Building a surfing community – continuing the conversation
Posted on: October 25, 2020
Eva and Adam

Back in March I sat down with Adam who is one of the cofounders of the Lakehead University Great Lakes Surfing Club. This time around I sat down with Adam and one of the other cofounders Eva to continue the conversation on surfing.

What got you into surfing (Eva)?

I started in grade 12 when I went to Tofino, BC for the first time. When I came to school, I heard that you could lake surf, but I didn’t get into surfing on the lake until last year. Simon had boards so I went out with them. Adam, Margarita and I developed the club.

What are you most excited about for the upcoming surfing season?

Just getting out. We haven’t been out on the lake yet. For 4 or 5 days straight before we came back up there was lots of wave action, but it went dead flat once we got up here. Margarita stopped in Wawa on the way up by Lake Superior Provincial park. Last year we only had a couple of random boards, but this summer we all accumulated some more boards and suits. So we’re excited to bring people out.

Margarita, another cofounder of the club

How many boards and suits do you guys have?

For the moment, we have 3 or 4 boards collectively to bring people out on. We are going to apply to LUSU to get some funding. We are planning to rent learning.

Do you have any outings planned for the upcoming season?

Hopefully if Waasaashkaa is happening we can get people out. There are always people who have never been surfing that want to come out. We want to get people out, but we’re just trying to figure out ride situations since we have a lot of equipment that takes up room. If we can get waves closer to Thunder Bay we want to have a meet up where we can get people from the club to come out and pass boards around. Last year we were planning on having fundraisers which will probably be hard to do right now. We have some prizes from Surf Ontario to hand out so we just need to figure some fundraisers out.

How has coronavirus affected surfing on the lake?

I know us personally, our club got messed up. We had to reapply and start over this September. Luckily the process went through quickly, but other than it I don’t think it’s effected much. Legislations have had rules that don’t allow beach loitering but allow water use.

Are there regulations from LUSU that will impair you from getting out on the water?

For the most part we aren’t allowed to travel as a club. Transportation is going to be the biggest obstacle. It will be easy to have people out on the water, but it’s getting there. There will also be limited wetsuit sharing. We heard the Rec department has suits, but we’re not sure if it’s open, but that’s an option.

With regards to demographics in surfing, do you see an equal distribution of men and women?

It’s fairly equal. Lake Superior can be a bit of a boys scene, but southern Ontario has a lot of women that come up. Lake Superior is having more women getting out. There is a group of women who regularly go out in Terrace Bay that Waasaashkaa posted about. There is no sexism involved in surfing, anyone can do it. It is encouraging for women.

Do you feel that surfing on the lake has brought a greater appreciation for water?

Oh yea! It has definitely been really nice to be out there. We are so lucky to have Lake Superior and to get out into these areas that not a lot of people get to experience. You go to Lake Ontario or Lake Erie and they are typically more polluted and there’s more garbage as well as overcrowding. I definitely feel lucky for what we have.

Have you noticed pollution when you’ve been out?

Not really. You can see nurdles when you walk along the beach, but when I’m in the water I don’t notice much. I think down south in places like Grand Bend or Sauble beach you can tell the water is dirtier. It may be because of the sand, but you can tell Lake Superior is a lot more fresh. Every once in a while we’ll find something floating in the lake, but we usally toss it onto the board and throw it out once we get to the beach. We encourage “leave no trace” and leaving the beach as nice or nicer as we found it.

Do you have any plans for a beach cleanup?

The Parks Canada Club did a beach cleanup last year so it would be cool to collaborate with them. Our members use the beach so it would be nice to clean it up. Also setting a standard for everybody. If you see garbage, pick it up and bring it in even if you have to stop what you’re doing it’s better than letting it be because it will just accumulate. Going to Waasaashkaa, Chris makes it very clear that we leave this beach the way we found it if not better. The last thing we need is the parks crew blaming the surfers for making a mess we don’t need that stigma. We are using the beaches, we don’t want to be coming back to a mess.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into surfing?

Reach out! We have a lot of people reaching out right now and showing interest. They maybe have been to Tofino, or have a wetsuit but no board, or a board but no wetsuit. We definitely don’t have a lot of gear, but we’re working on making gear more accessible. We’re talking to the rec depo to see if they’ll rent out suits and trying to get more boards. The best thing you can do is reach out. It is definitely just a matter networking even if it’s outside of the club. If you see someone on Instagram surfing and want to know the spot or to see if they have extra equipment it’s best to reach out. It’s better than not knowing, asking people to help out is really important.

Do you have any final remarks?

Another good thing to check out is to check out the Facebook page “North Shore Lake Superior Surf Crew”. If you go to Terrace Bay there are 4 or 5 different spots with 100m to 200m long beaches. There is no overcrowding, everyone wants to get more people into it and spread the love. I have seen people coming from Minnesota or southern Ontario driving through and say “hey, I’m going through Marathon, I see waves where can I go?’. Within minutes people are reaching out with different spots or ways they can help you out. There is also an Instagram page called @greatlakessurfersjournal and they post a lot of pictures of people surfing and they will say the general area and you can ask for the spot and hopefully, they are nice enough to give it to you.

Where do you want to see surfing go?

The only time we’ve ever really seen other surfers out was at Waasaashkaa. There was probably 40 or 50 people out that and there was still plenty of room. There were different types of boards and people having fun, firing each other. Every other time we go we will maybe see 1 or 2 other people, but they’re usually way on the other side of the beach. It’s a different kind of vibe. There’s something nice about being the only ones out there. But there is so much room out there, there are such big beach breaks, you could easily fit 50-100 people out there and still have room. It’s a fairly new sport, that is surfing on the lake specifically. It would be sad to see it die out if people don’t start getting into it now. I think it’s important to introduce it to other people so it can keep going and never spot. Even in this area it can be tough to get into despite Lake Superior being the best lake for surfing. There is so much more surfing on Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Michigan because there are shops and rental spots all over southern Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But in Thunder Bay I think the closest thing is a guy selling boards out of his garage, or a paddle store in Winnipeg. Whenever we’re in Southern Ontario we always try to check out stores.

Have you surfed on any of the other Great Lakes?

Adam: Personally I haven’t had the chance because all my stuff is up here.

Eva: Over the summer I worked at surf shop in Sauble beach on Lake Huron, and I went out once. It was very different than Lake Superior, still had the same concepts, but you can tell the difference between lakes when you’re surfing on them.

The biggest area for surfing in southern Ontario would be Sault Ste. Marie on Lake Superior, or the north shore of Georgian bay or Kincardine area on Lake Huron. One club member, Josh, sent us some photos on the lake in Kincardine and it was super cool to see him out there. Simon has surfed on Lake Erie, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario. All the lakes are surfable, but it’s a shame that the biggest lake with the biggest swells and most consistent waves has so little support. We almost feel forgotten about. There’s not quite the resources up here. We are trying to create an outlet for people to get into it. We’re hoping that if someone comes out a couple times rents a board, that eventually they might get their own equipment and join the hype and community. They might lend their stuff to people and it will just keep on growing and growing. Maybe in 10-15 years someone will set up a surf shop in Thunder Bay. Maybe in the future some of the local outdoor shops in Thunder Bay will take on a surf section. I know as soon as we started posting stuff everyone became interested. People that don’t go to Lakehead message us and ask if they can join, they can join but we need to make sure at least 50% of our club are Lakehead students.

Do you feel more people will get out with the current pandemic rules?

It’s a good way to get away from the crowds. The water is pretty cold, and it requires a certain breed to get out there. We were just in Tofino and the water is warming here. Everyone coming back for the start of the surf season has created some hype around it. A lot of people go to school away from home to try something new and this is the perfect time to do. It’s outside and different so it’s a great opportunity.

How do you out when the big swells are coming in?

The waves on Superior are solely dependent on the wind. We use NOAA and check their weather charts. If you look up NOAA wave report for Superior. There are different colours for different wave heights. You need to pay attention to the wind direction. You can look at a map of Lake Superior and find where you want to surf and once the waves are going in that direction then you’re good to get out there. We have experimented with different spots and different wind directions. We had a really northern swell and went to Chippewa, but when we got there it was totally flat. We could see that out past Isle Royale and see waves going straight across. You learn the hard way, you showed up at the wrong spot and got skunked. Eventually, you get familiar with the directions and the spots. When we get westerly wind, we know it’s good for Chippewa or Minnesota when the borders are open. When we get the northern swells, we head to Terrace Bay. The best time to go out is the day after a storm or right before a storm. It’s a lot of trial and error. You’ll show up and get nothing or decide not to go out and you’ll hear from your buddy that there were awesome waves.

How far in advanced can you plan?

It’s either 72 or 100 hours that the app reports, but as you get closer it gets more accurate. You can get an idea of when and where there will be waves a couple days out. The closer you get it turns into we’re going. Once it’s saying tomorrow there will be waves, that’s when you decide where you’re going to go. Waasaashkaa will set a window over about 3 weeks and as it comes in they will pick the date based off of when their waves are. Last year we had waves and it was awesome, but a couple years ago they thought there was going to be waves and there wasn’t, but they still had the festival. People were playing in the water, doing yoga and still getting the community factor.

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