The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Ever thought of riding the waves, but you live in a city far away from the ocean? Calgary is becoming the place to be for river surfing, a new adventure sport taking the world by storm.

The south end of 10th Street bridge between downtown and Kensington is home to Calgary’s best surf wave. Along with the 10th Street wave, there are some spots on the Kananaskis River that are perfect for surfing.

Living so far away from the ocean, it was more difficult to try surfing but trips out to the coast were what allowed Luke Morstad and Haddow Thul, co-founders of Mount Royal University’s own river surfing club, to try something that was always on their mind.

Caitlin Body1Mount Royal University student Tianna Going surfing the 10th Street wave. Photo by Kate Paton

Oceans, Rivers and Dangers, Oh my

So what’s the difference between ocean and river surfing? The waves, equipment, and dangers are all different.

The waves on the river are called standing waves, which means that they stay in one spot and never change.

Surfing shallow waters requires equipment that can handle the power of the water and nature. Keeping in mind that the boards are close to the rocks it is important in river surfing to not wear an ankle leash, as it could get caught in the rocks. It’s a key difference between surfing on the ocean and surfing on the river.   

Foam boards, wetsuits and helmets all piece together for the perfect outfit to wear while river surfing.

“I try and respect the water as much as I can because it is so terrifying,” Thul says. “Just with any other sport, there comes many dangers with river surfing.”

Caitlin MainMRU Surf Club President Luke Morstad riding the wave. Photo by Kate Paton

“When I was in Bali, I got out to a wave that was way above my skill level and I got into the impact zone and I literally thought that I was going to die. I was so terrified. When I finally got shot out to shore and I literally laid out on the sand, I was never so happy to be on land.”

River surfing is one of the few sports you can do year-round here in Alberta.                                 

Winter surfing can be even more dangerous.

The gear you’re required to have is meant to keep you warm in the water, but it's when you’re out of the water that you’re exposed to the cold temperature.

“You can be surfing in minus 20 degree weather and if you're not prepared for it, you can be in deep trouble,” Thul says.

Temperature isn't the only element to look out for. Morstad says they watch for debris and actively avoid other river users in the area.

Caitlin Body3All the gear is ready to go. Photo by Kate Paton

For the Love of Surf

Ever since Morstad and Thul both tried surfing in Tofino, B.C., surfing has been a constant in their lives.

“I think it’s something that everyone wants to do but we're so far away from the ocean,” Morstad says.

Not only is surfing one of the sports that brings a group of people together, it also allows you to try new things and not always take yourself seriously.

“I try and respect the water as much as I can because it is so terrifying," - Haddow Thul says.

“I’ve surfed that wave naked at night one time,” laughs Morstad.

During Stampede 2015, Morstad thought it would be amusing if he dressed up in stampede gear, with Johnny Cash music playing while he jumped on his board and rode the waves. The video can be found on Outlier River Surf’s Instagram.

“When I began surfing a bunch I found the community was really cool. Everyone that I was meeting down there was like the people that I wanted to associate with,” Morstad says. “I’ve met some of my best friends through this sport.”

Not only does the community have a love for the sport but they also have a love for the river. This year they are holding a river clean up.

“We use the river and so it's our responsibility to clean it up and make sure that it’s safe for us to use,” Thul says.

For info on the river clean up, visit www.outlier.com/calgarysurfclub

YYC Surf Club

The sport brings together like-minded people. Each one might have a different career, but they all come together for the love of the sport.

In 2016, the community was boosted by university students starting clubs, just like Morstad and Thul with MRU Surf.

With Morstad serving as president and Thul as vice president the club has grown to engage over 350 participants in only a year.

Morstad also helped create the club Calgary Surf, where it combined school surf clubs. Now anyone can join the club if they have an interest in surfing, not just students.

Caitlin Body2Morstad instructing a fellow club member where to land in the water. Photo by Kate Paton

Caitlin Body5A surfer is a hit in the face as they attempt to stand up. Photo by Kate Paton

They hold events throughout year, keeping the community alive. They plan trips out to Tofino, West Edmonton Mall and into the Kananaskis River.

While they host those trips, there are other festivals like Slam Festival.

Slam Festival was put on by Alberta River Surfing Association in the summer of 2017. Surfers came to the event to compete in the North American Championships of river surfing. The event not only was a competition, but it was a celebration of the sport and the people of the community.

Caitlin Body4A new surf club member is getting ready to jump in. Photo by Kate Paton

Along with large events, they also hold smaller sized ones in Calgary to introduce people to the sport. One of the smaller events was called “Surf the Bow” and it was able to bring together people of all skill levels.

Mount Royal University student Tianna Going participated in the Surf the Bow event.

“I’ve surfed one other time out on the ocean but I always wanted to try it on the river” Going says.

The event also allowed participants to learn how to ride the waves safely.

“I would highly recommend if someone wanted to try it,” Going says.

To keep updated with surf events in yyc, you can go to www.outlier.com/calgarysurfclub or www.facebook.com/calgarysurfclub

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Editor: Emily Thwaites | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This story can also be found in the print version of the Calgary Journal.