do this.”
During their four years on the river, they said just eight other surfers joined them. Always one to catch the next wave, Morgan, had his last season on the river in 1991. His life philosophy of doing something fun every day had led to him moving from mountain range to mountain range. Roughly 12 years ago, he moved to Stevens County for the Selkirk range and the 49 Degrees North ski resort. He gives free lessons on snowboarding to small groups that can’t afford private tutelage and Morgan currently has the largest Washington state collection of historical snowboards in his shop.
“I turned the TV off in 1993; I don’t own a cell phone,” Seal said. “There’s the old joke that you surf for life — it’s a lifestyle and that spreads into all parts of your life.”
For the Riverbreak.com Lunch Counter Trilogy, Morgan and DP had to round up their VHS footage of them river surfing and they broke their story up into three parts and a multitude of YouTube videos. In his ridgeline home, which is a literal museum to snowboarding and surfing, the chipper Morgan had river surfing photos, snowboarding pictures and a multitude of other outdoor sports regalia spread about. It was here where Morgan sat down and wrote down his stream of consciousness.
“The book series is short segments of stories and videos of our river surfing,” Morgan said. “It’s a true-life action story.”
It’s fitting that Morgan, who hasn’t stopped getting to the next wave or finding another mountain range, is being featured in a story of a wave that never stops breaking.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff