HISTORY OF THE ALBERTA RIVER SURFING ASSOCIATION

Written and compiled by Matthew Roberston & Jacob Kelly with help from others

The Alberta River Surfing Association (Alberta RSA) was founded in 2005. Its intent was to promote the constructive expansion of river surfing in Alberta. Fast-forward a decade and Alberta’s rivers are flowing with stoke, stemming from a rich and supportive river surfing culture. Eddies from Kananaskis to Calgary are full of surfers cheering on friends and strangers as they ride, or attempt to ride, our waves. From clinics on surfboard construction to gear and wetsuit sales and rentals, Alberta RSA is the go-to if you want to surf in Alberta. Alberta RSA has not only shaped the inland surf culture in Alberta, it has also lead the exploration and documentation of surf waves in Western Canada.  With premier web resources for river surfing, AlbertaRiverSurfing.com and the historic RiverSurfing.ca, Alberta RSA keeps surfers up-to-date with the latest surf spots, gear and river surfing safety.  Since 2006, Alberta RSA has held an annual event called Slam the Kan, which brings together local and distant, experienced and new river surfers to share in a weekend of music, good times and river surfing at Canoe Meadows by the Lower Kananaskis River.  Slam the Kan is the first river surfing event outside of Munich, Germany and has run every year since it started. 

 

The Founding

Ben Murphy was the first person to surf Alberta’s rivers. Growing up in the 90’s, Ben saw his first standing wave in the movie Hawaii 9-0. It was not until the summer of 2003 when he traveled to Munich, Germany that he surfed one. Back in Alberta, Ben got in contact with some rafting guides and started asking questions about the kayak surf features on the Kananaskis River. The guides thought he was crazy, but agreed to take him down the river on an oversized boogie board to look for surfable features. Ben impressed the guides by managing to stand and surf a feature known as Santa Claus on a boogie board. The next day, Ben was back at the river with his surfboard and quickly gained respect among the kayakers. 

Ben surfed alone for a year. Then in October 2005, unbeknownst to Ben, Paul Barrett and Jeff Brooks started surfing the same waves. Jeff Brooks found a small but surfable wave under 10th Street Bridge in Calgary. The 10th Street Bridge wave is in full view of public transit. Chris Szampanski was riding the train when he saw Jeff surfing on the river. Chris jumped off at the next station and ran back to meet the surfer.  Jeff was heading to the Kananaskis River with Paul Barrett that weekend. Arriving home he told his roommate, Neil Egsgard, about the encounter and convinced Neil to try surfing that weekend. That weekend surf in October 2005 united these surfers and a few months later with beers at local pub, the Alberta River Surfing Association was born.
 

RiverSurfing.ca

In May 2006, Neil Egsgard, Jacob Quinlan and the Alberta RSA launched RiverSurfing.ca as a simple forum for Alberta river surfers and as a place to share key river surfing information.  The first versions of the site included tips on gear, where to surf, river safety and board shaping.  In 2007 Paul Barrett wrote a history of river surfing covering Munich, Montreal, Wyoming, Alberta, Elijah Mack & the WRSA and touching on the new surf spots in Colorado and Italy.  In October 2008, a new RiverSurfing.ca was launched to connect the grassroots river surfers from all over the world.  The improved site included the global river surfing wave map now showing 52 waves, a gallery of videos & photos of river surfing around the world, a collection of most past & present & future river surfing events, details of the major river surfing crews, links to the major forums and blog posts from river surfers worldwide.  

At the peak, Riversurfing.ca had generated:

  • 77 River Surfing Waves on the Wave Map
  • 10 River Surfing Shops on the Wave Map
  • 37 Events including Canada, Germany, United States and Austria
  • 276 River Surfing Videos
  • 533 River Surfing Photos
  • 26 Blog Posts

 

“River Surfing is Dead”

In 2007 the Alberta RSA's membership and community activity screeched to a halt.  After a construction project led by non-surfer river users and based on a trial and error building philosophy, the waves in the Kananaskis were destroyed and the Alberta RSA community was left with nothing to surf.  To make things even worse, the 10th Street wave had collapsed and was unsurfable. Local surf shops in Calgary like Big Swell and Frozen Ocean closed their doors. Some Alberta surfers packed up and moved to the coast.

Despite their hardship, Alberta RSA continued to hold social gatherings and explore new waves.  Trips in 2007 took Alberta RSA surfers to the famous Lochsa Pipeline wave in Idaho and the Sturgeon Falls in Winnipeg. Surfers also explored waves in southern Alberta and Montana. Known waves on the Red Deer and North Saskatchewan Rivers were frequented and invitational surf competitions were held in an underground fashion. The core group of surfers was small, but laid deep roots and continued to build strong surfboards.

 

RESPECT 2007

In November 2007 Alberta RSA members, Neil Egsgard, Jacob Kelly Quinlan, David Roscoe, Carl Hughes and Jeff Brooks attended the very first internationally-organized river surfing trip at the Skookumchuck Narrows.  RESPECT was organized by the Godfather of River Surfing, Elijah Mack, and Neil Egsgard, president of the Alberta RSA.  The event brought together best river surfers from Germany (FUS Crew), Canada (Alberta RSA and Montreal), Wales & the United States at the world’s biggest and most dangerous river wave.  For three days in November 2007, starting before dawn on an icy jet-ski and frost covered boat, these river surfers braved the massive whirlpools and crushing chop to surf 17 knot waves including the famous overhead standing barrel Tube Steak.  Elijah named the event RESPECT in honor of the passing of his father Victor Maher, and the deadly nature of the Skookumchuck Narrows wave. 

 

River Surfing Film Festival 2010

As the growth in quality river surfing footage increased, the Alberta RSA saw an opportunity to showcase the best footage.  In 2010, Neil Egsgard, Jacob Quinlan and Alberta RSA held the first River Surfing Film Festival to reveal the best waves and connect the global river surfing community. River surfers from around the world competed in two categories: Best River Surfing Film and a crowd-chosen Surfers’ Choice Film.  The top films were from FUS Crew of Munich, Germany and the Dubsbros of the mountain town Fernie in British Columbia, Canada

 

Rocky Mountain River Surfing

In 2012, Jeff Brooks founded “Rocky Mountain River Surfing” and began teaching surf lessons at the Kananaskis. Jeff was first of the Alberta RSA surfers to establish the certifications and permits to officially teach new surfers. Teaching lessons on the Kananaskis features called Green Tongue and Cliff wave, Jeff brought new members into the Alberta RSA community. Later, Jeff found help from Jacob Kelly Quinlan to develop a river surfing curriculum that included equipment knowledge, safety and methods that made it easier for beginners. The curriculum was designed to bring up future instructors and to be transferable to any river surfing community in the world. In 2014, the 10th Street wave was surfable once again.  With Jeff gone to Ontario, Jacob was left to take over Rocky Mountain River Surfing and provide lessons, rentals and sales at the 10th Street wave.  His efforts resulted in a huge growth to the Alberta RSA membership and the establishment of the unofficial “10th Street Crew”.  This new generation of Alberta surfers took to the positive vibes of the founders and fostered a ridiculously fun atmosphere at the 10th Street wave with contagious smiles and horseplay.

 

Surf Anywhere Project: Transformation of River Surfing

In 2011 the Alberta RSA became a registered society as a way of officially raising funds for a wave building project in the Kananaskis.  This project they named Surf Anywhere.  The Alberta RSA board members, Neil Egsgard, Jacob Quinlan, Jeff Brooks, Danny Zahynacz and David Hernandez Cachero and witness, Luciano Mariani, committed to doing what it took to build a surf wave.  The Surf Anywhere crew piled skills and resources together to build a dream wave - a replica of the Eisbach in Munich but on the Kananaskis River.  The project hinged on the fabrication of a steel ramp, or wedge, that was to be placed in the river. The wedge would displace and shape large volumes of water and, if the model was correct, create a wave. The project reached 80% completion but progress slowed as government approvals proved to be difficult.  It soon became clear that an alternative plan would be required.

In 2013, a massive flood wiped out the features on the Kananaskis River and submerged Calgary’s downtown under six feet of water. The flood reshaped the rivers, and wiped out the known surf features. Portions of the river even changed course, leaving old valleys bare and carving new ones. The flood energized Alberta RSA membership with the perspective of the Kananaskis River now being a blank canvas for which a world-class wave could be built.  In February 2014, Alberta RSA held the first Wave Raiser. This event brought together the local surf industry and community members and raised over $8,000 for a wave build. In July, the Alberta RSA received a flood relief grant from the Alberta Minister of Culture to help rebuild the waves that were destroyed in the flood.

The Surf Anywhere Project had great successes through enormous volunteer work by Neil Egsgard and the Alberta RSA, great fundraising by the Alberta RSA and river surfing community and successful large grant applications by Neil Egsgard & the Alberta RSA.  This dedicated and consistent effort resulted in Alberta's first surfer built wave in 2014 and created The Mountain in 2015.

Neil Egsgard and Jacob Kelly Quinlan’s success with wave building in Alberta opened opportunities for them to take Surf Anywhere to the next level.  They are pioneer wave builders.  Neil and Jacob were invited to Munich, Germany to speak about the Surf Anywhere project at a Wave Building Forum. There they continued their travels through Europe visiting multiple manufactured waves and interviewing the engineers who built them. This trip allowed them to share ideas with other wave builders, as well as gave them first hand experience surfing other manufactured waves.  Jacob and Neil formed Surf Anywhere into a professional consultation business that builds excellent river surfing waves for surfers and municipalities all around the world.  Surf Anywhere’s mission is simple: build waves, build community and spread the stoke.

Surf Anywhere continues to work with the Alberta RSA to build more surfable waves in Alberta and to protect existing waves.  Without the efforts of Neil Egsgard, Surf Anywhere and the Alberta RSA, all river surfing waves in Alberta would be destroyed.  The plans for new waves include a world class, adjustable surf wave.  The goal is to make Calgary, Alberta, a global centre for surfing.  

 

Making River Surfing Easier & Safer

The Alberta RSA strives to make river surfing more accessible for newcomers to the sport by creating a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere for new surfers. A surfer standing for the first time gets the same cheers as someone nailing their first 360. These positive vibes have been a success for nurturing new surfers and pushing experienced surfers to progress in their skills.  There is friendly banter in the eddy line even on crowded days.  

A clear example of the foundational Alberta RSA positive attitude and generosity was a day in 2006 when Neil Egsgard was surfing at the Kananaskis.  A new surfer, David Cachero, was out and Neil lent him his board.  David was loving the ride and so when Neil had to leave Neil left his board and his address with the complete stranger.  David returned the board in excellent condition, a smile on his face and has been a core member of the Alberta RSA ever since.

In 2007, the Alberta RSA convinced Xcel to donate a set of men’s & women’s wetsuits so the curious & land locked could try surfing without buying gear.  Surf boards were provided by the generous Alberta RSA surfers who would readily lend their own boards.  

Beyond providing gear and support, the Alberta RSA organized shaping sessions to help surfers build their own boards and even had a professional shaper & Edmonton based surfer, Carl Hughes, to help.  River safety was a major concern so the ARSA had a local river safety guru, Ryan Fox, write up articles covering key issues and provided clear links to the extensive river safety resources of American Whitewater.  

In 2017, the Alberta RSA created a new website complete with extensive details on safety, gear, locals waves, history and more.

The Alberta RSA continues to represent river surfer interests around Alberta and pushes for new waves, protects existing waves and works on improvements to our surf lives.

 

The Mountain

2015 and 2016 were strong years in the membership of the Alberta RSA.  Neil Egsgard's work with the Surf Anywhere Project had resulted in a new wave in the Kananaskis dubbed, “The Mountain”.  The wave was wide, steep and fast.  It was the best wave Alberta had ever seen.  Surfers flocked to the wave and the skill level of the Alberta surfers grew exponentially better.  For the first time the group was faced with overcrowding issues as there would be 15-20 surfers at the wave each day.  Wait times grew longer as beginners moved from “flush out” runs to 2 minute rides.  Slam the Kan 10 in 2015 grew to host 60 spectators for the Surf Slam and over 40 competitors. The after party was said to be “legendary” by attendees. Fundraising efforts continued as the Wave Raiser became an annual affair and the new growth in membership brought a fresh spirit and resources to the group.  New board members were added to fuel these new passions, Adam Baranec, Tyler Fisher, Jason McQuade, Tiffany Butler and Chris Van Keir.

 

Surf Anywhere Documentary

In 2015 Desiree Bilon and Glenn Dixon produced and directed the Surf Anywhere Documentary, which covers the creation of The Mountain Wave by the surrounding community of river surfers.  The documentary has brought the passion of river surfing and the message that surfing can be anywhere around the world.  As of June 2017, the Surf Anywhere Documentary has been screened at 14 different film festivals 5 countries (New Zealand, Greece, Austria, USA, Canada)

List of Surf Anywhere Documentary Screenings

Surf Anywhere Documentary on Facebook

 

Local Surf Supply

Gaining access to quality surf equipment has been a struggle in Alberta as most of the existing surf shops cater to surf lifestyle, or other surf offshoots like wake surfing but no river surfing specific shops have opened their doors.  Local shapers like Waveslayar Surfboards, TAG Surfboards and Northern Fin are all located in Calgary and make it much easier for a river surfer here to have a quality board.  River surfing communities have been advancing product development in the area of fins, leash alternatives and board shapes but these items have not been available to the general public.  As the community in Alberta continues to grow so does the demand for surf supply.

 

Events

Since 2006, the Alberta RSA has held an annual surf celebration called Slam the Kan on the Kananaskis River every year.  Renowned for fun surf, good people, great music, big fires, massive skies and raw Canadian wilderness the event is now on its 12th year in July 2017.  In the spring of years 2008-2013, the Alberta RSA was rumored to hold an invitational surf party on Alberta’s best surf wave hidden in the Rocky foothills.  In 2010, Red Bull joined the ARSA for one of these parties and some of the images were posted on social media.  A DVD from the event was released to the riders but not released on social media. 2014 marked the first Waveraiser and Jacob Quinlan released a How To Guide on Riverbreak magazine to encourage other communities to fund raise and build river surfing waves in their communities.

 

Surf Exploration & Wave Research

Surf exploration has been a mainstay of the Alberta RSA.  First discovering the Kananaskis waves in 2004, Alberta RSA has been exploring ever since. In 2006, expeditions located three other key Alberta waves, S-Bends, Eddy Town and Brierlies. 2007 marked discoveries on the Lochsa River, Idaho; the Columbia River in Trail, British Columbia; the rapids in Sturgeon Falls, Manitoba; and the famous Skookumchuck Rapids. The famous Habitat 67 in Montreal was surfed in 2008.  2009 revealed some small waves in Alberta and British Columbia.  Jacob Kelly Quinlan & Neil Egsgard returned to Skookumchuck in September 2010 and trips to Montana and Idaho occurred annually with Alberta surfers.  In 2011 Alberta RSA founder Jeff Brooks competed and placed second at the Colorado Springs surf competition in Pueblo.  2012 brought the Alberta RSA to the Lunch Counter wave of Wyoming and the smooth, green monster of Industrial Hole in Trail, British Columbia.  In 2014, the Alberta RSA crossed the ocean to Europe, meeting river surfers, making friends and surfing the major wave projects throughout the continent. Justin Gullickson has been a leader in exploration, discovering the Gardiner Dam wave in Saskatchewan and Rider’s Wave on the North Saskatchewan River. The group collectively has vast experience with a wide variety of rivers, waves and communities and provides the Alberta RSA with valuable insights on the requirements for wave building, safety and etiquette.

 

Conclusion

Alberta RSA’s has a rich history and its future is still being written. This resilient community has stood its ground for over two decades and is only getting stronger. Projects such as the Mountain wave began with surfers dreaming together, but with years of hard work, it has become a reality.  The Alberta RSA and Neil Egsgard have been the driving force behind surfing in Alberta. With such a rich and diverse community of passionate surfers, the accomplishments of the Alberta RSA are still being realized.  The Alberta RSA is a pioneer in river surfing.  It was the first to explore the waves in Alberta, to teach lessons, to hold an international film contest and to complete a manmade wave.  The Alberta RSA has a large and diverse catalogue of information and resources, ready to be shared with other communities looking to build waves and local RSAs.  The Alberta RSA’s mission is simple: build waves, build community and share the stoke.