River surfers pitch man-made waves, urban beach for downtown Calgary
'It's not just for surfers, the idea is to create a lasting benefit for Calgary'
On a perfect summer day when the waves are just right, surfers can be seen riding a wave under the 10th Street Bridge that connects Kensington with downtown Calgary.
A group of local river surfers want to make that wave a lot gnarlier and transform the stretch of the Bow River into a community space.
"The more people you have near the river and spending good quality time near the river, the more they care about the environment and the more they want to protect the Bow River," said Neil Egsgard, president of the Alberta River Surfing Association, the group behind the project. "It automatically becomes a gathering point.
"It's not just for surfers, the idea is to create a lasting benefit for Calgary."
The association is working with Surf Anywhere on the project, which would see two metal pneumatic gates installed under the river to raise the upstream water level, followed by lowering the gravel on the other side.
When the gates are up, the waves would be 1.5 metres high, allowing everyone from surfers, bodyboarders and even boats and rafts to pass over.
And it wouldn't just serve the estimated 400 river surfers in Calgary, Egsgard said.
There would be a ramp on the side, for boaters and rafters to enter and exit the water, and a beach and public gathering space for those wanting to catch some sun or watch the surfers.
"When we put this in it becomes a cultural anchor point. It's a great place for people to gather."
Egsgard said the project will have zero impact on flood risk and will improve downstream river erosion.
"Part of the project is going to be to improve that and make it better for fish habitat, and make it a better riverbank habitat on shore," he said, adding that fish will still be able to traverse the river's north channel when gates are up, or both sides when the gates are done.
The group has completed a feasibility study and looked at economic environmental concerns, and the next step will be engagement with stakeholders like river users, the fire departments and the provincial and federal governments.
The project wouldn't be the province's first man-made wave for river surfing. In 2014, Egsgard was part of a group that used boulders to build a wave in the Kananaskis River.
Luke Morstad, the owner and founder of Outlier River Surf, said his company's inbox is full every day right now, with people hoping to take surfing lessons on the river.
He said the proposal is an "absolutely incredible" chance to build off the natural perfection of the spot for river surfers.
"I don't know how many other cities in the world have a clean, fast-moving river running right through the heart of the city," he said.
The project is pegged to cost a total of $6 million.
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said while the plan is in its early stages, he likes what he sees so far.
"I think Calgarians are excited about this … a project like this fits with a lot of our goals as a city," he said.
Egsgard hopes the project could be completed by 2023, if permits and funding are approved.
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With files from Dave Gilson