Is It Good Enough?
We often hear people say that 'the lakes aren't good enough', or 'it's not consistent enough to bother surfing in Ontario', or 'it's not worth it, I'll just wait until my annual trip down south to surf'.
While there is certainly truth and reasoning behind those statements - and I understand where they are coming from - they are excuses and I'd like to offer a different perspective by way of two local surfers who have put in their time on the lakes.
The Beginners Cycle
If you only surf in the ocean two weeks out of the year because you live in Ontario, but don't surf in Ontario, you're unlikely to improve much. Your time spent on vacation will be mostly getting back on the board, shaking the rust off and trying to get in shape. We hear it so often at the shop, 'I was JUST starting to feel great by the last day and now I'm home'.
Repeat this process for a few years and it will give you more excuses than you need to not even bother surfing while you're on vacation and eventually, you will give up the sport entirely.
Break The Beginners Cycle
On the other hand, if you take advantage of our backyard and the world's largest fresh water resource and average one surf per week or two, you'll keep fairly fit and be able to make progress during your ocean surf trips. This will feed into your progression and stoke and ultimately lead to a healthier, happier life. Bold statement? No, surfing makes one happy and fit - do it as much as you can as life is too short. When was the last time you said "I wish I didn't surf"?
Below is a Q & A with two Ontario Surfers who believe Lake Surfing IS Worth it!
STEVE GRAHAM - LAKE SURFER
If you've surfed H-Bay or K-Pier then you've seen Steve Graham surfing. More than likely he was in the water before you, and would still be in the water when you got home.
I remember watching Steve when he first started and he's been on a remarkable transformation from the beginning stages to tearing up the waves locally and on the coast. Steve answered a few questions below about surfing in Ontario and beyond.
Steve is emblematic of what it means to be a lake surfer and is a true example of someone who has progressed their surfing using the lakes as their main source of surf.
When did you start surfing the lakes?
It was about 15 years ago so I guess around 2002.
What percentage do you surf the lakes versus the ocean?
I live here and got out of a 9-5 job to work for myself so I can usually schedule my jobs around the wave forecast. I’d say about 90% of my surfing is on the Great Lakes with the occasional East coast trip and a 2 week surf trip in April every year (for the last 4 years) to Mexico.
You have to be proud of how you've progressed in the surf. How much do you attribute your progression to surfing the lakes?
Most of my progress was from surfing the Great Lakes. I didn’t even surf in the ocean until about my 4th year of surfing. Since then my ocean trips have definitely increased my skills but we can also get pretty good waves here if you time it right; it's all about timing and location on the Great Lakes.
How many sessions have you averaged on the lakes over the last 5 years?
The few years I actually counted, I had around 100-120 days of surf here, each year, as long as we didn’t get a really harsh winter that froze all the shores early. I haven’t counted sessions in years but I’m probably between 75 and 100 days on average per year so around 450 sessions over 5 years.
You put in some very long sessions; do you feel that makes up for the lack of consistency locally? For example, coastal surfers will surf 1 to 2 hours a day and you'll surf a couple 4 or 5 hour sessions a week. Is this a good compromise?
That’s one way of putting it. I usually don’t surf single sessions as long on the ocean either because you know you’ll likely have waves (and probably still good conditions) later in the day. Around here, you need to take advantage of the days you get surf so if I can, I’ll surf until I’m just too tired to pop up anymore.
How has surfing the lakes prepared you for when you get to the ocean? Do you miss a beat?
You have to adjust your timing on the ocean for faster (more powerful) waves so I have to be a bit quicker there but in the last 5 or 6 years around here, I’ve found more spots that break steeper and quicker so they feel more like ocean waves. I don’t find much of an adjustment period anymore and surfing around here gave me the skills to surf the ocean waves. Some days around here get pretty intense, especially on Lake Erie in the fall, and an intimidating 10 foot face around here still takes some commitment so I occasionally draw from my bigger ocean days to make those drops.
What advice would you give a fellow Ontario surfer who's on the fence about surfing locally?
Don’t be a wuss is #1. So many people say 'I’d like to try surfing but it’s too cold for me'. That’s such a weak excuse. You obviously don’t have the motivation needed to learn how to surf if you think that way. Surfing is full of huge challenges and you need to be personally driven or you’ll never learn, plus the winter wetsuit gear is so good now it’s mostly only your face that sometimes gets cold, much like skiing or snowboarding, but people don’t usually use that excuse for those activities. My first few years here trying to learn to surf I only had a 4/3, pull over hood, dive gloves and dive boots with zippers that let all the cold water in. I’d last about 30 minutes per session in January and be nearly hypothermic but I’d keep going back because as soon as I found out you could surf here I was determined to do it…always wanted to surf. If you already know how to surf then you should just get the right wetsuit and do it; this isn’t the only place in the world where people surf in full winter suits.
ROB BAYTOR - LAKE SURFER
Rob Baytor rips on a snowboard and has taken that skill and applied it to surfing. Like many of us in Ontario, he takes a couple of surf trips to the ocean each year. In the meantime, he puts in focused sessions on the lakes.
He is one of the fastest learners I’ve seen on the lakes in the last 10 years. I asked him a few questions about how he's used the local lake waves to learn and progress.
I think I started about 6 years ago.
What boards did you use to progress?
I started in Hawaii on a 11’ longboard for a few weeks and when I came home, I purchased an 8’ NSP. Shortly after that I sold the NSP and bought a 7’3" 7S Superfish. This board was a great transition board for me. I then bought a 6’10 Channel Islands Whip, then a 6’6 Channel Islands Biscuit, then a Lost Sub Driver 6’ 6” and now I currently use the Channel Islands New Flyer 6’ 4”. (Note: Rob is about 6'0, 195 lbs)
Photo Thanks: Ryan White
How much did your snowboarding background help your surfing progression?
Man that's a tough one. I'd say yes and no. When I first started surfing I thought since I was an advanced level snowboarder I would have big advantage. But there is just so much to surfing that you need to learn. I quickly realized surfing was gonna take years to get the hang of and learn the basics. With snowboarding, I picked up the basics of carving downhill in a weekend when I was younger. Riding the halfpipe, I found it helped me get a similar momentum for surf. You kinda look for similar areas in the wave to take off or carve a turn on kinda thing.
How often do you get out on the lakes each year?
I get out on average maybe once every two weeks I would say. It hasn’t been as much this year because being a new Dad has taken a few of those surf days over. But I think I will be back on track soon.
What level would your surfing be at if you didn't surf the lakes?
Oooh it wouldn’t be good.
Are you more focused when surfing on the lakes because you have to make full use of your sessions?
I think I'm always focused in general when I'm surfing. I love getting the most out of every surf day because each session is so special. You see it coming a week ahead and just follow it till that exact moment.
How is surfing progression linked to having fun while surfing?
It wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t progress. The fun thing is how long it takes to actually get progress. This is probably one of the most attractive parts for me. I think when a new surfer gets out there it's shocking for them to realize how long it's gonna take just to ride the line of a wave. Might even be a deal breaker.
Photo thanks: Ryan White
How has surfing the lakes prepared you for when you get to the ocean? Do you miss a beat?
I would say the lakes prepare me by keeping my paddle arms in shape, reading waves and just being in the water. Another big one for me is surfing in a crowd. Certain spots on the lakes now are just as busy as some on the ocean. So having that awareness of other surfers is a huge part of surfing I would say.
Well I would say if you're actually serious about surfing and wanting to progress, you have to surf the lakes to have any hope in staying with it. I think there are quite a few people out there who like the idea of being a surfer but don’t really wanna put the hustle or time into getting out there in the elements on the lakes. They are fine with a surf trip twice a year (which is ok), but you can see that they never really progress.
Many thanks to Steve and Rob for your answers and photos. Maybe I'm biased, but unless you're going to move to the coast, you might as well make the most of the beautiful resource in your backyard - The Great Lakes.
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