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University of Otago students "looking for the next wave" took to the raging Water of Leith on their boards in Dunedin yesterday.
Simon Badger (22) told the Otago Daily Times he and five others used a rope tied to the Leith embankment to surf a wave breaking over a raised section of the concrete watercourse, underneath the Forth St bridge.
The students were in the water for about two hours, watched by about 20 onlookers.
Mr Badger defended their antics as "pretty safe", despite being hit by a passing log while in the water.
Another surfer was swept down the river - towards the Forsyth Barr Stadium site - after falling in and being unable to regain his footing, he said.
Mr Badger said that in most cases surfers tumbling into the water could stand up again in the calmer waist-deep water under the bridge, or use the rope to pull themselves to shore.
"It's surprisingly easy, eh."
However, their actions were criticised by Inspector Alastair Dickie, of Dunedin, who said less experienced surfers could run into difficulty.
Parts of the waterway were "like a washing machine", and police had warned another group of surfers not to take to the Leith yesterday morning, he said.
"We can't babysit them all day . . . It's just stupidity really."
Earlier in the day, a group of kayakers was discouraged by police from kayaking a swollen Water of Leith, although several had already completed the ride to the harbour.