Wave Construction Barrier-Dam-River-Surfing

Published on October 3rd, 2013 | by Neil Egsgard


Surf Anywhere: Conditions for the Trial by Water

Surf Anywhere is building a feature to evaluate a wide range of large surfable river waves. To be successful we had to clearly understand the river waves we wanted to build, understand the conditions and limitations of our river and combine the knowledge to design a feature to produce safe, strong and inexpensive world class river surfing waves.

We started with our dream of a powerful, easily customizable wave that would help other surfers build local river surfing features. As we created our designs we discovered the limitations and conditions of our river and ideas so we repeatedly adjusted our plans & actions and shaped an effective solution. These are the conditions the Surf Anywhere features meets to evaluate waves for river surfers everywhere. The design will be explained in a later article.

River Conditions

The fundamental river restriction is how much water is available and when it is available.

A River Rising – No Flow to 30 cms in minutes (1000 cfs): The Kananaskis River turning on as it does daily. This is where we are building the Surf Anywhere Feature.

Kananaskis Conditions

  • River shuts off completely every night except for some periods during spring run-off.
  • River runs continuously for some periods during spring run-off.
  • River flows every day of the year
  • River does not freeze over because of the large flow changes
  • Water is clean
  • Water is cold (Summer: 10 – 15 C or 50F – 59F, Winter: 0C or -32F)
  • Regular River Flow: 25 – 35 cms or 850 – 1200 cfs
  • Typical Annual Flood Flow: 50 – 70 cms or 1,700 – 2,400 cfs
  • Maximum River Flows: 250 – 300 cms or 8,500 – 10,500 cfs
    • Highest flow in past hundred years was in 2013


The feature must remain safe and strong in the worst conditions.

The Power of Water – Dam in Flood Upstream of our Waves: Barrier Dam that controls our river flows during the biggest flood in the past hundred years in Spring 2013.

Normally the dam shuts the river off every night allowing us to build. This was the most water in past hundred years and at the highest point  there was over 10 times the normal flow. Our feature will perform and last through:

  • Large volume of fast moving water
    • Survive impacts from boulders, rocks, trees and picnic tables
  • Regular wear
    • Movement of small rocks and debris
  • Weather Exposure
    • Hot summer days of 30C or 85F
    • Cold winter nights of -40C or -40F
    • Submerged during part of most days
    • Expose to air during part of most days and all of most nights
    • Be removable in case a dangerous condition develops
  • Multiple Seasons
    • Undergo regular inspection
    • Document durability / repair
    • Try other materials and document results

Current River Usage

The Kananaskis river is regularly used by a wide range of river craft and must allow all users to safely pass through. The feature will allow eddy access from users so they can get onto the wave without leaving the water.

River craft include:

  • Surfboards
  • Stand Up Paddle Boards
  • 12’ Rafts
  • Kayaks – Playboats, Creekboards and Race boats
  • Canoes
  • River Boarders

Environmental Restrictions

We want to improve the river while maintaining the environment and feeling of the beautiful natural space. So the Surf Anywhere feature will:

  • Look good and natural
  • Minimize bank and bottom erosion
  • Allow passage of local fish
  • Avoid all pollution


The feature must be wide, powerful and adjustable so we can create world class waves and test wave ideas from surfers around the world. The key factor is smooth, fast flowing water which we will create with:

  • Large drop
  • Smooth bottom
  • Low Angle in slope
  • Straight vertical side walls
  • Adjustable flow through channel to show how waves change with more or less water
  • Adjustable slope to find the ideal water direction for each wave shape
  • Adjustable wave ramp to perfect the surfing face(s) of the waves

This my second article on wave construction for the Surf Anywhere Project. My next piece will be on the Surf Anywhere feature design. As the Surf Anywhere Project creates, builds and shares waves the information will be refined, shared and will eventually cover all key areas of river surf wave construction from feasibility to testing.

Stoke & Flow

Neil Egsgard
Founder & President
Surf Anywhere Project

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Neil Egsgard

Neil Egsgard is the president of the Alberta River Surfing Association (ARSA) and leader of the Surf Anywhere Project -- a project to share wave building details and knowledge so waves can be built everywhere. He loves river surfing, believes surfing can be anywhere, built RiverSurfing.ca in 2009 to share and record the sport and since 2005 has surfed river waves from big to small all over Western Canada and the northwest United States.

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  • Paige Maul

    What would a river wave construction budget be comprised of? Materials, labor, etc? -River surfer dude trying to write a grant

    • http://riverbreak.com/ Riverbreak Magazine

      Hi, the costs of river wave projects differ and depend on the site and type of wave you’re looking for. Why not getting in touch with Surf Anywhere? They will be able to help you out! Keep building waves!

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