In my travels, I have come across a myriad of surfers; in Portugal, two really relaxed surf instructors, on the West coast of Australia, I watched my buds shred the waves, and one night in Hawaii, I had dinner on the beach and with the setting sun as a backdrop, watched the surfers rip around. I have always been enthralled by the sport. When asked which sport do I wish I could just be the best at with no work or practice? I answer surfing. I have spent most of my life living in Calgary, the land-locked city, and early on, I came to terms with the fact that I, Calgarian, will never “ride a gnarly wave” or “hang ten.” Turns out, I gave up too soon.
My friend Matt is an avid river surfer. Yes, that’s right, an avid river surfer. Living in Calgary, Matt goes surfing on the Bow River once or twice a week. Matt invited me to join him one fateful day and I decided to try my dreams on for size. On the south side of the river, under the 10th St. bridge is Calgary’s wave. It formed after the flood, when a few logs were caught on the bank and pushed the water towards a dip in the rocks. Since then, surfers and the Alberta River Surfing Association* (yes it’s a real thing) have built up the logs to create and maintain the perfect wave.
At noon, we were the only two on the river. Matt took some time to teach me the basics— how to get onto the wave, how to hold the board, how to jump up, and how to swim safely back to shore. I may have a bunch of photos of me trying to look like an advertisement, holding surf boards, but I have never actually surfed, so I was soaking up as much of this crash course as I could, paying close attention to the safety tips. Matt said, “jump really really far out in front of the wave, and if you fall, just don’t panic.” Right on! How hard could it be?
The first time I jumped into the water, I felt SO cool. Like, someone get this girl a surf sponsorship. I immediately bailed, of course, but because I knew what I was doing, quickly made it back to the river bank. Matt cheered me on and declared my first attempt was totally rad! My second attempt was even better. And my third. I found that each time I stood on the rock, poised and ready to jump, I psyched myself up by saying, “jump far, frog legs.”
Soon, a few other surfers joined. After a few hours, there were about thirteen, all different skill levels. There was the Beth level, jumping on, staying in the “sweet spot” for a hot second, then bailing, there was the Matt level, throwing the board into the water, jumping onto it(!) and surfing like a pro, and there was everything in between. Who knew river surfing created such an incredible community!
The day was stunning and the sun did an excellent job of warming us up after being in the cold river. It was the perfect day for my dream of being a surfer to kind of come true. I kind of surfed! I may not have stood up, but I rode a gnarly wave and I got to “hang ten.” I just still can’t believe I didn’t say “cowabunga” today. Not even once! Thanks for the lessons and the rad day in the sun, Matt! Thanks for the epic river surf, Calgary!
*Read more about Calgary’s wave and the other waves around Alberta, plus safety tips and links to blogs and forums on the ARSA website, http://www.riversurfing.ca/arsa/