When you think of all the things to see and do in Calgary, there’s a good chance surfing isn’t one of them. After all, we’re landlocked and hundreds of kilometers from the nearest ocean.
However, there’s a relatively new water sport that seems to be catching on in the stampede city.It’s called river surfing, and it’s happening on the Bow River, right in the downtown core. That’s where you’ll find a stationary wave that surfers on specially-designed boards who can ride for as long as they can keep their balance and maintain their stamina.
“It’s definitely a lot harder than it looks,” said Nathan Kneisel, a 40-year-old geologist who took up the sport a few years ago.
“It takes a little while to get into the pocket over the wave, and then for us older guys to be able to pop up right away, that can be an issue, but once you get it you’re hooked,” said Kneisel.
Local surfers discovered the “10th Street wave” after the June 2013 flood that changed the river.
“It’s really taken off in the last three years,” river surfer Robert Bishop said.
“It was a thing before the flood, and after the flood we got this wave working again, so it’s really picked up in the last three years.”
Surfers, especially those who have been at it for some time, consider it a safe sport, and many don’t wear helmets. They are recommended, however, for newcomers.
“Some people where helmets… I think if you have good falling reflexes, I don’t know if it’s really necessary or not, it’s fairly deep where the wave is,” Bishop said.
“From an ocean perspective we’ve never worn helmets,” added Jason McQuade, a Calgarian who grew up ocean surfing in New Zealand.
River patrols don’t appear to have any concerns, according to surfers.
“They’re super friendly, they seem to love it,” Bishop said.
“There are firefighters who come down to surf too,” he added.
It’s believed river surfing got its start in the early 70’s in Munich, Germany, and has since spread around the world.