The Great Lakes contain 21% of all freshwater on earth, and these northern‘inland seas’ are the source of life to millions in North America. Although their waters lay idle when the weather is favourable, we have a long history of devastating swells generated by powerful storms. At the bottom of all five Great Lakes lies hundreds of shipwrecks caught off-guard over the pas centuries. These same destructive storms are the source of an ever-growing community of die-hard surfers who believe there are no bad days when you can surf on a lake.
Great Lakes surfers live by Gerry Lopez’ famous cred “Surf is where you find it.” Some are born-bred on the Great Lakes while others migrated here from more far-flung origins around the world. The majority moved to big urban centres in search of opportunity and thought surfing was no longer a possibility. Regardless of how we got here, we all share a story of discovering surfing here and how it has shaped our lives and our existence in this part of the world.
Those living in the hustle of the big city have to endure long work hours to succeed in their urban pursuits .And after a long day at work, finding comfort and reward in a few pints at a bar, concert or art show is the thing to do. Life in the city doesn’t automatically offer the same slow paced and mindful lifestyle of a smal lsurf town by the ocean. For us, landlocked urban surfers, Great Lakes surfing provides a medium to balance the rhythm of our urban existence and a platform to interact with our natural environment. // People often ask me how the lakes compare to the ocean, but I believe the comparison is what prevents us from enjoying most things in life for what they are. If you want a technical answer, I can say that the lack of salt makes it harder to float and paddle and that the fact that we don’t get ground swells makes for choppy and mushy conditions most of the time. Our wind swells are short-lived and result from low-pressure systems moving through the Great Lakes, so you have to understand the science and know where and when to surf. Searching for the perfect wave applies here just as anywhere else, and we are always exploring beyond the next point in the hope of finding it. This ephemeral and uncertain quality is the perfect setting for a tight, collaborative and positive community—one that I haven’t seen anywhere else in my three decades living and surfing all over the world. We are all just stoked to be able to get out there to interact with nature and share what we love. And when the stars align, we can get rewarded for all our efforts.
People have been surfing on the Great Lakes since the 1960s but in the past decade we have seen the emergence of a surf scene with new surf shops, schools, competitions and community initiatives from Kingston to Duluth and everywhere in between. We honour and respect the pioneers who have been surfing here for decades and have set the stage for this scene to flourish.
Our surf season starts in the fall, as the air and water begin to cool and the storms move through the region. Warm sunny days and a back drop of fall foliage create a unique environment topaddle out in your 3/2mm wetsuit. The gales of November bring some of the biggest swells and also mark the transition into our winter. This is when we get our 6/5mm and 7mmbooties and mittens out. The first snowstorm is always a celebration of our love for cold water and as the winter progresses; our lakes begin to freeze over, limiting our possibilities of surfing to our local breaks in and around Toronto. These are the days of petroleum gel on your face, thigh-deep snow, ice-shelf hiking, icicles in your beards, and surfing around icebergs. And if you ever complained about changing outside after a session around freezing temperature, think of us trying to get out of a frozen wetsuit when it’s -25˚C out.
When the temperature returns to the positive digits in March, there’s a celebration of surviving another winter, and getting into your 4/3mm feels like trunking in the tropics. Spring is the time to give backand clean our local breaks from all the debris that washes ashore during the winter months. When summer hits and Lake Ontario goes flat, we flock to Lakes Erie, Huron, and GeorgianBay to chase the swells. Many hours are spent in a car with your buddie sfrothing over those 3-foot waves you shredded on a lake in board shorts.
Overall, Great Lakes surfers don’t take themselves too seriously. We are a community of misfits from an extensive geographical area who spend most of our free time obsessing over weather forecasts for those occasional short sessions in the water. We have our identity and place within this emerging community of cold water surfers in rivers, lakes, and seas. Our scene is still in its infancy, but we have seen a lot of progress regarding access to equipment and education, and have noticed a significant shift towards a more inclusive and supportive community. Not to mention, the advance in the level of surfing over the past few years. The increasing number of expats moving here from places where surfing is the norm, in addition to surfers who started on the Great Lakes not that long ago is pushing the scene forward. We hope to continue seeing this organic growth, hosting more events, and supporting the crossover from rivers/lakes/sea.
“SURF IS WHERE YOU FIND IT”
The first time I heard about river surfing was right after my trip to Costa Rica. It was my first surfing experience and like most of you, fell in love with the sport and lifestyle. But it’s quite hard to become a surf photographer when you live in Montreal, so here I was, in this surf inspired coffee shop talking to my friend Chloé about river surfing in this city.
Montreal is home to two main standing waves including a few secret gems here and there. It is definitely not the ocean surfing we find along our coasts, but we are very thankful to have these waves, it gives us the opportunity to surf without driving six hours to the East Coast.
Standing waves are basically infinity waves caused by the current and rock formations underneath. It creates a ripple that is big enough to surf. Kind of like those indoor surf waves but natural. We are lucky to have the powerful Saint Lawrence River in our backyard to play and feel inspired.
As a young photographerand surf fanatic, I decided to document the world of river surfing and the faces behind the surf community in Montreal. For me, I am so fascinated to educate our community on this wonderful sport that is somewhat after all these years still underground. And don’t get me wrong, keeping it on the low key is a good thing before the waves get too crowded but I do believe it is something we should share with our community. Why? Because Montreal is a city. A big city, and sometimes when we live in a big city for too long we forget about our environment and disconnect with our planet. Call me an environmentalist (seriously, please do). I believe being out in nature will make you more aware about global warming and will urge you to start changing. River surfing might be done in the city, but it’s in our powerful iconic river that is constantly being threatened by pollution. If people were out there surfing every morning and feeling the currents, the wave, and water on their skin they will be more aware of the importance of protecting our water. Our waves also welcome a very close and inspiring group of entrepreneurs, what we like to call the surfing industry of Montreal. The passion behind surfing and river surfing has pushed incredibly inspiring humans to create companies that surround that lifestyle right in the heart of the city. Familiar with June Swimwear? Julie founded the brand right here after falling in love with the surf culture from Australia. We have great local shapers like the iconic Martin from Guava who shapes beautiful works of art, as he inspired others to start their own shaping companies like Ananus and Boréal. The opening of September Surf x Shaper Studios coffee shop last spring gave us a spot to all come together and share the same passion with others. It also gave Montreal that introduction into the lifestyle and pushed others to try it. So it’s funny when people mention there are no opportunities in Montreal for the surf industry. Clearly there are some who are so passionate and authentic that they are making shit happen, right? It might take awhile before we become more recognized for the sport and lifestyle but someone once told me that amazing things happen slowly. And if we managed to find comfort on our boards far from the ocean, that means anything is possible.
Antonio Lennert // Great Lakes words
Alexandra Cote-Durrer // River Surfing words.