Toronto: The Next Surf City?
Surfing the Great Lakes is a thing. A big thing.
Don’t believe me? Meet Antonio Lennert, the man behind Surf The Greats, a local adventure company and community events organizer that has been sharing their love for riding waves through surf safaris, beach clean-ups, and wave forecasting workshops.
How many years have you been surfing?
I started surfing when I was five or six years old, so it’s getting close to 30 years already.
How did you get into surfing the Great Lakes?
I moved to Toronto eight years ago and had the hardest time adapting in the first couple years. The lack of surfing—or at least my lack of knowledge about lake surfing—and the long cold winters made it very challenging for a Brazilian who grew up barefoot by the Atlantic Ocean. About five years ago I went on a trip to visit family in the Bahamas, and made a stop in Eleuthera—one of the outer islands. After some online research, I discovered one of the few surf breaks there. I rented a board from an American expat who fell in love with a Bahamian woman and set up shop on the island and went surfing. I paddled out to the wave and there was only one other surfer there. We shared that wave for a couple hours and after chatting for a bit in between sets he told me he was from Toronto. I was surprised to meet another surfer from a place where there were no waves, and even more surprised to hear that I could surf in Toronto while sitting in an empty line-up in the Bahamas. I came back from that trip determined to find the waves on the lakes, and after a lot of online research in obscure discussion boards I set out one weekend to find them. After driving for three hours with my board and my tent in my car, I arrived at Station Beach in Kincardine on Lake Huron, and saw waves. I rushed to get in and as soon as I paddled out a surfer turns to me and says hi. I knew I was surfing in Canada. That day, I found the most welcoming and supportive surf community I’ve ever found and since then have been surfing and working to educate and grow our surf community in a sustainable way.
Where are some of your favourite surf spots (local and non-local)?
Locally I’m a huge fan of Scarborough Bluffs just east of Toronto. In the right conditions, we get powerful ocean-like waves there and it’s a short drive from my house. There’s a few very special places near the Blue Mountains in Georgian Bay, where powerful waves break on top of the rock shelf right in front of some of the ski resorts. It’s pretty rad to be surfing on a cold winter day and watching skiers and snowboarders going down the hills. As far as Canada goes, the coast of Nova Scotia has been by far my favourite place to explore. There are endless opportunities to surf empty perfect waves there. Internationally, I have quite a few favourite spots… Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, South Point in Barbados, the empty point breaks along New Zealand’s Taranaki’s coastline, and any of my home breaks in Florianópolis, Brazil.
What is one of your most memorable surf moments?
I have so many unforgettable experiences surfing on the lakes and in the ocean, and the ones that really stick out are the ones where the waves were perfect, or you had the company of wildlife like dolphins, turtles and whales. We don’t have a whole lot in terms of wildlife here on the Great Lakes, but whenever the stars align you are guaranteed to have the time of your life. Late last Fall we had a big swell in Toronto. We took a group out for a Surf Safari in the morning and once we were done with the lessons, our instructors and I went surfing at the Bluffs. By mid afternoon, the waves were hitting 12ft in height and the wind switched offshore.
It was one of the most magical days we’ve had on the lakes. The level of stoke in the water was unbelievable, and I had some of the best waves I’ve ever caught around here.
Read about that epic day he’s talking about on their website - https://surfthegreats.org/blogs/journal/a-thursday-for-the-books
What inspired you to start Surf The Greats?
When I first started surfing here the community was still fairly small and there wasn’t a lot of resources available for people who wanted to start surfing here. I lost count of how many times I went surfing and saw beginners putting themselves in very bad situations for not knowing where and when to surf safely. After living my entire life in places like Brazil, California and Australia—where surfing is part of the status quo—I saw an opportunity to create a platform focused on community to educate and empower people to surf here. I decided to spend a few weeks in Costa Rica, where I did a lifesaving course and got my certification to teach surfing and standup paddle boarding from the International Surfing Association. We are now the only surf school with certified surf instructors on the Great Lake, and aim to set the standard for surfing education in this part of the world.
What tips do you have for someone getting into cold water surfing?
I would say start in the spring, summer or fall so you can ease yourself into the season. Surfing in the winter is absolutely amazing and very special, but it can be a bit of a shock if that’s when you decide to start. The lakes warm up quite a bit in the summer months, to a point where we can surf in bikinis and board shorts on Lake Erie. When fall hits and our surf season officially starts, all you need is a 3/2mm wetsuit as the water and the air temperatures are pretty mild. As it gets colder, you can add the booties and mittens, and if you make it as far as December, you are a true cold water surfer so you can just buy a winter wetsuit and surf through the winter.
What do you think the surf scene in Toronto/Great Lakes will look like in the next couple of years?
I think our local surf scene is already looking pretty rad. Our community in Toronto has grown so much over the past few years that I think it’s safe to compare it to other cold water urban surfing scenes like New York City. We have so many small yet thriving communities all over the Great Lakes that are coming together online and in person to celebrate our love for fresh water surfing. I see a lot of growth in and out of the water for our scene here, with more kids starting at an earlier age, the level of surfing increasing, more competitions and events, and many surfers from all over the world travelling here to try surfing the Greats. And for all of those who worry about our breaks becoming overrun by the crowds, I think you have nothing to worry about. The Great Lakes have 9,577 miles of shoreline, which is nearly five times longer than the entire Atlantic Coast of the United States, and over 11 times the Californian Coast. With that in mind, I’m sure that we can all share the well establish breaks, and spend our lifetimes searching for new unridden waves around here (sources: Great Lakes Shoreline, Atlantic and Pacific Shorelines).
Any fun plans and events surfers and soon-to-be-surfers can look forward to from Surf The Greats in 2017?
We just finished meeting with all our partners and are currently finalizing our programming for the entire year. The list of cool stuff we have planned for 2017 is just endless! Expect many more opportunities to learn to surf around here, access to gear and information, film screenings, photography exhibitions, beach clean ups, parties and something really big we’ve had in the works for the past year and is coming to life in Spring. Top secret though, you are going to have to follow us closely to be the first one to know about it.
For more information about Surf The Greats and their big plans for this year, visit www.surfthegreats.org or follow @SurfTheGreats on Twitter + Instagram for some pretty awesome surf-inspiration!
Photos courtesy: Surf the Greats
Check out Diana’s Surf The Greats Surf Safari Review below: