Interviews R. Bishop

Published on November 3rd, 2015 | by PhilB

Photo by R. Bishop |  3

Desiree Bilon on the Surf Anywhere Film

Forty-five minutes outside of Calgary, landlocked surfers have built a world-class wave on the Kananaskis River. They have not only built a wave, but also a river surfing community. Desiree Bilon (38), a competitive ocean surfer, fascinated by the art of filmmaking and production, is now working on a film to share the stories of the most passionate river surfers in the Alberta river surfing community. Her dream now is to inspire others with her film.

What is your personal connection to surfing?

Surfing is my life.

You have an ocean surfing background, right? Tell us about it …

I have been surfing for 12 years in the ocean and surfed in over 13 countries.

Over the past decade I have worked in the surfing industry — as an ISA (International Surfing Association) certified Level 1 surf instructor, a surf tour guide, and as a surf writer in English, Italian and Spanish. I have surfed in competitions internationally, and have experience organizing events. In the past I worked as an editorial coordinator and in-house translator at a surf magazine in Mexico.

What is your personal connection to river surfing? What do you think makes river surfing special? What do you particularly like or don’t like about it?

I tried river surfing for the first time this past summer in Calgary, Alberta. It’s kind of funny because my boyfriend had to practically drag me there the first time and I was anything but convinced, but I had such a great experience that first day. One of the local surfers, Graeme Sams, gave me a lot of tips. He showed me the easiest way to enter the water, how to line up with the 10st bridge, and how to jump off the rock. River surfing was much more challenging than I had ever imagined—out of about 40 attempts, I probably stood 4 times—but after that first day, I was hooked. The next time I went surfing, Jacob Quinlan was there. He was very supportive and taught me how to acid drop into the wave and that’s when I actually started surfing a lot more waves.

Although river surfing is different from ocean surfing, there are some similarities. You are still outside, you are still in the water, you are still at the mercy of Mother Nature, and you still have to work hard. That element of danger is still present, but in a different form.

After I surfed The Mountain wave on the Kananaskis River – out in the mountains, I started to love river surfing.

When I first tried river surfing I didn’t like the fact that I was confined to stay in one place (and to a small wave, both in height and length). I like to move, to go places. I wasn’t going anywhere on the wave except when I wiped out and got swept downstream by the current. I enjoyed river surfing when I first tried it, but after I surfed “The Mountain” wave on the Kananaskis River – out in the mountains, I started to love river surfing.

What makes river surfing different are the people. I went from jockeying in the ocean line-ups with aggressive males (mostly teenagers) to surfing with people averaging the age of 30, who wait in line and make sure everyone has a turn.

Photo: Rob Bishop /

What is the surf culture like where you live?

Even though the ARSA (Alberta River Surfing Association) was formed about a decade ago, the surf culture here is still relatively new. The river surfing community is inclusive. Everyone I’ve met so far has been supportive, encouraging, and a lot of fun.

Let’s talk about your experience in filmmaking … When did you first start getting into filmmaking? Or is this your first project?

This is my first filmmaking project. I started off writing about surfing and then focused more on photography. Film was the next logical step. It was a natural progression for me to move into a medium that has the ability to capture movement and sound.

I love movies and have wanted to make a documentary for some time.

When did the idea for this film come to you?

I had started writing an article about the Surf Anywhere project about a year and a half ago, and a long time before I ever tried river surfing. I was inspired by Surf Anywhere’s sustainable project and their open-source plans for wave building.

The idea for the film came to me after I started surfing The Mountain and started to meet more of the people in the river surfing community. I realized that there were a lot of passionate and talented river surfers—most of them not from originally from Calgary or even Canada—and without knowing much about their stories, I knew that I wanted to share them.

What were people’s reactions when you talked about your idea?

Everyone’s response has been positive and enthusiastic.

Who’s going to be in this film and why?

The Alberta river surfing community will be in this film. The interviewees are in this film because of their stories.

Jacob Kelly Quinlan
City of origin: Calgary, Alberta

Neil Egsgard
City of origin: Orillia, Ontario

Jason McQuade
City of origin: Whitianga, New Zealand

David Hernandez Cachero
City of origin: Madrid, Spain

Robin Stolba
City of origin: Born in Marienbad, Czech Republic but grew up in Paris

Justin Gullickson
City of origin: Star City, Saskatchewan

Tiffany Butler
City of origin: Mayo, Quebec

Mallory Chapman
City of origin: Emerald Park, Saskatchewan

Julia Barnes
City of origin: Bratislava, Slovakia

A couple of additional surfers will be featured in the Surf Anywhere documentary, although they are not listed on Story Hive (there were only nine spots provided for the interview roster).

Surf movies have become a genre of their own over the last years. Which elements of a typical surf movie would you like to see / avoid in your film?

I want to tell a story through interesting characters and stunning images. There won’t be any big wave surfing or World Surf League pros in this documentary.

What do you think about interviews in surf movies? How relevant will interviews be for your film?

Interviews are an essential component of any documentary. Letting people tell their own stories, in their own words, brings authenticity to the project and makes it engaging for the audience.

Photo: Glenn Dixon

What is the target length of your film? Would you also think of an extended version?

10 minutes. I will definitely consider an extended version, in the future.

Do you already have a scene in mind that you consider particularly central to the film?

I envision a scene with snow. One of the river surfers, Justin Gullickson, talked about surfing in a blizzard and that image has never left my mind. I think that would make a great shot. Jason McQuade also mentioned something about an iceberg.

Where do you want to see your film being screened once it’s done?

Banff Mountain Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, and any surf film festival at all would be lovely

Who else (besides the local surf community) is supporting the project?

My friends and family, and the friends and family of the interviewees, have been supporting the project with their votes on Story Hive. Their response has been overwhelming.

What about the music in the film? Do you already have any thought on this?

I have a few ideas in mind.

What are some of your “high hopes” for the film?

I hope that river surfers everywhere will watch this film and enjoy it. I hope this film will inspire people—to build waves, to surf, to follow their dreams and live their passions.

How can the river surfing community help to make this film happen?

The river surfing community can vote daily on Story Hive to help us win a $10 000 grant to make this film project happen. There are only 7 voting days left.

It only takes 30 seconds to vote. You don’t need to sign up or create a profile – it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Click on the link below (and watch the one minute pitch video).
  2. Click on the yellow “vote on project” button located in the upper right corner.
  3. When the pop-up window opens, click on the yellow “vote now” button.

Please vote once a day, if you can, until noon on November 9, 2015. Thank you for your support.

Three filmmakers who inspire you the most?

Danny Boyle, Sofia Coppola, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Sarah Polley.

Any last words?

Keep surfing and keep exploring.

Fill in the blanks

  • I’d love to see __Elijah Mack__ in this film.
  • I hope that people in __everywhere but especially Germany, Italy, and anywhere else there is a river__ will watch this film too.
  • If money didn’t matter, this film would __be a feature length film about river surfing around the world and it would have the best soundtrack ever and be translated into many languages.

More about:

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Phil is a passionate riversurfer based in the capital of urban hydro power, Graz / Austria. He graduated from the International University for Riversurfing (IUR) in 2008 before he got married (to PhilK) in 2009. Instead of children, they gave birth to the probably most awesome riversurfing magazine on the planet: Riverbreak.

  • Pingback: In the Press: Interview on RiverBreak Magazine | Desiree Bilon

  • Kael Laila Lebrock

    Great article! Extremely excited to see this film in a theatre near me! “Follow your passions the rest will fall into place”

  • Kael Laila Lebrock

    Great article! Extremely excited to see this film in a theatre near me! “Follow your passions the rest will fall into place”

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