From the river’s edge, Janina Zeitler steps onto her surfboard.  The standing wave of the Eisbach river rapidly carries her nearly fifty-feet to the other side of the canal.  She glides to the top of the waist-high wave, lays her backhand into the flowing rapids, and rips a swooping front-side cutback—spraying an eager photographer, who got a little too close, with icy cold water. Her momentum sends her shooting back across the river.  To gain more speed, she pumps her surfboard through the wave, turns off the bottom of the rapids then attacks the lip with a backside 720 maneuver. The surfers standing on the concrete riverbank, in wetsuits, holding their surfboards under their arms, waiting for their turn to surf the wave, bear witness to Janina’s aqua-assault.

The Eisbach, or “Ice Creek,” flows into the Isar River from two underground canals in Munich, Germany’s English Garden and emerges under the 19th-century Prinzregentenstrasse bridge. In the 1970s, civic engineers laid three rows of concrete blocks along the canal bottom to weaken the flow of water surging up from underground. The shape of the bottom—along with wooden boards wedged into the canal by local surfers—creates a fast, surfable standing wave that is the most popular “river-surfing” spot in Europe. Surfing the Eisbach can be dangerous. Many surfers have suffered dislocated shoulders or broken bones from hitting the concrete blocks. The river surges beneath two stone bridge arches and spectators line the bridge to watch surfers surf in place on the curl of the wave.  The first surfers in Munich started cautiously, using ropes tied to the bridge or trees to help them keep their balance. Back then, river surfing was illegal and could warrant heavy fines. When the cops came, surfers would just let go of the ropes and float away. Further down the river, the canal splits three ways, so it was hard for the cops to catch the surfing scoundrels.  In 2010 the City of Munich legalized the sport.

Janina’s riverboards are typically 6-8 inches shorter, with more volume in the nose, than the surfboards that she rides in the ocean. Often the rails of the board are wrapped in kevlar cloth to strengthen and protect the board from the concrete riverbank and rocks.

Janina Zeitler is currently the reigning two-time Rapid Surf League Champion.  She first learned to surf the river on its kinder, gentler wave—the Flosslände—a pair of canals beside the Isar, some five miles south of the Eisbach wave.  Since then she has been dominating Europe’s stationary wave riding scene.  Janina won her first event in 2016 at the Surf and Style European Championship held on the world’s largest artificial wave—the CityWave (designed after the Eisbach river wave)—at Munch airport.  In 2017, 2018, and 2019 Zeitler blasted her competition out of the water taking 1rst place at the Wave Masters Boot Dusseldorf, an international static wave riding contest.

Janina Zeitler used to be a competitive skier. In 2013, she was on holiday with her family on the German Island of Sylt in the North Sea (Atlantic Ocean), where the German Championship of Surfing was being held and Zeitler spontaneously decided to enter the contest. She had already fallen in love with surfing on the river (so much so that she had been bringing her surfboard with her to her ski competitions). “In the ocean, you have to be able to paddle and read the waves,” says Janina. “On the river, the focus is on smooth driving turns and mainly various tricks.”

Janina realized that many of the other participants of the German Championship of Surfing had German passports but had been living in the Canary Islands for years.  Being landlocked in Munich put her at a disadvantage in ocean contests. Undeterred, she went home and trained herself on the river and in wave pools—all the while accumulating major sponsors.  When she was on break from school, Janina’s sponsors would send her to surf in places like the southwest of France, Portugal, and the Canary Islands.  Her ocean surfing rapidly improved. She returned to the German Championship of Surfing in 2017 and finished 3rd.  Then in 2018, Janina finished 1rst in the Junior Girls division.

The German Surfing Association (DWV) hosts national surfing competitions (German Championship) and selects teams for international competitions. In 2018, Janina Zeitler was selected for the German National Surf Team. As a member of the squad, she surfed an International Surfing Association (ISA) contest in Portugal, the ISA World Surfing Games in Japan, and the ISA World Junior Championships in Huntington Beach. Germany finished 9th out of 44 surfing nations.

Janina Zeitler (aquamarine) and her German teammates (including the Girls U-18 Division Champion, Rachel Presti (on Janina’s left)) at the 2018 ISA World Junior Championships.

The International Surfing Association (ISA) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the World Governing Authority for Surfing.

The 2019 ISA World Surfing Games will be held at Kisakihama Beach in Miyazaki, Japan from September 7-15th. The ISA World Surfing Games is an Olympic Surfing Qualifier, awarding Tokyo2020 slots on a continental basis to the top finishing women from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The ISA will also have another qualifying event in the fall of 2020 (TBA).  Janina Zeitler is waiting to find out if the German Surfing Association will grant her an ISA nomination and a shot at Olympic Gold.

“The style of ocean surfing is extremely important in order to get a nice flow going in stationary wave riding,” says Janina.

In anticipation, Janina is staying busy this summer by surfing in the Rapid Surf League (she just won another contest in Japan) and she plans to surf a few World Surf League Women’s Qualifying Series contests: Roxy Open in Cornwall, England (Aug 13-18); Caraibos Lacanau Pro, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France (Aug 20-25); Deeply Pro Anglet, France (Aug 28-Sept 1).

You can follow Janina Zeitler and wish her luck on Instagram: @janina_zeitler

Here is a short video of Janina ripping at her home break, the Eisbach. It’s in German, but her stoke, smile, and wave-riding skills are universal. Enjoy!

“Let your way be as the way of water; Running deep and filled with peace; Do not struggle or compete; Go with the flow and be serene.” – Tao Te Ching

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