Calgary, Alberta, Canada: the antithesis of Hawaii, or California and surf culture in general. Inhabited by oil tycoons and cowboys, it’s a culture that at a quick glance would prove the bourgeoisie is alive and well outside of Texas. A place where the weather can change at the flip of a coin and planning something outdoors is as unpredictable as playing Russian Roulette. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find a booming underground culture. Fuelled by the ‘Do It Yourself’ attitude made famous by the punks in Washington D.C. and England in the early 1980s, you musn’t look further than Canada’s Prairies to find world-class entertainment in the most surprising of areas: a counter-culture surf community that’s birthing the big wave at home.
Calgary’s 10th Street bridge connects the boutique shops of Kensington and the vibrant nightlife of downtown. But what’s going on below the bridge is far more interesting than what’s on either side of it. This area is home to a formation of rocks creating a beautiful crest for the land-locked surf aficionado. Over the last few years, Calgary’s surf community has welcomed more than a few diehards, which bred an Alberta River Surfing Association and festival. With a ‘Surf Anywhere’ mentality, Slam The Festival is bringing California to the Prairies. An integration of surf, skate, art and music, there’s a feeling in the air reminiscent of the early years of other local festivals.
From the early dive bar days of the Calgary Underground Film Festival in Broken City, set up for hardcore underground cinephiles, or Sled Island, who nabbed bands who would otherwise never have played here and billed them next to local talents, the beginnings of these festivals were important and exciting. Though Slam seems to have a bit more enthusiasm and desire to grow; I can’t see them trying to scale back like others local festivals have sometimes been known to do.
Calgary is becoming a hotbed for culture, though it often gets shadowed by its cowboy reputation. But every time the city takes a cultural leap forward, the powers that be tend to scale things back and focus more on pleasing themselves rather than growing into something with global success. Calgary is like Austin, Texas, in so many ways, and with such a setup, we should be culturally prominent as our neighbours in the South. As great as the local festivals are, they don’t seem willing to get to the level of Austin City Limits or SXSW and instead focus on keeping the status-quo. But I don’t feel that maintaining the status quo is in the books for Slam Fest. This feels special, more so than even British Columbia’s Center of Gravity festival. To see Calgary surpass that would feel like a payoff to long-time festival goers here.
Last year, Slam jam-packed it’s festival into a week of events, but this year, events are spread throughout the summer. The first on the docket was June’s Calgaryfornia. With the sky as grey as Anderson Cooper’s hair, the heavens were making sure that even if you weren’t in the Bow River, you were getting wet. And just fifteen minutes into the event, everyone was soaked, which added a bit of joy to the event.
Wanting to prove something to Mother Nature, Jacob, Ian, and Shawna were out in full force, hitting the majestic waves the Bow River has to offer. Lessons are encouraged for attendees, and if it wasn’t for the speed of the river the number of people taking the plunge would have been high today; the excitement was in the air. With a newly built platform and an ongoing rebuild of the area, the 10th Street Wave is well on its way to becoming a world-class river surfing landmark. There’s a clear environmental, cultural and economic benefit to adding an urban beach to the ever-growing city of Calgary, and the passion from all to jumpstart this venture was palpable.
Quicksilver, Roxy, and Red Bull were on site to help bring the party. Coconut slushes, hot dogs, surf gear, music, and clothing were on hand to make attendees forget the sprawling Calgary skyline behind them. Affordable shorty boards were available for anyone looking to come down and jump in on the festivities. With other events coming down the pipe like the Big Slam, featuring music from Lagwagon, the Waxed pool party at Hotel Arts, and the season-ender Slam the Kan at the Stoney Nakoda, there’s tons of time to catch up on events throughout the summer.
The Alberta River Surfing Association has already built a successful wave in Kananaskis, dubbed The Mountain Wave, and the area is garnering international acclaim for its continued push into water sports. So dive in yourself and help promote and support these events. Support of festivals and cultural events like this can hopefully draw in international audiences and further Calgary’s current efforts to become a city of artistic and cultural significance, not one of cowboys and rodeos. Let’s push through this critical section because that break is just on the other side.