Kayakers Take On River Surfing

by Alison McPherson

When I came back from Australia this spring I was obsessed with surfing after spending some time learning to surf on the Gold Coast. I was super excited when I saw a surfboard in the shop when I got back to work and I couldn’t wait to continue my new-found love of surfing in the river.

One day at work I somehow convinced Tom and Eli to come with me to the 10th street wave when we were done work. Having an understanding of the way rivers work from our kayaking backgrounds, we knew the idea of surfing in the river but could we transfer our kayaking skills onto a surf board?!

We jumped right in there and got tossed off the wave right away for several times in a row. But somehow we found this addicting and kept trying until it was too dark to see the wave. The evening consisted of us launching ourselves from the eddy to the middle of the wave, landing on our surf boards on our stomachs, and hoping we were still in the wave. If that turned out to be successful, we’d try to stand up on the board.

We all started to get the hang of it by the end of the exhausting evening, although I think my successes were based more on luck than any developed skill at the time. The wave at 10th street is pretty small and steep so it’s hard to get up without having the nose of your board dive under.

After a few days of practice at this wave, we decided to step it up a notch and head to the Kan to test out our lack-of-river-surfing-skills on The Mountain wave. Once we hopped into the eddy, I was definitely a little intimidated by the big wave, fast water, and other well-seasoned surfers. It’s pretty hard to get onto the wave from surfer’s left because there’s no good launching spot, so getting yourself to the other side of the river is a challenge in itself. Once I finally paddled myself to the other side of the river, I was already feeling pretty tired. This was going to be a workout for sure.

Getting in the wave at the Kan is a lot easier than 10th street. There is a good launching point on surfer’s right and the wave is quite wide so you have tons of time to stand up once you’re on your stomach. There’s a nice sweet spot in the wave that is very forgiving. It didn’t take long for Tom to get the hang of it and he soon fit right in with the others. He kindly passed along his newly acquired river surfing knowledge to me and after a few good tips, I was able to ride the wave as well.

The key thing about surfing this wave is your falling technique. I had bruises all over my body for a while because I learned the hard way how shallow the wave behind the surfing wave is. Falling in the starfish position and staying in that position until it gets deep again is a good idea if you want to minimize your interaction with the rocks.

We had a blast this summer trying out a new water sport and it was a nice change of pace every now and then. It seems like river surfing is really taking off in the Calgary area with having access to two great waves so close by. Aquabatics will be carrying some river surfing gear next season so if you’re looking to try it out, stay tuned for their new gear and demo boards!