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A Beginners Guide To River Surfing

Updated: May 12

Welcome to your crash course on river surfing! For most surfers catching a wave, whether it is on a river or the ocean, is the highlight of their day; it is an escape from the daily routine. After the 2013 floods in Calgary produced a significant wave underneath the 10th street bridge, the wave started to gain popularity amongst surfers. Before, the nearest surfing destination was more than 12000 kilometres away; the new wave provided the surfing community with the ability to surf in their own backyard.

Since discovering this gem, Outlier has been working tirelessly to share the sport with fellow Calgarians. So, with all of that being said, what should you know before trying out river surfing?

What Equipment Will You Need?

Our team at Outlier has handpicked the best river surfing gear for you! Below is a list of the equipment that you’ll need:

Wetsuit:

We recommend a 4/3mm wetsuit. This thickness of suit will keep you warm, provide you with buoyancy, and the prefered thickness of suit for ocean surfing destinations such as Tofino or California. Check out our store for some great options here.

Surfboard:

Unlike traditional ocean surfboards, you want to find one that is 5’6” in length, can withstand 40L of volume and is made with high-performance foam. River waves are shaped differently than ocean waves which create the need for a short, lightweight surfboard. You want to avoid fibreglass or epoxy boards as they can be easily damaged if they come into contact with rocks in the river. Check out our board options here.

Impact Vests or PFD:

These will keep you above the water in an emergency and reduce the impact if you come into contact with the bottom of the river if you were to strike the bottom.

Helmet:

We recommend a helmet in case of impact against the river bottom, surfboards or other surfers.

What Should You Know About River Safety?

It is important to understand the power of our rivers. Rivers are a strong body of flowing water that can do damage or cause injury if you don’t understand how to navigate them. We recommend booking a lesson to educate you of the following river hazards:

Foot Entrapments:

Foot entrapments are the number one cause of injury in rivers. This can occur when if your foot gets caught on rocks, or other concealed debris, in the water and can be challenging to free due to the power of the river.

  • Safety Tip: never put your feet down in the river until the current is below your knees.

Rope Entrapments:

Rope entrapments are equally as dangerous. Unlike ocean surfing, while river surfing you should never use ankle leashes or tow ropes as they can get caught on rocks or other debris in the water.

  • Safety Tip: never attach anything to your body while going into the river. Leashes included!

Impact With The River Bottom:

Impact with the river bottom is common in shallow rivers which can result in damage to your body and equipment.

  • Safety Tip: always fall flat, use a helmet and wear an impact vest and wetsuit (these will give you added buoyancy and protection).

Lack of Swimming Skills:

Lack of swimming skills can put you in serious danger. Our waves are formed by fast flowing rapids and you must be able to navigate your way through the water.

  • Safety Tip: make sure that you, and anyone else participating in the sport, are strong swimmers.

What to Bring for a River Surfing Session?

  • Change of towels and clothing are recommended. There are no change rooms at either location, so many people will use a poncho to get in and out of their wetsuits. You can grab one here.

  • Food and water are our favourite thing to bring to any session. It’s easy to get dehydrated and lose track of time while you’re having fun in the river.

  • Bring a camera! Take some shots and show your friends how much fun you had. Use the hashtag #OutlierSurf to be featured and entered to win a prize pack at the end of each season.

For any further questions about river surfing equipment or safety, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. For information on where to surf in Calgary, check out our other blog post here. We hope to see you down on the water soon!

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