From Kook to Cutbacks - A River Surfing Progression

From Kook to Cutbacks - A River Surfing Progression

Simon Coward
5 minute read


Words:  Simon Coward

“I grew up surfing, I have done this for as long as I can remember, why the heck is this so hard?”

This was the loop going round and round my head on repeat for my first few surf sessions at 10th St. wave on the Bow River and the Mountain Wave at the Kananaskis River.

It was not a matter of not really surfing the wave when I got to my feet--the shocking problem was that I could not EVEN GET TO MY FEET. Now, I enjoy a good public humbling as much as the next person, but this was pushing the self esteem friendship.

Was growing older and less athletic leading to these face plants on almost every river wave attempt, or had 20 + years of ocean surfing skills just evaporated when I moved inland to the mountains?

It took all my self control to not announce to anyone who would listen: “I have been surfing my whole life, I am not sure what is happening.” I must admit, my self control faltered several times and I caught myself justifying my blatant lack of river surf talent to complete strangers!

However, I was determined.

After some forced time away from river surfing due to surgery, I am returning this year with a newly repaired shoulder. I figure I need to get out there, push through the challenge, and get to surfing.

Before returning, I somehow convinced myself that the first attempts were just a memory. I was going to come out and have no problem getting my river surf on! I told myself, before heading back to the waves this year, that I'd fall back into my former ocean surfing glory.


Instead, I was back in the same frustrating cycle of getting flushed and falling off. Nearly getting to my feet, but not quite. I refer to my statement about humbling experiences: this certainly was one of those.

As a lifelong kayak instructor it felt both frustrating and awesome to be in the shoes of someone learning a new activity (even though my brain was telling me it was not a new activity at all).

One of the things during this (re)learning process that was ultra positive was just how welcoming the river surf community is. Having grown up in one of the cultural meccas of surfing in Australia (near Bells Beach), I have seen many a heavy confrontation in the surf and have been immersed in the ‘localism’ culture of ocean surfing.

The river surfing crowd feels quite different, always available with tips, encouragement, and hoots of stoke when anyone does something cool (whether they're beginner or shredder). Even with long lineups at Mountain Wave at the Kananaskis, people’s patience never seems rattled.

Quite a different atmosphere than when the surf is pumping and it is super crowded in the ocean. Perhaps it is the fact that the wave is not a finite resource like the ocean, perhaps it is the amazing mountains we are surrounded by, or maybe Canadians are just mellower than Australians!?!

But I digress, back to my story of humility and progression.

This year (2020) with a bunch of support and advice from Tom (our Ops Manager) and a bunch of input from local river surfers, I am stoked to say I am consistently up and surfing and even starting to throw a little spray on turns.  The act of standing on the board feels remarkably familiar and oh so amazing.

I am still taking my humility licks every session. I still must go to my knees for a short time to get to my feet.  My younger ocean surfing self berates me every time I do that. But, at 41, function over fashion is the name of the game and getting to my feet and having the feeling of surfing again on a consistent basis has me as stoked as I was as a grom surfing in Australia.

For the longest time I looked down at the idea of river surfing as something that was not going to measure up to the ocean surfing experiences I had while growing up.

Now that I have put in some time, I would say it does not need to measure up. It has the same roots, foundation, and stoke associated but, in many ways, is quite a different activity.  However, it is one that has me fired up enough to don a silly thick wetsuit, booties, gloves, and a hood to continue surfing all through the cold Canadian winter months.

If you are an ocean surfer who is landlocked, or are landlocked and want to get a taste of the surfing feel and lifestyle, river surfing is well worth the time, frustration, and learning curve.

To check out more on what it is all about and how to get into river surfing, check out Tom Stewart's blog on River surfing here.

We also offer a range of river surfing gear to keep you warm, safe and shredding on the rivers of Canada.

Happy Surfing

Simon Coward

About the Author:  I am a 40 something year old Australian now living in Cochrane, Alberta Canada.  For the past 11 years I have been an owner of AQ Outdoors / Aquabatics.  A proud father of 3 kids and husband to Nikki.  
I have been into the outdoors for as long as I can remember, camping and surfing trips as a kid graduated to a lifelong passion for most things outdoors.  When I am not staring at spreadsheets I try to spend as much time in the mountains and on the water as I can.

« Back to Blog