Surfer’s Voice is an exploration of the world of Canadian surfing, and an opportunity to hear from real surfers about their lives in and out of the water, on every coast, lake, river, and ripple in between.
This installment of Surfer’s Voice brings us to the Rockies, as we check in with Calgary river surfer Andrea Juska, to get some more insight into the Calgary surf scene, and how she found her way into the water.
Andrea on the Bow River wave 10 Street Bridge Calgary March 2019. Photo: Aidan Nidelet/The Press
What’s your favourite local break?
The Mountain in Kananaskis (45 minutes west of Calgary). It was built by the Alberta River Surfing Association and Surf Anywhere. I pinch myself everytime I go, it’s a stunning setting to be surfing on a river in the valley of the mountains. We are also quite fortunate that the wave works year round and depending on your cold tolerance you can surf every month of the year.
Favourite break in the world?
Playa Grande, Costa Rica or Grupuk Bay, Lombok, Indonesia.
Andrea going right in Costa Rica
How did you first get into surfing?
On a trip to Hawaii in 2014, from the moment I stood up for the first time I was completely hooked.
When did you first start surfing on the river?
June 2015, I saw some people surfing by the 10th street bridge in downtown Calgary and knew I had to try. At the time Jacob Kelly Quinlan was teaching lessons through the University of Calgary, he is one of the founding leaders of our little river community. Having him as an instructor for a first time river surfer was certainly part of what sparked my passion for it.
Andrea’s first river session with Jacob Kelly Quinlan
Can you tell us a little bit about the surf scene in Alberta?
It’s so unique, when you join a sport that has an established community a lot of times you can feel like an outsider, I never once felt like that when I was learning here. Despite the growth we’ve experienced we have managed to maintain an extremely friendly and welcoming vibe. You’ll hear people in the lineup cheer just as loud for someone landing a new trick as they will for someone popping up for the first time.
Angela Knox, Andrea Juska, Shauna Diamond and Liz Chaffey at the 2019 Kananaskis Surf Championship
sponsored by Bow Valley River Surf Association. Photo: Jordan Small
Do you have any surfing mentors or heroes?
Oh gosh, I have so many! As previously mentioned I did my first river surf lesson with a local legend, Jacob. He passionately supports our community and despite being an extremely accomplished surfer (he has surfed over 100 river waves!) is so down to earth and humble. There are a couple other locals here that really inspire me. Tristan Gaudet was also one of the first people I surfed with here, it’s such a treat to be in the water with him because you not only get to watch him pull sick tricks, he has given me so many pointers and tips. Angela Knox blows my mind, she studies Wim Hof and regularly surfs the icy waters in just a bikini, I’m just in awe of her beauty and graceful surf style. Outside of river surfing I look up to Sally Fitzgibbons, when she ruptured her eardrum but continued to compete and win the Fiji Women’s, that still inspires me to push through tough times.
How does the experience of riding a standing wave compare to riding more conventional surf?
A standing wave gives you more opportunity for practice and longer rides, you're most likely going to spend more time on a standing wave in a session than you do a conventional one.
For someone going from beach to river or vice versa, how transferable are the skills?
The overall fitness, stamina, endurance and balance you gain from surfing will help in either environment. I generally spend a lot more time paddling on the ocean so I really try to work on those skills as part of my river sessions.
Andrea surfing the mountain wave in Kananaskis country. Photo: Christian Scagliati
What is it about surfing that appeals to you?
When I’m in the water I am completely in the moment. The sound of rushing water or breaking waves, wind and sun on my face, the pure joy of feeling the board gliding under your feet.
Can you describe some of your most memorable waves or sessions?
Taking my husband, sister and brother-in-law to the first place in Hawaii I learned to surf, and seeing all three of them catch a party wave together. Part of the joy of surfing, despite being such an individual sport, is sharing it with other people.
Does your life as a surfer have any impact on your life out of the water?
Absolutely. Every trip I have done since I started has involved surfing, it motivates me to maintain my fitness in between vacations so I’m prepared when I get those opportunities. Every time I do a burpee I think about popping up on a wave, that visualization really pushes me.
Andrea on the mountain wave in Kananaskis. Photo: Bryanna Lama
What kind of impact has spending so much time on the river had on you?
Before I started surfing I dabbled in quite a few other activities, but never felt that stoke that other people seemed to have when they were out climbing, biking, running etc. When I discovered river surfing I finally got that for myself and it gives me a feeling of fulfillment I never had from any other sport.
When you are not surfing what else do you do with your time?
I volunteer with the Alberta River Surfing Association. In the winter I run the Calgary Surf Polo league. Surf Polo is essentially the same as water polo, except you play while paddling your surfboard (we use short foamie boards). It is a great way to get in a killer paddle workout while maintaining connection with your surf friends during the winter months when many of us aren’t on the river.
Surf Polo in Calgary
In the summer I help organize the Slam Festival, Alberta River Surfing Association’s annual festival and fundraiser towards the 10th Street Urban Beach Project. My role as Volunteer Coordinator is recruiting, scheduling and organizing over 50 volunteers to run the festival.
It’s so important for me to give back to this community because of how much joy surfing brings to my life.
Outside of that I enjoy biking, golfing and traveling with my husband, Adam.
Andrea, Tatiane Piucco, Flora Lee and Maggie Dekking at the SLAM Festival 2018
What do you think makes Canadian surfing unique?
Well the environment certainly makes the surf scene unique, we surf in colder, harsher conditions than people in other places in the world. But I think that also speaks to why we are generally such a warm and welcoming group. You immediately have respect for someone willing to squeeze into 5mm of neoprene and jump into 4 degree celsius water, you know they feel the same stoke as you.
Andrea at Kananaskis during ‘Slam the Kan’ Photo: Rob Bishop
Do you have any additional words you’d like to share with the surf community or those new to the game?
Surfing is an incredibly challenging and humbling sport. Be patient with yourself on and off the water, celebrate the little achievements. My favorite surf quote is “The best surfer is the one having the most fun”
Interview by Elie Landesberg
We're all roomies on this ball of water and dirt.. Find him on Instagram.