Prairie boy at home on a surf board

Keegan Hodgson of Olds, Alta., won the Outlaw Male Surf category at the recent 2020 World Wake Surfing Championship

Although other prairie farm families take their kids to hockey practice, the Hodgsons take their son, Keegan, to surfing practice.

“Being from a farm, I guess any kid that’s athletic can do it,” says his father, Karmen Hodgson.

“Of course, in Canada, we’re limited on the season…. Weather-wise, we really have to make the most of the opportunities.”

As a teen from a landlocked farm near Olds, Alta., Keegan won the Outlaw Male Surf category at the recent 2020 World Wake Surfing Championship. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, competitors were judged this year on unedited video entries.

Wake surfing involves special power boats that create a wake, or wave, strong enough to surf on using a board, says his mentor, Nicole Hudson.

“It just simulates creating an ocean wave that pushes you along in the water,” she says.

Unlike water skiing or wakeboarding, a tow rope is only needed to get wake surfers up out of the water, she says. The boat’s operator can shape the wave to fit each surfer using a system of ballast and plates.

“Albertans aren’t afraid to go out on the boat and surf in the rain, snow or hail, you name it,” says Hudson, who also trains as a competitor. “Lightning, we turn around because we need to be safe, but we definitely put in the time in some pretty cold water.”

Keegan, 16, first tried regular ocean surfing when he was 11 years old during a family trip to the friendlier subtropical waters of Hawaii. He later took up wake surfing Alberta style, talking his dad into buying a boat.

“I just love hanging out with all my friends and just the competition… and just meeting new people and, you know, just doing the sport that I love,” he says.

Competitors must learn how to do runs consisting of combinations of things, such as the 3 shuv, “and on a surf-style board, that’s a very difficult trick,” says Hudson, likening it to learning the choreography for a dance.

“You have to pop the board up to release the fin, and then kick it 360 degrees and land back on the board, so it’s just a difficult manoeuvre to do. And he’s got it dialed — he’s got it mastered, for sure.”

Hodgson must balance his training regimen with farm chores. | Photo submitted by Karmen Hodgson

When Hudson first met Keegan, she noticed how he was regularly the first to offer help and the last to leave at the end of the day.

“I mean, there were a lot of kids there, but he was just so excited about the sport, and he was quite eager to learn…. He’s got a natural talent, but also you can’t teach enthusiasm, right?”

The Hodgsons spent 10 to 12 hours per week this year helping Keegan practice, says Karmen. Keegan’s favourite local spots are artificial bodies of water such as nearby Dickson Dam, or Chestermere Lake just east of Calgary, but he also trains with Hudson in Arizona.

As well, he must fit in his training regimen at the farm with chores such as feeding the horses. He credits his work ethic as a key reason for his recent win at the world championship.

“I’ve got that from my parents and my grandparents,” he says. “My mom and dad are both really hardworking, so I feel like my work ethic really helps me do this.”

Keegan plans to make a living from the sport when he gets older.

“I’m hoping to go pro someday… and just travel the world and meet new people and keep competing,” he says.

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