An unlikely spot to catch a wave

Doctor finds place to pursue favorite sport far from the ocean

Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

WATERFORD - The water in the Mohawk River flowed fast and frigid - about 20 colder than the early spring air.

Perfect for surfing, said Dr. Jef Field. The water level was high - around 14 feet - and flowing at 20,300 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It ran a light brown, like diluted hot chocolate. Not many people would consider enjoying a sunny day by surfing on a river. And of those who would, not many would consider the Mohawk.

"Rivers are kind of like my ocean in the mountains," said Field, a 35-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native who now lives in Bethlehem.

"Who says there are no waves in Albany?"

He stood on a path between the old Champlain Canal and Goat Island, just north of a hydroelectric dam. Field surfs between a 30-foot cliff and a cement diverting wall on the Mohawk as it tumbles into the Hudson.

The anesthesiology resident at Albany Medical Center Hospital surfs here when time allows between working and studying. A neoprene wet suit covers his 5-foot-8 frame and helps keep him warm.

He's participated in 50-mile mountain runs. He was an avid BMX biker as a boy, and got his first motorcycle at age 12, five years after his first surfboard. He climbed Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in this hemisphere. And he has surfed on three continents.

Outdoor thrill-seeking, Field said, is his "natural high." Walking in the river, the otherwise well-spoken adventurer struggled to put his feelings into words.

"I don't know." he said. "I don't know. I just like it. I get the same thing with my job. It's just - I don't know. It makes you feel good. I like being outside. I guess that's it, really."

He walked upstream, about 30 yards from the "standing wave" created by a cataract, and slid into the water. His turquoise "platypus" board - custom-designed for river surfing - was barely a glimmer as he floated around the wall. He spun around and slid into the frothing wave, then swam upstream.

Suddenly, he rose above the froth and, with knees bent, began gyrating while riding the wave, left and right, up and down. He flashed a two-fingered V.

After about a minute, the wave got the best of him. He was swept about 30 yards downstream, where he stood up in a quieter stretch on the other side of the wall and slowly walked upstream.

"Exhausting," he gasped.

He floated down river again, searching for a good wave, but missed the sweet spot he wanted.

"Timing is everything," he grumbled as he walked back upstream.

Waterford Fire Chief John Fairclough said his department performs eight to 10 water rescues a year in both the Mohawk and Hudson rivers.

Most calls are for disabled boats, but one or two errant swimmers are assisted each summer.

"I'm not sure how the waves are from the surfing end of things," he said, "but it's certainly not recommended to swim in a nondesignated area. I don't think it's illegal, but it's certainly not something I would recommend."

Field knows.

"Sure, it's dangerous, but so is driving a car," he said.

As for the long-term medical risks of swimming in the Mohawk, Field, says: "Who cares? I'm not drinking this stuff."

"Something else is gonna get me first."

Jimmy Vielkind can be reached at 454-5043 or by e-mail at

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To see video of Dr. Jef Field surfing and talking about its dangers, go to