What do I need to start river surfing in Calgary?

Posted by June 12, 2015 Surf Gear No Comments


A common question we get asked at RMRS is what do I need to start surfing in Calgary?  What board do I need to buy?  What wetsuit works the best for the river?  These are excellent questions but the answer is tricky because it is a little bit different for everyone.  If you find yourself asking these questions, please drop us a line:  info@rockymountianriversurfing.com.  We will be happy assist you and let you know your options.

If you are new to the sport, you may want to consider our wetsuit/board combo.  With our 10 years of river surfing experience we have found the best introductory wetsuit and the friendliest board for navigating river waves.  For only $500* you’ll have everything you need to start surfing for less than a snowboard and a single day lift pass.

*$500 package requires ordering in a wetsuit and boards are based on stock on hand. Greco recently raised their shipping prices and this is reflected in the price.

So rather than giving you a grocery list of items to purchase for your new favourite sport I will cover some frequently asked questions.  Often times these questions are coming from ocean surfers who already know a little about wetsuits and surfboards.



What length of board works best, will the board I brought back from Costa Rica work?
The shape of river waves in Alberta work best for boards under the length of 6’4.  Typically when moving from the ocean to the river surfers will lose 6-8 inches in length and make up for it in width and thickness.  If you brought a board back from a sandy beach somewhere the chances of it working on our local waves are low, it still works better as an art piece.  The reason for this is transitioning from saltwater to freshwater and the shape/speed of our waves.  If you brought home a fun shape, egg, or retro fish chances are better the board is thick and wide and has that extra bit of float required.

I have seen a lot of soft tops in the lineup at 10th st. Aren’t soft tops for kooks?
In the river soft tops are no longer associated with beginners.  Because traditional poly surfboards won’t last more than a single session without taking a big ding from a river rock river surfers have been exploring different boards.  If you do go the route of a fiberglass board, epoxy construction or a new method such as Lib Tech’s Hexzylon skin or Delight Alliance’s HD rails are best for preventing your board from constantly needing ding repair.

Why don’t you guys wear leashes?
Ropes and rivers don’t mix.  If the leash were to catch on a rock, tree branch, or other obstruction the force applied to you attached to that leash is one that sinks you to the bottom of the river equal to a team of football players sitting on your chest.  There has already been two close calls within the Alberta surf community involving leashes which lead to the exploration of available alternatives but not wearing a leash eliminates the risk altogether.  Know the dangers before you put your life on a line.

Can I just go in the water in my board shorts?  Or the wetsuit I use at the lake?
When it comes to wetsuits, keeping your muscles warm and comfortable is the key to success in performance.  The harder your body has to work to keep you warm the less energy you have to put towards surfing.  Don’t go for the 7mm dive suit but get something with some surf wetsuit technology that has flexibility and warmth.  The goal is to have a two hour session before having the sensation of being cold.  This can apply to my 4.3 suit on a hot spring day but if I wear the same suit in October and get cold in the first hour, it’s time at looking at alternatives to either fortify the existing suit or pick up a warmer suit for colder days.

How long before I can stand up and surf?
Well… this is obviously not an easy question to answer as the experience is different for everyone.  In the ten years that I have surfed in rivers the things I know help people stand up and surf is warm, comfortable gear, the right size and shape of board for me, willing to surf longer and more times a week and coaching from someone with experience.  If you have poor gear, your muscles will get cold and it will be much more difficult.  If your board is not suited to your body type and the river wave you are surfing it will be difficult to stand.  If you put too much time in between sessions it can be like starting all over again.  If you repeat the same thing over and over and expect different results you likely won’t see much success.

All in all, if you are committed and make the proper investment you should be standing on your board by the end of your first season on the river.

Where do I buy gear for river surfing?
Rocky Mountain River Surfing sells gear for the river.  We order products in from our suppliers and distributor to make sure you have what you need.  MEC also has neoprene for sale, make sure you let the sales staff know you’re buying for river surfing and not kayaking or triathlons.  There are some other board stores in town with bits and pieces, their river surfing experience is little to none but if it looks like it could work for the river don’t hesitate to drop us a line first and see if it will work.  Online shopping is also a good bet, just keep an eye on exchange rates and shipping, they add up fast.  Kijiji is one of the very best places to get river surfing gear… when it’s there.  I like setting alerts on things like wetsuit and surfboard.

How do I know when to go?
Waves get their shape based on how much water is in the river and how fast it is going.  This is measured in cubic meters per second.  The flow rates for the rivers we surf are available online.  For the 10 St. wave flows between 110-220 have been good this year.  Between 140-160 have been great because it’s a bit easier to get into the wave and it still maintains its shape.  The waves in the Kananaskis run consistently at the same flow because the river is dam operated but you will need to check the flow times to ensure the river is actually running.

10 St. flows:

Kananaskis Flows (Barrier):

Where can I connect to the local community?
Alberta River Surfing Association
Rocky Mountain River Surfing
Surf Anywhere




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