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Surfing the Great Lakes with Surf the Greats

Around this time last year, I read an article in Surfer Magazine about surfing The Great Lakes. Since then, I’ve become totally obsessed and intrigued by the whole idea. The article was about Michigan. I remember that the waves were barreling, which took me by surprise considering I grew up by Lake Huron as a kid and never thought the lake could be surfed.

It didn’t take me long to get in contact with Antonio, the Founder of Surf the Greats, an organization that promotes Great Lakes surfing in Ontario. We were talking for a while, trying to plan a good time for me to come down and check it out; because the swell forecast is so difficult to predict, it was a constant struggle to make it happen. Luckily, there was a decent swell coming in over the weekend so without hesitation, I booked my train ticket from Montreal to Toronto, ready to leave to the big city.

After a five-hour train ride, Antonio picked me up. We headed to Collingwood, where the swell was happening. It was a big day for me, but the excitement and thrill of finally getting to see some lake surfing made it all worthwhile. It was also one of the coldest weekends in Ontario at a whopping -20 degrees. I asked myself, “Are these guys really about to paddle out in these temperatures?”  

After a pit stop at Timmies (could we really be Canadian without it?), we arrived at the location and immediately, the guys changed into their wetsuits, ready to hit the waves. It was nice to see everyone show up with huge smiles on their faces, ready to brave the cold for some moments of joy. I got to meet the lake surfing community and even though the weather was frigid, they were stoked to get in and surf. Nothing stops these guys when there is a swell. That right there is dedication! 

I followed them from behind, watching them run towards the beach. It was at that moment that I saw the break … it was pretty unreal. Because you’re on a lake, the waves are a little choppy. However, the sets were there and the waves from those sets were clean. The waves crashing in were easily 3 to 5ft, just like a normal ocean swell. The wind was harsh. I hid behind some sort of hill that would block the wind from my face as I pulled out my camera to shoot. I could feel the cold crawl up inside my skin, reaching my bones. I kept chanting mantras in my head, ‘You must suffer to get the shot. You are strong. Pretend it’s 30 degrees!’ 

Antonio and his friends came out of the water, their wetsuits hard from the ice crust that formed due to the subzero temperatures. Surprisingly, they all had the biggest smiles on their faces as they talked about the gnarly waves they caught and how they wanted to go back and try again. 

Because of the temperature, it didn’t take long for their boards to ice up. The wax didn’t work anymore, giving them no other option than to head back to their cars to warm up. Sitting in the backseat, I stared at their frozen wetsuits kind of thanking myself for not going in the water to shoot this time because I would probably be an ice cube by now. 

What I learned the most about the experience is how passionate these guys are. When you live far away from the coast and don’t have access to beautiful surf breaks, you make the most out of it and no matter what the weather is and if there are waves or not, you go out and surf. A lot of people probably think it’s silly and that moving closer to the ocean would be smarter, but these guys are the reflection of what passion and authenticity really is. Being able to live their passion somewhere far away from salt water and literally making it happen is inspiring. It proves that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. And at the end of the day, don’t we all need to suffer a little to reach our dreams? 

Thanks to Surf the Greats for this amazing time.

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