The Lunch Counter rapid is 1,000 miles from the ocean, but when it's running just right you'll see a core group of surfers riding a standing wave that breaks in late spring and early summer.

Their sport is similar to the ocean variety, but with many twists. For example, instead of keeping an eye out for sharks, they watch for kayakers slicing through.For avid surfers who find themselves living in the Jackson Hole Valley, the unusual river dynamic substitutes for the ocean. For spectators, it provides an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the balance, athleticism and grace of the sport.

Most surfers end up in the unlikely spot of Jackson Hole because of their love of another sport - snowboarding. After winter, they face three choices: hit the coast for the summer, do without surfing or learn to handle the river.

Most choose the first or the last options - very few try to go without. Justin Huebscher, a.k.a. Hub, a snowboard instructor who grew up surfing in California, left Jackson last summer to surf in his native state. This year, he stuck it out.

Like the other athletes on the river, he has stayed sane in land-locked Wyoming by surfing the rapids. Like Hub, Pat Murtha, a surfer and snowboarder from New Jersey, lasted through the summer by hitting the river.

"It definitely keeps me sane and it's cool to call home and if it's not breaking in Jersey, my friends aren't surfing and I am," Murtha said.

For many riders, surfing the river is more than satisfying - they improve their skills and get in better shape than their coastal counterparts.

Robert Garrett has been hitting Lunch Counter since 1981 and gets 15 to 20 days on his board each year. The length of rides, which can last from a few seconds to more than half an hour, combine with the high altitude to provide for superior conditioning.

"An hour or two spent down there is like a week surfing," he said. "It's a compact surfing experience."

Learning to surf the river is no easy feat, even for those who have surfed in the ocean all over the world. When he first went to surf Lunch Counter, Hub, an avid California surfer, was more scared than he'd ever been.

Even though he could paddle out in the ocean and ride waves just about anywhere, he was not yet comfortable with the workings of a river.

For someone accustomed to the ocean, dealing with river eddies, swirlies, rocks and whirlpools that can suck you under changes the face of the sport.

"The river is not nice," Hub said. "One day, you'll progress so insanely, and then you won't reach that point for a long time again."

Murtha had a similar experience learning to navigate the river.

"It's scary at first - the river is so fast and the current is so strong. When you fall and the river rips you out of there and sweeps you away, you have to get it together fast or you're 200 yards down river and you're screwed," Murtha said.

Riding the wave itself also yields a different experience - there are no barrels or tubes to be had and you can't get enough power to pull 360s, but you can slash it up, working cutbacks and off-the-lips. It requires more finesse to have a good ride.

"It's a lesson in minutiae. The wave is not a big wave, it's small and you have to find the energy in the wave," said Dave Pennington, a former California surfer. "It's a fine touch."