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.